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Category: Guatemala

A little detour to the ocean

A little detour to the ocean

Lise felt better this morning and so we were ready to move on! So of course it started raining… We waited it out until around noon, when the rain finally took a break,  packed up our things, and took off.

Before leaving Antigua
Before leaving Antigua

We had decided,  again after a recommendation from the motorcycle guides, to go straight south down to the coast and follow it a bit east to a little town called Monterrico. It was supposed to have some decent beaches, and the way we wanted to leave from there you had to take a boat on a river. Sounded like fun so we went with that. The road south was pretty and went without rain or other mishaps, the biggest thing was that it got pretty darn hot and humid. Along the cost the cold mountain air and winding roads had turned into sweaty straight roads with potholes and people selling fresh coconuts by the roadside.

We arrived in Monterrico around two in the afternoon and found a place to stay, despite the disapproval by our new friend Eric. Eric is a local guide or something  like that who recommends people where to sleep and sells them tours. He wanted us to choose a different hotel and go look at sea turtles. We didn’t…

Anyway we checked in and took a stroll through town to look for food. We were thinking a bit about having some rest and research first, but the electricity in the area is not turned on until four in the afternoon.  Monterrico seems to be a very small village that is very much dependent on local tourism. It has one main street with lots of small and simple restaurants and shops.  The rest of the roads are all dirtroads sided by small houses of different shape and quality. We had a pretty small and overpriced but decent seafood lunch, walked back to the hotel and went to the bar by the beach for a beverage in their sun chairs until dark.

lunch spot in Monterico
lunch spot in Monterrico
Antigua

Antigua

Lise’s stomach did not give her much sleep last night. Despite that we got up pretty early for some light and stomach friendly breakfast. While eating we met the owner of the hostel, who is a very friendly and helpful host. He had one of the staff make tea from Jacaranda leaves which apparently is good for controlling stomach bugs, and he just so happened to have a Jacaranda tree in the courtyard garden. Good stuff!

Hostel Antiguena courtyard
Hostel Antiguena courtyard

I had an appointment at noon with Evan (US) and David (Canada), two guys running a motorcycle tour company around the corner. I contacted them two weeks earlier and they were nice enough to order some spare parts for the bikes that I had forgot to bring. They also turned out to be really nice guys, and we chatted for a good while. I needed to change oil on the bikes and the guys offered to take me to their service guy to get it done. Said and done, David got up on a Honda 250 and guided me first to the store to buy oil, and then to a little alley way between rickety looking but colorful buildings. There he honked and a little gate made of sheet metal opened to let us in. Unfortunately I have forgotten the name of the mechanic, and I forgot to take pictures! But is is a friendly guy, maybe in his late forties and lacking quite a few teeth. His workshop is a backyard of packed dirt filled with small motorcycles in different stages of functionality. Two aprentices were working on a bike a bit further in, listening to some funky music while figuring out which screw fits where. David told me this guy is really good, that he has been on a few of their tours and that they plan to offer him to be part of their team eventually. He quickly serviced the bike and we made an apointment for the next bike to get a change and then we rolled out to have some lunch with Evan before returning to the hostel and Lise.

While I had been gone, Lise had gone for a stroll around town, visited a big market and pretty cool church “Iglesia de San Francisco” with some monastery ruins where apparently a Tarzan movie was filmed back in the 30’s. It looked really beautiful.

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In the evening we went to another restaurant recommended by the motorcycle guys called “Por que no?”. A really small restaurant with a great atmosphere and very interesting decore. The menu was small but the food was cheap and excellent!

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Back in the Saddle: San Pedro to Antigua, 100 miles

Back in the Saddle: San Pedro to Antigua, 100 miles


We woke up bright and early Monday morning to pack up the bikes for the trip to Antigua. I was happy to find that my stomach felt better and I even felt hungry for breakfast! Fingers crossed I was past the aches and explosions… We enjoyed some more spanish practice over breakfast with Alejandra, then packed up the bikes, checked the tires, oiled the chains, said our goodbyes and bounced our way out of San Pedro.

