April 03, 2006 GMT
Making Friends in Guatemala

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On the Road to Panajachel

We stayed briefly in Antigua continuing our journey to Panajachel (Pana) nestled on the shores of Lago Atitlán. The volcanoes Auga, Acatenango and Fuego are visible for miles from the road. Plumes of sulphurous smoke continually rise from the calderas whilst gasses and smoke from fumeroles envelope the forest at the base of the mountains. It was a pleasant ride.

About half way through our journey we stopped for lunch at Zaragoza perched high on a ridge top overlooking a lower valley where much of the corn and produce is grown for the local area. We and our motorcycle became the centre of attention for many small children of the village, and as it was market day the place was a hive of activity.

Reaching Solola we headed down the steep decline into the ancient crater showing magnificent views of Vulcan Tolimán towering over the picturesque blue lake.

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View from the Road to Pana

The town of Pana is a small town easily navigated. Ex-Pats from all parts of the world live in the area, it is also a centre for travellers wishing to undertake Spanish and local Mayan language courses. Calle Santander is the main craft market centre and it is hard to resist purchasing the brightly coloured textiles on offer. It is a very relaxing place sit, eat, drink and unwind.

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Evidence of the destruction by Huricaine Stan

We visited the Suzuki dealership hoping to order a new tyre and rear break pads for Miss Piggy, but to no avail. Thier suggestion was to go to Guatemala City as they were 'Solo Agencia' only an agency. We did not find this appealing.

We met Mel, from England, on his KLR who suggested we go to Quetzaltenango (Xela) as it is the second largest city in Guatemala and only 85kms away.

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View of Lago Atitlán

Xela with Vulcan Santiaguito in veiw (considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world) is a pleasant colonial town with a lovely central park dominated by a Catherderal, naturally. From our hotel Flor de Maria we had a birds eye view of the town and noticed a great deal of fine ash layering the roofs. After the first night there was ash deposited quite heavily on Miss Piggy's cover from the active volcano .

We found the recommended Honda shop (Motorcentro de Occidente, 7a Calle 5-57 Zona 2, Quetzaltenago, telephone 7763 0929) where we were able to order a tyre, break pads and spark plugs, all to be delivered from Guatemala city the next day, even though it was solely advertised as Honda they were more than happy to contact other dealers.

As we were leaving the shop Rudolpho from the local BMW club stopped and took us around to the mechanical workshop of the President of the club, Roberto Ascoli.

The slow leak of air pressure in the rear tyre was promptly repaired by Roberto using the same plug repair kit that we carry. Grant was pleased to observe a practical demonstration of how it is done. We arranged some workshop time and were invited to attend the annual BMW Convention for 2006 being held on Lago Atitlán.

The next day we collected our goods and chattle from the Honda shop, and Roberto changed the rear brakes for us without blinking an eye. It cost us 2 Beers! He invited us to his home for lunch the following day, which we enjoyed thoroughly - great company, great food.

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Roberto

Whilst at the work shop we met fellow motorcycle enthusiasts (all BMW riders - of course!) Gato, Bill and Franz and also Lana who is from Canada riding through Central America on her GS650. Franz is a dentist and invited us to his practice for a check up, where he found we both needed fillings and voillé fixed teeth for us both.

We agreed to meet the club at the rendevouz place and head down the hills to Pana on Thursday. At 4:00pm about 50 bikes, mostly BMW´s, were parked ready for the ride. Seven riders from Mexico joined the group, one with lights and sirens, emulating a police bike, blazing. We travelled with Lana at the back of the pack justifying it by saying we were carrying much heavier loads than the rest. The group manouvered through the late afternoon traffic as if it was not there. It was a little difficult to keep up with them. Once we arrived at Pana about 70 riders from El Salvador had also gathered bringing the total up to about 100 riders.

For the three days of the convention we partied, discussed bikes (of course!) and travel as well as taking a group ride to Xetulul (220kms return), a great fun park with rides and restaurants.

On the return Grant began to notice a hot electrical smell eminating from the radiator only when the fan kicked in. He did a cursory check and found nothing obvious and as the system was working ok decided to leave any furhter investigation until our return to Xela.

Photo Gallery - 7a Convensción International BMW Motorarad Club Guatemala

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Leaving Xela

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Carlos and BMW Chickie Babe

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Ride to Xetulul

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Over a bridge

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Dusty road

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Cane haulers on the coast

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Afternoon view of Lago

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Party Boat Chick

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Julia, Carlos, Gato and Jules

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Some dude with Julia and Grant

It was great fun and we made many friends. We chose to stay an extra night in Pana to meet up with some other motorcyclists, Richard and Sylvia who we had met a week previous. They invited us to stay at their magnificient and beautiful home overlooking Lago Atitlán. We spent a lovely evening enjoying thier company with the next day exchanging bikes for a short jaunt to San Antonio Palopó around the lake a few kilometres.

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On our ride with Richard and Sylvia

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Jules, Grant, Sylvia and Richard

Returning to Xela for a few days, Roberto changed the front tyre, Grant and Roberto disassembled the radiator to check the ventillador (fan) and thankfully found no problems, however, whilst the radiator was out Grant noticed some heated plastic cable ties near the exhaust pipe, we cleared them, completed the oil change, put everything back together and all was well!

Grant then asked Roberto if he would mind if we could clean the chain with some kerosene. Roberto then uncovered his brand new pressure cleaner and proceded to completely wash the bike inclusive of Rana René (Kermit the Frog) who afterwards had never looked so clean, as was Miss Piggy.

After saying our goodbye's we once again returned to Pana to stay the night in the 4 Star hotel on the lake, a prize Jules had won in a raffle at the Convention. Very luxurious.

We discussed alternative routes to Guatemala City with several locals and they warned us that the less frequented routes are known to be dangerous for armed robberies - better to be safe than sorry, we took the traditional route.

Once again we were in the depths of Guatemala City, some how ending up in Parqueo Central. At about this time Jules began having a panic attack and was almost in tears whilst Grant just became angry! See what cities do to us!!!

Fortunately a kind local pulled up on his 125cc Honda, saw our plight and guided us through the confusing streets and on to our way out of the city. The northern exit travels out through the mountains and down towards Rio Hondo.

On the winding narrow road we jostled for any advance through the crawling and often stopped trucks of all shapes, sizes and conditions, busses and cars. We travelled 80kms in about 3hours becoming concerned that we would not make Chiquimula, close to the Honduran border, before dark.

Thankfully the traffic eased after the mountain and we found our destination in the late afternoon. After a cold shower, a good meal and a glass of red wine we slept well during our final night in Guatemala.

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View of Lago Atitlán for Sylvia and Richard


BORDER CROSSING - EXIT GUATEMALA

You need two copies of your vehicle permit. One for the Gate Keeper and one for Customs. Ensure the Customs Officer removes your vehicle permit from your passport. Next go straight to Immigration for an exit stamp in your passport.

We were not charged any exit fees, however we have heard and read that it is quite common to be asked for a 'Fee'.

Avoid the Trabadors or helpers, it is not necessary and very easy system to follow.

Posted by Grant Guerin at April 03, 2006 12:08 AM GMT
 
 

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