Category Guatemala

Done

It wasn’t easy

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You’re kidding me, I said

So, off to the City again this morning to get my new plates. Paperwork complete, all approved and looking forward to getting my border-shortcutting investment behind me.  And Guatemalan plates will make a great souvenir at the end of the day. They’re a good blue-on-white and will complement Lucinda nicely.

Not much of a line-up and within 30 minutes I’m in front of the same guy who *helped* me yesterday. He keys stuff into the computer for a few minutes, prints out some forms, gets me to sign a couple of them, duly giving me copies of everything. Then he importantly presents me with the last one and asks me to sign and points at the clock behind him.

So, seriously, translate it yourself, here was the deal:

I had exactly 60 minutes to get out of the building, find a bank in this chaotic city, park, get in line, make a direct cash deposit to a specified bank account or the whole thing was dead and I was completely screwed. I guess I was a bit punch-drunk at this point because my reaction was to laugh out loud. And I did, which no-one in the big room appreciated. They probably thought I’d lost my mind. I thought maybe they were right. The guy in front of me smiled.

Then I regained my senses,  jumped up and made a race for the door, glancing at my watch. Fuck, I thought, this is hardball they’re playing.

Cutting this short, I got lucky. I made it with time to burn and got a time-stamped receipt.

So we’ll see what happens tomorrow, Everyday they say I will have my plates tomorrow, it doesn’t happen and the hurdles get higher. But there’s an outside, way outside, chance I’ll get the last laugh. I’ve been working on it.

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Guate!

I’m not a resident nor have been here for whatever time is required to earn the right to refer to Guatemala City with the post-title slang, but that would be the exclamation today by someone who is/has.

Guatemala City, pretty accurately, say somewhere on 4th in Kits, in one pic
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We were supposed to leave this country we love (a bit) today and now it looks like Friday. Hours in line-ups at various equivalents to ICBC departments playing musical chairs (you all sit in a big bank of chairs and all get up and move one left, and forward-right when advancing a row, when the lucky person front-left gets his/her turn, so with say fifty people you do this fifty times, and they don’t think it’s hilarious)

I did this at two locations and all went smoothly until the very last moment, when the document needed was right in front of me, and the guy looked up and said: NO.

Oh man – heard that in the last few days. The date on something somewhere in the huge stack of documents was dated tomorrow.

So. We’ll see tomorrow. It’s living 3rd world cliches. But given time is not a factor in the big picture, it’s all pretty cool. You get to be part of this strange big thing, and it’s not actually hurting you, it’s just bumping up against you. No bruises even so far. It can get very nasty, specially here in Guate, but so far so good, and how often can you say, thousands of miles away from home, you’ve descended into the depths of a complete fuck-up?

As is glaringly obvious, there are two distinct classes of people who do this round-the-world thing: people who know how to do it, and people who don’t. The riders who’ve had forays into Mexico and Central America before they bite off the big one are in the first camp. People who come down from pretty Vancouver lilly-white, and get smacked around, don’t. But it’s the best thing to do, ever.

Deer Park

So I’m sitting here looking at routes south. It’s been a long time repairing the ribs, then toughing out waiting for the parts Lucinda needed to get her on her feet again.

This morning we had a great ride with Julio, Luisa and Claudia into the country and at a moment, all my immediate plans changed. I had planned northeast to Semuc Champey, Tikal, but no more. The words of Helge, which I’d discounted up until now, suddenly were crystal clear. He told me that the urge to push hard *away* would be strong. I was sitting over a coffee when it hit me. I couldn’t head northeast – I had to head south NOW. Scrap the plans.

I called Julio an hour ago. I have to go. Sorry, I said. He knew exactly what I meant, didn’t question it, and he’s going to zoom across the El Salvador border with me (well he hasn’t told Luisa yet, but that’s the plan). I have to go to Guatemala City tomorrow to get my new plates (hopefully no problems here), give Lucinda new tires and fluids Tuesday, take the girls out to dinner, smart move, then we’re off.

There have been a couple of times when I’ve had this feeling of urgency. As time with Lucinda passes we’re more grounded, a bit more experienced, which somehow makes the urgency all the greater. We had a great talk yesterday, as we picked our way down a steep rocky path.

We’re a long way from our first days out together, when I was pushing her hard, knew absolutely nothing, trying to do a 700K days (that didn’t last long). So why is this blog called Deer Park? Because this is the crazy place we started from

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Saludos, Guatemala

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Vultures

There was work to do this morning. emails, banking, laundry, all the stuff that hasn’t been done in the last week. Then I couldn’t stand it anymore and went for a ride.

