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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by SeanPNW, Sep 12, 2013.
Happy New Year man! glad to hear you survived your tumble(s), keep on keeping on.
The handy 'quote' feature isn't working right now but Damasovi: Que-onda amigo, y felize ano! Also I kept forgetting to tell you but I added the Cochilocos hat to the memorabilia wall at Coco's Corner. So if any of you roll through there make sure to look for it.
Vintagespeed: Happy new year man, hopefully the tank will be staying the right side up for a bit now
Alright let’s get caught up on where I currently am, sorry for the lack of posts. As of now I’m in San Pedro la laguna on Lake Atitlan. When I crashed last week my camera got obliterated as I tumbled down the road. I’ve been hanging out here while I figure out the best and least expensive way to get another one. An inmate turned me on to refurbished cameras straight from Canon, so I picked an older model up pretty cheap (comparatively) and it’s shipping to my buddy Kosh in Seattle. Since I’m getting a package from the US I might as well take the opportunity to put some other stuff in it as well like a couple parts. Shipping stuff is expensive down here and more so if it’s expensive items themselves, so we’ll make everything look grungy and old, and then doll up some fake receipts to fool customs about the cost and hopefully dodge some of the ridiculous import taxes. I probably got another 2 weeks before anything arrives in Antigua so until then I’m sticking around and seeing what there is to see over here in the much cheaper San Pedro. Let’s cut back a week though and get caught up.
I rolled out of Antigua for San Pedro a few days before Christmas. The lake is suppose to be a popular place for the holidays so I knew I wanted to get there before the crowds and lock in a cheap spot. I was told by a local that I should check out Panajachel along the way. This is a small town on the eastern side of the lake which is closest to Antigua.
The road out was nice and this region is full of farms, nice ‘sunday ride’ type stuff.
I decided to make a slight detour down to Panajachel from the main highway hoping to find some scenic roads. I found some nice windy ones that snaked around the farms up in the ‘highlands’ that surround Panajachel and the lake.
I got lost for a bit on the back roads but I didn’t mind. This place is beautiful.
I found my way down into Panajachel eventually and scoped the scene for a hot minute.
Most people come to Panajachel and shop or sightsee, then if they are wanting to go to other places around the lake they take a lancha (small boat) to wherever they are going. Although I can see San Pedro from this side of the lake I’ll be driving around for another 1.5 to get down to it from the other side of the volcanoes.
Ran into a girl I’d met in Flores from the Netherlands so we grabbed some food and hung out for a bit. Nom nom nom.
I headed out of Panajachel and started wrapping around the north end of the lake and climbing the backside of one of the Volcanoes before dropping down into the lake. Clouds were hugging onto the very tip-y-top of the volcano as I came up the summit.
Cresting the top I started the long descent down to the lake.
There are a half dozen or so small towns that line all sides of the lake. All of the populations are Maya and there are 4 separate dialects of Maya spoken around the lake. Each place has a different vibe to it and the locals can tell each other apart by how they dress. For example the women from San Marcos wear predominantly purple based clothing whereas the women from San Pedro where red based clothing. This is San Marcos
And 2 towns over to the right (on the west side of the lake) is San Pedro.
I rode around looking for the cheapest place I could find that still had decent parking for my bike. The streets are so small around here I can’t just leave it out on the road. I found a place with private rooms with bathroom etc for 30Q per night ($~4) and good parking for my bike. Place is called Hotel Peneleu if anyone is interested in the future.
The town is nice and relaxed but with an interesting vibing energy to it. There are a lot of hippies or otherwise ‘earth conscious’ people that flock here. Everyone seems to love the energy around this lake, and it shows in the overall feel of the place when walking around any of the towns that surround it. San Pedro is a hilly town with lots of little streets and alleys. It’s simple and understated.
Sunday is family-fun-day at the local community pool. Here you can eat all afternoon good home-cookin BBQ with plates that range from $4 - $10 and it’s all really good. Lots of the traveling or ex-pat community come here for Sundays but local families also come hang out as well.
