An overlander's account of South and Central America by motorbike - the trusty Suzuki DR650. Within are great travel tips and hints (2011).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Game on Guatemala! (2 June - 7 June 2011)

Game on Guatemala! (2 June  - 7 June 2011)

2 June 2011 (337 km) – Lanquin (Camp at caves)
As I was leaving the Manzana Verde Hostel (Green Apple Hostel) in Copan Ruinas, I witnessed a common sight amongst hostels...people you never met the night before that managed to hide out somewhere (even though this hostel was very small and open)!  A Danish girl stopped me on the way out and asked to take a photo next to my bike.  Nessie is certainly a beauty!  As was the Dane!  I rode the short 10km to the border and pondered how time always seems to strangle your journey and deprive it of the sights and experiences that it deserves.  Another country blurred by in a total of 4 nights.  It became a battle of making the currency last to the end of the country, often eating well off the street in the first couple of days, and as the lempiras or quetzals slowly disappeared I stretched the budget as far as I could with camping, and mashed spuds and scrambled eggs for dinner!

The border to Guatemala at Copan Ruinas (Rider’s note) was big and new!  Details in the Honduras post before this one.  I headed off down the long windy road, choked by a beautiful thick jungle and a suffocating high humidity!  I love Central America!!  I made it to a servo and fuelled up and withdrew the new currency of Quetzals  ($1 AUD = 8.42 Q).

On the advice of my new good mate George of the Jungle (from the previous post in Honduras on the BMW) I bought some new rubber in Chiquimula.  I stopped in at a bike shop and he took me down the road where I bought a new Pirelli MT90 rear for 500 Q ($60 AUD).  He donned the tyre over his chest and we rode back to his shop and had it fitted for $4.  I topped up the brake fluid and noticed he had a nice, shiny Glock on his thigh.  I asked him what it was for, and he replied non-chalantly “it’s just a souvenir”.  I bid farewell and left for the excitement of Guatemala, which was to be my favourite of them all in Central America.  It’s amazing how riding off with new rubber makes all of your own and your bikes problems evaporate into the mist! 

I hit this little beauty with my left barkbuster.  He managed to survive so I gave him to the hammock people below to watch for a little while!
Sweet hammocks!

Guatemala riding in the jungle was wicked, through valleys, around mountains, over passes and through tiny roadside villages!
 Around the same time I was on the road I took next (according to the paper I read a few days later), some drug traffickers were caught smuggling 334kg of cocaine worth 33,000,000 Q!!!   From Chiquimula I rode through San Esteban, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Verapaz and Coban on my way to the caves and grottos at Parque Nacional Grutas de Lanquin.  On the way the heavens opened up and drenched my clothing to the skin, a welcome shower in the heat of the day.  After riding steady down a rough dirt ride on my new road biased tyre, I finally arrived at the Grutas de Lanquin.  I paid the small entry fee and entered the dark and smoky caves to explore!  The stalactites and stalacmites were sensational!  Inside were huge formations from the dissolution and deposition of limestone over hundreds of years, and holes in the walls in ceilings in which the squeals were heard, but the sources never seen.  On dusk, as I swam across the crystal blue creek coming from the cave mouth, the holes and the cave mouth itself erupted with thousands of bats, heading out to feast on insects for the night.  Soon after, for the unteenth time on this trip, I was told “no se puede” (no you can’t) and I had to swim back across the creek to the fenced path.  It was a great shower and show nonetheless and the guards were more than happy to welcome me back to the light side.  We shared a few stories and they let me camp under one of the shelters in the carpark, which made me happy as pie (or my local street food) as the rain set in for the night.  I shared the shelter with a couple of cute scorpions as well (they glow green under UV light, try it!).

The crystal clear blue water coming from the Grutas de Lanquin.

There were beautiful formations inside the cave!

I swam across the other side to the cave entrance to get a better look at the bats flying out at night and managed to freak some people out in the process!

As the sun set, thousands of microbats erupted from the caves in search of their evening tucker and play!

