Xela also known as Quetzaltenango is a cool town in the Guatemalan highlands. With an elevation of about 2,330 meters (7,655) it gets pretty cold at night! We were constantly layering up in the evenings to deal with the chill. The centro of Xela is really interesting, the architecture has a very European feel to it. We went out one night to the local pub for the Quetzaltrekkers Winter Benefit Bash! Quetzaltrekkers is a non profit trekking company and the proceeds from the party go to help the local children’s education! The dance party was rockin when we all got there. It was nice to get out of the cold streets and burn up the dance floor. There was also a foosball tournament going on, so naturally we entered it, and of course, won it.
The next day everyone from the hostel went up to the local hot springs. Fuentes Georginas. A 30 minute bus ride up into the mountains enabled us to get to the springs. There was recently a landslide in the area which opened up new vents making the springs the hottest they had ever been! It was nice to get a soak up in the highlands. The springs were on a mountainside in the jungle. Clouds rolled by the high peaks as we enjoyed the thermal baths. Hen had a splinter deep in his foot that just popped out after soaking in the therapeutic water of the fuentes.
After chillin hard in mountain town of Xela for a few days we made the natural migration to Lago de Atitlan. Tommy and Ike headed out a day earlier, Bradie and his girlfriend Diana took a bus and Hen rode the 80 km solo to Lago where he would meet up with everyone.
Hen’s ride out of Xela was cool. It was kind of cold in the morning and climbing out of the valley was steep! People we talked to in Mexico weren’t joking when they said the mountains in Guatemala go STRAIGHT UP! The climb reminded Hen of climbing Rabbit Ears pass out of Steamboat in Colorado. The road cuts right up the mountainside and traverses it for a while without switchbacking. Once the summit of 3670 meters (12,040ft!)(the highest section of the PanAm in Centro) was attained it was time to chill and dig the altitude, and get psyched for the downhill. 60km + downhill brakes out passing cars on the PanAmerica highway as you drop out of the sky but your still SO HIGH!
Hen took the exit towards Lago and was feeling pretty knackered. Climbing another straight up hill this Guatemalan dude yelled “Man what the fuck chu doing!? Come here and sit down!” So Henry went and kicked it on the side of the hill with Jose. He had lived in Houston Texas for 20 years and wanted to speak English. Hen chilled with him for about 20 minutes talking about life in the USA and life in Guate. After talking and hangin out for a bit Jose said jump in the truck I’ll take you to the top. Catching a ride up the short but steep hill was pretty nice. Going down the other side was a whole nother adventure! Since the mountains in Guatemala go STRAIGHT UP! They also go STRAIGHT DOWN!!! This was the steepest road we had ever ridden. Brakes in the whole time trying not to lose control! hundreds of steep switchbacks on the craziest road ever! The whole time being spoiled with amazing views of Lago. Descending into the madness Hen caught another ride over to San Pedro with Antonio. This was the craziest ride of his life. Antonio drives like a MANIAC passing every car on the road. Hen was in the back of the pickup holding on for dear life, second guessing every bump and turn. We got to Antonio’s house in San Juan in one piece and thanked him for the ride. Hen pedaled the remainder of the trip into San Pedro de Laguna. San Pedro is a laidback gypsie town on the side of the lake. Eventually he navigated the tight alleyways and located the rest of the crew at YO MAMA’s House which is the hostel where everyone was staying.
Tommy and Ike had quite the adventure as well. They rode out of Xela and ran into some amazing farms such as Santo’s where he was growing corn and using the hay he had grown for carbon on his plants as well as an insulator to his outhouse! Permaculture at its finest!
Turning onto the smaller road to the lake we saw an inviting sign saying; “Parque Ecologico Cascada de Domingo.” We turned down this crazy road and came to a large pine forest with crazy natural tetter totters, monkey bars, tree houses and jungle swings that swung out into the pine canopy! All built with natural material from the forest. It was a paradise for kids, and also acted as our playground for the day!
When arriving to Lago Atitlan, we entered the village of San Pedro which rests below the volcano also named San Pedro. This was a great spot, but was cluttered with an abundance of backpackers. We stayed here for a few nights where we met some cool folks at the hostel “Yo Mama’s Casa” that had a nice vibe and free coffee! San Pedro was very chill, with secret alleyway type streets make it easy to get lost. The night before Hen arrived we went out and saw some live music which was really cool! After relaxing in San Pedro, we decided to head to the other side of the lake, San Marcos, via lancha “10 passenger boat.”
Getting into San Marcos we realized that it was more of a spiritual village with djembe gypsies and yoga pants galore! Riding the bikes thru the narrow paths we were yet again on the search for a free place to stay. As we followed the lake side cobble stone road we heard a man running after us yelling “Wait! Hold On!” We quickly harshed the brakes as this man stopped and tried to regain his breathe. After meeting Rick, he told us he was from Seattle and that his girlfriend from Guatemala and him ran a hotel next to the dock. He quickly posed the question of us camping out on the land that was part of the hotel. Ike ran back with Rick to scope the camp spot and decided it was the best way to go as it was lake front with a private dock! There was an abandoned building with a nice grassy spot to set up camp, and Rick ended up buying us dinner from the hotel both of the nights that we stayed! San Marcos was a very tranquil place with small gardens and herb spirals hiding behind bamboo fences.
