Back in El Peten

We’ve now crossed back from Chiapas, Mexico, into El Peten, Guatemala’s jungle-covered, northerly province. Our plan is to loop up and around Peten Itza lake to Poptun, via El Remate and Tikal, before cutting back on a dirt road across the country to Lanquin – famous for its limestone, turquoise-hued pools – and Coban, on the edge of the highlands.

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The border at La Tecnica was just a five minute, two dollar boat ride from the shores of Mexico. From here, a fifteen kilometre parched hot bumpy track led us to the immigration office at Bethel, where we were warmly welcomed by the jovial official there. Despite rumours of a dubious five dollar ‘entrance’ fee, which Mexican immigration had also mentioned to us, we weren’t asked for any unofficial levies. A nice change for this part of the world.

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Our distinctly overpriced accommodation in Bethel. Finally, we managed to swap the tiny, hot and sweaty shoebox we were first offered for a slightly larger hot and sweaty shoebox, where we could just squeeze in the bikes.

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Recent rainfall has wreaked havoc across southern Guatemala, but here in the lower elevations of El Peten, the sun beat down upon us, and we longed for even the briefest of cloud cover. By midday, it felt like the overbearing heat had wrapped around us like a tight blanket, squeezing out every droplet of water. At least the scrawny dogs were too hot to bother to take chase…

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Flat and open landscape; deforestation in action, much of which is a result of the large cattle ranches operating in the area, their entrances marked by grand, imposing gates somewhat at odds with the simplicity of the wooden houses around.

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The occasional settlement offered the chance to buy cans of cold juice which we pressed to our foreheads for a few tantalising moments, before glugging them down. We struggled to keep rehydrated, and this is supposedly the winter…

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Our arrival distracted even the kids engrossed in old arcade games in the shade of village shops. Here in these Guatemalan backwaters, everyone we've met has been incredibly friendly and welcoming, quizzing us about the journey, and inevitably shaking their heads in disbelief at how we manage to keep our legs turning. From a local's perspective, it must seem a little odd...

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What’s on offer… Beer, cigarettes, cola… The staple Guatemalan diet.

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Seventy five kilometres into Guatemala, the rough dirt road gave way to pavement in the quiet settlement of Las Cruces. For once, we appreciated the soothing effects of buttery smooth tarmac on our sore hands and backsides.

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A free ferry – well, a pontoon steered by two woefully tiny 75cc outboard motors – took us across the flooded Rio San Martin to the friendly, characterful town of Sayaxche, where we washed off the sweat and sunblock of the day and found some cheap digs. That night, the heavens opened, the river rose, and rainwater even seeped under our door.

Our original plan had been to try a cross country track that lead almost directly to Poptun – our map showed what it called a seasonal trail – but further enquiries revealed this area to be partly submerged by water from the recent heavy rains. So we decided to backtrack up to Flores, following tracks where we could, and ride around the unpaved north of Peten Itza lake, stopping en route for Cara to see the majestic ruins of Tikal.

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A political candidate bleached from the sun – but still looking sharp.

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In our search for backcountry options, we detoured to this enormous ceiba tree at La Esperanza. Unfortunately we were soon lost amongst a network of trails, and had to backtrack to the main road once more. It was way too hot for aimless wanderings.

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At last, the tranquil waters of Peten Itza lake. There's a 30km direct road from Flores, but we'd taken the hilly, bumpy northern route via San Juan to get here. Frazzled by the sun, we lept in as soon as we arrived.

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Crystal clear. Fishes flitted back and forwards, nibbling on the tortillas we threw in.

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Cara, a belly sleeper, crashes out after the ride. I couldn’t help chuckling to myself as I took this photograph…

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And I chuckled some more when I checked my camera later that day, and saw the photo she’d taken of me while I was asleep…

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Healthy eating back at Finca Ixobel, Poptun. Sustenance for the climb(s) back into the highlands...

6 thoughts on “Back in El Peten

  1. marcos muy ruano

    I like them pictures…I’m from peten and I’m glad that you guys visited my country. You are always welcome there..

    Reply
  2. Jaime

    You guys made it. I remember when my parents and I had to walk in the jungle from Las Cruces to the Yaxtunila creek. There were no roads more than just a trail underneat of big threes. It was beautiful. I know the heat of El Peten. Sudenly, I left my Country because of the war.
    Thanks for visitng Peten. God Bless.

    Reply
  3. M.Barrera

    Wow, I was recently in Peten in a village near La Técnica. It’s a beautiful place yet it’s so hard to find it in a map!

    Reply

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