Guatemala Flores & Lanquin
I aimed to get an early start from San Ignacio, Belize to get through the border formalities and on to Flores, Guatemala before the heat of the afternoon sun started to boil my brain inside the helmet but the person with the key to the gate securing the bike couldn‘t be found. After twenty minutes, just as the hotel manager was about to cut the padlock with a pair of bolt cutters the Chinese lady with the key appeared and I was on my way.
Flores Fisherman In Dugout Canoe
The border crossing only took two hours but it felt longer as most of the time was spent standing in queues. Someone in front of me in the queue to pay the Belizean departure tax of $37.50 Blz was paying for a coach load of tourists, all of whom had to be processed individually. Eventually I was free to go, the barrier was lifted and I rode into country number five, Guatemala. The road to Flores was good for most of the way with only a couple of short bad sections although they made up for their shortness by being particularly rough, the surface had totally disintegrated leaving a mess of potholes and corrugations. I passed the Tikal turnoff that I intended to return to so stopped to record the GPS grid position then headed through the town of Santa Elena and by keeping the lake in sight found the bridge to Flores, an island in Petan Itza Lake.
Posted by ianmoor at March 22, 2011 05:17 PM GMT
Flores was smaller than I expected, you can walk round the shoreline in twenty minutes or so. It’s a good place to relax and chill out, something I excel at anyway so I quickly felt at home. A cosmopolitan place full of globetrotting backpackers from Europe, Australia, Canada, Russia and a few from the USA.
Flores On Petan Itza Lake
Tikal, one of the most stunning Mayan ruins in existence is a couple of hours ride from Flores. It is now set in dense rain forest with towering trees and home to a variety of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. I saw a crocodile which lunged at someone getting too close rather than retreating further into the lake. I had learnt in Australia that freshwater crocodiles are not particularly dangerous but I guess the Guatemalan crocodiles haven’t been informed of this.
Crocodile Posing By Its Warning Sign
At ground level most of the time you can’t see any buildings because of the rain forest but when the Mayans occupied Tikal all the surrounding area was kept clear so the tall pyramids which were painted bright colours then were visible for miles around. There are around 3000 known buildings in Tikal, most as yet unexcavated and the population is estimated to have been 90,000. As salt is unavailable locally the Mayans would have needed to import hundreds of tons each year to sustain the population, an indication of the sophisticated organisational skills they possessed. Now the best views are to be had by climbing one of the pyramids where you can see others rising above the treetops.
Tikal Pyramid In The Rain Forest
One Friday evening I went to move the bike out of the garage around the corner from the hostel to park it on the street (outside my bedroom window so that I could hear it being stolen!) ready for an early 6am start the following morning and for the first time ever it wouldn‘t start. The battery was flat and everywhere was closed so there wasn’t anything I could do but book an extra night in Flores and sort it out the following day. The next morning I carried the battery over the bridge to Santa Elena in search of someone who could recharge it and went to a number of motorcycle mechanics and places selling batteries only to be told “no tengo” (I don’t have). I was thinking that maybe they misunderstood my Spanish, (a common occurrence!) and thought I wanted to buy a new battery which I knew they wouldn’t have. After trying everywhere in Santa Elena I trudged into neighbouring San Benito with the day getting hotter and the battery getting heavier. The first motorcycle mechanic I found in San Benito had a charger and immediately connected my battery. The place was run by a couple of young lads who weren’t particularly communicative so I said three times “I will return at 5pm, is that ok?” and each time got a yes and a nod. Tired and hot I was going to get a taxi back to Flores but opted to walk as I couldn’t overcome a lifetime of meanness with money and once the money runs out I have to end the trip. Trudging back through the hottest part of the day I got to the mechanics shop just after 4:30pm and they were closed. It then dawned on me that it was Saturday and the shop was almost certainly going to be closed on Sunday so if recharging the battery worked it would be mid morning Monday or early Tuesday if I opted to wait and ride in the cooler early morning before I got away. To cap it all it was my birthday so I had the triple trauma of a dead motorcycle, having the battery incarcerated for the weekend and being 59 years old. I forlornly trekked back to the shop just to confirm it was closed on Sunday and of course it was.
