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Everyone wears clean clothes here and we can see why. Women doing the washing in nearby cooling streams at the side of the road are a common sight.

Religious ceremonies at Tikal

Impressive Mayan temples

Monkeys leap from tree top to tree top and offer a real jungle atmosphere.

The Mayan women all dress in tradition colours according to their region. This shot taken heading into Flores.

Flores is an interesting island town with cobbled streets and brightly painted buildings.

Typical local house we passed on the way south to Rio Dulcie.

It's hot so why not cool off a little.

Typical houses on the lake at Rio Dulcie.

An old ex pat chilling out!! Can't believe how comfortable these hammocks are.

Good security for the bike at Bruno's. Nobody's going to mess with El Toro tonight.

Magical sunrise view from our balcony of Bruno's Hotel looking over the lake. A great place to chill out, check their website – www.mayaparadise.com

The locals all seem to have this doleful look.

Agua Calicute. The cold natural springs and hot waterfalls

Heavy overnight rain meant some deep water crossings.

All along the roadside to Guatemala City there are street side vendors. Bananas are one of the largest crops.

Guatemala's roads are filled with diesel smoke belching buses.

Heading into the mountains, typical roadside scene.

Roadside markets display local produce.

Huge markets display colourful cloth made by the Mayan Indians who gather here every Sunday from the surrounding mountain villages.

You want 'how much?'

Beautiful views of the water and its back drop of volcanic peaks, at a lake front restuarant.

Colourful locals. What a photographic paradise.

Who could resist those pleading eyes.

Colourful Antigua

Antigua and its surrounding volcanoes

Crowded and polluted Guatemala City

The bike is guarded while we have lunch

Heading for the Honduras border through spectacular mountain scenery

GUATEMALA

11/10/04

We had hoped the road from the border would be sealed, as our map indicated but we had read from other travelers stories that part of it was dirt. Well the first 25km was dirt and rough, bumpy, potholed, loose and occasionally muddy. Our speed was down to a walking pace and it took us over an hour to reach the paved section to El Remate, 30km away from Tikal. Here we found a comfortable hotel for the night with a good restaurant and friendly staff.

Always good to enter a new country and for us Guatemala seems cleaner and the local Mayans seem friendly. Prices also are about a third of those in Mexico.

12/10/04

The ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal were always going to be a highlight in our travels and I had really looked forward to this day. We had booked a bus to take us the 30 km's to the National Park leaving at 5.30am. This cost of $4.00, was well worth it for us to be able to leave the bike in secure parking at the hotel. A further cost of $6 each got us into the park and as we got out the bus the chattering of colourful Toucans and Parrots greeted us as they darted through the trees. Distant calls from the Howler and Spider monkeys beckoned us on into the dense undergrowth. Again, to get the most from our visit we hired a guide, sharing the expense with two other couples.

Tikal has a number of impressive steep sided restored temples but the buildings that still remain under the green cover of the rainforest and the current excavation within the site all add to the experience.

We were lucky enough to witness a Mayan Indian religious ceremony in the main plaza – many ancient rituals are still kept alive today.

Mayan leading the ceremony next to the fire with a handwoven headress

Somewhat overwhelmed by it all, for 7 hours, we trudged through the jungle and climbed temples to impossible heights in the sweltering heat while above us the monkeys glided with ease through the forest canopy. Yes, quite a day, an unique experience.

The couple who joined us on our tour were from Israel, on their honeymoon and planning to migrate to Australia. That evening along with a Canadian couple sailing the Americas in their catamaran, we enjoyed a stimulating discussion, mainly about the issues in Israel but also the world in general. Good to be able to speak English again.

Motherhood starts early for the Mayan women ( from the age of 14 they begin to have 'all the children that god gives them'. (6 to 12 little ones) According to our guide book 44% of the population are under the age of 15 and we rarely see older people. The earlier atrocities against the Mayan people by the government probably account for the lack of a whole generation.

