Having made it through Honduras and El Salvador and only having had good experiences made me feel guilty for rushing. I won’t lie I was worried about the statistics of two of the most dangerous countries in the world and yet the people were lovely. They had put measures in place to protect tourists and their presents were becoming more and more. I had met so many who had traveled there with non having had a bad experience. I did wonder whether its the media that makes these places seem worse but for me maybe I will never know. If I had the time I may have gone back to explore a little more but having booked flights home for christmas that I couldn’t mention in the previous blogs in case it ruined the surprise I needed to get going and reach Mexico. I did have time to spare but didn’t want to spread myself to thin. For now I had the rest of Guatemala to see and couldn’t wait.
Thursday 8th November
After a couple trips outside the tent to get what I needed, it then took me around half an hour to find and get rid of all the Mosquitos that had managed to sneak in behind me. It was so hot and humid in the garage but as the night went on I drifted into a deep sleep waking up around 6.30am.
My home for the night
Not having had anything for tea the night before I was hungry and knew I needed to find somewhere to eat. I finished packing my things and thanked the family for letting me camp in their garage. It was another nice day with a few clouds and light traffic. The road wasn’t great and in some places it was worse then a gravel track. Spotting a cafe that had just opened I stopped for breakfast and chatted to the owner. Everyone seemed really lovely and I was enjoying Guatemala already. Getting back on the ride I was probably riding for about an hour when I saw two cyclist coming the other way. They from Canada and we’re heading south.
It was so good to hear their story’s and what they enjoyed most, I just wished we had more time to chat rather then on the road. knowing that we both needed to get somewhere. We swapped our contacts so we could pass on info for each other. Saying our goodbyes and still feeling tired and hungry I pushed on climbing and descending the numerous hills that twisted and turned as I headed west. Seeing the clouds starting to build in the north I hoped I would miss it. After covering around 50 miles by 2pm and now really hungry I stopped to have lunch in a truckers cafe that line the road on the edge of towns. Everyone was so lovely and even the lorry driver gave me a flag to go with my others.
This guy was so nice giving me his flag and I also loved his orange truck
Having around ten miles to go and hearing the claps of thunder I thanked them all and pushed on while being chased by the storm but it was no good. With 4 miles to go I could feel the rain drops on me and looked across to see a wall of water coming right for me. I found a large tree to put my jacket on but this was big rain that was hard to see through.
The rain was just incredible
With the tree no longer a shelter I dug out my leggings and rode on towards town in a torrent. Needing to stop a few times to wait out the worst I finally reached town soaked through. With little money left that I had exchanged with Josh the Aussie cyclist I needed a cashpoint and prayed it worked. Finally finding one that worked in huge shopping complex was such a relief and so it was time to have a snack then find a hotel. Spotting a McDonald’s wasn’t the best but I went in to eat and use the Internet to find a hotel only to find they had no internet. I got chatting to a nice guy who told me where the hotels were so once I was finished I rode off to find one.
Riding through the streets of Escuintla
I made my way through the streets and after looking at the second one I found the next to be what I needed. Having missed Sharon’s dad’s birthday because of no internet and crossing the border I set out to find an Internet cafe and send a few messages. I was pleased I had made it hear and hopefully with a bit of a climb tomorrow I should reach the pretty town of Antigua and have a few days off.
Friday 9th November
I was tired when I woke but knew I had a climb to get past the volcanos to get to Antigua. I set off around 8am once I had packed what seemed to be a heavier bike then I ever remembered .
Starting the climb out of town to find somewhere to have breakfast
Wanting to get breakfast I stopped on the way out of town and while I was stopped I checked my directions. I was told I just had to head straight up the climb which seemed to match the map. Ordering breakfast I still hadn’t mastered what each thing on the menu was but here in Guatemala they eat a lot of refried beans. This is a dark brown sludge that turns my stomach and seemed to make me lose my appetite. I set off and started the climb to Antigua which took me around 3 hours to reach Palin and where there should be a road around the back to the town.
I couldn’t believe how active it was and how much noise it made
Seeing and hearing Volcan Fuego smoking furiously with load sounds and dropping debris made for an interesting climb to Palin. It was only ten miles away but it was 1000 metres above.