There’s a loop around Volcan de Agua (the huge Volcano that dominates the valley) that’s dirt between the pueblos of Santa Maria de Jesus and Palin. About 1/3 of the rest is a main road.

If you’re in the area here’s the track

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A few miles out you ride through Santa Maria de Jesus. A town made entirely out of unpainted cinder blocks.  This is a classic example of why you don’t ride at night in Central America. A dangerous town

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Then immediately into country around the base of the volcano. Lucinda is running around without her panniers for the next few days. She thinks it looks OK but doesn’t like the feel of her rear wheel in steep descents, she says, adjusted as she is to having more weight back there. Not for the first time we think we need a quick-reference setting for the rear Ohlins preload.

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Then, a little further is the pueblos’ garbage dump, which is for hundreds of yards the side of the road

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Huge vultures resting in the trees

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Back into the woods

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But they’re always there

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Another hour or so later things deteriorate again for a long way

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Into Palin then back

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Border wars

Now, where were we?

First, a track. This is a big one. Belmopan through the border, to Ni’tun, to Antigua
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Back at Belmopan I changed brake cables, did a bleed. No center stand, so Lucinda got tied to a post and her bars tied while I worked.
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Which all took two hours, about an hour and a half more than it would take someone who had done it a bunch of times. And off we went, through beautiful Belize, which I mentioned before is horsey. This tree, btw, is the rain tree because it drips for hours after the rain stops
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The trees in Belize are monumental
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So off we went to San Ignacio, which is on a pretty river. It’s almost record-setting hot here so for miles people are trying to cool off in it
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A river crossing in town
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The border is interesting. You see that little white building centre-right? That’s where you get your photocopies of everything made.
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So after going through Belize Immigration, clearing our Belizean permit, going through Guatemalan immigration, getting copies made, we then hit a solid wall at Gautemalan customs.
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So here’s the story.

My re-entry in Mexico a few weeks ago was partly to see the Yucatan and Belize but critically I had to clear my Guatemalan permit by April 14, which I did. Applying for a new permit at Melchor de Mencos a couple of weeks later, last Saturday, to re-enter (yup, I know, a lot of entries and re-entries) I was told that I couldn’t re-enter until July 14. What?!

None of my friends knew this (they don’t expire a three month permit first) and I’d read ADV and HUBB exhaustively about Central American borders, and had heard nothing about a three month wait between bike permits. I couldn’t believe it. Screwed. So I asked for a transit permit straight through to El Salvador and they said no way. After the supervisor grilled me about what I had been doing in Guatemala, where I lived there, who I knew, what my plans were, he decided that I was planning to stay and I had no intention to go through to El Salvador in a few weeks. Let’s just say he was a jerk, typical of the problems you run into.

So I rode back to San Ignacio, about 20 miles back and checked into a hotel to plan my next move. I had 12 days to clear my Belizean permit and be somewhere else other than Guatemala. I made a reservation on the boat from Belize City to Puerto Cortes in Honduras. My back-up plan. Easy and time to burn.

But it’s not what I wanted to do. Firstly, I loved Guatemala and wanted to see Tikal, Semuc Champay, monkees, and had made a promise to someone that had to be cleared.

So I called Julio and Taz. Julio knew someone who knew someone (really) who could help me pay a *fine* and get a transit visa at least. Then there was another option – import the bike. Complex, time consuming and perhaps expensive, we all looked at that.

Julio’s friend’s friend handled the *fine*. Taz rode up to assist with the import, if it came to that.

I can’t tell you how difficult it was getting a 72 hour permit, which effectively, because of the time it was issued, was a two riding day permit.

I think they both said at different times “hey, that’s why they call this adventure riding” and I took solice in the knowledge that there have been worse stories in the recent past down here, including to ‘Chefonbike’ from BC who got refused in Costa Rica about 2 weeks ago. They said his ICBC document wasn’t an ownership document. And ‘shmula1’ who had his bike impounded for 24 days because his NY title looked bogus, but wasn’t.

Anyway, by the time it was dark it got done. Taz, Lucinda and I raced off into a huge lightning storm to Ni’tun, about 2 hours away, on mixed dirt and pavement.  The storm was huge, the road awash and the dirt sections ‘sketchy’ as Taz put it. But imagine how big a push this was for Taz who, who had ridden very fast for six hours to get to me before hand. Wow.

Ni’tun was a magical place and served the best food of any small lodge I’ve stayed at in Guatemala. We were there for 10 hours only – lots of food and a little sleep.
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In the background we were still working the problem. We found out that Lucinda’s blue-book value was way less than I had imagined and did the maths on importing her so I could complete Guatemala. Julio knew how to do this and had a friend in Guatemala City who had done a few bikes for him previously. But we had 24 hours to do it before Lucinda became illegal again.