Looking out at the water you can see one of the many ways this place has changed so much in the last few years. As you can see, this is a house, and just a couple of years ago it was a tienda sitting on the beach serving food and drinks to the boats that came in to shore in front of it. Now though the beach doesn’t exist and the water is steadily creeping up inland with every year. I’ve asked lots of locals how long this has been happening and what they think the reason is. I’ve heard everything from just lots more rain from global climate change, to more people on the lake and thus more water consumption (sewage, showers, cleaning, etc) which just all goes into the lake, to more farms around the lake and thus less tree cover leading to more surface soil getting washed into the lake which is plugging up the one underwater drain for the whole lake. Some people even say it’s normal and does this every 50 years or so. Still don’t have any real answers but maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. If you want to buy property on Lake Atitlan (and it’s dirt cheap for abso-fucking-lutely AMAZING SCENERY) definitely build a bit up the hill rather than right on the water.
As I’ll be here for a while I have been asking people about things to do in the area. I met a guy in Antigua who said there is an old mayan transport road the cuts between two of the volcanoes. It has been used for centuries to transport goods from the lake to the villages on the other side of the volcanoes. I have been asking all the locals I can about this road and no one seems to know about it, I trust the guy from Antigua though as he says he’s actually been on it. I’m determined to find it and ride it. I’ve got enough info to go looking for it so I’m going to see if I can find it tomorrow. If I come up empty handed at least it’ll be a good dirt ride through the volcanoes, maybe find some small towns without any tourists as well.
VERY cool ride report. You are doing it right, bud. No plans, just putt around until you find something interesting.
I made the mistake of doing it the other way once, now that I've tried this out, I can't imagine doing it any other way.
More coming today.
I had heard of an old mayan transport route that cuts between two of the volcanoes around lake Atitlan. Back in the day it served as the fastest way to traverse between the western side of the lake and the villages that lay on the other side of the volcanoes. I had spent quite a bit of time trying to get more information from the locals as to it’s whereabouts, but aside from most just looking at me puzzled or telling me to be careful I had no real luck. In the morning I was leaving and gramps here asked me where I was off to so early. I said what I was trying to find and, of course, he had the hook-up on the info. He said “yeah it’s possible” and drew me a map in the dirt as if it was easy peasy lemon squeezy.
He showed me how to first find the dirt roads that go north up and around the volcanoes and then where I should be able to find the town of Chicacao. From there I could ask where to find the old mayan route from one of the locals in Chicacao. Sweet, thanks gramps!
This early in the morning the lake was calm.
I climbed up and out of the lake and over the ridgeline towards the backside of the volcanoes.
Got out of town and onto the dirt. Somewhere in the distance over there is Chicacao, and hopefully the road I want to find.
The riding was good and the area had great views.
There were several small towns that I passed through, but none where Chicacao.
After a while I found pavement.
Some larger towns.
But still no Chicacao, so I kept going.
Here we go, this is what I’m looking for.
I found Chicacao and went looking for an old person who would be likely to know where the road is. I found Pedro. Pedro was a really nice guy and we ended up chatting for a bit about this area of Guatemala and how things have changed over the years. He told me where to find the entrance to the road and said it’s really not difficult, everyone here knows about it. He aslo told me where to find some good food in the market in town. Thanks Pedro.
Chicacao is a decently sized place, bigger than San Pedro I think but has zero tourists. Most people traveling don’t seem to make it over to this side of the volcanoes, guess there isn’t really anything touristy over here anyways. If you are here riding though and like the dirt, it’s a nice little ride out here.
I went to the market and found the place that Pedro had recommended.
When I was finishing up my tasty meal Pedro showed up to the tienda with his friend Henry. Pedro had ran into Henry after we had parted ways earlier and Henry wanted to come see the bike and say hey. Henry said he had a little farm in the area and I should come check it out if I have time. Shit man, “time” is exactly what I’ve got. Pedro was also riding the exact same bike that was my very first bike. Following him to his house and hearing the sound and smell of his old 2-stroke kawasaki brought me right back to childhood ripping around in the woods by my house. Love that smell and sound of a wound out 2-stroke.
Just a bit out of town we rolled up to his ‘farm’. Well shit, this is not what I expected his ‘farm’ to be like. As I threw the kickstand down and killed the motor all I could hear were tropical birds chirping away and all I could see was lush garden in every direction.
Henry grabbed his leather satchel which he carries his gun in and we went out walking. He said it’s safe on his grounds but you never know when someone might want to cause some trouble.
He’s got a fresh water spring on his property and he channels the water to his farm. He built a pool and diverts some of the spring water into it to keep if full and clean. His dogs like to drink from it too.