Noticing I had to turn off I started to ask where the road was to the town and was soon shown where I needed to go. This was fine but what I was being told didn’t seem to add up. I showed people the map often and yet they all said the same. I was pointed towards the motorway where I turned left and expected to turn right within a few hundred metres. I was then told it was a kilometre then another, all the time I was dropping. Now stuck on the motorway with a Armco in the middle and loads of traffic I knew I was set. I could have crossed back and returned but with the little info I had and everyone pointing the same way I had to keep going. I dropped down the same side of the volcano heading slightly west when I finally reached the road that was signed for Antigua. I was now about three miles from where I had started and had ridden 20 miles and climbed a 1000 metres. I was gutted knowing I had to do it all again but the other side of the volcano. With the volcanos now in the clouds it was hard to imagine it erupting but having seen it before was incredible.
This river exposed the lava that once ran from the volcano
As I climbed I could feel the sun on my back, my legs were tired and so was I. I passed a place where I could eat but now being back almost to where I started I didn’t have time to stop and had to keep going. The road passed between the three volcanos where I could hear one of them erupting violently. It was a different sound then thunder more like the sound from a massive quarry being worked but on a bigger scale. As the miles slowly passed I reached the top of the climb where the road dropped slightly before reaching the town of Antigua. Just as I reached the outskirts my bike started to feel funny and noticed I had a puncture. I pumped it up hoping it would last and continued into town.
Navigating the narrow rough but beautiful streets of Antigua
Once near the centre the roads turned to hard rough square cobbles with hard edges. As my tyre started to deflate I knew I had to put more air in and get to the hostel as soon as I could. After some searching I found where I needed to be and pushed my bike the last few hundred metres to the door. The hostel was lovely and very relaxing. I met a couple girls from the states so joined them for dinner and to relax for the evening. I now had a day off before booking a tour up the volcano and was something I was excited about and couldn’t wait. As we made our way back to the hostel someone stopped us and told us that the volcano was erupting. We stood on the corner and sure enough we could see lava flying out and flowing down the side. It was incredible and couldn’t wait to get a bit closer.
Volcan Fuego from the town.
Saturday 10 November
With a day off to look around the town and recover before my planned climb tomorrow I had breakfast and headed out.
The church in the main square was very beautiful
This young mum and her little girl were selling the things she had made
Some of the flower displays in the market
I guess this is what they do to thieves in the market
Think this could be where people park their motorbikes
Of course the tiny porcelain sign in the street makes it clear
I was told that at certain times of the month PMT officers are dispatched in the town to round up crazy and disruptive women. This is normally done by catching them in shoe or chocolate shops and the odd closing down sale but with a full moon coming up reinforcements were drafted in just in case.
One of the many beautifully coloured buildings in town
I was feeling a little off colour and just didn’t seem to have any energy. As the morning went on I started to deteriorate fast and felt dreadful. I headed back to the hostel and headed straight for bed noticing I had a fever, I knew all I could do was rest but with having no energy I knew I couldn’t do anything anyway. Sleeping for 4 hours didn’t seem to make me any better but got up anyway to move around a bit before returning to my bed. Feeling like I should at least do some work I lay on my bed trying every way possible to get maps on my GPS. This to people who do this often would have taken about an hour but with the device being temperamental while trying to connect it and working out which file the maps needed to be in, along with what the name of the file should be seemed to take me all day. Feeling so rubbish didn’t help but to have finally got the maps on knowing how much effort it would save and being about to check where I was so I could make faster decisions gave me a boost of energy.
The result of my shirt splitting was a burnt and blistered strip down my back. Time to get a new one I think
After the day had almost past I was met by an Indian dentist called Susanth who had come out from India to work in a hospital and help some of the poorest in Guatemala. He was such a nice guy and so dedicated to his job and helping the people that were worse off then him. We chatted for a while before he had to go and I rested. Still having a raging fever I knew it wasn’t possible to climb the volcano tomorrow and so booked in for another night. Luckily I still had time so all I could do for now was rest and try and get better. I felt dreadful and although I should be eating to regain my strength all I could do was sleep or at least try to and thats what I did until the next morning.
