Guatemala, Part 2: Tikal

April 21 – 23, 2010

Finished with the mountainous section of Guatemala and now riding the hot tropical plains with high humidity heading north to Tikal.

A super long straight section, about 60 kms, running up the west side of the country.

The ferry at Sayaxche across Rio de la Passion.

Sharing the ride with a semi-truck (note the long line of trucks waiting to cross). Cost Q5.

The ferry was powered by this little outboard motor on a dingy. It worked and got us across.

Slash and burning the jungle away.

The roads were well marked with directions. Guatemala is referring to Guatemala City.

Setting sun across the picturesque Lago de Peten Itza.

Entering Tikal and taking note of the dual pricing structure where foreigners have to pay Q150 ($19) and local nationals pay Q25. A lot of other countries do it as well and I guess they’re milking the rich and giving the locals an affordable chance to take in some of their heritage.

Riding the 17 kms of park road heading to the visitors center.

Not your usual animal warning sign.

Meow. Jaguars ahead.

I camped in front of the Jaguar Inn, which is in the main visitors area as I wanted to enter the site early in the morning when it’s cooler and less crowded.

Camping for Q25 at the Jaguar Inn. It was safe to leave all my things here when I walked around the ruins.

Not realizing that Guatemala and the rest of Central America don’t follow daylight savings like Mexico, my clock was one hour ahead and I got to the site entrance at 5 am instead of 6 am when the site opens. I bribed the watchmen to let me in instead of wasting an hour.

Hiking through the jungle to get to the ruins at Tikal at 5:15 in the morning. I was the only person in the site for at least 2 hours.

Temple I covered in the morning jungle mist. Tikal was the capital of one of the largest Mayan kingdoms and prospered mainly from 200-900 AD. Some buildings on the site date as far back as 700 BC.

Temple V, where I waited out the fog. Tikal was abandoned by the end of the 10th century and was rediscovered in the 19th century. After abandonment, the site was quickly recaptured by the jungle with thick vegetation covering most of the temples. The tops of a few of them were visible above the canopy.

Stairway to heaven? Steep steps to get to the top of Temple V.

Soaking it in on the top of Temple V at 58 meters high. The downside of coming so early was all the fog and limited visibility but I enjoyed the solitude among the ruins.

Looking out across from the top of Temple V.

The fog slowly starting to clear with the rising sun. The structure of the residential area coming into view on the right.

Ceiba trees to the left.

Looking across the top of Temple V.

Temple I and the Gran Plaza coming into view as the fog slowly clears.

The main steps of the temple were eroded and not safe to climb.

The steep front side of the temple.

As clear as it was going to get. Temple I (right) and II (left) in full view from the top of Temple V. It was magical to see the ruins slowly appear through the fog above the canopy of the jungle.

Detail of the ruined wall.

View across the jungle canopy.

Taking it all in once the fog cleared.

Looking down the steep steps. It was safer to go down backwards using it as a ladder.

Temple V in all its glory. This was the most impressive looking temple as it was the most cleared of vegetation and the looked the grandest. Restoration began only in 1991.

The yet to be fully restored pyramid in the Lost World section of Tikal. There are four other older pyramids under this outer face as the Maya had a tendency to build new structures on top of old ones. The oldest pyramid dates back to 700 BC making it the oldest structure at Tikal.

A leaf-cutter ant hauling his prized leaf across the walkway in the site that many Mayans toiled over the centuries hauling rocks to build this magnificent city.

A stela detailing stories about the kings at Tikal.

Detail of the stela.

Another round stela, looking similar to the Mayan calendar…

The tops of Temple III, II and I from Temple IV.

Tourists soaking in the view from the top of Temple IV, which was still being excavated. Only the roofcomb was clear.

Temple III covered in heavy vegetation, yet to be excavated. You can see the roofcomb behind the tree trunk in the middle.

Temple I and the Gran Plaza from the top of Temple II.

The profile of Temple II.

Beautiful birds on the park grounds.

Info on the Ceiba tree.

The unique looking Ceiba tree, which is the national tree of Guatemala and is worshiped by the Mayans.

The trunks can get pretty large and the trees sport wide buttresses to support their heft.

Heading back south, passing the beautiful Lago de Peten Itza.