The following morning we pulled a 545km day, which on these roads is big. At midpoint we stopped to eat at Rio Dulce in incredible heat. Taz reckoned 105F.
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To make another long story short, Taz and I raced off yesterday back to Guatemala City to see Julio’s friend in Aduana (customs). We had four separate rides, maybe four hours, of hair-raising fast lane-splitting (about 60% of the time) in the chaotic GC traffic. If we failed, or something went wrong, I had to skip to El Salvador by midnight last night. Interesting.

And we got it almost done. One more thing I have to do and there’s no more Central American border crossing hassles, as most of the countries honour my new Guatemalan plates, when I get them. In the interim I’m legal again as they process the plates.

It’s difficult to easily accept how hard Julio and Taz pulled to help make all this happen. But they are, after all, ADV riders, and have been through hell and back themselves. Two more years of this I’ll be one too and ready in BC as they and others come through.

And Lorena, thank you.

A monster moth, 6 inches across
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Antigua to Palenque, part 2

The next day is a dirt day, an out-and-back.

The previous two days have been pretty uneventful as we went about our riding. Brief stops only and many miles of mountain roads. Only one lunch stop in the three days for example.

Today’s different, no more twisties. We set off early across the plains of Chancol, staying high, riding through rural, thinly populated and frankly hostile feeling landscape. This is a dry, high-altitude place removed. I don’t think you’d ride up here for the first time without being told something about it first. There’s nothing that feels like a spiritual oasis for even a moment. At its most lush it looks like this
P1050399 It’s going to be one of those great riding days. The set-off is perfect. For some reason the dirt and the grave don’t loosen up and it’s easy to go relatively fast. It’s hot, and fast cools us off. P1050332

The sides of the hills are farmed up onto the steeps P1050358 The chaos is harmonious. They’re not good at crop rotation and can plant 5 or 6 corn crops in a row, effectively killing the soil. This seems in contrast to what I’ve learned about Mayan agricultural skills but forget to ask about it. So they cut higher and higher up the hillsides, I guess until the lower land restores itself. This is one of the driest two months of the year which is why it looks barren.
P1050373 We pass clusters of homes on our way.

At one point, which I don’t photograph, there are bigger and more modern houses. Julio asks me if I noticed the new Escalade in one driveway and implies the obvious.
P1050359 And occasional clusters of Kniphofia. I’m surprised to see them here – they don’t come from here, they’re from Africa. He says they often make hedge rows. It’s the only colour on the plains. P1050379

After maybe 20 miles we rode into a historic area called Tuicoyg. Here the Mayans cluster the homes together more and as usual cinder blocks make up 90% of the construction.

We sat and watched a small village for about 30 minutes. A few women and children purposefully went from A to B, not giving us much notice.
P1050377 Photographing the Mayan women up here, and in particular the children, can get you into a world of trouble but this particular lady was friendly and curious about us.
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P1050402 An original home. Identical roofline to the metal one a couple back. P1050344

Uh oh
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As we rode further west the valley fell off into waves of green.
P1050371 Into a stunning gorge, out of nowhere. The edge of the plain abruptly stopped. the views are dependent on air condition which is highly variable. We’d walked to a hilltop twice in another place to see the volcanoes in the distance but had little luck. This was the best Guatemalan view I’d had yetP1050345

Being pressed to get caught up on this journal I’ll dodge reflections. But no ride through Guatemala is complete without coming up here.

We made our way back. A short day, 57 miles, and all perfect easy dirt. I was extremely grateful to Julio for showing me this place.

At the farmhouse there’s another guest. A German fellow, mid 30’s who’s backpacking through Central America.

When we arrived back the farmhouse was locked and no-one was around. About ten minutes later, a guy on a bike rolled up the trail/road and started in on Julio excitedly. When he finished Julio told me this: The German guy had wandered off the road, walked up to a Mayan house, scared the woman and her child, ran up the hillside was nabbed by 40 natives with machetes. They’d being holding him for 3 hours.

Julio has a grasp on all this. He told me that 5 Japanese people found their way up here, made some mistake and had been murdered less than a kilometre away. He also told me that another had been chopped into pieces. And another burned. He decided he could negotiate with them. We were miles away from any help. Somehow his calm led me to believe a positive outcome was something he was confident about and offered to join him. He surprised me by saying *no, best not to put both of us in danger*. I thought oh fuck, this isn’t clear cut after all… He rode off.