Alejandra, our Guatemalan mama
Alejandra, our Guatemalan mama

After inquiring with the locals, we chose to take the same route out of San Pedro that we took in earlier in the week. I was a bit nervous about riding the switchbacks in reverse (going UP). As I am still new to riding, I am in the process of learning to trust my bike on gravel patches and such. As we worked our way up and away from the lake, things were going pretty well and I was starting to feel okay. We were almost to the top and, luckily, had not been encountering that much traffic. One of the last turns was pretty steep with a fair amount of gravel, so I steered to my left to avoid the gravel and as I rounded the turn met a van! Shit! I braked in the middle of the turn, of course, and promptly tipped over in front of the van into the bushes. Ugh. In no time, five Guatemalans jumped out of the van, had my bike upright and pointed in the right direction. The driver sweetly told me I was almost to the top. I thanked them many times and was on my way before Linus could even make it back to investigate. He met me a few seconds later and knew something was up since my gloves were off… Bike lesson of the day: stay to the right and trust the tires on gravel. Duh. SO, that makes four tip overs for me so far. (I forgot to mention the tip over into the mud puddle last week when our attempt to find San Pedro went awry) Not bad for being 23 days in!

Poor little clutch handle
Poor little clutch handle

We continued back to CA-1 that pointed us toward Antigua and I tried not to let my little spill dampen my spirits, being the perfectionist that I am. This trip is proving to be a great exercise in constant attitude adjustement! The roads into Antigua were acutally pretty nice and we didn’t encounter too much traffic. By 12:00 we had already made it to our destination: An adventure motorbike touring company in Antigua that had ordered some parts for our bikes. The company is called Motorcycle Adventure Guatemala, and the owners Evan and David welcomed us with open arms and cold beers. Apparently the parts made it to Guatemala but were stuck in customs and would be free by the next day. No problem! We enjoyed some great conversation and got some good tips from the guys and then headed around the corner to find a hostel. We settled on Hostal Antigueno, which I immediately loved as we were greeted by an adorable weimaraner named Luka. The hostal grounds are beautiful and peaceful, a welcome change from the bustle and noise of San Pedro.

We ventured out into the city to find some lunch and I was happy to find that my stomach was still holding up! We ate some sandwiches and coffee and explored the city a bit more. It has very bumpy cobblestone streets with very old buildings and squares. Antigua has a spanish colonial style to it and tons of tiny little streets with many shops and restarants to explore. We also found many students and backpackers to be hanging out everywhere. The city is nestled under three volcanoes, the main one being called Volcan de Agua. It’s pretty dramatic to be walking the streets and look up to see an old towering volcano!

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After late lunch we headed back to the hostal to clean up and relax a bit. We met a nice lady from the netherlands who has been working in non-profit volunteer organizations for more than 20 years. She had a lot of interesting stories and information on the subject that we logged away for future use!  We found a nice indian place for dinner that was very affordable and delicious. I ate a smaller dish of eggplant and rice as my stomach was starting to act up again, and Linus had delicious lentil fritters with pita.

Tomorrow I will explore the city and Linus will work on the bikes at the shop. Getting ready for the upcoming three border crossings in two days!!

Last day at school, Sunday not-so-fun-day (for us)

Last day at school, Sunday not-so-fun-day (for us)

Today I let Lise stay in bed and went to school by myself. Her teacher was sad to hear she was sick, and went to prepare a list of medical words and phrases to study for the future.

I ended up being the only foreign spanish student in the school today, and the only other students were a group of locals studying Spanish. They speak spanish but their native language is a Mayan dialect, and not everyone speak, or especially write, correctly.

As I was recovering from my fever and stomach ache as well, my low energy and focus level tested the patience of my teacher and I made many basic mistakes. She was very understanding though, and I left the school with a bunch of new grammatical rules to study on the road.

