We spent our last night in Mexico in Comitán de Domínguez before we crossed the border to Guatemala.
On our way to Comitan we passed beautiful countryside with small fields and livestock and people everywhere.
Stopped at a delicious fruit stall with pretty indigenous girls.
Found a nice little hotel in Comitan with space for the bikes.
We got room number 111 on 11.11.11 🙂
In Comitan we met these two lovely ladies from Austria and enjoyed having dinner with them.
And what a dinner. Last meal in Mexico is a treat!
We got up early in the morning on Nov. 11th and headed towards the Guatemalan border.
Heavy wet clouds in the mountains.
We had chosen to cross at a smaller border town at Ciudad Cuauhtemoc/La Mesilla. Our good friend and experienced traveler Alisa Clickenger had given us some good advise on crossing borders, that we have decided to follow:
– Stay a bit away from the border the night before
– Have breakfast and go to the bathroom
– Leave early, so your are at the border early
– Bring cold water and some snacks
– Expect it to take all day – it might, it might not
– Don’t pay anyone (runners/fixers) to do your paperwork
– Smile and be patient
Checking our selves out of Mexico and getting the Temporary Import Permit deposit back was smooth. The officer was professional, everything was in the system, he checked the bikes and even made digital photos of our VIN-numbers.
Getting our $800 back – sweet!
Then we drove for about 15 minutes through beautiful green fields and low hanging clouds before we arrived at the Guatemalan border.
The Guatemalan border looked more like a market day or circus entrance than a border. Lot’s of people, street vendors, people offering to change money, stalls packed with products, dogs and a lots of activity.
First we had our wheels disinfected and paid 12 quetzals ($2) for it. We didn’t have any quetzales, but there’s always guys offering to change money around. The people doing it didn’t look very official and for what we know they could be spraying our wheels with water and charging us, but you just gotta go with the flow at these border crossings and for the most part, it really seems to be quite OK.
Then we went to immigrations, a small office with about 8 guys laughing hard. One of the guys had a scorpion on his hand that he carried around like a pet and scared everybody including me. Despite the distraction, they handled the passports pretty quickly and we were further entertained by the fact that they stamped our passports at 11:11 on 11.11.11.
Then it was on to the next office to check in the bikes. This took a bit longer, but the official Carlos was nice and chatted and was joking with us. This cost us 160 quetzals. At 12.15 we were good to go.
As we were checking in our bikes we met two bikers from Mexico; Alberto on a BMW and and Jesuai on a V-strom. They were heading to a BMW convention in Panajachel at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. This was great; we would definitely crash their party.
Good to go!
We headed towards Huehuetenango and after riding for an hour on a pretty hectic road we stopped at a street restaurant for some lunch. We try to go for the restaurants that prepare the food where you can see it and where there are a lot of local people – and this one was almost full.
We rode to Huehuetenango and got lost in the city and were supposed to go on Hwy 7W to the east. We tried to ask for direction, but I think we mixed up some city names and were send in the wrong direction. We went straight through the chaotic city center where the market was located and it took forever to get out again. I loved it and Lars hated it! 🙂
We came out on Hwy 1 heading south instead, but that road seemed to be the same distance to Lake Atitlan, that was our destination for the day.
We spend the rest of the afternoon riding on badly potholed mountain roads through frequent villages. Several places the entire road had disappeared. There was even more cows, donkeys and goats on the road than in Mexico, lots of big trucks and colorful buses that send out enormous fumes of black exhaust, people walking or biking along the road and a lot of pick up trucks loaded with people on the back; easily more than 12-14 people clinging on to the trunk. All the women have beautiful colorful woven tops and skirts and we saw a lot of smiles.
We didn’t miss any dirt roads in Guatemala; you get more than enough action on the normal roads.
In one town we were stuck in a big crossing with crazy traffic and activity. The road was one big pothole, grooves and ruts and the cars and buses were weaving through – and then suddenly a dog running through the whole chaos. It was so crazy and I couldn’t help laughing at it all.
