I had planned in a rest day by Lago Atitlán so we had a lazy morning riding along to San Pedro. It wasn’t too hilly, so we could have done it the night before, but then we’d have missed the beautiful views of the lake in the early morning. In San Pablo, where we had stayed, we were the only non-locals, but that changed so quickly going round the corner of the lake. Pedro stopped for a haircut, and while I was sat outside, it seemed like half the people who walked past were tourists in clothing so baggy it made parachute pants look form fitting. We had gone from being a novelty because we weren’t Guatemaltecos to being one because we were probably better dressed than the rest of the foreigners, and that takes some doing considering the t-shirt I regularly ride in has lost most of it’s back (now front) due to the sun and lying on the floor.
When we got into San Pedro, we went to the main square and a tourist told us that the best thing to do in town was to get high and look at volcanoes which didn’t appeal in the slightest. We had had the idea of climbing the volcano San Pedro, but the Lonely Planet mentioned the need to go on a guided tour due to the chance of being robbed or assaulted on the path up, so we opted for the idea of relaxing in solar pools considering we always seem to spend rest days exhausting ourselves.
We got to the “solar pools”, paid our entrance fee and were told to wait 30-40 minutes for it to heat up. I guess that makes sense, solar power isn’t that fast. We sat around in the entrance excitedly expecting something awesome, having been in Japan & Korea for so long I’ve spent lots of time in saunas and love them, and were sorely disappointed when we got told that it was ready and were shown to a bathtub with hot water from a boiler in it. Maybe there used to be some solar power involved in them and they decided it didn’t work well enough but didn’t get round to changing their name, but whatever it was we were unimpressed to have paid. I was about to get in but changed my mind after there were yelps from Pedro who touched the almost boiling water. We waited 20 minutes but it stayed ridiculously hot, and then when we asked them to cool it down a little they put in far too much and it turned to lukewarm. We laid around, and I took a nap with my feet dipped in, but left thoroughly unimpressed.
To get us across the lake, we had to take a small boat. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy so the view wasn’t as wonderful as we’d been hoping. Instead, we were treated to 30 minutes of bouncing along being splashed a lot by the waves that left me feeling queasy. The queasiness wasn’t helped much when we got to Panajachel which was an unimpressive little town where we stopped at a supermarket to buy some cereal and a bag of milk for dinner. My GPS routed us along a road that was under construction, and so instead of being a street further south where there was a bridge we got to drag the bikes through the river. Feeling a little crappy, I wasn’t that sharp and forgot to take my socks off so had some very wet socks and sandals for the rest of the ride up the hill. We got a little out of town to San Andres Semetabaj where the police told us that of course we could camp in front of the town hall.
I had downloaded Cycle Central America by Ian Benford, a free eBook with route suggestions in south-east Mexico and beyond. There were three suggested routes to get from Atitlán to the old capital, Antigua. They included route profiles and descriptions, and the one we picked seemed like it had a few long gentle climbs – that really didn’t turn out true. The initial climb, which we had mainly ascended the day before, was lovely especially when we got up towards the viewpoint where we got some more breathtaking vistas of the lake. After that and breakfast we had a short descent and then after following the river along the valley for a while (and wading across it as the bridge was out) kicked up sharply with several sections where I was wondering why I didn’t have smaller gears.
When the road flattened out at the top I almost felt like I was cheating when I was moving along without effort and then we made it into town and I wished I was climbing again as we the smells of burning rubbish filled the air. A quick visit to a bike shop to get a couple of small fixes to Peter’s bike and then the search for a place to eat. It’s much harder in Guatemala than in Mexico as the majority of the places are fried chicken and that doesn’t really do much for me. We settled for the one other option, and it was a sandwich of fried chilli, which was still better.
After some downhill and rolling hills, we continued along Ian Benford’s route down a dirt road instead of taking the Pan-American highway. Within a few minutes of getting off the road we were facing a herd of cows and horses coming the other way. The farmer who owned them was walking along and strongly suggested going back on the Pan-American but I thanked him and we kept going. There was a part where the dirt had turned boggy for a short while, but after that it cleared up and I enjoyed the detour bouncing along roots and passing the odd person confused to see me along the hour or so path.
After that, we made it to Antigua not long before dusk. We had a place to camp because the Tourist Police have a place really close to the city centre where they let people camp in RVs or tents for free. When we got there, there were 3 couples from the US in their pickups who had already made it that far from Alaska in only 3-4 months, even with breaks to study Spanish.
Watching the world go by (Timelapse)
Dirt road hijinx (Timelapse)