I went home, picked up Lise and went to have a late brunch, eating light to make our stomaches happy, and went back home for some more rest and wait for the results of the food. I went up on the roof to play some trumpet and Lise put some washing to dry, while the kids on the rooftops all around us used the afternoon breeze to fly their kites.

Kite over San Pedro
Kite over San Pedro

As the results were pretty positive we went for a little evening stroll and some middle eastern restaurant (Many small Israeli food places in San Pedro). Me for falafel and Lise for carrot soup. Lise did well and could almost finish her soup. Sometimes eating is hard work! Hopefully it will sit well in her belly and we will be able to continue to Antigua in the morning. We will see…

Happy Birthday Linus!

Happy Birthday Linus!

Linus got some great gifts and some not so great gifts for his birthday! Let’s start with the nice ones.

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Two prominent noses

We woke up at 5:30 in order to meet our guide at 6:00 that would take us to hike the Indian Nose. It is a big mountain that lingers above the lake and really does look like a big nose! Our guide’s name was Martin and he is a brother of one of the cooperative  teachers. We hopped on one of the big scary buses that we keep encountering! Woohoo, a chance to be inside of one! They are called chicken buses. They are very cheap to take. They are literally old bluebird school buses that have been souped up with big engines and tires to handle the nasty Guatemalan roads. Our’s had a big Virgin Mary statue hanging from the rear view mirror… We headed back up the crazy, narrow, pothole ridden switchbacks, picking up many passengers along the way. A lot of the passengers have huge loads of stuff that another bus worker ties on top of the bus. He runs around on top of the bus while it is moving! By the time we hopped off in Santa Clara (where we slept this past Monday) the bus was packed!!

From Santa Clara our guide took us on a small path through some veggie gardens and corn fields. We then started climbing, pretty much straight up with a few switch backs. Hello to my legs that have been sitting on a motorcycle the past few weeks! After about thirty minutes up the back of the mountain we found ourselves on top enjoying a breathtaking view of lake Atitlan and it’s surrounding volcanoes. A great birthday present for Linus!

View from Indian nose
View from Indian nose
"The lake is that way..."
“The lake is that way…”

Beautiful hike with awesome views! Martín told us (in Spanish) that many many years ago lake Atitlan was a ginormous volcano and after it exploded it left behind a huge crater and, eventually, the beautiful lake! I had been wondering about this.. After enjoying the views we headed down the front of the mountain, winding through coffee fields and forests of avacado trees and past huge hillside vegetable gardens, mostly of tomatoes and beans. The three main crops cultivated here in the mountains around the lake are corn, coffee and  avacado, with smaller gardens next to the lake that grow a variety of vegetables.

Guatemalan coffee
Guatemalan coffee

At the bottom of the trail we found ourselves in the neighboring town of San Pablo. We walked through this much quieter town and over the hill back to San Pedro by 10:30. Not too shabby! We decided a nice cup of coffee and then maybe a nap before lunch was in order. No nap for me…

The coffee was nice from a cute little cafe down the street from our house, but we hadn’t been home more than 15 minutes that I started feeling a rumble in my stomach. And not from hunger. Let’s just say I spent the next 12 hours hugging the toilet! I guess I made it pretty far into the trip before montezuma struck.. And poor Linus ended up with a fever and headache. Happy birthday indeed! Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent laying low..

 

Continuous brain overload and kayaks on the lake

Continuous brain overload and kayaks on the lake

Four hours a day of Spanish classes might not seem like that big of a deal but oh dear, the sheer amount of information my teacher manages to squeeze in in those hours is mind-frying. Mixing grammars with irregular expressions and long conversations about politics, bandidos, tourism and other subjects that are just at the level where I’m not yet, she gets me to a state where my brain is at the verge of giving up and displaying a “signal lost” screen. But I love it, and I can’t wait until I am able to use all the  knowledge I gained to communicate with people down the road.