Sunday 11th November
After a restless sleep I just hoped I was feeling better. I got up around 9am to have breakfast as I was so hungry from missing my tea. I was still not feeling great with a cough and fever I knew I was in for a few days of not feeling great. Knowing I couldn’t stay much longer I booked the tour up the volcano for tomorrow and started to go through my things. It always felt good to rearrange my things but I never seemed to get rid of anything. With two of my room mates Amy and Lisa wanting to head out I used the opportunity to put my washing in and sort the rest of my things. I was so excited to be going up the volcano and having seen it erupt the other night I just hoped it would be a clear day and night. Once the tour was booked, I set off to get a few supply’s and try and restore my strength for the big hike up the mountain. Not feeling amazing I headed back and set to work on the blog while I tried to rest. It wasn’t the best ingredients for rest but knew I needed to do some more before I got even more behind. With the rest of the day taken up with trying to remember where I was by trawling the maps and when I had crossed the borders I managed to get enough done to read for the rest of the evening.
The girls arrived back from town and invited me out for dinner so once I had organised my things for the climb I headed out and met them then headed for a restaurant. Finding a nice Argentinian restaurant was perfect and the food was very good. Although I hadn’t been well it was so lovely having their company and would miss them once they had left. With them heading off for the North we said good bye and headed off back to our hostels. Still not feeling 100 % I hoped a good sleep would help but not being able to sleep properly for a while was taking its toll. I just hoped I would improve.
Monday 12th November
My lift to the volcano was due at 9am so I got up checked what I had to take was the right things and went to have breakfast. After a bit of hanging around the van arrived with a few others and we set off though the town and into the mountains. It took us about an hour to get to the start of the climb where we hired some long sticks to make it easier to walk. At first I thought I wouldn’t need one because I was fit enough but now being just how steep the volcano was and how soft the ground was I was pleased I had got one. The people on my tour were lovely and two that were great fun were Aiofe and Dee from Ireland. It was so great having a laugh and enjoying the hike up the mountain.
Dee and Aiofe ready for the climb
As the rain started to fall it was becoming less likely that we would see the volcano and this was a real shame. We climbed up through the mist and rain and all the time we could hear explosions coming from the crater. It was mad how we could climb right next to an active volcano and it being see as safe. Although the walk to the camp was a bit wet and very steep, It was beautiful and great to see how the landscape changed.
We finally reached the camp and round a good place for our tents. The wind was blowing strong on the ridge and it was cold. Not feeling great I was starting to shiver uncontrollably and knew I needed to put warm clothes on and get the tent up.
These two were amazing company
I pushed the guide to sort out hot drinks sooner rather then later as everyone seemed to be getting cold.
‘Left’ This was the first time I had ever seen a bin liner used to keep a north face tent waterproof
‘Right’ Volcán Fuego starting to erupt
As we sorted our camp we noticed the clouds clear and we could now see the valley below that lead out to the pacific and also the volcano erupting in front of us. It looked incredible and now having a hot chocolate in hand it was perfect.
As the sun set the clouds moved in once more obscuring our view of the summit. We could hear the explosions but just couldn’t see them. It was an incredible sound, especially as it was coming from the ground and showing us that the planet we live on is well and truly alive. Still feeling rubbish and shaking with a fever I headed back to my tent to try and warm up. I knew I shouldn’t have come up being still sick but I was running out of time and so want to experience this.
Tuesday 13th November
With the mist so thick it was a shame not to be able to see the volcano but the sound of it erupting was incredible. As the night went on I would check to see if I could see anything and was always met by the grey mist that soaked everything around me. By 3.30am I heard our guides alarm go off but with the wind blowing I didn’t think we would make the top. A short while later I heard a raised voice from a chech couple telling the guide they were going for the summit with out him. It wasn’t very nice to hear as he had a lot of experience and this put him in a difficult position. None of us knew what the summit would be like or wether it was to dangerous. It wasn’t long after our guide told us we could go for the summit and needed to leave straight away. We set off leaving two behind and started the long steep hike to the summit.
