December, 1976

1 December, Wednesday. Chetumal, Qunitana Roo, Mexico: Well. I am very drunk. I sold my truck for 8000 pesos, about the same I paid for it. I didn’t make any money, but I had fun.

December, 1976. Set out from Chetumal and rode to Palenque in five days. Rough ride over the Chiapas Highlands to San Cristobal las Casas. South to the Guatemalan Frontier and on the busses to Huehuetenago and Lago Atitlan.

Woke up this morning to hit coffee and loud Mexican music. Played beisball with some of Lorenzo’s kids. He has eight.

Around 9 o’clock we left Caldaritas to see Lorenzo’s friends. We drove around but it was the same everywhere. Too old, too much money, taxes too high, parts hard to get. So when Pancho offered me 8,000 pesos I grabbed it. Es bien.

We drove to a hotel where I unloaded my gear. Pancho paid me cash and I signed over my camionette. Goodbye, friend. Back to basics. I paid Lorenzo 500 pesos for his services and we proceeded to get bombed. He invited me out for supper.

Rode my bike out to Caldaritas and ate a good meal of pollo caldo. Rode back and relaxed in my room. Wrote a few letters and crashed out.

2 December, Thursday: Changed my Tourist Card. 600 pesos. A good thing to know. Assets: $390 in Travellers Checks, 6669 in pesos.

Decided instead of flying to ride to Guatemala via San Cristobal las Casas. It’s about 400 miles or 640 kms. Should take around 10 days. Worked on my bike in the morning. Might run into a few problems. If I’m lucky…

Getting my papers changed was no problem. Real easy. All in all my scams cost money, not made money, but I learned a lot. Manana, it’s back to reality.

Just kinda spaced around Chetumal. Went to the flicks and saw two lousey movies. Guess they don’t get the good ones down here. Spend 89 pesos. Try to stay under 150 pesos a day.

3 Deciembre, Sabado. Xpuhil, Yucatan: Up very early to go to El Mercado. Bought some oranges and tangerines. Ate some really delicious meat tacos at a little stall. Then to the Panadaria for some pan dulce. I walked over to the Jugos Caribe for a very good platino con leche con dos huevos. A good breakfast is the best way to start the day.

I strolled back to my humble cuarto and packed the last few things on the Silver Dawn. Said adios to the landlady and rolled out. 280 Kms to Escarcega. Rode out of town, past the Belize exit, down the road to Escarcega. The bike was cruising well, the load was well-balanced. Into the jungle. The kms flew by. I passed Kuhunlich and still I rode on. I figured I’d try to make Xpuhil at km 154.

Whew, pulled in at 5.30. 9.5 hours of steady riding. I was beat. 125 kms, a new record. Ate a good meal at the café next to the Pemex station. Well, it looks like I might make it to Escarcega at least. Hard to say. Slept in a small outbuilding in the little pueblo that surrounds the Pemex. Kilometres: 125  – To date: 381

3 – 7 December. Back on the bike in Chetumal. Across the base of the ‘thumb’ of Yucatan to Palenque. Toured Mayan temples at Becan and Chicanna. 280 kms in five days.

4 Deciembre, Sabado. Siluituc, Yucatan: Up at dawn. I’m a bit stiff, but nothing that a little exercise won’t cure. Over to the café for a coffee and relaxation. Then on the road. After a quick 8 kms I came to La Zona Archeologica Becan. I rode in about 1 km on a little dirt road and there I was. Becan. I climbed up the temple, many intact sanctuaries inside. Classic Mayan corbelled arch construction. Many other plazas and temples, some with stucco maskarones, but abstract in nature. An odd 75m vaulted chamber. Perhaps an aqueduct? Very nice. Also some intricate stone geometric designs. Some temples show Rio Bec influence while others don’t.

About another kilometer down the road was Chicanna, another ceremonial center that seemed much more related to Xpuhil in as much as it was in the classic Rio Bec style. Finely-dressed stone and some very nice ornamental stucco. One interesting feature was one temple façade was made to look like a gigantic stylized face complete with a mouthful of foot-long teeth. The mouth opening was a door into a sanctuary. Neeto.

Well, on with the ride. Many ups and downs, a few flats. Not many towns at all. The jungle, however is very beautiful, fragrant with 1000 blooms. Deadly. I saw a huge snake oozing out of a cliffside nest. Ever onward.