I suited up and rode down to a spot, sat on my bike ready to go, in a spot I could see him coming back from and gave him an hour after which I was going to ride to Huehuetenango for help. He was back with 12 minutes to spare. But no German on the back of the bike. Julio told me he’d resolved it by getting some admission signed and the guy wanted to walk home. He shook his head with resignation. An hour later the lucky guy returned. There’s a backstory to how this was very nearly made much worse but that’ll be for Julio to tell.

Next day it was time to part ways and for me to set off for the border so we talked about anything relevant, looked at maps and I listened particularly hard.

Antigua to Palenque, part 1

I arrived at Parque Central early. I wanted a walk around before leaving.
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The plan is to swing back through for a tire and oil change on my way south again, but this felt like leaving.

Julio shows up for our 7:00 am start. Julio’s been riding in Central America for 30 years. He rode out for a couple of the shakedowns in the last few days, including taking Taz me and Bo to a Macadamia Nut ranch for lunch one day.
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A couple of days ago we went for a group ride. Julio and his wife Luisa, Taz and Abbey, Bo and Claudia and me. Parking lot portrait shots, haha

Abbey, Taz and Bo
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Julio and Luisa
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Me and Claudia
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So back to the story.

Julio shows up and without killing his engine, smiles and said *shall we go?* and off we went. Julio refers to Guatemalans as mountain people and he’s got a mountain route planned accordingly.

Our first stop is at the ruins of Iximche (now normally I’d add some research to all this but since this is a multi-post evening I’ve got to motor through some of it. And I need space to write up the kidnapping. Ha, now you’re hooked)
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This is the best preserved of the structures. The whole site was in an advanced state of erosion. Originally the city looked like this
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Meanwhile the bikes took an opportunity to get to know each other. Lucinda thought she was nice but pretty quiet for a big girl
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Then it’s that damn blast through Chimaltenango
P1050240Then on through the tightening landscape, into the hills. Guatemala, a small country, has a population of 12M and 3M live in the CIty. So no matter what view you have (in the south and southwest) you see and travel through pueblos frequently. The towns look like they’re poured into the valley bottoms. More later.
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Soon we arrive at the town of Chichicastenango. God what a cool name. Unlike, say, Squamish.
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We parked below the church steps
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Here’s Julio navigating us there

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Up in the hills again Julio tells me Canadian mining companies are the diablo here right now. Signs are graffiti’d with their pissed-offness. Lucinda growls as we go by *leave my boy alone*. She’s so sweet
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Then through more towns in the hills. Beautiful churches everywhere
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Then it’s miles and miles of twisties, gaining elevation the whole time, into a valley
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Perfect
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And we pulled up to this farmhouse for the night
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Why so dark? Because the minute we arrived a thunderstorm rolled in. This was to happen each night at roughly the same time. It started with a heavy hail and kept up until after I was asleep. I was concerned the dirt ride in was going to be quagmire leaving.

The ride in

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In the morning the weather is cheerier and the dirt ride no issue
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Then back into the hills. Julio and I reckon that in 200 miles we’ve not ridden a straight more than 500 yards long. Endless bliss. Although the roads are sometimes sketchy and nearly always dirty. I’m getting my riding form back, i.e.. not thinking about it.

But look out for the road hazards

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We go through a series of towns that are full of Mayans

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I hope you’re clicking on the videos. They give a good impression of riding through this country! And they’re a pain to edit and upload.

Each one has a stage set up. Julio finds out quickly that the President of Guatemala is stumping the area. He says the Mayans have been trucked in and they won’t understand a word he says anyway. Each town is crawling with security. We watch a bomb dog at the first town spend a full 30 minutes sniffing the stage.

Anyway I think the Mayan women are gorgeous. When I mention this people look at me like I’m weird. But they have lovely upturned love eyes that remind me of Laura Bush.
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Later it’s my turn through town. I think I’m doing a masterful job it but Julio points out I’ve gone down two one-way streets the wrong way. But I’m having fun. Time to stop with that

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Up through the hills again
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Julio has a different destination in mind we pass Mayans doing laundry in a stream in an open field. We’re now at serious altitude, about 11,000 feet
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It’s a great dirt ride in and we arrive at another of Juilo’s secret finds. This time another farm house, but with an equestrian bent. The ride to it is about 10 miles of high-altitude plain, with sparsely spaced, poor, homesteads. As Julio passed a small group of 20-somethings they make menacing gestures at him. I talk to him about this immediately we arrive. He blows it off. But maybe just for my benefit.

We arrive, tired but happy. A great day
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