Wherever It May Take Us

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It’s not the destination… it’s the journey. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate that aspect of travel, but I have made a point to try and keep that in mind on my first bike tour. And that ideal kind of manifested itself on the last leg of our trip…

After 2 days of lung-busting climbs on burly Guatemalan dirt roads (over 11,000 ft), during which there may or may not have been an emotional and/or physical breakdown, we landed in an odd, larger town called San Juan Sacatepequez. We were just planning on making a quick stop in order to get to Antigua. There seemed to be only one hotel in town, and Gin refused to be their guest… it was more than a little unsavory. So, we were sitting in the square trying to figure out our next move, when a Canadian woman (native Guatemalteca) approached us and offered to help us find a place to stay.

After a few phone calls, she led us to check out another hotel with her entourage, which included her sister and nephew who was the town Judge, oddly enough. Needless to say, this ‘hourly’ hotel didn’t work out (not quite our style). But in the meantime a nice older lady approached us and offered us quarters in her free medical / veterinary clinic. We were low on options, so Gin decided to go for it. I waited up the road with the bikes and panniers as she went to check out the digs… and then I was summoned to bring the gear down a steep hill to our newfound quarters. As I rolled the bikes in, I thought, ‘Wow, I have never been in a place this scary’… I was not quite sure what my formerly sane wife was thinking. But at any rate, we had 15 minutes or so of broken Spanish conversation with the veterinarian and her husband, who it turned out had birthed a few dozen children in the dark basement room we were getting ready to nest in for the night. After the dust settled and our gracious hosts and escorts left us to our abode, we proceeded to set up our 3-person tent in the middle of the room and tried not to touch any flat surfaces. There was a scary bed in the corner, a toilet surrounded by a curtain, a hacksaw hanging from one of the stained concrete walls… among other props that look like they could have been from any one of the Saw films.

As disturbing as our quarters were, we arose the next morning, from a Nytol-fueled good night of rest to an exciting :45 minute photo session with our wonderfully hospitable hosts. They proudly gave us a tour of their dirt-floor home and insisted that we return to stay again, as well as call them from the U.S. after we return. There were hugs, photos and stories. To make the day even better, once we left their house we happened to stumble on the most fantastic flower market, which is a weekly Friday occurrence in San Juan. Then we were greeted by an awesome parade of 200+ indigenous Mayan women celebrating International Women’s Day. From there we made our way down an amazing 20 mile downhill to Antigua. Probably the most beautiful and rewarding ride to date.

None of these wonderful experiences would have happened if we had skipped that odd town and jumped to our destination, which at the time was Antigua. It’s all about the journey.

Bicycle touring - Surly Troll

Taking a breather after a big climb from Salama.

Bicycle touring - Guatemala

The road from Rabinal to El Chol is all dirt and rock… and steep.

Bicycle touring - Guatemala

Gin getting heckled by some school boys.

Bicycle touring - Guatemala

Going over the pass to descend into El Chol.

Bicycle touring - Guatemala

The views of Volcan de Agua and Volcan Acatenango over the pass are stunning. That’s where we were headed.

Bicycle touring - Guatemala

Our new friends in San Juan Sacatepequez.

Bicycle touring - Guatemala

Probably the craziest chicken bus I’ve seen.

Travel photo - Guatemala

In the flower market.

Travel photo - Guatemala

I still can’t figure out what these are. Anybody know?

Travel photo - Guatemala

Travel photo - Guatemala

Two ladies in the market.

Travel photo - Guatemala

In the market.

Travel photo - Guatemala

Travel photo - Guatemala

Travel photo - Guatemala

Travel photo - Guatemala

A shot of the International Women’s Day parade.

Travel photo - Guatemala

The butterflies were a symbol for the fight to end violence against women.

Travel photo - Guatemala

Rolling closer to Volcan de Agua.

Travel photo - Guatemala

It was tough finding a room in Antigua… this is the busy season.

Travel photo - Guatemala

Volcan de Agua.

Travel photo - Guatemala

A chicken bus on the streets of Antigua.

Travel photo - Guatemala

Another view from Antigua.

Travel photo - Guatemala

A statue in Café No Se representing Maximon, the saint of vices.

Travel photo - Guatemala

I couldn’t figure out why the original photo used on the Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind album cover was in the bar, mounted with a pack of Marlboros.

Travel photo - Guatemala

These folks crafted some amazing sandwiches with chimichuri pork.

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  • vic

    Oooh, that first paragraph felt like a good start to a horror novel…or movie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/loganwatts Logan Watts

    I think we might have said that at the time as well!

  • Paul

    That fruit you don’t know is cashew. The cashew nuts you get in the packs are encased in the gray thing at the bottom of the fruit. The fruits are tart and coat your mouth and throat making for a weird and interesting experience. They can get pretty sweet too. The pods that hold the nuts have tons of oils in them and if you try to roast them before you dry them out it’s like a pyrotechnic show as the oil boils and shoots out. The oils also have that mouth-coating tongue-tying feature but more intense I think. I had a cashew tree in my backyard growing up in Trinidad.

    Nice post, I just googled “bike touring central america” and got here. I am trying to get inspiration for my next bike tour. I’ll be reading the rest of your posts now. Cheers!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Paul! Yeah, we figured that our later in the trip. Also, tried the fruit (see a post from Panama for Lee’s expression after tasting it)… Cheers!

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