Aside from some staff that help run the grounds, he just lives here alone with his two dogs. Wherever he goes, they go as well.
He’s got a couple small ponds where he grows fish to eat, the extra get sold at the market and the nutrient rich waste water gets used to water some of the plants.
Henry’s farm is an ‘ornamental’ plant farm. So he primarily grows and sells plants that are desirable for decoration. Back in the day he sold to Japan, the US, Europe, you name it. Since the recession though he says there isn’t a big enough foreign market for his plants anymore, now he sells mostly locally at markets within the area and throughout Guatemala.
The water from the natural spring that he doesn’t use get’s sent down to a turbine at the bottom of a hill. He then uses this turbine to generate electricity for his entire property.
We walked for an hour or so around his place talking about the different types of plants and the history of the farm. His dad originally bought this land when he was just a little kid living in Guatemala city. It was a coffee plantation when they bought it. Everything he knows about farming he has learned from his dad and first hand by simple trial and error. Back in the day it would take them 3.5 days by horse to get from the city to here. Now it’s a cool 4 hours.
This is an unripe coco bean pod. This is what chocolate comes from.
When you smash it open you get a meaty center which has a bunch of individual beans inside the meat. The white meat itself is actually pretty sweet and nice to chew on, but doesn’t taste like chocolate at all. The chocolate flavor just comes from the beans.
Henry is waiting for his last big harvest. Aside from plants, he’s got 50,000 trees like this one. They are used for making wood cabinetry, tables, chairs, etc. In another 5 years they’ll all be big enough to harvest. He says he plans to buy a new car, maybe a house, and retire.
He won’t be cutting this one down though, this is Guatemala's national tree. It’s fucking enormous. It’s hard to get scale, but the spindly looking trees in the background are the same size as the tree in the previous picture.
Fully impressed and blown back by the tranquil beauty of this place, we went back to his house for a sit and some fresh lemonade. No alcohol here in the house for 10 years he says. Henry has lived a very interesting and hard life, which has come full circle to where he’s at now. A life of drugs, booze, and women in the city almost killed him. It took nearly 40 years for him to figure it all out, but living here alone on the farm full time, he’s really been able to have time for himself, and through it he’s learned what really matters to him. He lost his family, his friends, and almost his life in the process, but he says he’s happier than ever now and wouldn’t change a single thing.
Can’t say I blame him. Winding the days out here, working his farm, and kicking back fresh lemonades in the afternoon heat doesn’t sound half bad.
A badass guy with a strong green-thumb and a newly lightened heart - dude’s a fucking renaissance man. He even could jam out some ragtime on the old piano.
We sat and chatted for an hour or so about everything from women, to life in the fast lane, and then eventually finding meaning in all of it. This painting is of a mayan god breathing night and darkness onto the volcanoes. I saw it and was reminded of the task at hand. If I was to find my way through the two of them and back into San Pedro, I was going to need to end the convo and head out.
Henry offered a place for me to stay but I unfortunately had told a friend that if I didn’t make it back by midnight that something was likely wrong. Thanks for all the hospitality Henry, you are a fascinating character.
Just outside of town I found the old mayan transport road I had originally come here to find. Mission accomplished.
The road zigged and zagged deeper into the bush and climbed higher and higher into the volcanoes.
As I neared the saddle of the two volcanoes I found heavy clouds, cooler temperatures, and then...road construction?
Unfortunately it looks like they are paving from Santiago (on the lake) up and over the volcanoes and down the old mayan trail to Chicacao. Seems like people want to be able to come up here more easily and take photos of the amazing vistas.
On a good day you can see the lake and volcanoes in one direction, and then turn to the other side and you can see the pacific coast and ocean. With views like this I guess I can’t completely blame them. Most people (locals and tourists) come from the lake side though, so hopefully the construction will stop here and not continue on down into Chicacao, which would effectively erase this amazing little piece of history.
I soaked in the views that change with every passing second. The cloud-cover here shifts so quickly that one minute you have a clear view of the lake and then 20 seconds later you are socked in and can’t see anything. It creates an eerie disappearing act with the enormous volcanoes that you are saddled right in the middle of. The ride down to Santiago was markedly faster with the pavement, and soon I was back on the lake heading towards where I had started early that morning, San Pedro. This photo was the last picture I took right before I had the unfortunate accident with the dog. I’ve already written earlier about it so I’ll spare the details.
