(read the full post here)
Having been at Maya Pedal for a few weeks, it was time I took a break and found my cycling legs again…
From San Andres de Izatapa, it’s a tough but beautiful day ride to Lago Atitlan, through the mountainous Guatemalan countryside, past cornfields, small villages, and over a 2700m dirt road pass.
Bike talk: I went minimal on this trip and rode the old Panasonic. I love its simplicity. Pretty much everything can be repaired in one of the pokey, hole-in-the-wall bike shops found in almost every village.
Passing by corn fields, a sight synonymous with Guatemala. I stopped for a picnic and three local farmers ambled on over to chew the fat. Despite a few areas nearby carrying safety warnings (road banditry is still popular in Guatemala), this stretch was unusually friendly. The hippy hair and dreads I’ve been cultivating seemed popular – women in a colourful local garb laughed, smiled and even called out for their friends in Cakchiquel when they saw me toiling up the hills, which are ridiculously steep in some places.
Views down the valley from Xepatan.
These buses are my friends. Even when they engulf me in dust and diesel fumes on the climbs…
Back down again to the ‘main’ road between Gordinez and Patzun.
The view of Lago de Atitlan from Gordinez, a vast body of water ringed by three volcanos. Aldous Huxley described it as ‘the most beautiful lake in the world.’ Quiche folkore agrees, calling it one of the four lakes that mark the corners of the world.
The long descent from Gordinez down to Panajachel is still closed at one point, damage wreaked by the hurricane two months ago. Bikes can pass through no problem though.
Catching a lancha across the lake to the backpacker hangout of San Pedro la Laguna.
The view back to the 3020m Volcan San Pedro from the utopian, perfectly manicured hippy hangout of San Marcos, a boat hop away from San Pedro.
Local fishermen paddling from one village to the next.
The Penelau Hotel, close to the market in San Pedro de la Laguna. A lake view room like this costs a whole 20Q – that’s less than 3 dollars. Each morning, I limbered up at a yoga class held close to the shore. I hung out with a bunch of fellow travellers from England, Germany and France, listening to great live music and endulging in a few fiestas at night…
Back up the climb again. It’s a 500m, 15km incline from Pana, which is situated at 1500m. Then the road lurches back down again a few hundred metres, before the big dirt road climb up to Xepatan at 2700m.
I rode back some of the way with Martin from the Netherlands – who I’d first met way back in Creel, Mexico – and Nancy, who hosted me with Matthew through the Warmshowers cyclist’s network. Six cyclists gathered together to gulp down the biggest meal I’ve enjoyed in some time… a heap of delicious pasta, followed by freshly baked cakes and ice cream… Thank you!
The Need to Know Section:
Cheap digs in San Pedro de la Laguna: Hotel Penelau, next to Hotel San Francisco
If you’re a cyclist, check out the two wheeled version of Couchsurfing called Warm Showers.
Yoga in San Pedro: 30Q for a 1.5 hours, great hatha yoga held below the Buddha Bar monday to friday 9am.
Boat rides: A boat ride is 25Q (3 dollars) for foreigners. Locals pay 15Q. It’s another 5Q for the bike.
Safety: One stretch of the lake – between San Pedro de la Laguna and Santiago de Atitlan – carries a safery warning. The rest of the area seems to be pretty good. Some locals thought the main road between Gordinez and Patzun can be a little sketchy too, though the dirt road I followed via Xepatan is fine.
Route Description: Cycle Central America (ISBN 1–905006–00–4) has a heap of dirt road and backroads ideas for touring in this part of the world, this one is on page 70. The book is down to earth and very nicely written too – with lots of ideas for those who might want to bus and bike around these mountains. Download a free pdf here.
More riding inspiration and info: Karen and Martin’s extensive distance and altitude info for dirt roads and backroads in Guatemala. Scott’s site, another long distance rider who’s travelled high and low, and is now heading south for Argentina.