We’ve been in Guatemala for 5 days now and it’s been nothing short of adventure. It’s captivated our attention from the get go. Crossing the border took 2 dreadfully long hours, not because it was difficult but because it was so grossly inefficient.
Crossing borders importing a vehicle requires multiple copies of all your documents to give them (title, passport, driver license, etc). We had all the copies but then they required a photo copy of the stamp they just put in the passport. So off we go scrambling to find a copy store. I jumped into a taxi while Tad waited with the bikes; 20 minutes later, I’m back with the copies. We had an old guy processing our papers who was moving at a snail’s pace. After 3 days of torrential downpour in Belize, we started the day out dry with a welcomed break in the weather, but by the time we were finished at the border, it was a torrential downpour again and our first glimpse of Guatemala was through heavy foggy rain in sloppy wet gear.
The good news is we were back in taco land so at the first opportunity we swerved in for some killer tacos and something to wash it down with.
As we headed toward Tikal about 1.5 hour away, the roads were surprising good being paved, stripped and no potholes. But that was short lived as it quickly turned into an extremely washboard, bumpy, slippery wet dirt road. Passing donkeys and pigs along the way, we were covered in white gritty mud residue by the time we stopped in El Ramate for the night.
El Ramate is a small town adjacent to giant Lake Peten Itza with calm tranquil clear water and surrounding mountains.
We checked into a hotel with Sassy Pants having a flat front tire and hung our wet gear to dry in the humid air which btw nothing really seems to dry well. The boots are starting to stink again…..
We met a couple Americans just outside the hotel and joined them later in the evening to watch the Seahawks game. A short while later we hear the unmistakable sound of the ‘67 Volkswagen van with a broken tailpipe, known to us as the Danger Bus http://www.thedangerz.com/
Since the Maya Rally and volunteering together, we’ve been intersecting with them on and off since Guanajuato, Mexico. Always cool to run into them and kind of feels like a family reunion every time we do. We toured Tikal the next day thankful for the rain had stopped long enough for us to do so. We decided it would be our last ruins of the trip as we’ve seen so many. Hate to say it and it may sound crass but after the first few, you’ve pretty much seen them all. It was $20 a person to get in which we thought was a little stiff, but well worth it as they are fantastic with abundant jungle wildlife.
I think we had more fun watching the monkeys and crazy colorful birds. At the main entrance to the park, we were issued a small white piece of paper along with a quick schpiel in Spanish, something about 25 and 45 km, and not really paying attention to what was written on it. Yeah, yeah, just give it to us the paper and we’ll be on our way. So off we go speeding down the road which was about 25 km the ruins. As we pulled into the 2nd entrance, a guard came out and asked for our white ticket and wrote down the time. Now we get it! The ticket was to clock our speed down the parkway. Oppz…. No way were we going the speed limit; definitely way over and assumed we’d be fined on our way out. As they stopped us on our way out, we had conveniently ‘lost’ our ticket and played the dumb American tourist card when they asked for the ticket. Huh? We no espanol hablo… duh. They rolled their eyes, opened the gate and waved us through. Lesson learned for next time.
Day 3 we set off for the Isla de Flores about 50 km away. As usual, Tad chose the route least traveled road which was the unpaved northern section around the lake. Oh what a beautiful ride this will be! Unbeknownst that the joyful Me would be soon be turning into ADVzilla. It was excellent packed dirt and gravel with the beauty of the lake on our left. The rain had stopped that morning so things were starting drying out. Well, it didn’t take long for it to turn into that famous Guatemalan lodo (mud) and by the 2nd section long section of thick, sticky, extremely slippery mud; I had lost my patience and will to live.
Cursing like a trucker, I was not happy to be dealing with mud early in the day or any part of the day for that matter. I don’t like that shit AT ALL. Maybe it’s because I’m not that experienced in it yet or maybe because I just don’t find it a pleasant ride. Motorcycles are outnumber cars here and are most economical for the locals. So while I’m struggling to get through the mud on the heavy loaded bike, they’re cruising through it like GS Giants. Their little 250’s passing me in their dress shoes with no mud stuck on them, while my boots are caked with the crap. They’re used to all the various conditions this country dishes out. It’s the same as Mexico; it’s not uncommon to see 3 or 4 people on one moto, including grandma’s sitting side saddle on back or parents with babies hanging off their side as they zip around town in flip flops. No one wears helmets or any protection whatsoever. I’m sure we look like complete idiots geared to the hilt in 85 degree weather.
