Posts tagged “Guatemala

El Fuego says Good Bye

This day of a nightmare began quite promising: El Fuego gave us a small eruption to say good bye. On our way to the border to El Salvador we saw big smoke coming out of El Fuego. After a quick stop to take some pictures we continued our ride to the border.

Finding the border was easy: Already miles before arriving at the border we saw a huge line of trucks waiting to cross the border. However we had no scruple to just pass them on the left lane. 😉 In addition to that numerous ‘helpers’ were approaching us when we approached the line of trucks. We read a lot of those helpers in several blogs. First we just tried to ignore them and tried our luck without them. Exiting Guatemala was quite easy but exporting our bikes was more difficult than we had thought. We already got a stamp on our permits and thought that the procedure was already completed. The helpers however told us that some things still needed to be done. Of course they still tried to offer us their help for a little fee, but we still declined the offer and tried to find the customs building on our own. Unfortunately we failed. Finally one of the helpers said: ‘I help you for free’ and with his help we could complete the process for Carmen’s bike without any issues. Exporting Michael’s bike was a little bit more difficult, though. The number of his license plate was not correct on his permit ( an error of one of the guys when we entered Guatemala ). First they told us, that Michael would need to go back to the border between Mexico and Guatemala to correct the papers, but for this ‘solution’ Michael would have to drive back alone, because Carmen’s bike was already exported and she would not have been able to go back with her bike for 30 days. Then Michael tried another officer and she completed the process without any problems.

The next step was to import the motorcycles to El Salvador. Both, the personal immigration as well as importing the bikes to El Salvador was easy. However since we imported the bikes one after another, we lost quite some time at the border.

It was already late afternoon when we were able to continue to Playa El Zonte. We were heading to a nice hostel located right at the sea which was recommended by Lonely Planet. The ride to the hostel was quite long, though and so it was just minutes before sunset when we arrived. It was already dark when we moved all our stuff into the room. The hostel was a nice surf resort in which we could have spent more time, but since we want to cross the border to Honduras on Sunday ( because of the easier procedure on the weekend ), we had to continue on the next morning. That’s quite a pity, because El Salvador is really beautiful and so far we can not confirm the safety issues we had heard about earlier.

Today we spend the night in San Miguel at the Comfort Inn, which was recommended by the motorbike traveller Guillaume.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Lago Atitlán and the Vegi Bike

We just could not leave Guatemala without visiting the lake Atitlán and its three volcanos. One needs about three hours by bus to the lake from Antigua, so we needed to get up very early once more. Around 5:30am the bus came to our hostel, so we still arrived at the lake in the morning. A good time for breakfast and for a great view at the lake.

On our way to the boat which was supposed to bring us to three villages at the lake, we saw a group of people celebrating the day of San Francisco of Assis. They were wearing colorful clothes, lighting firecrackers and dancing to local music. When we arrived at the little harbor of Panajachel, we went into a small motorboat which brought us to the villages. The first village was San Juan, which is known for its little art galleries. The galleries offer colorful maya pictures made by local artists. Then we visited the hippie village San Pedro la Laguna with its small cafes and restaurants. Finally we arrived at Santiago Atitlan. It is the biggest village at the lake, but in our opinion a little bit too hectic and without much flair. After we arrived back in Panajachel, we went into a mini van and drove back to Antigua.

A surprise was waiting for us back at the hostel. The owner of our hostel gave us a small note from Harry, an englishman who is riding around the globe with his Royal Enfield running a Diesel engine. We met Harry an hour later. The idea of Harry’s journey is that he tries to travel in a CO2 neutral way by using vegetable oil as fuel whenever possible. However that idea caused already four engine failures. We spent the evening having dinner with Harry and went to bed quite early, in order to be fit for our border crossing to El Salvador on the next day.

Find more pictures of Guatemala under Photos & Videos -> Travel Photos.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Climbing the Volcano Pacaya

We decided spontaneously to explore the area around Antigua de Guatemala in a little bit more detail before heading to El Salvador. Therefore we started our way to volcano Pacaya this morning at 06:00am to climb it. We arrived at the base of the volcano after 1.5 hours of driving in a minibus. Pacaya is 2,500m high and one of the most active volcanoes of Guatemala. The last eruption happened in 2010. We hiked for about three hours on a nice trail surrounded by dense vegetation and fields of lava stones. Our group was escorted by several horses which one could ‘rent’ for the way up the volcano. However except one young american girl, no one made use of that option. Unfortunately it is not possible to go to the real top at this point in time, because the soil is not stable enough. Nevertheless we had a great view on the volcanoes El Fuego and El Agua. The former was mentioned in the news a couple of weeks ago because of his recent eruptions. Unfortunately it was totally calm today, but at least a little smoke was coming out of the volcano.