Tasty lunch of chicken in a gravy with rice and potatoes for Q10.

Heading south towards Rio Dulce on the eastern side of Guatemala.

Staying at Hacienda Tijax on the river.

There were a lot of waterways around and they used lots of suspension boardwalks to get above the water and reduce human impact on the protected area, where lots of bird-watching was happening.

Staying in a thatched jungle room for Q60.

Rio Dulce is popular among yachties as it’s the safest place to spend the hurricane season in the western Caribbean.

Last meal in Guatemala of a thick tortilla with beef, green onions, sauce and some mayo sauce. It was quite tasty for Q15. At this comedor (road-side shack), just as I was finishing up my meal, a group of guys walked in all brandishing pistols in their belts. They seemed friendly and struck up a conversation about the bike and my trip. One of them spoke good English, probably the boss. They pulled in on 3 Toyota pickup trucks and had guards from their pose surrounding the whole comedor as lookouts. I figured they must either be some gang or political group or just rich, powerful people. The funniest thing was when I told them I rode through Mexico, they asked, “Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” and they were all carrying guns, haha. I guess everyone is scared of what lies beyond their boundaries.

Taking the busy highway towards the Honduran border. This highway connects Guatemala City with the port on the Caribbean and was crowded with semi-truck traffic. Onwards to Honduras.

Next: Honduras & Nicaragua

Previous: Guatemala, Part 1: Highlands

Guatemala, Part 1: Highlands

April 19 – 21, 2010

I was looking forward to crossing into Guatemala as this would be my first country in Central America. After spending more time in Mexico, I now had about three weeks to get to Panama. I originally wanted to spend about a week in each of the CA countries, but now it was going to be just a few days. I made a loop around Guatemala, hitting most of the interesting sites from Lake Atitlan set among volcanoes, to riding in the remote highlands, seeing the magnificent ruins at Tikal, dipping down to the yachtie Rio Dulce before crossing over into Honduras.

At the Guatemala Consulate in Comitan, Mexico, making sure that I don’t need a visa to enter. The small blue and white flag denotes the consulate. The nice guys at the office there even made sure to call the consulates of all the other Central American countries to make sure I didn’t need a visa through Panama. Yeah!

Nomansland between the Mexican and Guatemalan border. The land was flat on the Mexican side and looming mountains were ahead in Guatemala.

Welcome to Guatemala. La Mesilla border crossing.

Getting the bike fumigated – sprayed with a disinfectant to not transport bugs across the border for Q12. $1 = 8 Quetzals (the Guatemalan currency). No cost for immigration stamp and Q40 for importing the bike.

Grand mountains ahead and lots of garbage on the road side.

Nice to see lots more bikes around and a good use of helmets.

Lunch at Huehuetenango of grilled chicken with rice, beans and tortillas for Q15. The tortillas were smaller and thicker.

Riding high into the mountains of the Cordillera de los Cuchumatanes.

Brand new four lane twisty mountainous freeway heading south to Guatemala City.

The road was cut right through steep parts of the mountain and you wonder why landslides happen…

The road climbed higher and higher, riding into the clouds.

In the clouds at 10,000 ft. Visibility was reduced to around 100 ft.

Dropping quickly in elevation as I descended to Lago de Atitlan, a beautiful lake surrounded by numerous volcanoes.

The tight switch-backs heading down to the lake. The village of San Marcos up ahead.

The gnarly road heading to the town of San Pedro. Good reason to have a dual-sport bike down here.

The beautiful expansive Lago de Atitlan, which fills the mouth of a huge volcanic caldera that erupted about 84,000 years ago. It’s the deepest lake in Central America at around 340 meters (1130 ft) deep.

The touristic town of San Pedro la Laguna. It’s a backpackers hub with lots of services catering to travelers.

Dock side lined with boats as they ply the waters to the various towns around the lake

View from the restaurant I had dinner at across the lake at sunset.

Sunrise views across the lake. I wish I could’ve stayed longer as I know the photo opportunities would’ve been better.

Hospedaje Xocomil where I spent the night for Q40 ($5).

Nice to park the bike right outside my room and away from the evening rains.

The Guatemalan Quetzal. $1 = Q8.