Passed Siluituc at 5.00, camped just past in the bush. Sure glad I have a skeeter net. Another long, but fun, day. Kilometres: 149  – To date: 490

5 Deciembre, Domingo. Escarcega, Campece: That skeeter net saved my life. I mean there were hundreds of thousands of these voracious little devils buzzing around, trying to sample some gringo blood.

Got up at seven, packed my gear and hit the road. Not for long, however, as I guess last night I picked up a thorn and my front tire was flat. Rats. I put on a new tube and after much hassle I was back on the road.

The last few kilometers were easy and I buzzed into Escarcega about 12.15pm. Just on the outskirts of town there is a little migracion office and I stopped. The officials got a kick out of my bike and me and tried to shake me down for some nylon cord. However, I was able to talk them out of it.

It was there, however, that I noticed an ominous bulge in my front tire. No es Bueno. Perhaps I’d better buy a new tire cuz that one spells blowout to me and it’s 200 miles to the next town.

So anyway I rode to a hotel and checked in, a nice one too, very nice in fact, for 84 pesos. Man, did that shower feel good.

After a quick nap I went out to walk around Escarcega. Nothing special. However I did enjoy an excellent meal of pollo frito complete with fried plantains, potatoes, salad and garnishes. That with a tall OJ and a Coke and a muy bueno chocolate bar for 33 pesos. It was a lot of fun sitting right next to the main street watching the Domingo tardes people stroll by.

Back to the hotel for relaxation and a bit of letter writing. But the lights went out. So I walked across the street and bought a candle. To sleep early. Kilometres: 48  – To date: 538

6 Deciembre, Lunes. Emilio Zapata: Eyah that cervaza goes down good. I’m sitting in a little café next to a Pemex station exactly 100 kms from Escarcega. It is hot out. I came up with a good name for me: diablo del sol!

Got up early this morning and ate a muy bueno breakfast of huevos con jamon, café and a litre of fresh OJ. Because I figured on having a blow-out I bought a new tire for 67 pesos at a bike shop in town. Went back to my hotel, packed and took off at 9.30.

Half and hour later, boom. Front tire blow-out. Usual hassle and bullshit. An hour later back on the road. For a couple of hours I sizzled. 24 kms in one hour. The roads: flat, straight and smooth. Not much traffic or towns. A bunch of ranches, though. 224 kms to Palenque.

Reached the 100 km mark at quarter to 4. Making good time, hotter’n hell, though. Lucky I’m a diablo del sol. Pulled into this convenient café and ahhh, cerveza fria.

So I rode on, and on and on. Past 125 kms, my old record at sunset…beautiful. The full moon rose over the flat, swampy land. Mucho mosquitos. Finally, at 7.45, at km 156, I pulled into a café on the banks of the grand Usumacinta.

Had a refresco and got to talking to the people who worked there. Turns out one of them was driving to Emilio Zapata, where there was a hotel, in an hour. He said I could ride with him. Muy bien. So I sat there and talked for an hour or so. Then off, via a camionetta, for Zapata. Lovely night.

Got to the hotel, a room for 50 pesos, but alas, no blankets. Oh well, at least no mosquitos and a nice shower. 156 kms. That’s 97.5 miles. A new all time record for me. Bueno. Long day. Kilometers: 156  – To date: 694

7 Deciembre, Martes. Palenque: I hauled ass yesterday, but paid today. Had a rough time. Got up and rode 8 kms back to the main road. Had a good breakfast at the cross-roads for 14 pesos: huevos, OJ & frijoles. Then 20 slow kms to the Palenque exit.

Whew, slow going. 27 kms to the Pueblo Palenque. Hills and curves. Mucho trabajo. Finally made it (in three hours) and rode a little farther to a campground, 10 pesos a night. I’m staying in a palapa, a grass-covered open-air pavilion. I’m a bit apprehensive about bugs, though. Sure is nice to get to Palenque.

Spent the afternoon relaxing and getting the feel of things. Ate a good supper of huevos al la ongas. Much rain tonight. Kind of a trip sleeping in the jungle with the rain. Kilometers: 64  – To date: 758

Palenque: Mayan culture, spectacular rainforest and magnet for travellers. Click on the Scene icon for the full story

8 December, Wednesday: Rainy day in Palenque. Washed my clothes in the stream, first time since Austin. I like staying here in the jungle, a very rustic atmosphere. Mostly relaxed all day, looked over a few books.

