Crossing the Guatemalean border proved to be somewhat difficult, as to import a vehicle into the country requires the title for the vehicle. As Vermont doesn't issue titles for Motorcycles less than 300cc, this is a bit of a sticking point. Eventually, a local looked at the transferable registration paper and explained that it was a certificate of both title and registration. This white lie quickly greased the wheels, and I was on my way. In the future, I'll remember to say this first and avoid the drama. The other option is to photoshop myself a certificate of title, which would make things easier.
The roads in northern Guatemala are some of the most dangerous in the Americas for hijacking and robbery, as well as being a major drug trafficking route. However, it also contains the spectacular Mayan ruins at Tikal, and picturesque vistas of Lake Petén and Flores. It is definitely not a place where you want to be on the road at night though. So while the initial plan was to stop off at Tikal and spend the night at Flores, I ended up heading straight to Flores and heading back (only about 20km or so) to Tikal the next day. The road itself was in pretty good shape, besides a few patches under construction. I'd been warned the road was horrendous, but I didn't find it so bad.
Flores is a pretty little village on a island in the middle of Lake Petén. Connected to the mainland by a small causeway, Flores has managed to capture the essence of a mediterranean island, with the cobblestone streets and general decor. Tuk tuks are the only form of public transport here - cars struggle to fit on the small streets, let alone a bus. Not that they're really needed - the whole island is about 700m around the edge. The hostel I had looked at was full, but the manager recommended and booked my a cheap hostel, so I headed there and after a nice cheap dinner, I was out like a light.
The next morning I headed off to Tikal in the arvo, after a slow start. Tikal is incredible: jungle surrounds the 4000 buildings spread over 16 sqkm, the ancient city is certainly more impressive and serene than Chichen Itza or other competitors for the tourist dollar. The best part - you can actually climb several of the temples, including temple 4 - as the tallest temple, it offers unparalleled views of the other buildings poking out of the jungle. The stairs are pretty steep (a few fatal accidents have caused several temples to be closed for climbing), and quickly proved how much my fitness has suffered over this holiday!
The next day was a big one. The plan was to make it all the way to Antigua, and to climb Volcan Pacaya the following morning. Google maps and my GPS were in agreement that the journey would be about 480kms, and google said it would take 6hrs 30mins. I left Flores in my rear view mirrors at 10am, to give myself plenty of time before sunset at 630pm. The first few kms out of town were compacted limestone, but not too bad. It turned to bitumen with a few potholes, so it was looking good - it was sunny out, and I was ahead of schedule. I caught a quick barge ferry across a river (cost about 50cents!) and headed into the mountainside. This is where things got interesting, as the road became less straight. To be honest, a bowl of Ramen noodles has more straight lines than this road. Consecutive rising and falling hairpin bends connected by centimetres of straight road made for exciting, yet scary riding. Overtaking is heart in mouth stuff. If it was any steeper or twistier, it would have been a series of roundabouts stacked on top of one another. The upside? the road was a beautifully smooth and young bitumen. If there's ever a Central American TT, all they need is a few cones and checquered flag. Of course, Casey Stoner and co. may not be so happy about the landslides and collapsed sections of road. I was loving it, and still ahead of schedule. Then things took a turn for the slower and more adventurous.
Firstly, the road condition deterioated - it became a single lane old rural road on a slope so steep, the road seemed to lean out into the abyss. I had used the brakes so hard, that they started to weaken, and had to slow down further to avoid an accidental Evel Kinevel impersonation. Then the bitumen dissapeared, and I was on a limestone and rock track leading from farmhouse to farmhouse. Eventually, the road disappeared altogether.
No, I wasn't lost and the road hadn't petered out. I had come up to what was supposed to be a bridge, except all I could see was the supports. Thinking that the bridge had suffered from the developing world curse of long building periods, I cursed the GPS and Google. Then I looked downstream and saw the bridge, not on another set of supports but in the river. Several tons of metal, a perfect truss bridge, lying on its side and rusting away in the water. Some locals were shooting the breeze nearby, and I must have turned to them with a expressions along the lines of "what the hell?", because they were quick to explain that the bridge had been washed away in a flood 2 YEARS AGO. I knew things moved slowly in CA, but this was ridiculous. As I was contemplating how much I didn't want to turn around and backtrack, one of the men explained that I might be able to take the boat. This got my hopes up, until I saw what he meant - a small raft on a rowpe pulled by a couple of men (the river was only waist deep). The raft was about the size of a study desk, but the 'boatmen' seemed confident, and I was up for a bit of an adventure. After a bit of offroading up the river bank to the raft, we rested Isabella on her side for the journey across. They then put me in an inflatible dinghy, and I followed. It wasn't the most dignified crossing, but we both made it across, safe and sound (and relatively dry).
While this was all happening, the sun was retreating. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with night rapidly approaching. This was not good, but I had to persevere - camping out in this country is not an option. I headed through a few towns asking if there was a hotel/hostel/etc, and in San Raymundo I struck gold. The local Tacqueira owner knew someone who knew someone who would let me stay at their house. I was a bit nervous, but happy to be off the road. As it turns out, it was actually a hotel (my Spanish is not great yet), but no Holiday Inn that's for sure. It must have been for locals visiting families or something, as it had no real sign, and was off the only real road. Anyway, the guy took me in, showed me my room, and after I thanked everyone and had a delicious meal of tacos (I had missed lunch in the rush to Antigua), I collapsed.
The next morning I headed for Antigua, and after a short ride I hit the famous Panamerican highway. This road runs from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina (with a small break at the Darién Gap) and will feature prominently in my trip from now on (I may have already ridden parts in North America, but it's loosely defined and so difficult to be sure). After a few days of twisting dirt tracks, the CA-1 was as smooth as glass, and as straight as a ruler. Bliss - 60mph+ all the way. After arriving in Antigua, I got booked into a hostel and a seat on the afternoon shuttle up Volcan Pacaya.
The volcano hasn't been recently active (unlike a neighbouring volcano, which erupted in May), so I didn't see any molten lava but did see the effects of both a 2006 andd 2010 eruptuion. It proved to be an exhausting, yet interesting trek.
The next morning, I headed out to Isabella to find out that we had been robbed. I keep all my valuables on me at all times, so nothing of extreme importance was stolen - some clothes and camping gear was all. Still, it was annoying. So instead of getting an early start to El Salvador, I spent an hour or so at the tourist police office, filling out a report for insurance purposes. Guatemala has an unbelievably low conviction rate, so I knew there was no hope of getting my stuff back. After filling out the forms, I headed to the border.
Welcome to the blog!
The main purpose of this blog is as a permanent record of my adventures throughout the Americas by motorcycle. Feel free to comment or ask me any questions - I'm an open book.
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