13/10/04

After a good breakfast it was time to hit the road again and Flores was only 30km away. This small island town is joined to the mainland by a causeway and we rode around the cobbled streets enjoying the brightly painted Spanish buildings.

Then, heading south on good roads we passed through numerous small villages on the way to Rio Dulce 200km further south.

Rio Dulce Largo de Izabal is the largest lake in Guatemala and our Canadian friends from last night suggested we stay at 'Bruno's' which we did. Bruno is originally from Quebec and now runs a hotel/restaurant business and being a biker offered us an excellent rate for a good room overlooking the lake.

The adjacent marina is home to many ex pats, mainly American who stopped for a visit and ended up staying, in some cases, for years. Some of these ex pats have (much) younger girlfriends or wives and life here is relaxed and comfortable.

That evening we took a 3 hour boat trip across the lake into the jungle and visited the old Spanish castle and a zoo. The locals hustle you immediately you arrive for various boat trips and the $20.00 we paid seemed like good value.

Our Spanish is not progressing as well as we had hoped or expected but I must admit that I find it amusing when we leave some of the locals and I say "Haste la vista" that they invariably respond with "bebe". Terminator 1 is alive and well in Central America.

Around 10.00pm that night there was a huge thunderstorm and lightening show that went on for over 2 hours. This is the end of the wet season and I guess in this jungle environment you have to expect big storms. Dianne and I were memorised by the spectacular light show from the lightening over the lake and the huge claps of thunder that shook the ground and set off car alarms.

Since visiting Darwin in 2002, we've talked about going back there at Xmas time just to see the tropical thunder storms over the ocean. Well now we don't have to 'cos tonight we witnessed a real beauty. Such an exhilarating feeling to just sit there and watch and listen to this impressive natural phenomenon. What an excellent ending to a great day.

14/15/10/04

One of the unique features in this area is the cold natural springs and hot waterfalls called Agua Calicute. These are located about a half hour from town but there is about 10km of dirt to get there. Bruno insisted we visit this natural wonder and to spare the Harley offered us the lone of his KLR 650.

It was an interesting experience to ride a big dirt bike again and although I know most Pan American bikers choose a dual purpose bike I think the Harley is overall the right choice for us. Two people and all their gear are no where near as comfortable on a dual purpose bike as we are on the Harley. I know it has some restrictions but so far it's advantages more than compensate for them. Ground clearance over the tope has been the only real problem so far.

Anyway we got to the entry to the falls, paid the $2.50 fee and started the 10 minute walk through the jungle path to the falls. Guatemala has a history of violence from guerrilla forces and more recently incidents of robbery and rape particularly in remote areas. We try to be cautious about what we do but also try to read between the lines and not let things affect us too much. For example, back in Australia there are times when you listen to the weather report and perhaps decide not to go for a ride because rain is forecast. You stay home and it doesn't rain and you end up missing out on a good ride. There are lots of bad reports about the tensions in Guatemala and if you believed them all you wouldn't visit. However if you do visit then you should be mindful of the dangers.

As we approached the falls, we noticed a young man walking about 30 metres behind us. As we slowed down or stopped so did he. Now we were the only people around and it did seem a little worrying especially when we reached the falls and he stopped and just watched us. Shortly an older man with a machete joined him and they began to come toward us. I was really worried and decided to stand between them and Dianne and see what they were up to. Well the older man started clearing the bush with his machete and the younger one just sat and looked at the falls and us. To cut a long story short, when we got back to the entrance we asked the ticket seller about the two men. Oh, he said, as part of your entrance fee you get a security guard to ensure your safety. So here we were thinking we were about to get robbed or worse, and our 'assailants' were if fact there for our protection. I think perhaps we're becoming too paranoid.