It was a great day of riding and exploring, one sweetened by both the making of a new friend, as well as accomplishing what I had set out to do. I found and rode a piece of Mayan history that may not be around in it’s original form for much longer. For that I feel privileged. Modernization is definitely a two sided mistress, with one hand she giveth and the other she taketh away. This is how life is though, it’s always a compromise, and you can never have it all. Glad I got to see this special place before it is no more.
Wow, amazing installment of the journey. Thoroughly enjoyed that.
Wow, I have always wanted to visit that area. My wife and I have been donating to an orphanage in San Lucas Toliman for many years and feel a connection with area. Great photos and thanks for taking us along.
Gracias por todos,
So far it's been one of my most satisfying days. More fun when you never know what you're getting into.
The donations here go a really long way, any sort of financial help for these schools makes a big difference. Gracias para te amigo.
That was a farging amazing installment! Also loved the shot of you and your pops a few posts back.
What a great run in with Henry, be worth staying a few days with him. Got one helulva set up. Great to see a rider taking the time
He's definitely a fascinating guy. I promised him I'd swing by on my way back up. I asked him if he had email, he just chuckled at me, said he has no need for them. Got his phone number though so I'll give him a ring if I'm coming back through.
On a side note apparently I've had a piece of glass in my leg since I crashed that day?? Thought I had a pesky scab on my thigh from the spill, but just pulled out a thin 1/4 inch piece of glass?? :huh .........
Thanks Bear Creek, not many kids I know got a photo like that with their pops, handy when you share the same interests.
When I was out looking for the Mayan road and exploring the area around Lake Atitlan, I came across a group of hikers who were on a 4 day trek from Xela (up north) down to the lake. It was random running into a gaggle of tourists out there so I stopped and said hey for a bit and asked them what they were up to. There were a few girls and a guy that I had actually met previously up in Mexico. 2 days later one of the girls, Julia, showed up at the same hotel as me.
My camera got obliterated when I crashed so all these photos are Julia’s, thanks Julia.
Hotel Peneleu is where we are staying, and they got a pretty sweet set-up. With private rooms starting at 30Q a night, it’s pretty hard to beat.
Seeing that I’m laying low and letting my ankle heal for the holidays I’ve been running low on things to do around here. She was down to go explore so we went out looking for things to do around the lake. San Pedro isn’t very big and unless you get creative, you can run through most of the general activities pretty quickly. My dad used to always say that boredom is a great thing, when you are bored that’s when you are inspired to find new and fun things to do.
There are a handful of other towns around the lake so we set out to see what they had. The last town that you can actually ride to when heading north around the lake is called Tzununa, after that there is another town called Jaibalito that you either have to hike to or take a launcha (small boat) on the lake to. Julia is German and we heard there is a guy that lives in Jaibalito who runs a small german restaurant with authentic rye bread and german food. With my ankle still being a bit funky the german food will be my carrot on the stick after tromping around.
The ride around the lake through the pueblos was nice. The weather here seems to always be good, a little windy on a bad day but that’s about it.
Handy having a co-pilot to handle photo taking. We made our way around the lake towards Tzununa.
We got as far as we could ride then started hiking. The hike was largely open with great views of the lake.
We were told it’s about a 45 minute walk but we were antsy to boogey so we jog-walked it. Wasn’t the best idea for my ankle but I’m jonesing for that German food.
Jaibalito is a small pueblo with mostly a local population.
We went for a dip with the local rascals. One little kid had the balls to push me in off the dock. I wouldn’t swim on the San Pedro side of the lake, since the last earthquake there has been no real water treatment system here, and all the shit, literally, goes right into the lake. This side of the lake though is much cleaner.
As with most of the places around the lake there is also a community of expats living out their dream days here as well. They all seem to get bored eventually and start doing some sort of project or activity within the community. Sometimes it’s a recycling program (which is badly needed). The concept of throwing away your trash in appropriate ways is not something that is a part of the culture. There was a group of little kids that left their snack trash by the lake after swimming. I picked it up and they looked at me confused. I said “this place is beautiful right?”, “You want to have kids here some day right? You want it to be beautiful for them too right? Well this stuff doesn’t go anywhere, it stays right where you leave it, and if you don’t start taking care of the lake, it’s not going to be beautiful for your kids when they grow up.” They seemed pretty confused, not that they didn’t understand, but as if they hadn’t really thought about it before. Hopefully they’ll think about it as they get older. The first step in solving the problem is also creating a place to put the trash/recycling.
