Spent the morning washing, relaxing and drinking the free coffees.
At midday, cycled into Placencia town in the stifling heat. The ferry to Independence was at 14:30 so spent some time exploring the small beach town.
Initially the boat refused to take our bikes, but when he realised the boat was not full, we were on.
It had rained heavily overmight and in the morning and we were minutes from being flooded out when we emerged into the daylight covered in mosquito bites :-(
The Mayan ruins at the site were disappointing and a brief jungle walk only produced muddy feet.
The dirt track exit was heavy going after the rain, but as soon as we were om the main southern highway all was easy.
At the turn off for Hopkins mqjor EU funded roadworks were underway. Thr first section being smooth dirt followed by 5km on small rocks. Hard going.
Hopkins was interesting. A Garifuna town with ramshackke building directly on the beach. A short way south of town the new build areas started. American style mini mansions, everywhere plots for sale.
Passed Sitee River these turned into river plots and finally petered out as we headed on another rocky dirt track.back out to the Southern Highway.
Back on tarmac all the waybdown the peninsular of Placencia though more artificial new towns created to satisfy north American ex-pats. An expensive Costa del Sol!
Exhausted, I convinced Tadek to stay at a $45 a room hotel on thr beach. not luxurious in the slightest, but a lovely location with a room overlooking the beach.
Great breakfast in the pleasant town of San Ignacio and some very helpful tourist advice from a friendly local. The shops were stocked with western items in abundance and the general infrastructure seemed much more advanced than their Spanish speaking counterparts the other side of the straight line, artificial border.
Cycling was tough with a strong headwind. We made it 40km to the outside of the capital, Belmopan, but weakened at the thought of the central mountains.
Hitched a lift with 2 decidedly dodgy looking men in a bashed up American van and a tonne of tobaco leaves.
They turned out to be jems, stopping off to show us local sights and at the best ice cream seller on our trip.
Got off when flat roads appeared outside a huge juice factory. Another 30km to our destination. Battling agaonst the light and a 6km stretch of dirt track, we arrived at the deserted campsite to be wecomed by thousands of very hungry mosquitos!
Threw the tent up as quickly as possible and tried to kill the 20 or so mozzirs that had followed us inside. Not nice!
Up early to spen 3 hours rambling around the entire jungle clad site. Amazing views rewarded up for a steep climb to the top section of temple IV. A few phone cslls homr via skype in the onlh place at Tikal with phone reception.
Everything at the ruind had inflated prices, including the 32km bus to El Remate at $8 per person (with the bikrs).
Realising that our days on holiday were numbered, we opted to only cycle a short distance in Guatemala before catching another micro bus to the border town of Melchor.
The officials tried unsuccessfully to scam $3 each for an exit tax but all else was smooth and easy.
It was gone 5:30pm and still intensely hot and sticky. Our guide book suggested the 12km distant San Ignacio as a reasonable halt but dusk was already upon us and the hills were ever present!
Pitched the tent in total darkness at the empty Inglewood campsite on the outskirts of town.
Woke up in our quiet free lakeside camping location looking forward to a short day's cycling to the Mayan ruins at Tikal.
8km to the town of El Remate firstly on paved, back to dirt, the back again on asphalt.
After an expensive coffee, we decided to kill time by visiting another archaeological site 2km south at Ixlu. It took somr time to locate and turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.
We needed to delay cycling in order not to arrive at Tikal before 3pm so that we could buy a ticket for the next day which would also allow us to see the temples that evening too.
The heat built up and up: we set of!
10km in I developed another puncture. "it's my birthday and I'll cry if I want to" but Tadek made me change it myself!!!
Passed the gates for the national park snd ruins at 15:30 and had another 17km to reach the camping sites.
Pitched the tent, quick change then a quick march to the main temples ad it was fast approaching darkness.
Head torches to get back then a couple of overpriced beers and some crisps for my swanky bday dinner.
A lazy morning on the guest house roof on the almost island of Flores. Caught up on mega washing load and phone calls home while enjoying the glorious view over Lake Peten Itza.
At 1pm, we cycled out on another fruitless search for a boat. 20km more than we expected plus the road turned into a track about 25km into the journey.
Up and down continually in hot and humid weather. I was perspiring so much that I could not see!
Stopped briefly to repair a slow puncture on Tadek's bike and partook of some great tortillas with freshly prepared vegetables.
Some 30km more and the light began to fade. The dirt road continued undulating annoyingly but we finally drew into a waterside park in Jobompiche to waste away the evening updating the blog and snacking on local crisps.
Hosted by a coffee plantation owner. We accosted a driver as he was opening his gates and subsequently pitched our tent on their landscaped lawn.
The workers bought us coffees and tasty snacks, cleaned the toilet and shower in the garden shed and generally made us feel welcome. After another freezing night in the tent, the 2 workers bought us egg roles and more coffee.