After another tasty lunch made by our Mayan hostess/mama we went down to the lake to find a boat to take us around for a tour. At the dock we learned that as it is low season and not many people are doing the lake tour, we could only get a private boat tour for 700 Quetzales (about 100$). We decided to rent kayaks instead for 3$/hour. While figuring all that out we met a young lady selling homemade rum by the dock. And not just any kind of rum, she had chili rum, sweet chili rum, strawberry rum, some kind of chocolate rum and a honey rum. We were offered samples of them all and they were GOOD! I would have loved to try the chili rum in cocktails! Imagine a chili mojito… Or Cuba libre!! But as we probably would drink it by itself we bought a bottle of really tasty strawberry rom. It’s about to be my birthday after all… Oh and one more thing: She spoke Danish, fluently. Apparently she lives there part of the year.

The kayaks were probably homemade, in fiberglass, but were light and pretty fast. Although the weather was a bit gray and foggy, the mountains shrouded in clouds and the towns spread out around the lake were really a beautiful sight!

 

San Pedro
San Pedro
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Some ladies washing clothes

We paddled around for about an hour and a half and returned to shore without incidents.

Went back home for dinner at 7 sharp, then back out to the supermarket to buy breakfast and a snack for tomorrow. We are going for a hike to a mountain called Indian Nose, and we will be picked up at 06.00!

Bright, sunny and EARLY mornings!

Bright, sunny and EARLY mornings!

So, something sort of interesting about this part of Central America is that it is using the same time zone as mountain standard time. Which is strange as it is more of a central/eastern time zone longitude. This means that the sun rises around 5:30. All year (I think)! Also, the sun sets around 6:00 pm. If you aren’t up and at em by 7:00 a.m. you feel like you’ve slept til ten. I actually really like it! Now, if you know me relatively well, you know I am a bit particular about my sleeping arrangements… A BIT. I’m pleased to say that for three nights in a row now, I have passed out with a bright fluorescent light shining over head, sounds of music, barking dogs, tuc tuc motors (LOUD 1 cylinder engine three wheeled taxis), and laughing and screaming children coming through the open window. No problemo!!

Today, we enjoyed a nice breakfast of papaya, a sort of runny oatmeal, bananas and pastry. And coffee of course! We started discussing access to health care in rural US with Alejandra (good español practice) and became late for Spanish school! I learned a lot today! Some basic stuff and some more complicated stuff. I’ve completed my homework for the night, but want to do some extra study to come up with a good list of questions for tomorrow. We only have two more days of classes! Tomorrow and Sunday. Saturday is Linus’ birthday and since our teachers have English class on Saturday, we are going to take a tour/hike up a big mountain for the day. Maybe I can find a cake for him too… probably no cakes on the mountain, though.. I digress!

After classes we enjoyed a big lunch of chili rellenos with rice and tortillas. So delicious!! Oh, and snack time at school were small tortillas stuffed with black beans and plantains, and then lightly fried. They are called rellenitos! I MIGHT have eaten three. But they were small..

After lunch Linus got serious about sorting out the boat business from panama to Columbia. You see, after sending a few emails over the past few months and not hearing from the boat company, we were starting to wonder if we needed a backup as the trip is scheduled for November 9. Linus made a phone call and left a message somewhere, then he discovered they have a Facebook page (of course). He left a message there and heard from them (of course) almost immediately. So we are still on our original timeline! I’m slightly bummed because the alternate boat left later in November which meant we could’ve stayed here for more Spanish study!! Oh well.

For the few hours before dinner we wandered to the water front and found an outdoor pub where we enjoyed a few beers while doing our studies. A table of British sounding ex pats were sitting next to us. It was interesting to overhear their conversations and get a glimpse into what it’s like to live/hide I San Pedro as a foreigner.

Dinner with Alejandra was a lighter fare of eggs, black beans, and queso fresco. And tortillas of course. It’s nice, lunch seems to be the big meal of the day with something simpler for dinner.