It was tough going and still having a sore throat and having a slight chill I knew I wasn’t in the best shape. Luckily though I was in great company with Aoife, Dee and Fiona who all made the trip up more fun. Reaching the top in record time we stood on the creator rim at 3,970 metres at around 6am. It was a real shame we couldn’t see anything but at least we made the summit.
These two flew up the mountain
With the wind battering the ridge we stood on the creator side until we were all ready to return and set off back to our camp. Once back we tried lighting a fire and make coffee but with the wet wood we just had to stick with our coffee from a gas stove. As the sun rose the clouds started to clear revealing the volcano and the valley below. It was incredible watching it erupt and were gutted we hadn’t seen it at night. With our camp packed we set off back down the mountain, through the various woodlands and fields and reached the road.
Packing up in an incredible spot
Still no feeling great I took a nap while I waited
The beautiful track down to the road with great company
From here it was about an hours ride to the centre and once back we said our good byes hoping to meet up a bit later. I returned to the hostel where I met Susanth who was now not feeling great himself and was trying to get better. I set about fixing my puncture and sorting my bike. With my tyre fixed I loaded my bike and booked into another hostel to save money. Now settled I then spent the rest of the day sleeping to try and recover but managing to arrange to meet girls for dinner. We met up and after a bit of searching we found a nice place to eat. Knowing I was heading off tomorrow and still not feeling great we called it a night and I headed back to get ready for the ride to the lake.
Wednesday 14th November
Waking up with the sun coming through the window I knew it was time to get up but I felt tired and my legs were stiff from the hike yesterday. Wanting to get as close as I could to San Pedro de Atilan meant a long day on the bike.
I knew I was now in the mountains but didn’t know how hilly it was going to be. I went to make a coffee but with the machine not even on I decided to drink my orange juice and pop to the bakery. With the bike loaded I headed out and stopped for some goodies.
Passing the street markets were always so colourful
Not feeling hungry I thought I would get a few miles done before I stopped. It was slow going out of the city on the rough cobbles but it soon turned to Tarmac and could relax on the bike. The road steadily climbed and so I slowly headed west. I was amazed at how populated the highway was as I passed through villages or small towns that all seemed to be connected.
Olly had told me about the locals being in traditional dress and although I had seen it, as I left Antigua almost everyone was wearing it. The ladies dresses were stunning and so colourful. I so wanted to take a picture of them but always felt nervous and didn’t want to embarrass them.
I passed many farms that were getting ready for the next crop
It was so lovely watching these kids about to test fly their new home made kite
Wanting to leave the main highway I reached the point where I would turn off and stopped for my breakfast. I knew I needed it and after the climbing this morning it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The road would climb and bridge each mountain by a narrow ridge
I seemed to be making ok progress but once I turned off the mountains started. To start with I just continued to climb until I reached 2,500 metres then it dropped only to climb again. I felt like I was going up all day and soon the really steep hills started. I was now in first gear struggling to do 2mph and just amazed at how steep it was. I passed through a few small town but didn’t stop.
I knew I should eat but wanted to keep going. Not feeling to hungry I pushed on up and over each steep climb. Nearing one of many summits I stopped to take a picture of the valley below. As I got off my bike I noticed my pannier hanging off. This was becoming a real pain and knew I had to do something about it. It took about ten minutes to fix then continued to the top of the pass. As I reached the pass the fog started to build and the light fade.
I reached a small town and decided to take a short break. Not having had any dinner was taking its toll and knew I had to eat something. Settling for a few snacks I didn’t stop long as I wanted to get to the lake and find a place to stay. I turned off to the south of the lake where the road started to undulate. As I was riding I spotted some young lads filling the holes in the road and running at cars asking for money. As I went through I smiled and waved but it didn’t stop them asking me and as I continued one of the lads lifted up his shade to hit me. It was the first time this had happened and as I stopped they ran off laughing. Riding on again it wasn’t long before I saw another group doing the same. As I passed these three I could see one of the kids was looking to see what he could grab off my bike. I stopped and shouted at him and they all ran. I was tired and didn’t need this hassle. As the fog got thicker the road dropped towards the lake and suddenly it came into view.
