July 26, 2006 GMT
Riding to Lago de Atitlān

I get a great suggestion from a fellow biker, a typically friendly Guatemalan who very untypically rides a Honda 600. The road he suggests is seldomed travelled because unruly rivers keep taking out the bridges. He assures me the road is asphalt and the rivers can be crossed.

True to his word, the highway, although not well signed at the junctions, is paved and is a treat. This is real Guatemala, untouched by commercialism or tourism. Tiny villages, fields of ripening crops, and locals herding their bramhas along the roadside.
The first bridge out has a bailey bridge and earthern causeway replacement. Next good rainstorm'll knock out this baby. But what the hell, Katie and I get across, following four cowboys on horseback leading the way. Difference is, these hayburnin' caballos are the main source of transport for vaqueros in these parts.
The next river crossing is even more unique. A barge docks in the most casual way on my shore. Trucks drive onboard with random carelessness. Katie and I jump the line and board just before the ramp is lifted. We squeeze into a neglected corner.

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I am fascinated to watch the ferry's power source: two 75 HP outboards bolted to half barrel-on-a-swivel creations. This is all that gets the barge across the river in this current? Yet Captain Cook does it with an ease that amazes. I give him the thumbs up when we arrive on the other side. He grins.

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Along the highway going south to Cobān, I see more Life in Basic Form. Ladies doing the household wash in a roadside pond by a culvert. They are shy at first but after I show them the images taken on my digital camera, they are all smiles and talking again. I don't understand a word they are speaking. I remember now that many campesinos in the Petčn speak only Mayan, not even Spanish.

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Katie and I have passed through 100's of villages just like this but never seem to stop long enough to take a picture. The hubbub of activity is not captured in this image, but trust me, life is thriving. It may be a simple life but people are mostly smiling.

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When I get to Coban I have to ask directions to the Hotel D' Atuņa. I always enjoy these experiences because I know I will get a friendly response and sometimes even get accurate information. These two guys give me both. They want to trade their Chinese 100 cc bike for mine but when one realizes neither could reach the ground they break out in laughter. I am charmed by their easy humour.

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Ladies in traditional garb carry loads large and small on their heads. They do it so gracefully it seems the cargo is more like a hat. The scene is so commonplace I forget to capture it until now.

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At the most excellent Hotel D' Atuņa I meet fellow adventure traveller Louis Elias. Louis started his RTW (or Round The World, to the uninitated) trip from his Ontario home. Riding a BMW Dakar with more accessories than the Space Ship Columbia, Louis is off on a two year life-changing experience. We celebrate our happy meeting by swapping maps and guide books, then share stories, three bottles of wine and a couple of cigars.

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Although I am heading north, he south, we decide to ride to Lake Atitlān together and spend a couple of days exploring, as Aldous Huxley called it, "the most beautiful lake in the world".

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The day long cruise from Coban to Lago de Atitlān takes us through Cuidad de Guatemala. Luckily for us it is Domingo and the roads are only choked with Sunday traffic, not paralysed with weekday mayhem. Once clear of the city we enjoy the wide open Pan Americana leading to Atitlān.

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The lake is over 5000 feet above sea level, the volcanos surrounding it reach to 11,600 ft. The views are truly magic. Several tiny villages are dotted around the shore, each reachable by a small passenger ferry. Louis and I want to ride the dirt road that circumnavigates the lake but advice from the tourist bureau discourages that thought. Last year at the remote south end of the lake, 15 armed guerrillas robbed some tourists of all they possessed, including clothes.

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We ride the well frequented road to San Antonio Palopó. It takes only a couple of hours but we do enjoy different views of the lake. Aldous might have been right.

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After Panajachel, hippy haven of days of yorn, Louis splits off for Antiqua, I head west towards the Mexican border at Paso Honda. Riding together was fun but now I find, surprisingly, I am happy to be alone again.

Posted by Murray Castle at July 26, 2006 10:28 PM GMT
 
 

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