We knew that leaving Cobán we would be losing the best part of a mile in elevation so expected an easy day, we were wrong. There was a late start, and then we got separated and with my Kindle not working properly it was a challenge to meet up again. Thankfully a guy by the side of the road lent me his mobile phone to call Peter with. I’d tried using a payphone, of which there are plenty, but it didn’t seem to work for whatever reason. After that, it was the downhill, but there was plenty of uphill thrown in with it, so much so that as I was bombing down a hill I saw a cycle tourist coming up the other way and didn’t stop, just waved, and Peter, who was a good few minutes behind me, did the same. As we lost elevation, we found the heat and humidity that we’d been trying to avoid by taking our Guatemalan detour, and combined with a bit of wind made me feel lethargic. It felt like either my brakes or mudguards were rubbing, but, even though I stopped to check them a few times, could never find anything.
Around an hour before night fall, we made it to a fancy looking restaurant. We went inside and it was definitely too expensive, $10-20 a plate is well out of our budget. We asked the guy inside if there was anything on the road at all after his restaurant, and he said nothing at all for 20-30km. I clarified that that meant no cheap restaurants, no shops, no towns, no nothings. He said that was the case and so we were surprised when 3km down the road there was a small restaurant on the side of the road. It’s amazing to me just how little people know of the roads around them. We ordered our food and put up our tents. Peter played cards with their son and I worked on learning how to adjust brakes. Despite Peter’s friendliness and natural talent with kids, being a carpenter-babysitter extraordinaire, the parents and owners of the restaurant were quite cold to us. We later on learnt that they’d had a cyclist stay two nights earlier, maybe the novelty has worn off but they don’t want to turn down a cyclist-in-need.
The next morning when I was packing my bike up, I found that I’d lost my pump the day before. The only thing that makes any sense is that I forgot to put it back on after one of my times checking to see if my brakes were rubbing. Thankfully with my Mr Tuffy’s I get very few punctures, although at the time I had a very slow leak on my front tyre that wanted pumping up once or twice a day. We were up early enough that the sun hadn’t managed to burn through the mist from the night before and the look on the surrounding hills was rather pretty.
We stopped for our regular plate of eggs for breakfast just before we turned north towards the state of Peten. The owner spent the whole time talking giving us a long history about everything and more from the crops of Guatemala (mainly corn and beans) to the supposed price tourists pay for beer in a fancy French hotel that was nearby ($10+). It being off-peak I guess he doesn’t have many customers coming through for him to explain these things to.
I was ready a few minutes before Peter who was busy doing his favourite thing, playing Scrabble, and so told him that we’d go about 2km more, turn left and then go straight, straight and straight again for the rest of the day until we got to Sayaxche. He said he understood and so I headed off, expecting to see him before long. I have the GPS so am in charge of directions and so when we get to turn I always stop. Having told Peter that we’d be turning at the next left I didn’t wait, and just kept going. It turns out that he kept going about 6km past that turn and didn’t realise he’d messed up until he reached a small town. He didn’t make up the time until we got to the town we were aiming for that night.
The road was remarkably straight, especially given the number of rolling hills there were. They were such that I could never really get into a rhythm and so didn’t much enjoy the riding. The cool things that made the day however were things like going down a hill and seeing a herd of cows taking up both lanes storming down the other side of the hill towards me. The area is definitely not rich, and so the locals go to the local river, stream or watering hole to do their laundry. It seems to turn into an event for the whole family with the kids swimming and playing in the water while their mum’s washed away.
Around lunchtime I got to a town and decided I had to wait for Peter. I stopped at a petrol station, bought a packet of crisps for 1.5Q ($0.20), told the people working there that I was waiting for another cyclist and to shout if they saw him. I then put my legs up against a wall and took a nap for a couple of hours. During that time, no-one woke me up, and I was getting slightly concerned about where Peter was. I kept riding until I got to a checkpoint. If I’d not got distracted by an American with his pickup I’d have thought to ask the guards at the checkpoint, but instead I asked Jimmy from Kansas, the owner of the pickup. He said that he’d definitely seen two cyclists and that, according to his passenger, the one with the straw hat (Peter) was definitely ahead by a long way. I’d no idea where Peter could have overtaken me, but when Jimmy offered me a lift the 10-15km to Sayaxche I accepted to try to find Peter.