It was cold in the mountains and we were getting tired after a hectic day. We didn’t make it all the way to lake Atitlan. Just at is was getting dark we found a hotel on the side of the road in Santa Lucia Utatlan. At first it appeared to be closed. No light or activity. We waited for a while and then suddenly Emilio opens the door and let us into his little paradise hotel La Encantada. After a day of riding through chaos, we expected something quite simple or even scabby but this place was a small heaven. The room was beautifully decorated with nice blankets and had a warm shower. There was a pretty yard for the bikes and a real nice restaurant. And it was still cheap! We ordered 2 cold beers for the room. Together with the beers Emilio brought a plate of chicken tamale for free! How nice is that!?
A lot of nice little details and everything very clean and well maintained.
We crawled under the warm sheets and slept like princesses. The next morning we woke up to a beautiful crisp and cold morning and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of omelet, beans, pancakes, fruit, tortillas, juice and coffee.
– WE ARE LOVING GUATEMALA!
The following morning we had a short way to go to Lake Atitlan on a beautiful road through the mountains down towards the lake. Lake Atitlan is breathtaking beautiful, surrounded by perfect shaped volcanoes and rainforest.
Panajachel by Lake Atitlan is smaller and less developed than we expected. This is after all one of the most visited tourist places in Guatemala. I think we haven’t quite contemplated just how underdeveloped parts of this country is. But then we have to consider the fact that Guatemala had a 36-year long civil war that didn’t end until 1996.
Riding into Panajachel by Lake Atitlan.
Tuc tuc #42 🙂
Panajachel is apparently the largest of the towns around the lake. Here you take a boat to the other villages. And within a few moments we are surrounded by aggressive waiters, street vendors, boat ticket salesmen, shoe polishers and fixers. It’s really just too much. Even the kids are aggressive.
They don’t take no for an answer and put on a great act of being the poor street child, please buy my crap. The look well looked after though, so we don’t fall for it. They seem to have lost their childish innocence too early. But then, considered that the average living age for people in Guatemala is 19,6 years (yes, really 19,6) I guess these kids need to make their careers at an early stage.
This little lady was very pretty and very stubborn.
You gotta respect a guy with his age. He has witnessed several coups d’etats, a very long civil war with several horrific massacres to the local indigenous population in this area, because the military assumed that the Indians were automatically sympathizers of the guerrilla fighting the government.
We manage to find a pretty little spot close to the lake and decide to stay for 2 days to do some work on our website.
Oops! Forgot the pipe ritual at the border crossing. Well here it comes!
While I work, Lars goes out on his own to explore the town and comes back with a cheeky smile saying that he gets much better offers when he’s walking around alone; drugs and women! Clean women!
Local market in Panajachel
We experience a strange trend amongst tourists. A lot of them seem to be quite arrogant and avoid each other. This is something we never experienced in the US or in Canada. Maybe it’s because there’s more European tourists in this part of the world and unfortunately Europeans often do not have the pleasant politeness and well-mannered behavior as the North Americans do. Or it’s a “I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler who mingle with the locals only” attitude thing. We don’t know – but we really don’t like it.
However the bikes and the Alaska number plates tend to attract attention from both locals and other tourists/travelers.
BMW Guatemala held their 2nd annual convention in Panajachel the weekend we were there. About 120 participants from Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras all on big shiny BMW’s.
We met Julio from BMW Guatemala and he invited us to come by later the same day and have lunch with them. So we did and enjoyed hanging out with fellow bikers not to forget the amazing lunch buffet!
Nice venue for the event.
Ewan and Charley are popular guys all over the world.
Way to go BMW Guatemala, your conventions has class!!!!!
Alberto and Jesuai from Mexico who we met at the border crossing the day before. There was an amazing prize draw with really big prizes and Jesuai got lucky and won a HP laptop to bring on his future rides.
