Guatemala – Ruins, rain and rough roads!

We had a very easy cross from Belize into Guatemala, not sure what the fumigation is supposed to kill under the car… but I’m not sure the little jets off spray even reach the undercarriage.

Guatemala usefully requires all payment in Quetzals at the border meaning you have to enter into business with men loitering with huge wads of cash.  I’m always completely paranoid having been ripped off badly in Mozambique by a sleight of hand that David Blane would have been proud of so worked out that a mere $20US would cover everything we needed.  Happy days.  Spanish is a second language for most Guatemalans and it makes it so much easier to communicate, at last we are working at a speed we can cope with… a little bit better anyway!

We had most of the day left so headed into Flores to do various odd jobs before going up to Tikal for the night. Insurance, supermarket and an ATM were easily checked off.  Unfortunately the lavadarias were closed for lunch… no clean clothes for us then.   Never mind, we can do a couple more days!

We knew that Jade  and Alex of @wanderdon’twonder were due at the same campsite for the evening so luckily we got there and were allowed to camp (you never really know!) Having booked the container with them to Columbia and planned a 5 day sailing trip together it’s always good to eventually meet face to face! A few beers and a good gossip later we’re all set for a few days on the road together.  They are doing the same trip but in 6 months and on 2 motorbikes.  Full credit to them,  we feel positively luxurious with all our kit.

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First stop the Maya ruins of Tikal.  Jaguar Inn is about 30 seconds walk from the entrance and all other hotels and camp spots are 20km down the road so we made the most of it by being at the gate for 6am and having most of the site almost to ourselves for an hour or so.   It may have been early but the humidity builds quickly and I’m still confused as to why the steps on  the temples are so huge when the Mayans are generally very little! The top of the buildings are right up there in the canopy and we had spider and howler monkeys leaping around us while parrots and goodness knows what else screeched in the dawn.  The ruins that you can see are impressive and that there is still so much still to be uncovered is amazing.

We all wanted to visit Semuc Champey, famed for being the most beautiful place in Guatemala… we had also read that the road in was bad but that’s why we have a Toyota!  Tikal to our camp for the night was 120km or so of straight forwardness.  A lovely field next to a river with just sheep and fireflies to keep us company.  Sadly by morning what had been mist was persistent rain, but fortified but bacon sandwiches we set off.   The first choice was left or right.  Left took us all the way around about an extra 100km.  Right took us on routa5 and a mere 60km.  How bad can it be? Especially when the lonelyplanet states they are in the process of paving it.  So right we went.  First 10km, lovely, what’s the fuss… then the road stopped.  Literally.  It wasn’t a gravel road, it wasn’t a dirt road.  It was a mountain track.  For 35Km.  We desperately tried to text the bikes who were a little behind to turn around and go via Coban but why would a mountain track have cell coverage?!  On we went (why have a Toyota otherwise) crawling up loose stone with the heater on full blast to try and help keep the engine cool. After 20kms or so we decided to give the car a break and stopped by a tienda where we made friends with Carlos and his son swapping English and Spanish vocabulary.  I’m not sure the sentence ‘my nephew is called Carlos’ will be of much help to him but he wanted it all written down anyway.

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After 45 mins or so there was no sign of the bikes so we headed on, certain they’d have looked at the first few km and turned around.  At this point we must thank the random yellow truck driver who saw us take a turn that no tourist would want and honked and shouted until we noticed and backed back up onto the right road. Around 3 hours later we hit the improved road and sailed along for 10 glorious minutes before the tarmac headed one way and we had to go the other. We descended in to Lanquin, our initial meeting point, discussing what to do if Jade and Alex weren’t there and didn’t arrive.  As we backed up a queue of cars for a truck to go past on a single lane road 2 bikes appeared in the rear view mirror.  All credit to them for getting over the mountain.  We decided lunch was required while we planned whether we could do the 10km of ‘difficult’ road into Semuc itself.  Nachos, quesadillas and the waiter assuring us that if we could drive routa 5 we could do anything sent us in with a renewed lease of life towards Utopia, an aptly named campsite just off the Semuc track which indeed proved far easier than the morning’s drive… the 2km into Utopia was steep and rocky in parts and we took heed of previous ioverlander visitors  and set ourselves up on the helipad (?!) Just above the lodge.  A cold river, hot showers (the first for 2 weeks) and a beer and all was well with the world.

The following morning proved rather damp and we packed up slowly in the rain hoping that the cloud might lift even a little.  As we set off the rain stopped but left behind slick rock that had no traction at all… of course old Trusty was just fine, but both bikes found it a rather traumatic start.  Options were discussed, the road was scouted and with some back and forth we all got to where we wanted to be.  Luckily Semuc was worth it!
All roads from now on will be judged on difficulty against routa5.

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