Jimmy dropped me off at the river that for some reason splits the road. It’s not that wide, but they just haven’t got round to building a bridge. That means that to get across you get to take a craft, although thankfully it’s free for pedestrians and bicycles. The vast majority of town was on the south side that I was on and so I didn’t want to cross until I’d found Peter. After getting some cash from an ATM, I went to an internet cafe and tried calling him. His iPhone is a couple of years old and so unless he leaves it in airplane mode the battery only lasts a couple of hours, that meant it didn’t ring. I left him a message and an email and then started working on my never-ending blog backlog.
Over an hour later, after the sun had set, he eventually got back to my email and said he was in town. I told him where I was and we met up. It turned out that if I’d waited another 10-15 minutes at the petrol station, we’d have seen each other there. We were both hungry and so went to a nearby restaurant for food, which turned out to be delicious, although slow service. They didn’t let us camp there, but our waiter suggested the municipal basketball court, which we went to see but decided against it as we like to be the only vagabonds sleeping somewhere. We crossed the river with the idea that we’d ride until we found a place that looked good, and then a man called Lazaro outside one of the few houses shouted us down. We stopped and he said that we could camp in front of his place. It turns out he’s used to cyclists going past and offering them places to sleep. We gratefully accepted his offer, put our tents up and crashed to sleep.
With only 60km to Flores and a Warmshowers host, we had a lazy start to the day waking up to the sun coming over the river. Lazaro mentioned we could go swimming, but with all the mosquitoes darting round I preferred to stay in my tent to read 1491, a fascinating book about the Americas before the conquistadors. Two of his sons went out in their boat and half an hour later came back with their lunch, some sharp-teethed fish. Just as we were about to leave, a tour bus pulled up to take a small boat to one of the nearby Mayan ruins. Lazaro had mentioned that the ruins were around, but that they weren’t so popular because everyone goes to Cobán to see Semuc Champey and then Flores for Tikal, and the companies in both places have no interest in selling trips to Sayaxche.
About half way along, we met Jo – a Glaswegian cyclist riding from Canada to Patagonia by herself (at least at that point). She had come down from Mexico and Belize and was on her way towards Cobán. As soon as we met, Peter started doing his favourite thing of looking at someone’s bike and pointing out the things that they needed to fix. It’s his inner-carpenter, and he’s just trying to help, but not all people see it that way, thankfully Jo took it in the good spirit it was meant in, at least until he was removing a mounting bracket that no longer had a light in it. We swapped contact information and depending on how wiggly our routes are, I might meet up with her again somewhere in South America.
I had arranged for us to stay at a Warmshowers place in Flores, a place that’s main purpose is to house volunteers called Buenas Cosas. I’d looked into some kind of volunteering, but got pushed away by the idea of paying a few hundred dollars a month to do it, especially as to get the most out of something like that I figure it’d have to be done for a few months. When we arrived, the father was taking a nap so his teenage son William explained the house rules and then we sat around in the hammocks waiting. Memo, the father, who I think was from California, came out and greeted us. As soon as he discovered Peter was a carpenter, he started talking about a project that he had to build a piece of furniture combining a hammock and a chair. We were then told that it was time for dinner, and if we wanted to join it’d cost 20Q ($2.50). We agreed because not only were we hungry, and it was a couple of km to the nearest other place to eat, but also because we enjoy eating dinner with the people we’re staying with. We were given a tamal which had just been bought from a door-to-door saleslady for 3.50Q ($0.45) and some beans. Also, Memo didn’t join us so it was just his kids and his wife, and short of William telling us a story about a bike race, it was quietly awkward.