There are about six people staying at the campground. We cooked a good meal over the open fire. Arroz and vegetable soup. Also pan de platino which was very good.

Glyph for Itzamna, head of the Maya pantheon. A handmade silkscreen card purchased at the Galeria, Panajachel, 1975.

9 December, Thursday: It stopped raining for a while this morning. Ate a good breakfast of huevos a la Palenque. Spruced up the palapa a bit the thumbed into town.

Palenque is a very nice little town to walk around in and shop. Bought a bunch of food and sat in the zocolo people-watching. Spent a bunch of money. Took the bus back to Mayabel, the trailer park.

Relaxed for a while then thumbed back into town to go to the flicks. Again saw two lousy flicks. Real nice theater, though. Took a taxi as the roads were deserted. Slept real well.

10 December, Friday: Slept late then ate a leisurely breakfast of real good oatmeal. Spent the rest of the morning helping make some granola with some of the stuff we bought yesterday. Then a friend came by and said there were some monkeys in the trees down the road. Walked down and sho ‘nuff there were three or four of these guys climbing around up there. They gave quite a show, swinging by their tails, etc. Real neat.

After a little more relaxation I walked up to the ruins and just kind of walked around. They are rather brooding in the gloomy, dripping atmosphere. After all, they are but the well-picked bones of a once vibrant entity. Almost reminds me of a university campus. Some of the stucco reliefs remind me of teacher-student attitudes and the glyphs give me the impression of didactic motives. Perhaps monumental textbooks? Or charts of important concepts in their educational process? Intriguing, to say the least.

Mayan imagery. From a handmade silkscreen card purchased from the Galeria, Panahachel, 1976.

11 December, Saturday: Just kind of relaxed today. Did a little bit of reading and writing. Got some good travel hints from some travellers. A very relaxed day.

12 December, Sunday: Woke up to sunshine for the first time in a while. Ate a real good breakfast, pancakes and camomile tea, both cooked to perfection over a warming fire. After the leisurely repast I walked through the jungles towards the main ruins, up to some nice pools and a waterfall. On the way the hillside was honeycombed with corbeled arch passageways that sometimes connected and sometimes dove deep behind the jungle. Lots of good material for thought.

Took a very satisfying bath in the pools under the falls. Fely good to be clean again for a change. A quick walk back to the campsite, packed my gear and rode a quick eight kms into town. Went to a little hotel a bit outside of town for 30 pesos, Posada Alicia, or Alice’s Restaurant. Kind of has the same atmosphere as a youth hostel.

Got settled in and then took a leisurely stroll into town to check out the Domingo afternoon crowd. Bought some food also. Nice relaxing afternoon. Sat in the zocolo and ate popsicles, a great way to spend Domingo Went back to the hotel, relaxed, wrote and read. Met up with a friend from Tulum and partied into the night.

13 December, Monday: Up early. Much to do. First things first. Ate a steak for breakfast, muy sabrosa. Then over to the bank where Angie had to cash a check but the bank wasn’t open yet. Ran into Mark, who I’d met in Tuxpan last month, talked a bit and then went to the Correos, Conasupa for supplies and the panadaria. Caught up with Angie and decided to stay an extra day in Palenque.

Went back to Posada Alicia and relaxed a bit. Mark came by and told us of a nice pasture just outside of town with fresh hongas. We walked over, picked a few and spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around. I have a pretty good idea of where to next. Manana I’ll head off. But I had a good time in Palenque.

Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis) thrive in the lush pastures around Palenque. Creole cattle graze the rich grasses and transform the fodder into nutrient-rich soft, squishy manure. Every morning, especially after a rain, a fresh crop of Magic Mushrooms blooms out of the shit.

14 Deciembre, Martes. Chiapas Highlands: Got up early, ate a good breakfast: steak, frijoles, café con leche with Angie and off I rode. It was drizzling as I rode past a sign that proclaimed ‘Ocosingo 118 kms’. The first 10 kms were paved and easy: smooth, long hills and no corners. Then I started to rise. Into the clouds that obscured my route, into a sudden shift in the weather. It got cool. The road crested and then a steep down-grade.

I started down and sped up. My brakes aren’t very effective I’m afraid and I went faster and faster. My hat flew off. So long sombrero. By now I was hurtling down the road, powerless to slow down at all. Two thin tires carrying 200 lbs of luggage. I went wide around the sharp curves. If I met a car, rock or loose gravel I’d be dead. Zoom! Got to the bottom and Whew! I was fried.