Tomorrow morning we have more class time and in the afternoon hopefully a boat ride around lake Atitlan. ¡Buenas Noches!

Finding a rhythm in San Pedro

Finding a rhythm in San Pedro

Wow! I’ve been slacking on the blogging lately. Let’s just say Linus is much more persistent than I am when it comes to dealing with sloooow internet.

Well, here we are on day two in San Pedro for Spanish school and day 18 of the entire trip. It feels like a lot more then just 18 days as so much happens in one day.

San Pedro is a beautiful little town nestled in the hills above Lake Atitlan. It’s population is around 14,000 with a mix of locals speaking both Spanish and the local Mayan dialect as well as a diverse group of tourists (mostly young twenty somethings seaking laid back Spanish study and a partying night life). I am glad we opted to stay with a host family rather than in a hostel. It’s more our speed and will be great for Spanish practice!

It feels so good to be in one place for a while! Slowing down and finding a simple routine was much needed for me. Classes are in the morning from 8-12. We take a break around 10:30 to enjoy coffee and an authentic snack. Tuesday was two corn tortillas stuffed with black bean purée. They are called tayullos. Yum! Today we had homemade tamales! The classes are one on one, which is great, and the school environment is beautiful and peaceful. I love it! Thanks for the wonderful recommendation Livy!! You can learn more about the school at: cooperativeschoolsanpedro.edu.gt

The host family we are living with is a husband and wife, Pedro and Alejandra. Pedro is a nurse! He helps a lot of people in the community that are sick and can’t afford a doctor. It’s great! Alejandra is very much a mother to us already. Her cooking is fabulous, and she is very helpful with our Spanish speaking. Also, it is really nice to have a break from trying to find dinner and eating in restaurants every night.

This afternoon we walked to a futbol stadium above the town to get a good view of the lake. So beautiful! We then walked all the way back down to the tourist street by the lake in search of fresh juice as we couldn’t find any in our neighborhood (turns out it’s a morning thing for locals, duh). We found a little juice bar and I enjoyed beet, carrot, apple, ginger while Linus had orange, melon, apple and garlic! An adorable perro snoozed under our feet a while we drank. (Did I mention I miss Django?!)

Linus and our juice buddy
Linus and our juice buddy

Back home for pre dinner homework and studying, I realize I have sooo much to learn!! I feel I could stay here for a month and really get a good grasp on the language. For dinner Alejandra cooked much needed fresh and local veggies with homemade (always) tortillas. Our bellies were very happy!

I really love the simplicity of the lifestyle here. The people don’t have a lot, which makes you realize how much you don’t need. The house is simple but clean. The bathroom is a shower right next to the toilet. The water is cool, but you adjust. Instead of a sink there is a big tile lined basin with a flat cement surface next to it with a drain. You use a small bowl to dip into the big basin for clean water and use that to wash your hands, face, clothing etc.. When you are done the water goes down the drain at the back of the cement surface,  but you must take care not to mix it with the clean water! I was so excited that we got to hang our clean clothing out to dry on the rooftop of the house! The view is spectacular, and the clothes dried so quickly because of the breeze. I could get used to this for a while.

View from the clothes line
View from the clothes line
Back to school in San Pedro

Back to school in San Pedro

Ok so we gave finding San Pedro one more chance! After a quick coffee-and-bread breakfast we defied my GPS and went for what looked like a bigger road to San Pedro, although this one seemed to have its quirks too…

Road to San Pedro
Road to San Pedro

The map turned out to be right and we found ourself doing narrow turns about a hundred times down a mountain on a small road with patches of asphalt and potholes that would make a decent SUV cry, while overlooking a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains and volcanoes! I stopped for a picture but quickly got the stinkeye from one of the many vehicles going up and down the road. Apparently I was parked in a not so bad spot of the road that everyone wanted to use…

About one hour later with 9 miles ridden (13km) through a couple of small towns and countless potholes we arrived in San Pedro! We found our way through small small streets up steep hills wrestling with tuc-tucs in the limited space and finally parked outside the Cooperative Spanish school.