Other times when the expats get bored they open restaurants. This is the case for Hans and his German restaurant, but I’m not complaining
According to Julia-the-german the food was pretty authentic. The items wouldn’t normally all be eaten together like this, but she said the preparation was authentic. This plate was 26Q (~$3.50).
We walked around a bit after lunch. Christmas is a thing here too.
This old lady came down the path with two branches for walking poles, one of which was twice the size of her. Her movement was ancient and her steps tiny, but she was cruising as if she was out just going about her normal business.
She was probably the smallest women alive.
Kids and their handheld entertainment these days.
The next day we headed in the other direction around the lake towards the Santiago. Santiago is the largest town on this side of the lake. It also has the biggest market and is the most touristy because the locals dress the most traditionally here.
Live (for the moment) crabs. I think these are from the lake but not sure, are there fresh water crabs??
We went with a fist-full of tamale instead.
We took a ride outside of town and up to the mirrador that sits between the two volcanoes. This is the same place that I had been a couple days before when I was looking for the old mayan road.
If you ride a bit past the top of the mirrador and onto the unpaved section leading towards Chicacao, the beauty of the mirrador quickly shifts to a much sadder reality. Trash is a problem here, just like it is everywhere else in the world. In the US, we do a decent job of tucking them away in discrete places. Here they have taken our lead and dump all their trash on the other side of this mirrador where people aren't likely to really go and thus don't see it. The trash is lit on fire and the smoke is conveniently masked by the constant shifting haze of the real clouds that engulf the ridgeline. It’s sad seeing stuff like this, the blatant pollution of such a beautiful area is upsetting. I can’t help but realize though that what we do in the US with our trash is really only minutely different to how it is handled here in Guatemala. In the end, trash dumped and buried in the ground is all the same, whether we can ride up and see it with our own eyes or not. Now channeling my inner hippie - RECYCLE as much as possible, and THINK about the things we buy and where they eventually end up!
On the way back from the mirrador we stopped where I had my little tumble the previous week. I could see some of the marks my gear left on the pavement, glad I was riding with all my gear on.
We also met this 101 year old lady on her birthday in one of the small towns. Her name was Maria. She was spry for someone in the triple digits, and her sons were all with her getting wasted in her honor, funny guys and funny lady. Happy Birthday Maria.
Good kicking it Julia, enjoy being back up North in the land of white up in Whitehorse.
I've spent the last few days milling about San Pedro and chilling with both old and new friends. My buddy Kosh will be sending me a small package of items down to Antigua so I'm ordering a few things here and there to have them added to the box. 16 tooth sprocket, iridium spark plug, and my original copy of my motorcycle title. Yes, that is correct, I didn't bring my original copy of my title with me when I left Seattle . For some reason I left it back home and of course I do actually need the original for some of the border crossings. Guatemala required the original, but I was still able to get in without it. A smile, respect, and plenty of patience seems to have sufficed so far. I'm not going to bank on being able to also get out of the country without it though so it'll be in the box as well. The items I've ordered need time to arrive at my buddies place then they also need time to get down to Antigua.
I've got time to kill and San Pedro is cheep but I don't want to spend the next two weeks waiting in the same spot. I packed up my things and road back into Antigua to find a place to hang out while I wait. Antigua is more expensive but there's also more stuff to do. I found a adventure company here in Antigua called O.X. Expeditions They specialize in kicking your ass via higher end and more extreme trips than most other tourism companies here. They do single track mountain bike trips, climbing the volcanoes, paragliding, kayaking, and surf trips. They also run a hostel called O.X. Basecamp which is named after the Everest basecamp. I worked out a deal with the owner where they are letting me work for them and in return I can stay for free in the hostel while I wait for my stuff to arrive. Saweet!
If you are in Antigua and want to do some serious outdoor activities, not your typical watered down excursions, check them out for sure. Did I just give my first plug?
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Those volcano shots are fantastic, so beautiful. Loving the report!
Just spent the past two days reading your adventures whilst at work... You're giving me ideas ... Thanks for this RR man!
Sounds familiar, if only we could get paid for our time on ADVrider....wait, we are getting paid!
Good isn't it?! Have a good day man.