GUATEMALA: Coatepeque — a roadside camp near San Martin — Quetzaltenango (Xela) — San Pedro La Laguna
Hola Chicos, aprendemos espanol para dos semanas en Lago Atitlan, y es bueno… ok, ok enough of that. We’re learning quickly but not that quickly… it’s flippin’ hard! We’re currently holed up in San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan, resting our bodies and giving the brains a workout after the ride here.
We’ve now been on the road for 6 months, though in only two countries and one border (more about that here ) so it was about time to crack on. We’d heard a few stories about the Mexico/Guatemalan border and although we weren’t nervous, we were… well, actually, we were excited, a New Country! The border should have been uneventful and had Edwards not decided to clear out his handlebar bag of everything non-edible, probably would have been. Turns out that yes, you do need that scrunched up bit of paper to prove you paid for the visa….even though you have the actual visa…. 2 hours and much line-joining, gesturing, Spanglish and sighing later and we were through the border. The ‘annoyingly slow’ lady wasn’t actually slow, she was ensuring Edwards wasn’t on the Mexico Most Wanted list so we wouldn’t have to pay again (he’s not, and we didn’t, phew). Thank you again Veronica, we never doubted you, not for a second.
Over the border, into Guatemala and immediately everything’s looking different. We were assuming it would be more of gradual change, but no. The first sight is of fishermen on the river between the countries, and a simple, perhaps harder life. Due to the border delay we crack on heading for Coatepeque. We’d been cycling the previous couple of weeks – on and off – with Wolf & Songbird and just 5 mins out of town Bruce gets another puncture so we stop for a repair and start sweating in the heat. We buy some drinks-in-a-bag off a man who after hearing we’ve just arrived and what we’re doing promptly gives us two more – Welcome to Guatemala kids! Back on the road and still sweating profously we start climbing towards Coatepeque where we find a bed for the night in a hotel/Chinese restaurant/apartment block. After the kind of sleep you only get after a massive Chinese, a couple of beers and a lumpy mattress, the next morning we head to the restaurant for a coffee-breakfast. We end up staying an hour solidly making our way through a tin of Christmas biscuits and chatting with the owner (mainly Jess, we didn’t have much Spanish chat in us!) and leave with a T-shirt each for the girls and are told the coffee/biscuits were on the house. It’s safe to say first impressions of Guatemala were good.
Back on the bikes out of Coatepeque and straight UP. We’re talking 20-25% grades in places, constant climbing. It was tough tough tough on a fully-loaded bike in heat and humidity and took us 2 (admittedly short but) tiring days to get to Quetzaltenango, aka Xela. We had a mid-way wild camp which we weren’t entirely prepared for (‘60k? Yeah, fine…’) until Jess spoke to a local who we could buy some water and noodles from so we could then pool the rest of our food and settle in for a beautiful sunset and welcome sleep in our matching tents.
Riding into Xela past the potato HQ of the world, aka San Martin, was a downhill breeze after the previous days’ climb and a quick lunchtime stop for food and a work call then saw us rolling into town and checking into a hostel, complete with roof terrace/bar 🙌🏻. We then spent an extra day in Xela with the lovely WS host, Ana and her menagerie of pets, and revived, set off and up towards the Lake.
Lake Atitlan is ‘the most beautiful lake in the world’ so said Ernest Hemingway and whilst we’ve certainly not been to all the lakes in the world we’d agree that its probably right up there! The day’s ride there consisted of 50k beautiful roads and then 30k ‘interesting’ roads. 50k generally up – but less steep than before thank goodness…- and then a long gentle downhill (bliss) before the turn-off for the lake. It then gave us everything: pot holes, VERY steep short hills, unfinished roads, a death-defying descent of about 25-30% for 10k which required several stops to let our rims cool down, and finally we reach San Pedro’s small winding, cobbled and busy one-way streets.
Jess and Bruce had gone ahead of us and were already in San Pedro so we turned up at their lovely, simple AirBnB our usual sweaty, dusty and exhausted selves just in time for dinner. After a couple of nights playing house with them we then met our temporary family, the Mendez’s.
Fast forward and we’ve now been living with the Mendez’s for 12 days. 12 days in which we’ve had 4 hours of Spanish at the local language school (Cooperativa) every day, and many hours of play, stumbling conversations in Spanish, muchas food and many hairstyles en la casa, every day. Edwards is in charge of play and Grimer supplies the hair, we’re not quite as enthusiastic as we were the first day, man these girls have stamina…
Spanish school is muchos funos*. We’ve got a teacher each which is pretty intense but works well because we’re learning at different rates and learn best in very different ways – ie. one needs pictures, one needs games…! Throughout Mexico our spanish did improve but we’d never progressed much beyond survival stage and even that was usually with lots of gesturing/mime (a ‘highlight’ was the Chamois Creme Episode in Baja – you can imagine…) so we’re looking forward to testing it out on some more unsuspecting victims who aren’t as patient as the family/locals here. Watch this space…
*not an actual Spanish word