Walked up the next hill and the down grade wasn’t too bad. The next one was long and steep going up, which I don’t mind at all. Pushing the bike is easier on the legs. I could do that all day. But the downgrade. All I could see was a steep hill with a curve off into the mist. Hmm, I thought.

Looked at my watch and knew the only bus of the day would be along soon. So I waited a bit and then started walking. A few minutes later, just as I passed km 22, the bus came by. Threw the bike up and hopped on. Strangely enough, at the bottom of the hill there was a sharp curve and then some nasty potholes. If I’d have ridden down there I’d have killed myself for sure. For 15 pesos I went 20 kms, well past the end of the tar. First bus I rode on down here with my bike. What a trip.

Unloaded my bike where the bus turned around, Puente Tulija, way out in the sticks. The road is terrible. Holes, rocks, sometimes up to a foot of mud. Still raining. Off I ride. The road isn’t too bad, I can ride through. Sometimes I walk and push. But it’s OK on the downgrades. I don’t build up any speed. Much safer.

14 – 16 December. Rugged ride over the Chiapas Highlands from Palenque to San Cristobal las Casas. 45 hard kms on bike, 180 kms by bus and camionetta.

As 5.30 rolled around I started to look for a nice spot to camp. But the jungle was soaked through and through. Just as I was about to resign myself to a wet, long night I rode over a concrete bridge. Lo and behold, underneath, right above the cascade, was a nice, flat and, most importantly, dry shelf. Great. Camped out in style. Kilometres: 30  – To Date : 800

15 Dieiembre, Miercoles. Agua Azul, Chiapas: Whew, what a day. 9 kms in 4 hours. Woke up warm and dry in my little shelf. After a leisurely breakfast of jugo de toranja, galletas and a tangerine, I packed my bike and slogged off.

All uphill in ankle deep mud. Yech. However, there was only a light mist instead of rain. Took me 2 hours to go 5 kms to the Agua Azul turnoff. It was a steep four km descent to the cascades. I could only ride a few minutes and had to walk my bike for about 90% of the road. Mud, rocks and curvas peligrosas made for a tough journey.

I could hear the falls a long ways away, roaring in the background. The roar grew louder with each hairpin curve. Then I was there. Lots of water cascading over a series of limestone cliffs. Muy bonito. The whole valley is gorgeous, so green and alive. Chiapas is a nice state.

Spent the afternoon sitting and reading and writing at the comedor where I had a steak and beer dinner. Slept there also. Kilometers: 9 – To Date: 809

16 Deciembre, Jueves. San Cristobal las Casas, Chiapas: Woke up early after a good 12 hour night’s sleep. I had my work cut out for me. I packed my bike, making sure all my lines were very tight. Then, after a gracias to the lady of the café, I set to and started my ascent from the valley. Into the mist I pushed. I left at 7.30.

The trip up wasn’t nearly as bad as the trip down. I was up by nine. I wasn’t sure when the bus came, so I unloaded the bike and sat down in the rain, prepared for a long wait. Five minutes later the bus slid in. Threw my bike on top and climbed in. 15 pesos to Cruces Ocosingo, 35 kms down the road. A spectacular ride. Cascades, mountains and cliffs. The proverbial drop off into the mist on one side and cliffs on the other. Crowded bus.

Got let off 20 kms this side of Ocosingo in the pouring rain. So I packed up and rode off. I figured I’d flag a bus as it drove by. I wasn’t about to sit in a deluge.

Five minutes later, as I was walking up a mudslide thinly disguised as a road, a Jeep 4×4 jobber stopped and the driver asked if I wanted a ride to San Cristobal. ‘Si’ I said. Loaded my stuff in the back and off we went.

Drove by Ocosingo. It lies in a beautiful, pine-fringed valley. I’ll have to return in better weather, looks intriguing. Drove on, some good road, some bad road but all superb scenery. Finally hit the Panamericana. Then to San Cristobal. My friend left me off at the zocolo. Excellent.

I made it. Rode to a little hotel that I’d heard about, checked in. Ahhh. Two thick wool blankets on the bed.