Tommy, Hen and Ike had heard about the Cacao shaman and were interested to take part in a ceremony. The cacao, which is the base of chocolate, has many amending and spiritual properties that can heal people mentally and sometimes physically as well. Being chocolate enthusiasts and sugar fiends, we decided to see what it was all about. The ceremony consisted of about 20 people chillin on the shamans porch and everyone got their own cacao drink that could be sipped as long as you wanted. We stayed for about 4 hours and concentrated as the guru talked us thru the experience. We all enjoyed the ceremony but found it hard to concentrate as the shaman talked non stop. It was cool to try something crazy such as cacao ceremony, just another experience along the way.
We also got to go cliff jumping at this sweet nature park within walking distance from our camp! It was awesome place to practice our aerial maneuvers from about a 7m jumping platform. After the disappointment of not being able to jump in Acapulco, this was a major morale boost for the cliff jumping aspect of tour.
We left San Marcos the next day and headed towards Panajachel, the north eastern village on the lake. We were able to get a cheap room in the busy Pana streets and enjoyed one last night with our friend Warren who we met in Mexico. Hen went with Warren and the other brits to go play Fifa at the Xbox lounge. He ended up losing to Warren and Old Bones, both games… His Fifa record on this trip has been terrible.. 0-4, one day he will win!!
The next day we had to exit the large crater that we had been stuck in for so long with vertical roads and chicken buses always by your side. The chicken buses are nuts! They are basically souped up school buses with big racks on top that carry anything from vegetables to tires to pigs and of course CHICKENS! Some days we try to eat lunch on tight corners just to watch these huge diesel machines squeal around the turns, waiting for one to flip.
Climbing out of the lake was special experience. Once again challenging the roads that go STRAIGHT UP we pedaled about 2 hours and made it 7km. The climb was awesome with massive views of the lake and its surrounding volcanoes. There were sections it was so steep we were almost puking! In fact Tommy actually Puked!
For breakfast the next day we ate some carrots and bread which was ok.
It was a chilly morning as we were still pretty high in the mountains. Climbing up the hill was a nice warmup but you have to manage the layers you are wearing so your not sweating then getting the chills. Cycling on the PanAmerican highway through the Guatemalan highlands is amazing. The road is 2 lanes on both sides with huge shoulders. Riding through rock walled canyons and on the ridge lines of mountains with clouds scraping the summits it feels like you are touching the sky!
We descended out of the high elevation mountains into more temperate terrain. Leaving the PanAm towards the town of Antigua Guatemala we stopped to play footy with some locals. It was a fun game with goals flying in at both ends. After the match it was that time again, time to find somewhere to spend the night. Hen saw a trail into a field with a farmer cutting down corn stalks. He went and asked him if we could spend the night on the farm. Fermin, the farmer said it was cool to stay, so we bought him a beer! He showed a place to sleep under an avocado tree and gifted us a few camotes (purple sweet potato).We cooked up dinner and shared it with Fermin and his children! These camotes are different from your average potato as an average potato grows new potatoes from the eyes located on the potato itself, whereas the camote grows vines above ground. These vines have eyes of their own that you cut and plant each piece of vine instead of pieces of the fruit.
Fermin taught us a lot about farming in the climate that we were in and we had fun listening to him teach us ways of the land.
We were about 10 km from Antigua and we rolled into the outskirts of town. There was a cool church we checked out and then ended up playin footy with some kids in the square. The backdrop was cool as we kicked it under the Volcan de Agua. We met a couchsurfer from Norway named Morton who played with us as well.
Once we got into town we were searching for a bike shop so Henry could get a new rim, having cracked his on the crazy descent into Lago. We asked a local and he said it would be better to try mañana since it was sunday and most shops were closed. We saw a bunch of people in the streets with green shirts on, we saw a truck full of people partying and asked where they were going? They said, “TO THE MATCH,YOU GOTTA COME!” Antigua’s football club was playing Coban Imperial. We stashed our bikes in the Terrace Hostel, and caught a ride to the game. Everyone was drinking beers in the streets outside the stadium. It was 25$Quetzales (about $3 usd) to get into the match! Naturally we were seated in with the Antigua Ultras. Banging drums, waving flags, setting off fire crackers, this was the party zone! At halftime everyone flooded out of the stadium to refuel on beer and snacks!
Ike as the Avacado Mascot at the Antigua x Coban Imperial footy match
Partying in the streets and meeting people Hen talked to some gringos (Mike & Chris) who live in Antigua and they said we could stay at there house that evening! Awesome! Back to the football match. The game ended up being a 0-0 draw, which was a fair result. Both teams had chances but didn’t take them. After the game we all mobbed back to the Terrace for drinks! Chillin on the Terrace which is the 3rd floor of the hostel with a radical bar overlooking the town. This turned out to be a SUPER SICK SUNDAY!!!
We stayed at Mike & Chris’s house in Antigua for a few days! There house is really nice, and they had a spare bedroom with two beds in it! Perfect accommodation! Mike is from Montreal and works at the hostel, and Chris is from Austin TX and works as freelance down here in Antigua! They are both super chill dudes and its been awesome staying with them. They have a nice kitchen where we have been whipping up delicious meals left & right, as well as a rooster who eats the leftover scraps!
Our plan is to head south out of Antigua and into El Salvador in the next few days for more adventures!!
We believe that sometimes the “real world” everyday job actually relates to the “fake world.” Exploring this amazing planet should be more of a “real world” job don’t ya think?
-Ike & Hen