3 June 2011 (17 km) – Semuc Champey (Camp at Las Marias)
I headed to Lanquin town a couple of minutes up the road and pulled into a bakery for breaky where a bloke gave me some info on a nice place to camp down the road close to Semuc Champey.  I ate my muffins and swallowed his ideas to digest at a later time.  I pulled into the carpark at Semuc Champey before anyone else and parked my loaded DR650 inside the gate, protected with a shotgun wielding soldier.  I think she’s safe here.  It was still nice and early, about 8am, and I managed to beat the tourist rush so I had the place to myself for ages!  I was advised to walk to the mirador (the lookout) and the gruelling climb to the mirador at first was rewarded with a poor view, but upon descending down the other trail I found the real mirador with a breathtaking view of the crystalline pools that flowed above the river.  I returned to the bottom and was greeted by a caretaker who showed me where the river passed beneath the pools.  Quite amazing really!  I walked along the pools as they flowed into one another, connected by small waterfalls, and picked a beauty to swim in.  A couple hours after I arrived the first tourists began pouring in.  I had a few yarns and eventually headed back towards the Las Marias cottage where I set up camp for the night.

The pools at Semuc Champey.  These pools collect water filtered from the mountains, and are above the river which runs beneath them, which was created by corrosion of the limestone bed below.
A very worthwhile hike to see the pools from above!
The pools above and the river running below.
Beautiful, crystal clear pools to swim in.  Absolutely refreshing!
And fish eating off the dead need to pay for that at a shop when you can get it in the wild!!
At 1430 I took a tour of some caves nearby, which are another MUST to do in the area (Q40 for the whole tour!).  A young bloke took me through some caves full of water, climbing waterfalls within the caves, showing me beautiful formations, swimming with a candle in one hand and ending up in a huge cavern before returning back to the entrance to jump off a rope swing into the river and tube back downstream to the cottage.  On the way we passed locals going about life, washing clothes, bathing and fishing.  It was an amazingly serene afternoon topped off with a few beers and card games with some other tourists at the cottage.  Huge insects ended up scaring the girls off, causing the foundations of our party to collapse.

The afternoon cave walk.

The cave entrance/exit.  The stick in the foreground gets covered by water when its raining flat out!

And tubing downstream to finish it off.  I gave the bloke a lift back to his place afterwards on the moto and he was most happy!
4 June 2011 (326 km) – Tikal (Camp at Jaguar Inn)
Next I was headed north to the ruins at Tikal, passing through Fray Bartolome de las Casas, Las Pozas, La Libertad and San Benito.  I fuelled up at the 2 week old fuel station just outside of Lanquin by some really nice fellas who had a good yarn with me (and free coffee) while the electric pump was being fixed.  I made it through some beautiful jungle covered mountains and valleys, down a rickety dirt road before stopping in Puxruja for breakfast.  A few taxi drivers came over and we gave each other some shit in Spanish and parted in stitches of laughter!  I decided to take the western route north to Tikal even though it was deemed less safe, it was bound to have less traffic!  And it was well worth it.  The road was mostly straight, penetrating through more thick jungle and occasionally popping out into open palm farms with islands of rock cliffs jutting out from within. 

Wicked landscape!

A nice small town to pass through on the main highway.
Moments before riding through a wasp cloud.
 In Sayaxcha I had to catch a quick and cheap ferry across the river.  Just after here and not too far from the Mexico border I was riding along peacefully (still with the open face helmet and bandanna) when all of a sudden a felt a very moist explosion of an insects abdomen on my forehead.  Thinking nothing of it I went to brush it away and all of a sudden “FARRRRRRKin SON of a BEACH!”  I must’ve brushed the sting of the critter into my forehead and mate it wasn’t a baby!  I pulled over and gathered myself and proceeded further along the road only to be stopped at an intersection and police checkpoint near the border.  The officer came over asking for my papers and I began to comply when all of a sudden my limbs starting smacking at my torso!  Another wasp had managed to find its way inside my jacket and stung me and here I am going NUTS in front of an officer at a high tension police checkpoint!  At this stage I could swear the officer was fingering his pistol and calling for his friends when I managed to squeeze out “WISPA! WISPA!” He burst into laughter as I collected myself.  I took off safely once again after another paper check and all was good on the way to Tikal.  I picked up some oil near Flores on the way and made camp at the Jaguar Inn within the Parque Nacional Tikal itself, right outside the entrance to the ruins (Q25 night + Q40 for net).  I setup my tent on a nice patch of dirt and found a few mangoes on the ground that the mischievous monkeys let slip through their fingers.  I left a note on a BMW parked outside and as I was changing my oil Kev and Lorraine Hatchett ( from England came by and we shared a few stories over a cup of tea. 

