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