March 14, 2006 GMT
Guatemala, Natures way of Exagerating

We crossed into Guatemala at Melchor de Mencos, it was a straight forward affair, all departments are located close together. You first pay Q12.50 to have the bike disinfected, then Q40.00 for your vehicle permit and a dodgey Q20.00 for your tourist card (there is no cost for this but some people charge it!). We could not buy vehicle insurance at this border.

Melchor de Mencos is a dusty, rough and tumble frontier town. The only paving to be found was a short patch in the main street. We were in the town less than 5 minutes when a girl on a scooter knocked over an old man on a bicycle. We hoped this was not an ominous sign for our time in Guatemala!

Highway to Flores & Santa Elena

Heading towards Santa Elena and Flores from the border the main highway is hard compact dirt, a little rough in some sections, for approximately 30kms.

Lago Peten Itza

Santa Elena, on the shore of Lago Peten Itza, where we stayed, is noisy and less elegant than Flores which is situated on an island in the lake. It has everything you need including cheap accommodation, Flores on the other hand is filled with back packers, narrow cobble stone streets, expensive hotels and restaurants.

Markets - Santa Elena

We met Bob in Santa Elena, a former LA resident now living permanently in Guatemala. He had extesive knowledge of the surrounding areas especially Maya Sites, and gave us some good tips on where to go and what to do.

Road to Uaxactun

One of them was to go straight through Parque Tikal and a further 25kms to Uaxactun. The unpaved road was good fun with enormous muddy ruts from recent rains, some parts of the road had only half a metre width of solid ground with large drop offs into muddy quagmires. Needless to say we took great care on the heavily loaded Miss Piggy.

It was all worth it though as we came out form the thick jungle into a clearing which is a grassy dis-used airstrip lined either side with houses and small tiendas, this is the town of Uaxactun.

Town of Uaxactun

The Mayan ruins are located either side of the airstrip perched a top two low hills, engulfed in jungle.

Apart from avoiding numerous pedestrians we dodged horses, chickens, geese, ducks, pigs and kids at soccer practice to arrive at El Chiclero where we set up our tent and dined in the small restaurant. As night fell the sky turned to black velvet sprinkled with a million lights of the milky way.

Uaxactun is famous for the oldest complete Mayan Astronomical Observatory found, and with night skies like this we can understand the Maya's intrigue with the universe.

Observatory - Uaxactun

The ruins are marvellous with the authenticity that a small, less frequently visited site offers. Many of the buildings have been restored whilst others sit in jumbled heaps as they were found. It is one of the longest occupied sites ever found dating from 1000BC and extending to 1200AD. Evidence shows that it was taken over by Tikal in approximately 800AD. We spent a whole day walking around, pic-nicing on a pyramid, enjoying the atmosphere, location and scenery.

Tikal is massive by comparision and enjoys approximately 250,000 visitors a year. It holds the tallest building in the discovered Maya World - Templo IV at 70m high. With its easy access, well defined walking paths and beautifully manicured plazas it is accessible to everyone.

Tikal - Templo IV

Tikal - Pyramid of the Jaguar

Proving the world is getting smaller we met Trevor from Brisbane at Tikal campground who is cycling the Americas. He had been on the road 1 day. We helped him set up his tent as it was getting dark quickly and then dined together sharing our travel stories and future plans.

Back in Santa Elena we check with the locals about the road to Coban via Sayaxche and decided it was a good option to travel from the Peten to the Verapaces.

As we decended the banks of Rio de la Pasion the town of Sayaxche came into view on the opposite side of the river. Our road disappered into the water and across the river reappeared asscending the bank up into the main street of the town.

Rio de la Pasion

Directly in front of us a number of small launches bobbed in the water, however no ferry could be seen. We wondered how we were to get across, surely it could not be on one of these small boats. It was then we noticed the barge, somewhat further down stream sitting quietly on the opposite bank. We waited for perhaps 15 minutes while the barge loaded passengers and vehicles before making its way up stream to us. It was powered solely by a very small dinghy with an outboard motor.

Boarding the ferry

We boarded the ferry amoungst busses, cars and trucks filled with passengers, paid our Q10 for the crossing and in no time we were were bouncng our way through the narrow, rough streets of Sayaxche. After finding some good accommodation with secure parking we wandered about town and found some lunch. A little comedor (restuarant) served us some fantastic lamb and vegie soup, Grant fed the stray dogs, wandering into the restaurant, on the huge bones left over.

We found ourselves caught up in a parade, it happens to us all the time - go figure, and enjoyed the festivities. Lots of bright coloured costumes, loud music and the strange ritual of throwing white flour at people ??

Parade - Sayaxche

Late in the afternoon, 12 year old Jose wandered into the carpark of the hotel selling pop-corn for a living. We did not want pop-corn, however he was ever so interested in us and the bike and had the most infectious smile that we paid for pop-corn and gave him some Aussie stickers.

Jose, Grant & Miss Piggy

Posted by Grant Guerin at March 14, 2006 04:48 PM GMT

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