The ferry at Sayaxcha.
Kev and Lorraine Hatchett.  A great couple riding around the world on their beemer!
  I had also been trying to catch up to my 3 mates on KLR650s who I met on Fritz the Cat which took us from Colombia to Panama.  I jumped online to check where they were on their blog to find some very sad news.  Eduardo Andres Campos, who had been riding a KLR with Colin and Derrick, passed away in a traffic accident in southern Guatemala.   As a rider on the road it is always saddening to hear news of a fallen fellow rider.  Eduardo was a great bloke with a lot to share in life.  RIP mate.  More information can be found at the trio’s blog  The boys ended up finishing their trip in Guatemala and boosted home to Canada for the funeral.  Somehow it had a profound effect on me and I found myself having deep dreams of accidents during the night as the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain on the ground.  My bike was parked right next to my tent as usual and during one of the full-on dreams I felt a heavy sharp pain, only to wake up with my motorbike on top of me!  It turns out the soil I camped on was a very light silty soil and the moisture turned it to clay.  The weight of the bike sunk the sidestand a foot into the ground and the bike collapsed on me.  Luckily nothing was broken! 

5 June 2011 (66km) – Flores (Los Amigos Hostel)
I headed into the ruins at 6am to see the wonders of an ancient civilization.  Mate was it ever impressive!  Huge towering temples built out of solid stone to worship the gods and perform ceremonies.  The ruins at Tikal were among the biggest of the Mayan ruins and certainly were impressive, however, I happened to arrive when there was scaffolding on the biggest temple for repairs.  The low lying fog managed to make up for it though and made it look cryptic enough to arouse curiosity.

A huge ceiba tree at the ruins.
The ruins at Tikal.

I returned to the camp where I was already feeling ripped off for paying for the internet, and I asked for a glass to have some water.  They would only sell me bottles.  I don’t buy bottles because of the plastic trail it leaves.  I left with a dirty taste in my mouth from the Jaguar Inn.  I headed back to Flores, a cute small island town in a lake.  I explored a little and grabbed some adobado (BBQ ofal tortillas) for lunch.  The day ended relaxingly in the hostel.

The village near Flores.

The streets of Flores.
6 June 2011 (184km) – El Naranjo (Xahday Hostel)
The next day my mission was to find somewhere to get out $400 USD to make the payment necessary at the Mexico border, but my cards were playing up again.  After finally getting the money withdrawn at the airport I headed back to the hostel bumping into Kev and Lorraine on the way.  It seemed we were headed the same way and might meet up later on.  I packed up and left and on my way out I met a few bikers who were searching for a bike friendly hostel (at Los Amigos you can store your bikes in a nearby garage owned by the hostel owners) so I led them back to Los Amigos.  Finally I was off out of town and made it to La Libertad to fill up.  As I pulled in a noticed the BMW owned by Kev and Lorraine and so we hooked up and rode on.  It turns out the border at El Ceibo is closed for motorbike crossings on Monday’s so we stayed in El Naranjo for the night.  Many people had written that this place was a little craphole of a town and was only there because of the border.  In fact it was a cute little town with a beautiful river and great restaurants and backstreets.  We dined on a floating restaurant and returned to our cheap hotel ($5 night).

Nearly there!  Kev and Lorraine in front of me.
7 June 2011 (243km) – Aguas Blancas (Camp at waterfalls) BORDER CROSSING  - Guatemala to Mexico at El Ceibo
We headed off for the border about 8am the next day.  The general exit was easy, although a little timely with all three of us.  No hassles though.  On the other side at the massive new El Ceibo crossing things were fairly smooth as well.  Firstly we checked ourselves into the country at immigration and then moved on to check the bikes in.  At El Ceibo there is no credit card facility to pay the Banjercito temporary vehicle import permit (TVIP).  It is NECESSARY to bring $400 USD to pay the fee plus a little extra for other small fees.  All in all it cost about $440 or so to exit and enter at El Ceibo and was quite an easy border crossing.  Highly recommended!

As I'm writing this post so late.  I wish you all a safe and very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a wicked and wonderful New Year!  Take care.