In San Cristobal they have steam baths. So after a short relaxation I rode down and steamed all the grime of the road off. Felt soooo good. Then to a good restaurant for a nice meal. Ahh, the creature comforts. Went back to my room and relaxed. Nice to be in San Cristobal. Just from riding around today it looks intriguing. A zillion shops and stores. Many churches and old buildings. Manana will be fun. Kilometers: 6 – To date: 815

17 December, Friday: Up early. Pretty cold here. Glad of those nice blankets. I was out by 8. I just kind of wandered around, finally ending up at the marcado. They have a very nice market selling lots of things I haven’t seen before. Lots of Indians here. I bought a couple of little dolls for 10 pesos. Lots if munchies. Bought some very good dried, salted fish.

Kind of spaced about, looking in shops finding prices, etc. Some very nice things. Bought some cute little ceramic pigs for Chris. Called ma and pa in NH, about the same. 160 pesos for four minutes, not too bad.

Ate a very meagre repast of galletas, queso and a very good cerveza, Noche Buena. Wrote letters and read. To bed early.

18 December, Saturday: Up early to a bright 7200 ft altitude sunshiny day. Quite nice for a change. So nice, in fact, that I washed some clothes. Some were super dirty. Then I strolled over to the Café Capri for huevos rancheros and OJ. Excellent.

Sabado is the big day at the market. Lots of people with lots of stuff to sell. I rode my bike over and parked. Strolled around and ate lots of steet munchies. Yum, lots of sweets. Stopped into a shop and bought a nice poncho/blanket, light wool, for 60 pesos, a shirt for 14 pesos and a pen. Very nice. Walked around a bit more and then rode my bike down to the rio and washed all the caked mud off.

Then back to the posada and polished up my bike ‘til it shined. I think I’ll ride down to Lake Atitlan and sell it there. I hear bikes are expensive there.

Rode around town some more, just getting the feel of San Cristobal. Very nice. Just kind of kicked back, sat in the square and watched people. Ate a bunch of tacos and had a large platino con leche for supper. Watched a soccer game on the tube at the taqueria.

After supper I rode around town, watching the people. Lots of activity on Sabado Noche. Bought a beer (Bohemia, muy bien) and retired to read and write.

19 December, Sunday: Rather lazy day, again very sunny. Ate a good breakfast, huevos con jamon, chocomilk and OJ. Then sat in the piazza and watched the people walk by. Wrote a few letters.

Then I rode my bike around a bit. Just an excellent day for anything. I climbed up a little hill that had a real fine view of the valley. I thought about Pedro Alvarez, San Cristobal’s founder. He was one of Cortez’s lieutenants. Bloodthirsty guy, but he sure picked a nice spot for a town.

Ate a good supper of something like bar-b-qued pork, muy sabrosa. Bought a beer and retired early to read and write.

20 December, Monday: A leisurely day. Went to el mercado and bought food and dynamite dried fish. Also to the Conasupo for groceries. Then to the Correos to mail the last of my Christmas presents. The to the bank to change 4100 pesos for 200 dollars.

Giant buds. Pungent aroma. Total buzz. A bit harder to find, Oaxacan Spears had the well-earned reputation as the best dope in Mexico! Click on the icon for the details.

Worked a bit on my bike, cleaning the chain, pumping tires, adjusting brakes, etc. Then I just kinda kicked back a bit. Ran into my friends from Oaxaca again. Walked up to the chapel on the hill overlooking San Cristobal and the whole valley for sunset. Very nice.

Back to the hotel where I packed for manana. Heard the lakes at Montebello were very nice. I might head that way after Comitan.

21 December, Tuesday: Up early, finished packing and hit the road. But it was Cold, too cold, in fact, to ride so I stopped at a little restaurant outside of town to warm up and have breakfast. My usual, huevos con jamon, OJ and chocolate caliente. Umm, good.

I had my work cut out for me. A long steep hill out of the valley then one long downhill through spectacular country.

The meal warmed me up and off I went. Uphill, long, slow, walk. But I don’t mind. I rest my bike muscles when I walk. Whew. As I was coasting down my first real big hill a camionette passed me and I waved. The stopped and said they were going to Comitan and wanted to know if I wanted a ride. ‘Sure’ and loaded el biko in back and climbed in the cab.

Drove through some fine country. Teopisca, with it’s exquisitely tiled zocolo benches, where the farmers coasted downhill into town in their little go carts, with brakes. All downhill.

21 – 23 December – Long downhill ride from the Chiapas highlands to the Guatemalan frontier via the gorgeous rainforest at Laos de Montebello. 136 kilometers by bike.

