Leaving San Cristobel early a few days later we head straight for the Border and cross into Guatemala.
First we need to deal with exiting Mexico, this goes smoothly and we get our paperwork back in no time.
Then we cross the border which is in the middle of the town of La Mesilla. We drive down the main street and get waved over to the first stop for fumigation of the bike. The Guatemalan guy is really friendly. We then change some pesos into quetzals (worryingly Darren keeps calling them pretzals) with a money changer who helps us get parked up safely.
There is a crowd of guys around the bike touching it and looking at the stickers. Immigration is a breeze with a very fun Officer, then we head to Customs for the bike which again is very simple. We pay for the import in a nearby office and are on our way in less than an hour.
The road ahead is the market and we have to drive through the stalls to exit the town.
Once out of the town the scenery opens up and it is absolutely stunning.
We follow the only road down which starts out as perfectly smooth tarmac and very few topes compared to Mexico.
As we climb higher the views continue. Kids are waving at us every so often and on first impressions it is alot cleaner than Mexico.
As a rider the roads up over the mountains were great fun, twisty with good tarmac and very up and down. I agree with Em, Guatamala is vastly different to Mexico, everyone is so friendly and laid back, the villages that bit cleaner and finally we escape the topes at every corner.
After about 2 hours on the road we are really high up and in the clouds which gets really cold and makes visability difficult. It is then that we hit roadworks. This is actually the road disintergrating into rubble, mud, sand and dust.
The going is pretty tough with no signs indicating where to go, deep sand, the buses continue to hammer past us, some people are veering off on to the far sides of the track to pick a better route - it is a free for all. We have a 'moment' where a truck clearly thinks we should be further over as he steams past us and misses the pannier by what seems like half a centimetre.
This incident is actually bigger than Em thinks, as we are riding along the broken tarmac, the Toyota 4x4 just drives straight at us, forcing us off the road to the right, down a drop of around 18 inches from the tarmac into deep sand.
We are doing around 45mph and the front washed out, with more luck than judgement, I just gas it.. the rear steps in line with the front as the front wheels lifts out of the deep sand and I get just enough steering to put us in the direction of the road... that was the closest we have come so far to a big off.
Every so often the road improves then goes back to rubble again, the traffic starts to queue up and we are waiting around for a while at each interval. The workmen at the front of the queues have a 'stinger' trap and a gun. I am not joking. They obviously take queue jumping pretty seriously.
We make it through and follow a small road down to Panajachel which is on Lake Atitlan. Panajachel is an 800 year old pueblo. Lake Atitlan is in a Volcano crater and is stunning. There are 3 volcano peaks to see on the far side of the lake too.
After a lot of riding around and up a one way street much to the amusement of the locals, we finally find the hotel we had been looking for. Sadly it is full so the owner calls a 'runner' to take us to one around the corner. They are really friendly and help carry all our luggage. The parking is 3 blocks away in their personal garage.
The place is spotless and costs about $40, far cleaner than ANY motel I have stayed in in the US.
The food is a lot better too with international choices.
Next day we rest up, get some cash, enjoy a walk along the lake side and route plan for the next few days.
The town of Panjachel is really hectic and busy and we are right in the middle of it. All the banks in the town have armed guards who control the doors. The Texaco garage has a guy patrolling it with a pump action shotgun - so he can't miss! Despite all this you do feel pretty safe as there are armed oficials everywhere, controlling traffic and generally keeping the place safe.
We are up early the following day and say our farewells to the family running the San Sebastian Hotel. They were fantastic - friendly, helpful, cheerful. They give us a big wave as we drive off.
Thanks for your hospitality guys.
We hit the main road running through Guatemala (CA-1) and follow it East towards Chiquimula. This takes us through Guatemala City, although the map shows one road cutting through, it doesn't happen like that at all. As we get near the city the road signs disappear and there are four different lanes to choose. We use the GPS and keep as close as we can to our compass bearing, finally we manage to get on the right road. About an hour later the road signs confirm that we are indeed heading the right way.
At Chiquimula we find a hotel with really secure parking for $30. We walk 2 mins down the road to the shopping mall (in Guatemala?!?) and stop in at the 'Pollo Campero' which is like a KFC. After ordering what we wanted all okay, they give us our dinner to go. I ask for plates and say we want to eat here.
The guy tries to explain to us that we can eat in no problem - they will plate our food for us and serve us at a table- if we would like to take a seat etc... He is talking so fast and using so many words that I really don't get it.
All the other staff join in trying to help explain it to us, some are trying to speak English, others are using sign language. It is a really embarrassing but funny moment as they are all very friendly and only trying to help. We get our dinner finally and it is tasty. The restaurant is spotlessly clean.
Posted by Darren Homer at February 10, 2008 02:33 AM GMT
Next day we plan to cross the border into Hondouras via El Florida.