Despite the fact that we are not riding BMW’s they invited us to make a small presentation, which was fun. And we made sure to mention that we have a BMW 650 GS back home 🙂
Later the same day, we met Guadalupe from Mexico and Alejandro from Argentina from the complete other side of the adventure spectrum. They have been traveling for 9 years on their Honda Transalp and are real bike tramps traveling the world on hardly any budget. They make jewelry, henna tattoos, and play music and are able to make a bit of money that way, just enough to keep them moving. They were heading back to Argentina to be with Ale´s family for the first time in 9 years. Please visit their website.
The Transalp – called Violetta” – has taken them 160.000 km so far – they’ve also visited our homeland “DK”!
Guadalupe & Alejandro.
Dramatic sunset behind the vulcanoes at Lake Atitlan.
From Panajachel we headed towards Antigua. Julio from BMW Guatemala told us that the roads in this area had only been open for a few weeks because of bad rain leading to landslides many places like here.
That explained the many landslides we saw everywhere. The main road was for a large part under construction. It was a nice big 4 lane hwy but the roadwork, the people, the animals, trucks, buses makes you keep your eyes on the road. There’s no leaning back and enjoying the view here.
Topez or tumulos are placed everywhere in Mexico and Guatemala and they are a brilliant way to keep speed down. This type is a bit mean to motorcyclists though and makes your wheel skit to one side. Not too bad once you get used to them, but in the start they are a bit scary. However we soon learned that topez are our friends. The easiest way to get around a line of big trucks is by the topez. They have to pass them slowly and we can more or less fly over them. And more than once the topez was our savior when we had a big aggressive bus breathing down our necks.
Colorful but scary bus.
Pretty road in the mountains
Antigua is an old colonial style city with amazing churches. We see a lot of tourist here. They mostly come here to do a Spanish course. Something the city has specialized in.
Pretty local ladies.
While I searched for a hotel, Lars made friends with these 3 senores; Maurizio, Wilmer and Cornelio.
Once again we manage to find a little spot where we can roll our bikes into safety.
Cathedral De Santiago in Antigua is impressive.
There’s 3 borders into El Salvador and our plan was to take the most southern border. But we found out that the roads to the 2 southern-most border had severe floodings and we couldn’t get confirmation that the roads were open. So we decided to ride north-east from Antigua through Guatemala city to Hwy 9. We normally avoid the large cities but this time we were up for a treat! Guatemala City is extremly hectic, noisy, smoky and stinking hot! Since we don’t have GPS maps for central or South America or detailed city maps, we were left with our compas, directions from locals and our good spirit.
But the heat got to us and we ended up in a nasty quarrel about directions and how to navigate the city, which is really not what you need in the middle of an urban jungle like this.
Riding in Guatemala City.
We stopped at McDonald for an ice coffee and smoked a peace pipe and realized that we made it through the worst part and we were at the right Hwy out of the city.
Landslides marking the scenery in Guatemala. Our timing seemed to be good. A few weeks earlier, this would have been a muddy affair.
A large part of the people living in Central America are still depending on firewood for cooking and heating, so people on the roads carrying firewood is a frequent sight. It is also one of the reasons for a serious deforestation, which in turn is one of the reasons for the many landslides when they have heavy rain.
The amount of trash in nature is horrific in both Mexico and Guatemala. There’s probably no real trash handling infrastructures. The large multinational brands pump their products into these countries without any responsibility for the handling of the waste or any consideration of the consequence for the environment. Coca Cola brings home a nice profit as long as the environment pays the costs. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the governments of these countries said “well, you are welcome to sell your product here, but since we don’t have adequate waste handling throughout our country we would like you to take responsibility for the entire life cycle of your product”.
Not all cows stay in the side of the road.
We spent the last night in Guatemala in Jutiapa close to the border to El Salvador.
The usual drill. One of us keep watch over the bikes and the other goes hotel hunting.
We spent the night at Hotel del Sol and met Elisabeth & Walther from Austria. They are traveling for 2 years in their RV across Canada, up to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, then south the same way we are going all the way to Argentina.