It was only just visible but looked amazing. From here I could just make out a huge volcano that would appear from the haze then vanish like some sort of prehistoric island. The climbs didn’t stop and I was worried I wouldn’t make it to town which I needed to as I hadn’t got much food.
With the road now dropping I finally picked up speed reaching the next junction and rode into town. After 10 minutes I found a nice place to stay and headed out for dinner. I was so hungry but I was pleased I had made it. San Lucas Toliman was a big town and felt nice. The streets were busy but was hard to know what surrounded the town with the fog being so thick. It wasn’t long before the rain started and remained heavy for the whole evening. Happy I had a comfy bed I was looking forward to a good nights sleep and a shorter ride to San Pedro tomorrow.
Thursday 15 November
As the sun shone through the window I knew it was time to get up and with the shower still running due to a dodgy valve just made me want to go to the bathroom. I eventually got up and went to dining room to have breakfast.
The owner was so lovely and so sat chatting while I ate. It’s always refreshing when you meet a couple that are so content and happy and this reflected in everyone that met them. Once I was ready to go I set out through the square that was already really busy and made my way along the rough cobbles out of town. It was Sunday morning and everyone was in their Sunday best heading for church.
Many were dressed so well and were stood crammed on the back of pickup trucks
I would have loved to have taken photos of the ladies outfits but didn’t want to make them feel awkward. It felt great riding out of town with people smiling or waving. It wasn’t long before I climbed the steep hill above the lake where I could look back across to the town.
The area was stunning and so different and Although I have seen a lot of lakes this one was one of the prettiest. The lake looked more like a huge crater with a wall of green mountains that surround it but with three volcanos to the southern edge. This made the road slow going as the road climbed steeply out then back in as I made my way around towards San Pedro.
As I reached Santiago Atitlán I noticed I had a choice, I could either ride around the vulcan San Pedro and drop in to San Pedro La Laguna or take a short ferry around the corner of the lake.
With it being such a nice day I headed for the port where a guy met me asking if I wanted to go to San Pedro. I asked what was the cost of the ferry and he said at first 70Q and I said no I will cycle around the volcano. He then said 30Q’s for both and as I was about to put by bike on I checked again and he said 30Q’s for me and 30Q for the bike, seeing the look on my face he then said 30Q for both but by this point I was annoyed and said I’ll ride around. As I pushed my bike off I met another guy who was going to San Pedro who said it was 25Q’s for both which I was pleased with and decided to sit and eat knowing I hadn’t been ripped off.
As I waited I got chatting to lady about Guatemala who told me she was fed up with people killing each other for no reason. I found this hard to believe as all I had met was nice friendly people. After 15 minutes on the boat going around the volcano we reached San Pedro.
Beautiful port of Santiago Atitlán
Heading down to the waterfront
It looked a lovely town but the roads were so steep. Dee had sent me their position of where they were staying and so I set off in search of the place. Once I had dropped down the steep hill to the other side of town I reached loads of hostels where I could stay. With most full I finally found one at the end of the road that was amazing. I had a huge room on the edge of the lake big enough to spend all my things out.
Needing to get food I headed into town n found a hostel that was selling food. I got chatting to some really nice guys and arranged to meet up with Aiofa. After a few hours in the bar we headed to the other end of the village to a nice taco bar. It was really great to meet so many nice people but there was someone missing. Dee had picked up a bug and was laid up in bed feeling dreadful. hoping it wasn’t from me Aiofa and I headed to a bar and had a few beers while sat in the beer garden by an open fire. It reminded me of home and was so lovely to have company. As me lost track of time the next thing we knew the police arrived and we had to leave. It was strange as it was so laid back and they wished us good night as we set off for our hostels. Agreeing to meet up tomorrow I headed back to my room and to get a good nights sleep after a nice day
Friday 16th November
Having a lay in was amazing and having the day off I didn’t need to do anything other then a little work. Heading out to grab some breakfast I spotted a place to get a massage.