The school itself is in a kind of garden with separated classrooms for one on one lessons in straw huts and small three walled sheds, and it’s located far enough up the hill that you can see the lake and mountains.

Our teachers had been waiting for us (we were late for morning classes by about one and a half hour…) So we quickly unloaded our gear and went straight to class.

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After finishing our day at noon we got introduced to our new mother, Alejandra, a Mayan lady with whom we were going to stay for the duration of the week. She speaks only Spanish and might just be the most patient person I ever met. She led us to our housing and showed us where to park our bikes inside some gates beside the house. Then she made lunch for us and we ate while telling her all about our trip in badly broken Spanish while she patently corrected us and politely replied “ah, mucho interesante!”

We then went for a stroll and checked out the street close to the lake. It seems like there are lots of young people here studying Spanish year around, and even though this is low season we saw plenty of youngsters strolling around between small coffee shops and fresh pressed juice stands.

Because Guatemala is on a weird timezone the sun goes down real early, around 5.30 or so, and we decided to find our way back home and not be late for dinner with our hostess.

After dinner it was time to catch up with Spanish homework and Internet based activity until bed time.

Feels great to know we will be staying  here a week!

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Into Guatemala

Into Guatemala

Woke up early, bought some bread. With pork… Lise got the bread,  I got yoghurt. And off we go towards the border.  The goal today: To reach San Pedro la laguna,  location of our Spanish school,  where someone was supposed to wait for us in the evening. The border highway keeper changing between a wide fast road and a narrow gnarly thing but finally we reached the border town, full of street vendors and small shops. Seemed like a good idea to come Monday morning,  we were basically the only ones crossing with vehicles. Yeah about that… We got our bikes sprayed with some anti Mexican bacteria spray and was told that we should have stamped our passports and canceled the Mexican vehicle papers 4 km earlier (3 miles for mrca).

So back we go and found the immigration office right there. No signs,  but who needs signs anyways. The border guys were nice though and after about 30 minutes we were ready to try again. Got back to the border and this time we made it through after about 45min to an hour of paper exercises. Riding out of the town the nature had already changed into even more dramatic mountains and clouds hanging over ridges and covering the tops.

The roads also quickly got worse and many were the pot holes and stretches missing asphalt. Still a lot of heavy traffic and insane bus drivers rushing down the hills and punishing their vehicles slowly crawling up hill,  black smoke pouring out the exhaust pipe and making our eyes itch. After a few hours, and few miles because of the road,  we stopped to get some guatemalan quetzales (currency) and lunch. Lise managed to sniff her way to good ceviche and we had a great meal.

Then back to the road. With rain this time… After a couple of showers it stopped,  and we managed to stay fairly dry inside our rain protection.

We got close to a bigger town and traffic got crazy.  The road had two lanes in each direction going up and down mountains, and every couple of thousand feet a car was broken down in the right or left lane,  or a semi truck huffed along at about 5mph (8.8kmh?). So we had to elbow our way between lanes and sneak in between trucks and cars. Finally around 6.30pm we reached our exit and got on a small road over hills and between houses. I was following my GPS and it led us through villages with small small streets and out on the fields again. Down winding roads on mountain sides and up steep narrow passages.  After a while tarmac turned to gravel. Then gravel turned to mud,  and it got pretty dark. I had my doubts but Lise put her foot down and I looked at the map again. Don’t blindly trust your GPS people, the shortest way is not always the best. Especially when in Guatemala… So we turned around,  went back to the closest village,  called Santa Clara la laguna, found a woman with a phone in her store and called the school to tell them we wouldn’t make it today. Asked for the closest hotel and got ourself a cheap clean habitat after a long hard day.