More downhill, through rock and pine forests, really nice country. Down a steep hill to Comitan. A real nice city. We drove around downtown a bit, then the guys took me out to the road to Montebello. I said gracias, packed my gear and hit the road. Bike touring. 40 kms the sign said.

The road was pretty. Valley and out. Coast and sweat. The sun kept peeking out but it was breezy and certainly not warm. After 20 kms or so the farms thinned out and the forest took over. So did the clouds. I rode til the Montebello road turned south…and also mud. So I slogged for 1.5 kms and found a nice place to camp as it was getting late. Set up camp. My mosquito net as it looked buggy and tarp as it looked like rain. Started to pour. Kilometers: 62  – To Date: 888

22 December, Wednesday. Lagos de Montebello, Chiapas: Up early as my bag and net were wet. I ate then decided to walk the 2.5 kms to the lake. I slopped down in good time, very pretty, but the weather was lousy. Cold and wet. Not bad if you are prepared, but I wasn’t. So after a hasty recognizance of the scene I decided to return to the Panamericana and Guatemala. So back I went, packed my wet gear and pushed the Silver Dawn out of the mud 1.5 kms to the good road. Just as I was wading out to the tar and dump truck drove by and offered to drive me and my bike to the Pan Am highway. So ZAP, I was on my way.

Got dropped off at 1pm. Packed and rode up a little knoll, then down, down, down, by far the biggest hill.  15 kms down to the river valley below, a big escarpment. Down I rode. Reached the bottom, level for a while then down more. Then I crossed the river. All uphill from here, bub!

As it got later I looked for a place to camp. Ahh, a perfect place, under the trees. Slept, rather damply, under the stars. Tomorrow, Guatemala! Kilometers: 46  – To Date: 934

23 December, Thursday. Huehuetenago, Guatemala: Woke up to a clear blue sky and shining sun. Excellent. Dried my gear and repacked. Hit the road at 10am after talking to some farmers and watching the world go by. Buzzed off the kms to El Jocote where I ate a good meal for 23 pesos. Just a few more kms to Guatemala.

Assets: $590 and seven Quetzales

Hit Mexican Aduanas at 1.30 and cleared Guatemalan at 2.30. Cost: 50 pesos. No hassles at either place, however my bike is registered and my passport and tourist card are stamped that I have a bike.

Not enough time to smoke it, didn’t want to pitch it and couldn’t give it away. Had a quarter pound of Spears left and I’d be crossing the heavily-guarded border. What to do? Smuggle them across! What else? Click on the icon for the story.

Anyway, as the road rose steeply, I decided to take a bus to Huehuetenango. So I hung around for an hour, drinking refrescos. Not a hard day at all, 28 kms.

The bus rolled in and when it left my bike was on top with me inside. Three hours for the 86 kms to Huehuetenango. Up we went, following a deep river canyon. Spectacular scenery, steep cliffs and high peaks. Much more angular than Mexico. These are mountains, not ridges.

On into Huehue. Went to a $1.50 a night hotel, very nice with warm blankets. Relaxed a bit then went out walking. It finally hit me. Guatemala, another country. Far out. By bike, much less. Ate a very filling, well-prepared steak dinner for $1. One dollar is worth one Quetzal, conveniently enough. Manana it is necessary that I change money at el banco.     Kilometers: 28 – To Date:  962

23 – 26 December. Rode the busses from La Masilla on the Guatemalan border to Huehuetenago, Quezaltenago and Solola. 250 kms. Coasted seven kilometers from Solola to Panahachel, a bustling tourist stop on the shores of Lago Atitlan

24 December, Friday: Up early. Went to El Banco and changed $50 of travellers checks to 50 Quetzals. Ate a real good jamon and queso omelette for breakfast. Went back to my hotel room and relaxed. After a while I went out to el mercado. Big wool blankets for $10, fine weavings and cloth. Lots of good-looking food as well. Lots of Police toting sub-machine guns running around. To ward off guerrillas, I suppose.

Spent the afternoon just spacing around town. I think I’ll try to transport my bike to the Bay Islands via Lago Atitlan, La Antigua, Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios. Try, anyhow.

Did a little packing and straightening up of gear, but mostly relaxed. Had a good pollo frito dinner for a buck. Can’t beat it. Read and relaxed in the evening. Trying to formulate my next few day’s plans.