Spent the afternoon in the internet cafe. We had faxes to send, email to receive and respond to and phone calls to make to the USA. All were easy and cheap to accomplish and that evening we enjoyed an inexpensive $3.00 meal at Bruno's restaurant and a couple of beers with an ex Zimbabwe couple now living and working in Rio Dulce. We chatted till late in the night about the old country and the world in general until the security guard closed the restaurant.

This wasn't the sort of security guard you normally have in Australia, this one carried an automatic shotgun, as do the guards at the banks and several shops. One of the ex pats asked me what gun I had and when I said I didn't carry one he said I was probably the only person in Guatemala without one!! Perhaps we're not too paranoid? Nevertheless it was reassuring to know El Toro was well protected in the car/bike park.

16/10/04

Another huge thunderstorm at 4.00am with an equally impressive lightening show, but by the time we got up at 6.00am the rain had almost stopped. We had another omlette rancho style with chile salsa then packed the bike and headed off to Guatemala City and then north to Lake Atiitlan.

The ride south to Guatemala City passed through very scenic country side with rolling hills and winding roads. Sadly it was difficult to enjoy because of the traffic, mainly trucks and buses and the vast clouds of black diesel smoke they emitted. As we approached the city the traffic got heavier and the plumes of black smoke became denser. In the city there was a dark haze in the air from the hundreds of trucks and buses and traffic was at an almost standstill.

We almost made it through the city and onto the CA1 heading north to Lake Atitlan but.... we took one wrong turn and spent the next hour trying to get back on the right road. Signposting could be improved. Feeling exasperated we eventually found the right road and stopped for a reviving break at a fuel station. Dianne wiped her face with a tissue and it came away black. The pollution here has to be seen to be believed. Our eyes were streaming and our throats stinging and we wondered how people could possibly live in such a bueatiful, but polluted environment.

Drivers here have a total disregard for our motorcycle and I'm constantly checking the mirrors for the crazies who insist on overtaking us at any time. A challenging ride into the mountains as we approach Lake
Atitlan and although we were fortunate to miss what must have been a huge thunderstorm, the wet roads on these mountain passes with tight switchbacks made the ride a challenge.

Eventually made it to Panajachel on lake Atitlan about 550km from Rio Dulce and 9 hours later. This lake is set in the highlands and is a collapsed volcanic core filled with water. Three volcanoes rise impressively arround it. We found a hotel with good security for the bike, made it just before it started to pour down.

For those of you out there who think we're on a holiday let me explain a little about our hotel. It was cheap, only $12.00 a night but... there was no hot water, common even in Mexico, the toilet didn't flush and later in the night the water stopped completely. The bedding didn't look up to par either so we slept in our sleeping bag, and the mosquitoes were quite bad as there was no netting on the windows. Did I mention that only one light worked and the power went off several times during the night. After a day like today we still need to download the images from the camera and - hopefully write up the diary. Boy, but we're having fun and it beats the heck out of work.

We did have a good cheap and tasty meal though around the corner and we slept well. Tomorrow we head up into the traditional Mayan highlands to visit the huge Sunday markets at Chichicastenango.

17/10/04

Well these markets are huge with the local Mayan people coming down from other highland areas to pedle their wares. The handiwork these women produce and the pittance they ask for it has to be seen to be believed. The fabrics and rugs are hand woven or embroidered in bright colours and intricate patterns. It's so hard not to buy everything, how do you choose just one piece of fabric with such a choice.

It seems that if you show any interest in an item at the market, the Mayan women won't let you leave without a purchase. They plead for you to buy and it's hard to knock them back. The kids are the worst though. Some only 5 or 6 years old, they have simple things to sell, perhaps even a shoe shine and they just won't let you go, pleading and pleading for a purchase. Dianne had some lollies (sweets) and was able to 'get away' by offering them lollies instead of buying something. Occasionally we would see an incredible photo opportunity and would pay the subject (a few cents) and have them pose for a couple of magical shots.