The infamous dodgy hot water element in the shower head. Not having the capacity for a water heater, this is the next best thing for hot water, where a heating element heats up the water right before it exits the shower head. You wont get a shock as long as you don’t touch the shower head when it’s running and you’re wet.

Clear view across the lake from the village of San Juan to the mountain the road climbs to get back on the main road.

The trusty Bajaj Autorickshaw from India, called tuk-tuks here, being used all over Central America as cheap taxis.

Clear day for riding back up to the top. The lake is at around 5,500 ft and the main road on top is at around 8,500 ft, climbing real steep up the mountain in about 25 kms.

The steep, narrow, beautiful road back up to the top of the ridge.

View of Volcan San Pedro and the town at the base of the volcano from the top.

Typical sight of firewood being collected from the forest for daily cooking and heating use.

Riding nice mountainous twisty roads past Chichicastenango, heading to Coban.

Taking a lunch break past Uspatan. Lots of rural schools were abound all across the country. Good to see education reaching far into the countryside.

Lunch of a corn meal soup that was flavored with a few beans, hot sauce, salt and lemon. Tasted pretty good and was very filling for Q2.

Riding remote twisties along the scenic Huehue to Coban road.

A collectivo assistant hanging on to the ladder while talking to someone inside. He climbed down from the roof as the van was swaying around the corners. And note the passengers on the roof, drinking beers.

The road turned to gravel about 25 kms shy of Coban.

The road was pretty smooth but I knew something was coming up…

A huge land slide took out the road recently, (peligro = danger, no hay paso = do not enter). I knew about this from another motorcycle rider who passed through here a few months before me.

Looks like the whole side of mountain came sliding down.

The original route is on top and the detour heads down and around the land slide.

The detour was quite gnarly and steep with lots of tight switch-backs.

Looks like more rocks fell across the detour.

I made it out and had some lunch past Coban of Chicharron, fried pork skin with some meat and a radish salad for Q16. It was the only thing offered at the place.

Riding some relaxing sweeping corners heading north to Lanquin.

The 20 kms of dirt road heading to the town of Lanquin and further to the scenic limestone pools of Semuc Champey.

I stayed the night at this jungle resort near the pools, where I met a traveler from the States who worked a whole year at the South Pole, Antarctica. She was a safety inspector and also worked in the oil/gas industry in Nigeria. She was winding down in Guatemala and said how amazing it was to see precipitation fall from the sky as the snow/ice blows horizontally almost constantly at the pole. She was the 1231st person to ever spend a winter at the south pole where it’s a constant -80F and 9 months of darkness.

I stayed in the dorm in the attic of this cabin.

Q25 for a dorm bed as Casa de Zipolite.

Heading to Semuc Champey with the early morning jungle mist in the valley.

Hiking over to the pools. It cost Q50 to enter and Q10 for parking.

The clear water at Semuc Champey.

A very idyllic place with water flowing around limestone features, collecting in various pools.

The turquoise water color was a sight to behold.

Some early morning swimmers taking a dip in cool pools in the jungle.

The greener lower pool at Semuc Champey. Interesting site, but not sure it was worth the entrance fee if you weren’t going to swim.

Heading back up across this bridge. Doggie taking a nap.

The road was quite steep in places and they’re put in concrete tracks in really steep sections for grip when it’s wet.

Climbing back up to the main road from Lanquin.

At the junction where the pavement ends. To head north to Tikal, there’s 40 kms more of dirt road heading to Fray or you can take pavement back to Coban and through Chisec. I went straight ahead to Fray.

Looking back at the valley where Lanquin and Semuc Champey are.

The gravel road heading north to Fray. It was in fair condition but mostly going 1st and 2nd gear averaging 20 km/h.

Passing a few small towns in the mountains, which were crowded and chaotic. Lots of old Nissan pickup trucks everywhere.

Enjoying some beautiful sections of the route.

Scenic valley with volcanic rock strewn about.

A gnarly downhill section of baseball size rocks. I kept reminding myself not to tense up and be lose with the handle bar and just let the front wheel find its way down and there were no pucker moments.

The road opened up about halfway through and construction crews were busy at work. Looks like it’s going to be paved soon.

Filling the tires back up once I reached the end of the dirt section.

Handy little air compressor doing its job.

Next: Guatemala, Part 2: Tikal

Previous: Mexico, Part 4: Mayan Village Stay