At 8:30, we made our way up the hill to see Zaculeu..a minor Mayan temple site.
Then the hills began again. Up and down between 1500 and 2000m on hills that lasted hours. (All as steep as the top of Ashford Hill)
Aguacatan for fruit overload lunch. A 400m climb to an amazing plateau with spectacular views in all directions. A few hair raising descents with brakes on fire before a kick in the teeth final climb to Sacapulas. 2 nights freezing in tents, traded for a loud but warm hotel room.
Off up the mountain tomorrow (on the bus)
Our borrowed guide book was useless with directions. Cycled around town 3 times in light rain before we found the Ixil cultural centre and artisan's market. Was not really worth the visit with most stall closed and the others touting tourist tack.
When still raining and cloudy, we hopped on another bus to take us back to the outside world (the Ixil villages and towns do feel other workd like after being cut of from the rest of Guatemala due to the mountains and because of persecution during the civil war.
Dropped at the junction, we had 500 meters to climb before the promise of downhill for days. Passed Uspantan, arriving in Chicaman just too late for the last bus to Coban.
Awoke to find a great view of the town circled by verdent, rollinh hills bathed in sunshine.
Left the bikes to walk the streets in search of local weavings to see/buy. Eventually found a shop for a cooperative of 40 local women. Did not mange to bargain well, so ended up with paying €40 for 2 scarfs and a blouse.
On slow route back to the hotel we were accosted by 2 different old ladies keen to sell us more One more top and a shawl were another €17. Beautiful though!
Now that it was too hot, we decided to cycle back up the valley to Nebaj. Witnessed two different ladies at a backstrap loom and a full new wooden version. It's so good to see relatively young women still creating their traditional fabrics.
The ride was difficult but wholly worthwhile. The scenery was reminiscent of the Austrian or Swiss alps.
Nebaj for the night.
After a few local snacks at the Sunday market, we headed across the bridge in search of a bus to Chajul, a village in the mountains. Made the fatal mistake of deciding to cycle to the next junction to get a bus. 10km uphill in blazing sun took us 3 hours, and the bus that finally picked us up had come through Sacapulas!
Arrived in Nebaj at around 17:00 after sitting waiting on the side of the road for an hour. The town did not really grab our attention so had more food, then took another white knickke ride to Cotzal.
Much smaller and welcoming. Lovely small town square and a choice of 3 hotels. Colourfully dressed women everywhere.
The household starting stirring at 4 but most were up by 6 ready for work school or housework. At 6:20 we were up, washed and packed and being served breakfast.
The eldest son and the teacher (moonlighting as a farmer in the morning) had already left as all others, pigs, chicken and turkeys joined to watch us eat our food and drink our sweetened home grown coffee. Family photo and gift of old wallet and $25 left as a thank you.
Left before seven in search of a boat acrooss the laguna to Sayaxche. Some 10km out of our way listening to contradictory information from villagers giving directions, we gave up and returned to Las Pozas on the dirt road.
The heat was picking up but we ploughed on. We needed to pick up speed to get to all the places we had planned. The hills were less challenging but still ever present (this is no southern Laos or Cambodia for sure)
As we were nearing our last chance town of La Libertad, my front wheel developed a puncture. Tadek had the tool so I pushed the bike to catch up.with him at a roadside shop 1km down the road. Fixed it then battled on into the bustling, grimey town of La Libertad as darkness fell.
Caught a bus to Flores and walked back into the main tourist trail with backpackers everwhere.
Hostel. Walk around the island town, a beer, washing on to soak then crashed in seconds. 100km in the day on the bike had taken its revenge.
We had had enough of steep hills and cold nights, so clambered onto a bus ar 4:30am to Coban. Good decision! The road was extreme. Hills, no tarmac, landslides. Only maniacs would drive it, let alone cycle it.
By 7am we were in a grimey, muddy bus terminal on the outskirts of the town that our borrowed guide book had decribed as pleasant and clean. it was dull. They had even built a 1970's (now disintegrating) concrete 'feature' in front of the main church in the square.
Had some great food at a street vendor's, then decided to take another bus north to the end of the mountains.
Shame to miss the cloud forests and the very special flora and fauna, but flatness and warm nights seemed more important.
At Los Pozas, we returned to our bikes for a 23km dirt track road (minor hills only) to see some Mayan ruins in the jungle. 3km before the site, the road became unpassable. After persuading a hapless local too look after our bikes, we squelched through mud and jungle to the ruins of Dos Pilas.
Fantastic. Partly excavated and only us and the howler monkeys there.