Although Pacaya has not been active for the last two years, there was still hot smoke coming out of some cracks of the lava soil. Our guide brought marshmallows with her and roasted them in the heat of the volcano cracks.

We spent the remaining day with coffee and cake ( as usual ) and closed the day with a nice chat with the owner of our hostel and her friend. Her friend had her 50th birthday and so she was very happy. Since none of the three ( the mother of the owner joined us as well ) spoke any english, we had to practice our new spanish skills. We do not really know whether we spoke about the same topics, but we really had quite a lot of fun.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Last spanish lessons and a flat tire

We have just completed the first five days of spanish classes and also the last ones. 😉 Actually we booked seven days, but the lessons were so exhausting, that we cancelled the last two days. It was just too exhausting – seems like we are not used to learning anymore. 😉

Besides we discovered that Carmen’s bike has got a flat tire. The first one of this tour! We have no idea where it happened, but we just know that a 2 inch long wire punctured the tire, so that it lost it’s air. Fortunately there are enough garages in Antigua, so this was not a real problem. Carmen used the opportunity to spend her spanish lessons in Antigua’s garages and went to all the pinchazas (tire garages) in Antigua with her teacher. Finally she chose the garage right at the corner of our hostel in which she got the tire fixed for $1.50 ($2 including tip).

In our spanish school we got to know Mary and Gary, an irish/scottish couple who is traveling the world for nine months. We spent Saturday afternoon and evening with them and enjoyed talking with them about anything and everything.

We spent the remaining time with some necessary jobs like laundry and repairing pants to prepare for the continuation of our journey end of this week. We are going to cross El Salvador and Honduras. Those countries seem to be among the most dangerous countries in Central America, so we feel some kind of uneasy.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

The volcanoes are silent and the brains are hurting

Rio Dulce is a nice city in which one can spent months. To avoid that kind of risk we left Rio Dulce early in the morning and started our trip to Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala. After driving 320 km we arrived in Antigua already in the early afternoon and looked for a simple hostel in the center of the city. We took a hostel for 65 quetzal (about $6) per person. Later however we discovered a more beautiful hostel having a patio with a great view at the volcanoes. Carmen asked for the price and the answer was 122 per twin room and night. We almost started to get angry and wanted to change the hostel. That room even had a private bath room! But then the employee recognized our surprised faces and quickly added the term ‘US dollars’. So that’s only ten times of what we pay in our hostel. 😉

Antigua is well known for it’s variety of very good but still cheap spanish language schools. Since we had a hard time to communicate with the local people here so far, we decided to take a spanish class. The schools offer several options – from a couple of days to several months, from 2 hours a day to 8 hours a day. We chose 1:1 lessons for 7 days and 4 hours each day.

We already spent our first day in the school. Our brains are hurting but we both are happy with our teachers and we already had some opportunities to use the new skills in the city. Now we just need to do our homework and can continue tomorrow.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Relaxing at Rio Dulce

After those ‘exhausting’ days in Tikal we had to recover from those ‘strains’ first. So we decided to spend the last two days here at hostel ‘Backpacker’. The hostel and it’s restaurant are located at the Rio Dulce river which flows via Livingston into the caribbean. The riverside is full of palms, little islands are located in the river and yachts and boats are cruising. Unexpectedly even the climate is really nice. It’s sunny during the day with 30 degrees Celsius and only during the evening we have 1 or 2 hours of tropical rain.