We finally make it to the end and hit pavement (insert happy dance here) and stopped in the small village of San Jose. We rested a while by the lake and chat with picnicking locals who were beyond impressed with our big bikes and the journey we have taken to get there. Love this part of touring; talking broken Spanish and using hand language to communicate the best we can. We get by just fine and makes for some lively conversations.
We arrived hot, sweaty and covered in mud on the small island of Flores in the heat of the day. I’m fantasizing about my body being in the lake ASAP. We found a hotel that looked decent with a nice balcony and Wi-Fi. The room wasn’t so great; the hotel was full except on small room for $16/night with a double bed and a bathroom. No fan, bathroom door didn’t work and the sheets were questionable. Nonetheless, we dropped the gear and hit the lake to cool off. We spent one night there then moved to a much nicer hotel the next night a few doors down. Much happier.
We happened to stumble into Flores as the right time. Not only is this place beautiful, but the street food is cheap and fantastic, there are cool lancha’s (small wooden boats) and tuk tuks (a 3 wheel motorcycle taxi) giving the area an Asian like feeling.
There’s a big week-long celebration happening here as well. We haven’t quite figured out what it’s all about, but thinking similar to US Independence Day. There are multiple daily parades with music, dancing, costumes, paper-mache like puppets and men dressed in drag. The plaza near the church is the place to be in the evenings with music, food and vendor booths, families hanging out, dancing and kids playing.
But the real excitement is the insane fireworks. Guatemalan’s are Pyros!! God, how do I explain this one? The first display was a man who made a structure loaded with fireworks shaped somewhat like a bull that he wore over his body with only his legs showing. He barrels through the plaza with hundreds of firecrackers going off while he’s running around the crowd. We were sitting at a nearby table having some dinner and thought, wow…. That seems kind of dangerous! Check out the crazy video here: http://vimeo.com/57175871 But it was only the beginning. After the firecrackers burned out, 3 seconds later the fuse for the rest of the pyrotechnic arsenal goes off. I’m talking roman candles, fountains, spinners, bottle rockets, flame shooting whatever spraying into the crowd while people take cover. Holy F*ck!! Tons of them flying towards us, I dip behind chairs after one whizzes by my head and clipping my hair, one ricochets off Tad’s foot. Everyone is laughing, cheering and whistling.
Something you’d never see in the US! But wait.. there’s more friends. A few minutes later the second structure comes out, this time it’s a free standing but is the same effect. Everyone stands back while the fireworks make their assault. After taking the second shot to the head, I dive behind a chair taking cover. Tad’s braver and sits through it. It’s all fun till someone loses an eye or their hair catches on fire, right? Thankfully neither happened, and it was all good fun for sure.
After full bellies and fun festivities, we thought we end the night dipping our tired feet into the awesome lake. Along the malecon 8-9 rock steps provide access to the water and the dock we’ve been hanging out on the last few days. It’s late, it’s dark; as we got to the bottom step, the water is super clear, so I didn’t noticed water covered the last step before deep water (no easing in, it’s deep at the short line). It’s slippery with lake goo. I took that last step and whoop-de-frickin-do, all of a sudden I’m on a slip and slide and plunge sideways into the lake fully clothed WITH my purse, camera, iPhone and passport. *&$%^&@!!
Water felt great and it was really pretty funny. Getting my electronics wet sucked. Tad pulled me out and immediately pulled out my wet stuff and let it drain. The people on the dock were enjoying the side show I’m sure. We got some good giggles out it anyway. Hoping in 24 hours I’ll turn them on and they’ll miraculously work!
Guatemala is rocking our world. Today we saw a truck drive by pulling a huge cage with two full grown tigers. This place is like a circus on a daily basis, and we’re loving every minute of it. I’m sure if this is any indication of the rest of Central America, we’ll have stories stackin’ up. Finding time to write and post is another story. Stay tuned!