Guatemala: Gracias a Dios to Quetzaltenango

Download route as GPX

I crossed the border into Guatemala at an unofficial crossing by Lago Internacional, one of the lakes in the Lagunas de Montebello National Park. I’d have to ride about 12km through Guatemala to the official border crossing at Gracias a Dios in order to get my passport stamped for Guatemala, which also covers El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, giving me 90 days for the four countries.

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Lago Internacional, bisected by the Mexican and Guatemalan border.

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Pretty rough riding after a perfect introduction to Guatemalan roads involving a hefty hike-a-bike.

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The “official” Guatemalan border crossing at Gracias a Dios where I can get my passport stamped. I also had to get my exit stamp from Mexico.

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Not too far past Gracias a Dios there was a beautiful canyon to the side of the road…

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…with a sign that said “Comunal Basurero” – communal dump.

The garbage situation in Mexico was bad enough, but Guatemala took it to a whole new level. The town I stayed in that night, Bulej, had to be the ugliest, filthiest, most repulsive town I’ve ever seen – a post-apocalyptic wasteland with heaps of burning garbage scattered throughouth the main square and an inconceivable population of stray, mangled dogs picking through the rotting vegetables strewn about the streets.
And the people were no more pleasant than their environment. If they weren’t chanting “GRINGO! GRINGO! GRINGO!” at you as you passed by, they’d yell whatever random English words they knew at you and then immediately turn to their friends and howl in the most vile and unwholesome laughter. In four months of travelling through Mexico, I think I was called “gringo” twice. In Guatemala, it seemed to be the only word they knew, frantically shouting it at you at any opportunity.

After I finally managed to break away from a group of kids who had been following and taunting me, I snuck into a church with a broken door, barricaded it from the inside with a bench, and was serenaded to sleep by a cacophonous army of wild dogs outside.

I’d like to point out that while I can’t hide my outright disgust for most of the people I was encountering in some of these Guatemalan towns, I still stumbled upon some incredible hospitality and met some very kind people, but having just come from Mexico where this seemed to be the norm rather than the exception, it was a bit of a shock to be treated this way.

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Guatemalan chicken bus.

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I wasn’t the only one, this truck couldn’t make it up, either. The roads through here were some of the steepest I’ve seen.

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San Mateo Ixtatan.

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Santa Eulalia. Getting through these narrow streets with a bike can be practically impossible on market day.

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San Pedro Soloma.

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Long descent to Huehuetenango. I was too exhausted to ride anything but the main road in. I had a place to stay in one of the next towns and just wanted to get there.

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Guatemala was surprisingly expensive compared to Mexico, but little watermelons could be had reasonably cheap.

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Water comes in quarter liter bags, here.

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The ‘Round House’ I stayed at in San Cristóbal Totonicapán. My original plan was to find somewhere either in Quetzaltenango (usually called Xela) or in one of the towns around Lago Atitlán (whichever one seemed least touristy) to study Spanish for a couple weeks. About 15km north of Xela was a pretty awesome Warmshowers place (a network of hospitality for traveling cyclists, similar to Couchsurfing), so I decided to just stay there and ride into Xela to take Spanish lessons. It wasn’t very productive so I didn’t bother taking any more lessons.

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Some local mountain bike rides with Carl, owner of the Round House.

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Liz and Tyndall, another couple cycling south, stayed at the Round House for a few days and we hiked up Volcan Zunil.

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Looking east towards Lake Atitlan with volcanoes San Pedro, Fuego, Acatenango, Toliman, and Atitlan.

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Volcan Santa Maria

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The next day we went to Laguna Chicabal, a crater lake.

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My time in San Cristóbal coincided with Semana Santa.

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Another couple cycling south that I had already met in Mexico stopped by the round house for a few days and we hiked up Volcan Tajumulco, the highest peak in Central America at 4220m.

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Looking north, into Mexico.

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Some sort of Mayan ritual.

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One thought on “Guatemala: Gracias a Dios to Quetzaltenango

  1. Thanks for great photos. Traveling to guate for last 45 years I find it maybe a third to half the price of Mexico for food and lodging, just can’t do chicken buses anymore! R.Woolsey, gracias a dios policy institute.

    Like

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