April 01, 2006 GMT
Guatemalan Wanderings

On a winding road we passed many small villages and farms. The mountains started emerging out of the flat ground, forming sharp peaks and deep troughs.

We stopped at La Ceiba for refreshments. The small Tienda was well stocked, almost bursting at the seams, and the elderly Mayan proprietor was very helpful in giving directions, particularly as we did not know where we were. As we were leaving, she asked Jules if she would make a present of her sunglasses. Jules handed over the "Top-Gun" sunnies much to the delight of the woman who had no idea of how to put them on. We suspect they were her first ever pair of glasses.

Un Regalo - Lentes de Top Gun

Coban, with its steep streets culminating at the central park and cathederal seemed like a good place to stop and explore. For five days we wandered through the streets finding at one end a 'Bizzare Bazzar' and at the other a modern shopping mall.

Grant in the Markets

The markets were a veritable warren of stalls selling fresh produce, clothing, shoes, fabrics, electrical goods and in amoungst it all small cafés cooking their comida on open wood fires. This caused a smokey haze to drift and penetrate the tiny corridors and lanes. Our eyes watered and our throats burned, yet it was an addictive place to explore.

Jules in the street markets

Whilst in Coban we were recommended to visit Lanquin and Semuc Champey. Maps are so deceiving! We could see that a mere 60kms separated us from said destination, this would be easy we thought, and how wrong we were to discover.

View from the top

For the first 40kms an excellent paved motorcycle road spread before us and then it just stopped, literally dissapeared. Following the sign we turned sharply to the right and began our 1000 metre decent to the deep valley of Sierra de Santa Cruz. Our rough, rocky and loose surfaced single lane track wound for no more than 20kms to past the town of Lanquin and to the small campground/hostel named El Retiro on the banks of a fast flowing river.

After the difficult ride we set our tent up in beaming sunshine and took a refreshing dip in the cool waters of the river. Everything seemed great for the first evening and we retired early to our small home.

Sometime in the evening it began to rain, we could hear the gentle pitter-patter on our tent and thought "Hey this is the dry season..... no problems". The pitter-patter became rain and then teaming rain. On the second day of rain Grant began to feel concerned, the road out would prove testing if the weather did not improve. Oh well we thought at worst we could shove the bike on the back of a truck and try and get out that way.

A break in the rain

So we had some fun while we waited for the rain to ease, taking a tour (something we try to avoid) out to Semuc Champey, a natural formed limestone bridge where a river runs furiously below and above pools fed by gentle waterfalls abound.

The first part of our tour was to visit a cave. We changed into our toggs and tagged along believing it would be just a matter of a short dip in a pool inside a cave. Once again we were wrong. For almost two hours we scrambled along an underground stream each holding in one hand a lit candle as our only guiding light. Many times we had to swim without extinguishing our candles, climb up a rope through an underground waterfall and squeeze through narrow crevices. It was all a little daunting and completely unexpected. However we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Hike to the Mirador

Hiking up to the Mirador (lookout) viewing Semuc Champey lasted over 40 minutes but the steep climb was worth it as the limestone pools came into view and a truely natural wonder was exposed.

View of the Limestone Bridge from the Mirador

The decent came easy, we devoured our pic-nic and swam in the beautiful clear pools approaching as close as we dared to the roaring tumultous river plunging into the cave below.

River plunging into the cave

Jules and Grant at Pools

Every night of our stay became a fiesta of meeting fellow travellers and swapping stories of our travels. It was most enjoyable, except for the continuing rain.

On the fourth morning the rain ceased breifly, quickly we loaded Miss Piggy, only to discovered the rear tyre almost flat. Grant reinflated it with the electric pump, hoping that it was a slow leak, and we headed out of Lanquin as the rain once again commenced. Bugger!

Loading logs on the valley floor

We slipped and slided our way along the muddy road of the valley floor, passing loggers manually loading huge logs onto the back of trucks, and feeling somewhat apprehensive about the ascent to the pavement on the higher plateau.

Road before the Ascent

We began the ascent chugging the DL 1000 throught he muddy steep corners bouncing and lurching over rough rocky outcrops and plunging through deep murkey pools. It was very exciting and just plain hard work and we were happy to reach the asphalt.

As we slowed to a stop for a rest we could see the valley below enveloped in heavy cloud and felt very pleased with ourselves at riding the demanding road in such poor weather.

View of the Valley after our Ascent

Markets in the Clouds - Chamtacá

We traversed Guatemala City for the days ride to Antigua. Once we found the pereferico it was a relatively simple affair, but re-enforced that we had no desire to spend time in the nations capital unless absolutely necessary. Following the road from the north into the city was an obstacle course. Trucks and buses taking amazing risks to overtake and gain a minutes advantage on thier trip and spewing enourmous quantities of diesel fumes into the air.

Guatemalan Bus

It was like swimming in diesel fumes, our faces were covered in soot - black like coal miners we were pleased to be heading into the Western Highlands away from all of that fuss and scurry.

After the days Ride

Antiqua is a beautifuly preserved Colonial city with many ruins of grand old buildings that were destroyed in a major earthquake of 1773. It is surrounded by impressive active volcanoes and is a hub of activity for international travellers and Spanish students.

Ruin - Antigua

One of the most poignant sites in the city is, unfortunately, the scene of families bedding down for the night on the medium strip in the town centre. Such is the paradox of Latin America.

Markets - Antigua

Posted by Julie Rose at April 01, 2006 10:00 PM GMT

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