Having had a knot in my back I thought it a good time to get it sorted. Once it was booked I had a look around town to pick up some presents and then headed back for my my massage. It was so amazing and just what I needed but being the middle of the day all I wanted to do was sleep. As I went to pay I saw they did haircuts and so looking more like I was one giant walking beard it was time for a trim. As I sat while the lady cut away my hair trying to find my face I started to fall asleep. I couldn’t believe how tired I was and how relaxed I was after my massage. Once she was done and returned to something more presentable I got up and started to feel a bit more awake.
Everywhere in Guatemala is so colourful
I set off around town to buy a few more presents and met Aiofe for coffee. While we chatted we discussed tomorrow and the option of climbing the volcano or the Indians nose which can be seen from the the village. Opting for the Indians nose Aiofe went to book the tour and with me having the rest of the afternoon to spare I had dinner and then headed back to the hotel to work on the blog. Having the hammock outside was a good excuse for a break and have an afternoon nap. With the others arranging a music night in one of the pubs I headed out to meet them but knowing I had a really early start in the morning I knew it couldn’t be a late one.
Saturday 17th November
With my alarm set for 3am the amount I had to sleep wasn’t much. I got up grabbed what I needed and headed out into the quiet streets to meet Aoife. I arrived at our meeting point with no one there. I re-checked her message and yep I was in the right place so sent a message and waited. Ten minutes later the guide arrived and still no sign of Aoife so I called her to say it was 3.15am to which she said no it’s not! I then replied saying yes it is. The realisation of oversleeping was just brilliant and I won’t repeat what she said next in the mad panic of getting up. She soon arrived bleary eyed where we were taken to catch the chicken bus which is one on the hundreds of long colourful local buses that cross the country taking anything from back packers to chickens. The road to the mountain was terrible with the bus struggling up the many really steep hills to reach the small village where we would walk from. After an hour or so and a sore bum we left the bus and started up through the village towards the Indians nose. After 25 minutes we reached a viewpoint where could look out over the lake.
With it still being dark we were then taken up another five minutes to the nose where we had a 360′ view around us. It was incredible and with the sky getting ever lighter the scenery changed every minute. From where we were not only could we see the three volcanos that border the lake but also the three that surround Antigua. As the sun slowly lite the sky we could see volcan Fuego erupting giving off huge plumes of ash. It was just incredible to not just watch the sunrise but also a beautiful lake and six volcanos. We all sat in wonder at this magical land which seemed more like it was out of the land that time forget then a popular holiday destination.
After watching for about two hours and with the sun well and truly up we set off back to town and to our hostels. The ride back was much smoother in the mini bus but struggling to keep my eyes open we reached town where I headed straight to bed. Feeling so rubbish I slept and finally waking at midday where I headed out to grab some food. Once I got what I needed I headed back and ate and rested. I met a few of the guys from the night before who were going canoeing but wanting to take it easy so I watched a film and slept. It was good to stop and check my route out of town which looked brutal. With Dee and Aoife heading off tomorrow as well it was nice to head out meet a few of the guys and say goodbye.
If you want to have a good fun on holiday all you need is Dee and Aiofe
San Pedro had been such a lovely place to rest and relax and was made so much better with the girls being there. With Dee looking much better after being ill I wished them luck and headed back to sort through the bomb site that was my room. It has been so much fun meeting them and the others and would miss the company. With so much to pack I soon worked through my jobs and cleared the room for a hard days climb out of the lake tomorrow.
I had only been in Guatemala for 10 days and already it hadn’t disappointed. The people in their local dress weren’t just beautiful but also had a warm, kind welcoming nature that made anyone feel at home. These people were poor and yet held something magical within it’s culture that modern society seems to have lost. whether it be a link to the ancient mayan culture or the Indian influence I don’t know but these were great people. I had been looking forward to riding this country and with its string of Volcanos, mountains and lakes it was truly stunning. It was a place I felt I could get lost in and get absorbed by nature and tradition.
Having the chance to climb right next to an active volcano was amazing and although it was cloudy the constant sounds of explosions and debris hitting the ground was unforgettable. This country wasn’t just alive with culture and nature it was also living and breathing through the earth itself and seemed to exude energy.
I still had the other half of Guatemala to go and if this is what I had seen so far I couldn’t wait to see what was next.
Thanks for reading xxx