We spent most of our time relaxing in the Hostel’s open air Cafe at the riverside while reading, eating and drinking. The food here is very tasty but we are quite surprised about the missing motivation of the staff. Carmen ordered for example a Cafe con Leche ( coffee with milk ) and the waiter answered, that they do not have any milk anymore. Nevertheless Michael still became his strawberry milkshake. Then Carmen ordered a fruit milkshake as well and as a matter of fact got her banana milkshake. For some reason, they seem to have special milk for special usages, e.g. milk ‘for milkshakes only’. 😉

Besides all that kind of relaxing, we had to fix Carmen’s rear view mirror. We had been told that ‘Carlos’ is just the right man for that kind of job. So we took a tuktuk and drove to Carlo’s garage. We were quite surprised as Carlos knew immediately that the mirror is taken from a BMW motorcycle (maybe he just made a good guess 😉 ). Anyway he welded the mirror for $3 onto the broken screw. Now Carmen’s bike has got two mirrors again and the voyage can continue.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Awakening in the Jungle of Guatemala

Since we already booked the expensive Jungle Lodge near the pyramids, we wanted to make use of that great location and experience the sunrise over the pyramids of Tikal. To get to the pyramids one has to hike through the jungle and so we booked a guide with whom we started our way to the pyramids at 4am (in the morning ;-)). After an hour of hiking, we arrived at Maya temple 4. We climbed the temple to see the sunrise over the Maya city. During dawn fog was moving through the valleys of the jungle and a lot of animals were tweeting and chirping as the jungle was slowly awakening. After the first sun rays were hitting the jungle forrest, we were shocked by a very loud roar echoing through the jungle. We first thought that it must have been a very dangerous predator, but our guide told us that it was just a harmless howler monkey. After sunrise we visited a couple of other maya ruins, like the grand plaza and the jaguar temple.

Back in the Hotel we experienced the drawbacks of the low season. It was very early and we wanted to order breakfast from the menu. First we tried toast and jam, but they did not have any toast anymore. Then Cafe con Leche (coffee with milk), but they were out of milk. Finally we just ordered an omelette for breakfast. Later it was even getting worse: They could not give us change for 100 quetzal (which is about $12) but we could not pay with credit card either. Even dollar coins were not accepted, although the prices on the menu were listed in dollars. Finally they even ran out of avocado and ham, but who cares? At least we were almost alone with the pyramids. 🙂

Because staying in Tikal was quite expensive, we continued today to Rio Dulce. We checked into Hostel Backpacker right at the river and emptied our motorcycles as usual. Finally we wanted to drive our bikes to a safe parking place. It was just a very short ride, so we drove without helmet and gloves. Carmen attached her lock at the handlebar of her bike. Unfortunately the lock and the handlebar got jammed, so that Carmen could not steer anymore and drove into a wall. Fortunately Carmen was not harmed at all, but the cockpit of her bike is a little bit warped and the mounting of one of the mirrors is broken. Anyway, the bike is still ok to drive and we hope that we find someone to weld the mounting of the mirror.

Beitrag von: michasifi und carmen.on.the.road

Obstacles on our way

Since we did not really know where to sleep the night, we started very early to have all possible options. The only thing for sure was that we wanted to visit the Maya pyramids at Tikal. Again we had our little problems with navigation. This time however, because neither the GPS nor the AAA maps knew any direct road to Tikal. But both GoogleMaps and the local taxi drivers were quite sure that there is a tarmac road to Tikal. So we trusted them and took the 9 to Tikal.

After an hour of riding without issues we asked an elderly local, whether we are on the right way. The good news was, that we were. He told us the bad news in spanish: ‘Hoy no pass’, which means something like: ‘You cannot pass today’. With our very limited spanish knowledge we just understood that there is some kind of barrier on the road. Anyway, everybody who knows us, knows how the story continues: Of course we continued on that road. But we have to add, that the circumvention would have taken several hours of riding and we would not have been able to arrive in Tikal that day. So we were wondering the next couple of miles what kind of barrier would be waiting for us.

The first obstacle which we saw was a piece of missing road. But that was very easy to pass. Some time later we arrived at the end of a long line of trucks. After we passed all those trucks we saw the actual barrier: Some people demonstrating and stopping each and every vehicle to keep it from crossing a little bridge into the village. They told us that the demonstration will last for 3 or 4 hours. We already accepted our situation, when some locals told us that we could just lift the bikes over the bridge’s boundary. After a short discussion the locals offered their help and we agreed to try it. So we drove to the barrier and then lifted the bikes with the help of three of the village people over the bridge boundary. The first obstacle was taken! …but the next one was still to come. A few meters later the road was blocked by a tree, but this time we could convince the guards to let us pass. There were a few more barriers, but we could easily pass them all.

