Antigua Guatemala, the former capital city of the country, was the next stop on my trip. It was a sweet awakening to the reality when I ended up there in the middle of some processions preceding the Holy Week (Semana Santa). The city is small but the church has big influence over its inhabitants. It was a very interesting experience to see and even take part in their centuries old traditions, especially when people come from all around the world to be a part of it. I was lucky to find a place for my hammock and spend a few nights right on the main street where the processions pass. One morning, probably Saturday (but who keeps track?), I even helped my host to make a traditional “alfombra” on the pavement in front of the house. Here is where I tried “pepian” for the first time – a delicious traditional dish of the country. That instantly reopened my appetite to the Indian curry and a steamy tikka masala. So I went to a famous asian/indian curry restaurant, where, instead of diminishing my craving for tikka masala, I was served an average yellow-curry sweet chicken korma with the explanation that “this is how we make tikka masala”. Oh well, at least they have the excuse of being exactly on the other side of the world.
Antigua was a small stop before lake Atitlan. I didn’t plan to spend much time in the city anyway. So I take the bike and ride to San Pedro on Lake Atitlan, on the best road I’ve ridden in a couple of years. Maybe even better than the winding roads of Norway. I pushed the limits of my motorcycle on this road and I wanted more. I constantly touched the road with my foot pegs at 140km/h on a fully loaded chopper. As this warning was not enough, I soon started scratching the frame itself. Oh, how I wish I had a taller and faster bike. It was an unique experience and I would recommend this road to any motorcycle enthusiast passing through Guatemala. And I didn’t film any of this road, but the more challenging one going down the mountain to San Pedro – curvy, narrow, sandy, and full of huge holes, sometimes covering both lanes. I hope you enjoy it!
San Pedro la Laguna
After the exhilarating road to this small touristic village at ~1600m, it was a bit difficult to find my hostel, but I had plenty of tourists to ask. The whole place is very much a backpacker’s destination, and not as hippie infested as San Marcos la Laguna, on the other side of the lake. I was so lucky to have found a place at Hotel Mikaso, probably the only one with a hot tub on the rooftop under the clear sky and a nice view of the lake. My stay there was quite pleasant, even if the weather was not entirely cooperating. Luckily I met there Shane and Alberto, and we went ‘party-ing’ and kayaking together. Great healthy food places, reasonable prices (not very cheap though), a chill-out mood everywhere, and a few volcanoes surrounding you in the fog at all times. Sure you can go trekking or coffee tasting and even bathe in the muddy lake if you feel like it, and even take expensive tours around. I chose only the kayak rentals for $4 USD/3hrs and the motorboat to cross the lake to San Marcos for a more profound visit of the hippie community. The hippies were peaceful and high, most of all caught up in the annual festival of consciousness, hiding in the various workshops accessible with a 3day pass for ‘only’ $60 USD. Pass! Damn rich hippies!
I left this oasis of tranquility leaving behind my gifted Swiss knife I so much loved and the new experience of driving a local tuc-tuc. Unfortunately, the video stops when the fun begins:
Second largest city in Guatemala after the capital, Xela (Șela) is a city up high in the mountains (2333m). The city is not much worth talking about. Goats are roaming the streets with their shepherds selling fresh milk, vegetable markets everywhere, and less chinese/electronics stores. It’s also surrounded by some mountains and behold! there’s a randomly placed, full scale temple of Venus. The hostel I stayed in Xela, El Colibri, had a very nice vibe and nice people, but I’ve been out most of the time, hiking. It’s the first hostel I’ve been where I watched a live theater play – a really awesome one about the women’s condition in Guatemala (many raped young by their parents). My time there was divided between the trip to Fuentes Georginas (thermal baths), the hike to the sacred laguna Chicabal and the two days hike of the volcano Tajumulco.
Fuentes Georginas – a pool of hot volcanic water, pretty much crowded when we got there. To get there you take a chicken bus from Xela to Zunil (5Quetzales/trip), a pick-up truck for 8km (40-50Quetzales/2ppl/trip) and you have to pay the 50Quetzales for the entrance. All in all it was a bit expensive for the whole package, and not worthy – I probably enjoyed more the 8km drive there in the back of the truck. Regardless, the short passage through the vegetable market in Zunil was quite worth it, with a few preachers and a few churches boosting out lord’s words from huge speakers… really made my day!!! If only I was religious.
The next day I was ‘dragged’ to the volcanic lake Chicabal (Laguna) by a bunch of nice people, in spite of my recently developed flu, running nose and headache, but I pulled out a pretty consistent hike with Anna, Andrea, Julia, and Alberto. 3km hike after a short chicken bus ride, and there we are, among some highly religious people screaming the name of Jesus and running around collecting stones for some funky ritual. Few sunny hours later, the fog descended upon the lake situated at 2712m. It was quite a show. By that time, a lot more indigenous people were walking around the lake or were engaged in some ‘spiritual’ rituals. The hike back started with a lot of stairs, about 1042, as people claim. We managed to make it back to the city right on time for my preparation meeting for the next day – the volcano hike.
Volcan Tajumulco with Quetzaltrekkers
This hike was maybe the one I wanted the most on my trip through Guatemala. I was simply attracted to this volcano – no other reason. And because most mountains here are not safe to be climbed ‘solo’ because of the local robbers, I turned to the guides of Quetzaltrekkers. They are volunteers and all the profit they get from these tours goes to the local schools and the community. Not to mention they give you proper equipment. When I got to the welcome meeting I felt so sick I thought I wouldn’t even be able to go up the mountain the next day. I took all my stuff and decided not to over-stress my body with a 3h ride on the chicken bus, so I rode there on my own. We left at 5:30am. The 60km ride in the cold misty morning I’ve completed in 1h30, enjoying from the road a very nice sunrise above the clouds. Then I rode back and forth till 1pm, trying to meet up with the group. Mission failure, but I spoke with over 50people asking about a group, and also for directions. 2pm – I found the road up to the peak, rode my bike as far up as I could (over 3000m altitude for sure), got my backpack and then I started hiking. 4pm – got to the ‘base camp’, about 1h away from the peak. I felt my head heavily pounding because of the flu, but I was happy I made it up there in only 2h30. The volcano itself is not very impressive, but the view is worth the climb. The evening rain sent us to rest quite early, but the ‘local guides’ or the ‘kids’ hired to climb there with the horses were really annoying and loud for the first part of the night. Because of the free days before the Easter, there were also quite a lot of local people climbing the mountain. 5am – left the base camp going up. A long line of people, walking in the moonlight, on a night with full moon. My cold was in full blast and I had to rest every 10 steps, while old people would sprint up past me. This gave me the opportunity to spot a distant volcanic eruption that faded away after less than 30s. I made it to the top before sunrise, so I didn’t lose a thing – the view was stunning, as most of you probably know, and the wind was freezing your bones. Good to wear a sleeping bag over all your clothes, and not linger around.
Even thought the hike can easily be done in a day (up and down), it’s a lot better to spend the night and wait for the stunning sunrise. I returned happy and content with my climb under the circumstances, just to get annoyed on the way back by the countless road-stops by masked teens, holding strings and wooden planks with nails, begging/asking for money. I would curse my days and empty my wallet if I had a car. Again, the bike “with two engines” saves the day with the noise it makes.
Thank you for reading all! Sending you my best wishes from Guatemala City,
and a few images to accompany my story!