19 - GUATEMALA
Tikal to Panajachel - 19/01/04 - 28/01/04
Next day as we headed out of the park we met Leif and Amara along the road. We stopped, had a big chat and swapped emails. We were the first other couple on a bike they had met. They were doing every dirt road possible so we didn't really think we'd see them again.
The road south had quite a few pot holes but generally wasn't too bad. Next stop was Rio Dulce, a grubby little town on the river full of ageing Americans. We found a nice place on the river and stayed for a few days.
One day we took a trip down the river to Livingston a little town on Guatemala's very small Caribbean coast.
It was great to be out on the water and there were some amazing houses along the river. Livingston is a cool little town with excellent seafood and very relaxed. On the way back the boat was only half full, as it was late, so we went really fast which was fab.
This trip though made me realize why we are doing this journey by bike. If we were using public transport we would have had a very short marriage, with R probably coming to a gruesome end.
We had to wait for the boat to be full before we could go. This was about 50 minutes. Within five R was wanting to know why we couldn't go on the bike (no roads), why the boat couldn't go half empty, why hadn't he brought a book, why hadn't he brought his computer!! Arhhhhh....
We have talked about it since and realized we could never do this trip any other way.
We left Rio Dulce very happy to know that in just a few days we would see Rich and Sylvia again. They are the friends we met last year biking in Norway. They had been in Europe again so we didn't expect to see them, but us being so tardy they were of course home in Panajachel.
So, the road to El Estor. This is what it has become known as but was in fact there and beyond.
We had a pretty crap map of Central America and the roads were quite scarce. We wanted to avoid Guatemala City if possible so took the road along the lake which wasn't actually marked on our map. We had talked to Steve, an old American dude who said it wasn't paved all the way but should be fine as the buses used it. What a nightmare. It was paved for about the first five miles of 100. The rest was mostly a joke. Actually to El Estor wasn't too bad but then it just got worse and worse.
Made it through the mud hole
It was corrugated dirt with huge potholes, then it was just huge potholes, then it was mud. It climbed about 5000 feet, twisted and disappeared to tiny tracks. Some sections seemed to have had a river running down them. After 3 1/2 hours I just wanted to get off anywhere, but there was nowhere to stop. I started watching the miles tick by. Trying not to look too often, but every time I looked back we'd only done about half a mile.
The road got worse, R was getting tired and it was getting later and later.
Several times I had to get off and walk as the mud was so bad and the bike is so heavy. We had a few scary moments but somehow R managed to keep the bike upright and keep going. There was even a river to cross. I walked through and was then supposed to take a pic of R looking particularly tough. I got up the bank out of the way, turned round and he was already coming. I completely missed him! Not happy about that.
Missed R being heroic!
Finally the road started to get better, but it was now getting dark and there were very few vehicles about. I started thinking about the stories of being held up but there was nothing we could do we had to get to Coban.
Eventually we got to the tarmac road and found our way to Coban. Found a hotel and collapsed.
We had to rethink the next day, the road we had intended to take was going to be more of the same and it just wasn't fun.
Luckily we found lovely Fernando in reception who advised us to go for it through the City and drew us the most detailed map. He spent about an hour with us, gave us his email and phone no and a friends number in case we ever needed any help. We are continually amazed by genuinely kind and generous people. Would this happen in London?
The directions were perfect, but we still managed to turn off too soon and get somewhat lost.
There are so many scary stories about Guat City but we stopped so many times to ask people directions and just found smiling helpful people everywhere.
Finally we got out and headed up in to the mountains.
We turned south to Panajachel and everything just got prettier, the road swooped down to Lake Atitlan surrounded by volcanoes.
We got into town, found a phone and luckily found Rich & Sylvia home.
Headed out of town, up the hill and found their house. Pulled in to the drive, off the bike and just stood and stared. We'd arrived at sunset..... This was definitely not Stoke Newington. How did we get here?
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