30 mins back to the track and a quick cycle at dusk to the next bigger village. Darkness stranded us at a shop showing tv to 20 or so youngsters. Realised that there was no electricity except the generator for the shop and lights fir close neighbours. No bus available, no guest house. Luckily a local invited us to stay at his home.j
Turned out well. Hosted by a large family with 9 kids, one daughter in law, a baby, the local school teacher and his friend. Spent a few hours chatting and being fed and watered before crashing on the floor of whay appeared to be a large barn full of beds (we rejected taking the bed offered. glad we did as don't know where the two young boys would have slept)
A truely unique experience and eye opener on the 80% of Guatemalans surviving on less than $2 per day.
A lazy start at our luxury poolside camping spot, followed by a great coffee and too much internetting. Cycled about 1km to the lakeside dock for small boat ferries to the lakeside villages and towns. Most tracks around the lake are tough for walkers let alone cyclists. From San Pedro La Laguna the road is almost fully paved to San Marcos so we ventured that far on our saddles. Challenging in places but not too taxing.
San Marcos was a bit claustrophobic and metaphysical for our liking but we‘d agreed to meet up with fellow cycle tourers who we'd met on the route there earlier that day. Great cheap food with corn pancakes, beans and salads for less than $1 made us warm to the place.
Camped in the yard of a friendly hostel away from the lake and slept fitfully to the nighttime chorus of dogs barking.
Slept in a dungeon of a motel just far enough away from the Pan Americana for comfort.
A cold start at altitude but as the sun came up and we hurtled downhill, all became better. great scenery with rolling hills backed by mammoth mountain ranges.
The usual fast steep downhilld were followed by the ever present opposite of slow, painful ascents.
Arrived in ChiChi fairly early still undecided on the plan for the day. Had Teresa's gears fixed in town (only had 3 gears coming up the last hill!)
Found the famous market, sat to people watch over a 50 cents bag of mandarins. Decided to stay so booked into Hotel El Telephono, an interesting, cheap hostel overlooking the town's brightly coloured graveyard.
More guests arrived and we had to make a retreat from our retreat due to a group of boringly clean and wholesome young north Americans and Danes chattering loudly in front of our room.
The saga of the forgotten passport and money to follow ( good ending)
Here is an extract from an email from Chris P; a fellow cycle staying at our hostel. It made me cry with laughter.
"Yesterday, after you left, there was a lot of noise and commotion at the guest house. The place was swarming with Guatemalan cops. An American lady spent ages talking to them, while counting out hundreds of dollars in notes. Sander suspected foul play-assumed that this must have had something to do with police corruption, but later it turned out the police were returning the woman's money belt. Apparently she'd left it in the shower at the guest house. There are some honest people around here obviously.",
2 hours, 5km, 550 vertical meters, midday sun, all at altitude above 1450m.
Multiply this one hundred times to explain only 302km in 8 days.
Piece of cake? Not!
Got up early for the twice weekly market (Thursday and Sunday) where all things Mayan can be purchased.
At 7am the whole town was busily being transformed with covered stalls being erected on every street. More peole watching over sweet black coffees. By 8 most of the sellers were ready and waiting for the busloads of tourists who would arrive by 9.
We found an area of jumble like stalls selling 2nd hand mayan traditional clothing. Bargained for a women's top that was falling apart and long strip of woven material used as a hair embellishment. Now have to carry them both for 3 weeks :-(
Left town at around 10:30 heading for Huehue via Sacapulas.
En route discovered that our map was out of date and that a new road would bypass Sacapulas, heading north east across the Rio Negro river directly to Huehue.
More hard ups and downs ensured that we made slow progress. Just before dusk we asked a local family whether we could camp in their gated garden.
Julisa kindly offered to host us and young Raoul, on his tiny blue bike with stabilisers, tried to work out how to best help us put the tent up. Princessa ,the dog, divested us of our remaining biscuits as we crawled into our sleeping sheets and under our blankets. Another cold, fitful sleep was had by all.
A freezing cold sleepless night led to a 6 am start.
More helish times climbing hills (Teresa pushing 27kg as cycling at times proved too much)
Every time we thought we might have come to the end of the hellish hills there were more.
Came across a great local market where we invested in another blanket and loads of fresh fruit and veg.
Finally, Lake Atitlan came into view, but the hills did not stop but just got shorter.
Found a great hotel on the lake willing to have us camping in their manacured lawns. A site next to the pool. A bar/restaurant serving ice cold beers means Tadek is in heaven for the night. Free wifi too.
A slow start, still trying to get used to the time difference and altitude. Ambled around Antigua taking snaps.
More climbing on steep hills up to the Pan American Highway. Pure hell. About 2 km on a plateau followed by a quick almost uncontrollably fast downhill, then more hell cycling uphill. Barely got out of our lowest gears all day!
Camped next to a washed out bridge at the bottom of an especially beautiful valley.
We're only managing 50 km per day; most of them seeming to be uphill hell.
Teresa and Tadek
Inexperienced cycle tourists of Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Thailand, Laos & Cambodia