Tikal From The Top Of A Pyramid
The ride from Flores to Lanquin proved to be about as much adventure as I could take in one day. I Set off shortly after daybreak at 6:15am in an attempt to avoid the heat and humidity of the afternoon and after a couple of false starts taking the wrong roads out of town I was on my way. It felt quite cold for the first couple of hours but it was refreshing after being hot for so long. Navigating with a map in the tank top bag and the GPS loaded with any waypoints I could find on Google Earth is something I’m getting used to, life was a lot simpler when I had street level maps for the GPS.
Roadblock On The Way To Lanquin
About halfway to Lanquin there were vehicles stopped and a crowd gathered on the road a couple of miles beyond a small village. I thought there had been an accident and slowly crept to the front of the traffic. There was some kind of protest or demonstration going on but I couldn’t figure out what it was about. I was told the road could be blocked until 6pm so I turned around and returned to the village for breakfast and consider my options. Studying the map showed that the only alternative route was returning almost to Flores then taking a big loop east to the Belize border, probably two full days riding. It made sense to wait out the demonstration or whatever it was so I returned to the roadblock after a leisurely breakfast to check on progress thinking I could return to the café later if required. This time when I got to the front of the traffic I was told I could ride around the barricade which looked a bit tricky with some long grass to ride through but I wasn’t about to say no. The grass concealed some deep ruts and once the front wheel was in one there was no option but to follow it running at right angles to the direction I wanted to go. As the rut got deeper I was more concerned with keeping some forward momentum than going in the right direction. The bike slowed then stopped when the panniers came into contact with the ground either side of the rut leaving the back wheel spinning in the air. The embarrassing bit was getting stuck in front of a hundred or so spectators but at least there were plenty of willing hands to push me out.
Demonstration Road Block
I was glad to be moving again as the day was starting to heat up but I had unwittingly jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. There was another demonstrators roadblock a short distance further up the road, I rode to the front again and there was no way around this barrier so I couldn’t go forward and I didn’t want to ride back around the first barricade and risk getting stuck again to return to the café. I got my book out and lay in the little shade provided by the bike and waited. Eventually, after a long meeting in the local Mayan language the barricades were removed and we could all continue our journeys. I was at the barricades for three hours in total and waiting in the sun was hotter than riding the bike.
Approaching Lanquin on Highway Five
The roads had been ok, in fact there was a long section of brand new tarmac sweeping into the hills but this abruptly ended leaving thirty miles or so of very rough single lane dirt track to Lanquin. With no name signs at the villages I passed through and no road signs I had to stop at junctions and ask directions. Some sections of the road were a bit tricky, areas of smooth bedrock were slippery in the dry and the loose gravel at the sides of the track had me skidding to a stop when I pulled over for oncoming traffic. I eventually arrived at 4:30pm, ten and a half hours after leaving Flores having covered 192 miles.
Lanquin Hostel Restaurant On Riverbank
The hostel was right on the riverbank with thatched bedrooms dotted around the grounds and a large open sided restaurant and another great place to chill out. The day I planned to ride to nearby Semuc Champey national park it was raining heavily and I was confident about not being able to stay on the bike when the track was wet. Walking on it was tricky, worn smooth rocks with a thin covering of mud making it very slippery. The rain stopped mid morning and at lunchtime I walked into town and took a bus the six miles to Semuc Champey and I was glad I had. The track was worse than the one into Lanquin with some very steep twisting sections where it would be easy to skid off into the rough.
Semuc Champey Pools
Semuc Champey is the main reason for coming to Lanquin and well worth the effort. The climb up to the Mirador is incredibly steep and on the day I did it slippery with the mornings rain. Not knowing what mirador meant I didn’t know what I was climbing to see until I got there, a viewpoint looking down on the series of clear bathing pools that are another attraction of Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champey Pools From The Mirador (Lookout)