Quetzaltenango to Panajachel

My route from San Cristóbal Totonicapán to Lago Atitlan was my roughest and most difficult route so far. In hindsight it might not have been quite as bad as I made it out to be at the time, except that I spent the better part of 1.5+ days just pushing my bike up and then down and then up again the steepest hills I’ve ever seen.

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Just after Cantel, the climbing started. It was pretty much just straight hike-a-bike up to Chiquisis.

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At 3200m I’m sure there was a nice view…

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I’ve been through plenty of remote and isolated places on this trip, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen people this astonished to see me. A woman was sitting on the edge of the trail on one single track section. As soon as she saw me she gasped and immediately dashed off down the side of the cliff. I hope she’s alright. Twenty men stumbled out of a tiny shack (I don’t know how they all fit in) and howled in uncontrollable laughter. I had an entire schoolyard of children screaming “GRINGO! GRINGO!” Schoolgirls shrieked and hid behind a shed. They peaked out a few seconds later and shrieked again. I let out my own bloodcurdling shriek in reply. That was a bad idea.

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It’s best to avoid getting too close to the edge – it’s a long way down.

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Not really an ideal weight load for these roads.

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There was definitely some awesome single track if you’re not on a fully loaded, rigid bike.

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Just a woman starting fires in the woods. They do that a lot around here.

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Is this the road? In between someone’s shack and their woodpile?

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I guess so?

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It took a bit of effort not to slip off the side of this steeply sloping trail as there was hardly enough room for just the bike.

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Very little of the descent from about 3200m to 1200m was actually ridable. I even overheated my brakes just walking down and melted the butterfly clip that holds the pads apart. 

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Ah, more stairs.

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This even looks steep in the picture. Now consider that hills never look as steep as they actually are in pictures.

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Down, down, down.

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I made it to that lonely, nameless village at the very bottom of the valley by 4:30 and called it a day. Not everyone in Guatemala’s horrible. I was given a concrete room to stay in and unlimited bananas. I’d have to climb all they way back up the other side the next morning.

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How unusual. A waterfall and there’s no one telling me I have to give them money.

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I was hoping to catch a ride up the last part of the hill, but that’s a bit hard to do when the trucks look like this. This one’s only about half full.

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And then I finally made it up the hill to Santa María Visitación.

It was supposed to be a simple and straightforward ride from Santa María Visitación down to Lago Atitlán , but that’s just not Guatemala’s style. I haven’t had too many problems with Google Maps so far, but it’s been woefully inaccurate in Guatemala, very often showing a line indicating a road or path where there’s not the faintest hint of one, and occasionally even putting a road line over what turns out to be a river. If I had bothered to look at the topography map I would have realized that the line I based my route on would have been impossible – it was basically a sheer vertical cliff. No major inconvenience, but constant backtracking became the daily reality in Guatemala.

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Just a small footpath that faded off down the side of a cliff. 

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After I had finally made it to the lake, I was using internet at the San Pedro Spanish School outdoor cafe area and somehow got myself locked in after they closed. It worked out pretty well as I didn’t know where else to stay in such a touristy place. Good internet and a nice place to watch the sunrise over the lake in the morning.

A couple I had met a few weeks earlier was in San Pedro and planning on spending a few days kayaking around the lake. I decided to join them, but in a characteristic effort to save a few dollars I opted to ride around the lake through San Marcos to get to Santa Cruz where the kayaks were while they took the boat across. An easy 20km, or so I thought.

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Not too long after San Marcos the road ended, but I understood there was still a footpath that went to Santa Cruz. It started off with some nice single track with a steep slope on my right down to the lake.

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Yes, there was a footpath, the kind you have to carefully scale down on all fours. Alright. Take everything off my bike, make three trips down, put everything back on my bike, push a little further, come to another cliff, repeat a few more times. And don’t let go of your bike or it may very well end up in the lake.

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But I was very lucky. Some guy from Portland who’d been living at the lake for a few months was out for a walk and helped me carry my bike and bags down some of these cliff sections. It was difficult enough with the both of us – I don’t think I would’ve been able to get my bike down on my own.

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We bid farewell and he assured me the rest of the way would be easy – but easy is a relative term…

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Then the stairs started. There must have been at least 200 of them. I’d clear one set, turn the corner and then find another wall of stairs.
Just after I took this picture, a very upset young man came running by and smashed the statue head in the bottom right corner and threw it off the cliff. It was quickly getting dark and I had received numerous warnings of robberies in the area so I was a bit anxious to get to my destination.

I finally ended up making it to Santa Cruz well after dark. Along the way I realized that I really had no interest in kayaking around the lake for a few days and decided to just take the lancha (boat) to Panajachel in the morning and carry on.

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Narrow boardwalks on the way to the lancha dock.

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I’m never too keen to load my bike onto other vehicles, with all their bouncing around.