Except the heavy rainfall, the remaining ride to Tikal was quite easy. Therefore we decided to drive directly into the national park to book a room at the Jungle Lodge which is located near to the pyramids. Since we are traveling during low season, we had a free choice of rooms, i.e. we actually were the only guests in the whole lodge.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Crashes in Paradise

On the next day again a long and exhausting tour was waiting for us. It led us via Guatemala City to Coban. To our surprise the roads were in quite a good state. Every now and then the road was destroyed due to rain or falling rocks but always workers have been working there already to fix the issue. The circumventions however were quite adventurous. Interestingly there seem to be no signs to announce speed limits. Instead the speed limits seem to be announced by the number of speed bumps per distance. In what seems to be a 20 mph zone for example they put let’s say a speed bump every 20 meters, while in a zone of something like 35 mph, they put one bump every 100 meters.

Another interesting phenomena are the roads in Guatemala City which seem to be full of oil stains. During our odyssey through Guatemala’s capital it finally happened ( while it was raining heavily ): Michael and his bike slipped away on a oil-water mixture at a curve and he crashed. While the bike was cycling on the road, Michael was still wondering why he was not getting any slower. Instead he and the bike were sliding along the road. Fortunately neither Michael nor the bike were harmed at all. During our remaining ride through Guatemala City we were driving extremely cautiously, because we again saw the rainbow like oil-water mix on the road every now and then.

In the evening we arrived safely in Coban. Actually Coban is not really a highlight of Guatemala but a good jump point for tours to different sights. We booked a tour to Semuc Champey for the next day. Semuc Champey is a must-see for every Guatemala traveler. It is a natural chain of turquoise pools which are filled by the Rio Cahabon. The pools do not only provide a great view but it’s also fun to jump from pool to pool and go diving to the little grottos at the edge of the pools.

The tour continued to the Grutas de Lanquin. Unfortunately we forgot our flashlights, so that we needed to explore the caves with candlelight only. That did not really feel safe because the caves were really dark and the ways were extremely slippery. At the end of this perfect day we went for dinner to the restaurant ‘El Bistro’ and had a very tasty pizza and vegetarian calzone for Carmen.

Today we have a day of rest here in Coban before we start our long drive to Flores tomorrow.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

¡Viva Mexico! ¡Viva Guatemala!

We spent the next few days in San Cristobal de las Casas. Actually we did not do much, besides enjoying tasty mexican food in cafes and restaurants. Really great were the tasty coffee and the little cakes in San Cristobal. Carmen also spent some time to go shopping on the marketplace and buy new clothes. At last she found her ‘aladin pants’ which she had been looking for since quite some time.

In the hostel in San Cristobal we got to know the german student Eva, who spent her holidays in Mexico to learn spanish. We spent the Mexican day of independence (September, 15th) with her. We went to the street festival to get something for dinner and enjoyed the live show in the evening.

After a long time of thinking we decided to change our plan once more. Instead of driving to Belize via the hot Yucatan peninsula, we wanted to go straight to Guatemala. So we packed our clothes very early in the morning and we really appreciated that the owner of our hostel Erik got up very early just to prepare our breakfast. Erik was a very nice guy and also great at preparing the breakfast, the very best breakfast we had so far.

After 2.5 hours of driving on the official Panamericana route (Mex 190) we arrived at the border to Guatemala in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc. In order to get back our $300 deposit we first had to go through the procedure to export our motorbikes out of Mexico. So far we did not experience any corrupt state employee in Mexico, but there is a first time for everything. Tourists who spend more than seven days in Mexico have to pay 294 pesos (US $24) of fee. This fee can be paid during immigration or also when leaving Mexico. We had already paid it during immigration. However the guy at the mexican border insisted that Michael pays the 294 pesos to him. After Michael gave a 500 pesos bill to the guy, he put it into his pocket and gave Michael 200 pesos back (again out of his pocket). Michael asked for a receipt and then the guy suddenly said that he cannot give a receipt, but Michael needs to pay at the bank to get a receipt. The employee at the bank however told Michael that no additional fee is needed and that we are all set to leave Mexico. Anyway at least we immigrated to Guatemala without any issues. We did not even need to buy a insurance for our bikes.

After two hours of processing immigration, we could continue our voyage on the Panamericana through the amazing mountain landscape of Guatemala. Since the independence day in Guatemala is also on September, 15th, all villages were decorated with blue-white flags and several sports events like bicycle races and soccer tournaments were held. In the evening we arrived in Xela, the second largest city of Guatemala and it was raining heavily.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road