After several hours enjoying the markets it was time to return to Panajachel. The road here wound it's way up and down the mountains and the return trip would do the same. Coping with the roads is one thing, but coping with the buses, animals and other traffic on these winding roads is quite a challenge, but all part of the adventure. The scenery though is spectacular with the green rugged mountains and quaint villages that run along the roadside and up into the slopes. Watching the local Mayan Indians busy with thier daily chores is fascinating.

Arriving back in Panajachel we spent time enjoying the sights of this unique town and the local cuisine.

18/10/04

This morning we had planned to go across the lake to visit other lakeside villages but clouds were gathering in the sky so decided to make the most of just being in Panajachel and head for Antigua, two and a half hours away, later on, weather permitting. Had breakfast at a lake front restuarant with beautiful views of the water and its back drop of volcanic peaks. Quite impressive. We then strolled along the shoreline, through the markets and watched the colourful locals all in thier unique traditional dress.

We had been told that it was probably safer to post items back to Australia from Guatemala than from Mexico so we have been carrying some 'excess baggage'. Coupled a few items bought at Chichicastenango, it was time to mail things 'back home'. Sounds like a simple proceedure but everything here takes much longer than expected. About 4kgs cost us almost US$50.00 deminishing the value of the bargains we thought we had made. Nevertheless we do have just a few unique artifacts from this region that we will always treasure.

Intricat needle work by these hard working and patient women.

After a heavy shower of rain we eventually got away for Antigua at about 4.00pm as we really didn't want to spend another night in that 'hotel'. A pleasent ride down the mountains to Antigua with less traffic and we arrived just before nightfall, looked for a nice hotel and took the first one that looked reasonable.

 

19/10/04

Antigua is a picturequst city and was the capital of Guatemala. Earthquakes destroyed the city in *** and the capital was moved to Guatemala City.

Antigua sits in a valley with 3 volcanos dominating the landscape. The streets are cobbled and riding and even walking is difficult on them. We spent the whole day just soaking in the sights and enjoying the multi coloured buildings of this quaint city and the camera worked overtime.

Internet cafes are everywhere around here and most are busy. We needed to make and receive some important 'mails so it was quite a convenient place to be. Internet access, international phone calls and ATMs are abundant in this part of the world making things easier for travellers like us.

20/10/04

We have to get a move on. Don't know why but we're running seriously behind schedule so today, and for the next 10 days or so, we need to make up time. We have a flight booked from Panama City to Bogota on the 2nd of November and there's a long way to go, so it's an early start and a big day ahead.

Left Antigua and had an easy ride down the mountain to Guatemala City. Today is a public holiday and the traffic is not so bad, but still bad enough. We had a plan to get though the city but when we stopped for fuel just before entering the city, a local offered to show us a better way. "Follow me he said" and proceded to take us in a different direction for a few kays, then stopped and said "just go straight and you'll be right mate", or Spanish words to that effect. Well we followed his instructions and got hopelessly lost. Decided to stop for a coffee at McDonalds, amazing there is even an armed security guard here. When we asked another local for instructions, we think he understood where we wanted to go and just rolled his eyes. We interpreted that as being a Spanish guseture for "you've got buckleys chance mate". Anyway he took pity on us and told us to follow him and he led us out of Guatemala City and onto the right road. Sometimes you meet the nicest people.

Another good ride through the mountains to the Honduran border and paid the immigration guy on the Guatemalan side 20Q (about $2.50) and the one on the Honduras side 30Q. I asked for a reciept both times and was told something along the lines of "do you want me to make this easy or hard for you mate". It was easy and cheap for us to enter Honduras but the bike was expensive. $20,00 for a 'highway improvement' fee plus about $7.00 for the temporary import permit. Fortunatly we had photocopies of the important documents so that saved us having to spend more time getting them. All up we were through in under an hour.

Click NEXT PAGE to continue our journey in Honduras

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©Haydn and Dianne Durnell 200