25 December, Saturday. Quetzaltenago: Got up around 8 and walked downtown to check on busses to Panajachel. Supposedly there was one at 10am. So I went back to my hotel room, packed my gear and relaxed a bit.

Brought my bike downstairs, pulled out of the Posado Familio, rode past the zocolo to the corner by the mercado where the busses stop. By golly my bus was there. So I hefted my bike aloft and climbed aboard. Two Quetzals to Los Encuentros.

Off we drove, into the beautiful Guatemalan mountains, real nice scenery. Saw a couple of volcanos. Pulled into Quetzaltenago where I found out that the bus turned back to Huehue. However, one bus left directly to Panajachel at 4pm and another supposedly left and made a circuitous route to Los Encuentros. So I and two other travellers, Panajachel-bound, walked over to the other bus station. On the way I ate an excellent pollo frita meal for $1.30.

At 4pm we found out the bus wouldn’t leave til manana. So we walked a block up by the zocolo to a very nice old hotel with huge rooms. We got one with a balcony overlooking the zocolo, very nice. Cheap, also.

Took a walk up the valley wall to watch the sunset, nice view of town. Back to the hotel room and relaxed.

26 December, Sunday. Panahachel: Got up at 3.30am in order to catch the 4am bus to Solola. The streets, so full of people last night, were deserted. But our bus was there. $1.50 for the 81 kms to Solola. The early morning was beautiful, watching the glow of the sunrise slowly silhouette the volcanos. We reached the road cutoff to Solola and began to descend. Steeply.

There the bus stopped. I got my bike down, stowed my gear and coasted / braked the seven kms to Panajachel. Lago Atitlan. Surrounded by volcanos. Muy hermosa aqui.

I rode down to the beach and ate a real good breakfast: steak, avocado, salad, rice and chocolate caliente, all for one Quetzal. Just kinda sat and enjoyed the sun and scenery.

About 9am I decided I was going to need a room for a couple of days so I went to a few posadas. Either no room or too expensive. But I ran into some people who were living in Panajachel and they said I could stay at their compound for a while. Great.

So I walked with them over to their place with my bike, about a km out of town. A nice place. I was staying at Dennis’ house. Relaxed a bit, unpacked my bike, etc. Dennis told me of a nice road along the lake to Santa Catarina. So I rode off down the road. Almost immediately it started to rise above the lake, giving beautiful vistas of the whole Lake. Superb. Superlative beauty. The volcanos, the blue sky and lake. Incredible. Four kilometres down overlooking the town. So peaceful. Rugged, rocky cliffs to the Lake below. Blue, green and brown. So fine.

I sat on a rock atop a sheer cliff down to the Lake. The water is crystal clear, the bottom drops off into a deep purple, into the depths. Sat for a while then rode back to town. Went to the mercado and bought a few munchies and real good helados. Buzzed back to Dennis’ and relaxed and looked over the South American Handbook. Got some good info on Guatemala City. Walked into town a bit later and walked around. Then Dennis and I walked up the road to watch the sunset. Very beautiful. I just can’t describe the beauty. Volcan Atitlan looked majestic.

Walked back to Dennis’s and ate a good meal of vegetable stew. Kinda decided to climb the Volcan tomorrow if we get up in time. To bed early. Kilometers  17  –  To date   979

27 December, Monday. Volcan Atitlan: Up very early. Being as the boat for San Lucas at the foot of Volcan Atitlan left the beach at 7am and it was 6.30, we hastily packed our gear and ran down the beach. In time, as it turned out, because the boat was late. So when it came, on we climbed and off we went, across the crystal clear Lake water into the rising sun with volcanos and cliffs surrounding us. Striking.

Soon San Lucas came into view and shortly there-after we docked and disembarked. Walked up the steep path to the town from the lake, bought a few supplies, ate a quick breakfast then hit the trail to the Volcan.

The trail started easily as we walked through coffee and avocado groves that blanket the lower lava slopes. As the trail slowly climbed, maize became the chief crop. The ancient method of slash and burn was still being used. Up we climbed.

Up, up we climbed til the maize gave out to pine woods. By then we were on the cone itself. Very steep, with cinders, very fertile underneath. Up more til the pines shrank to scrub, then just cinders.

Finally, just past the steaming rocks was the summit. Made it at 5.30, seven hours. But what a view. Guatemala, Volcan Atitlan, 11,543 feet, 6000 foot vertical climb from the lake. Steam was escaping from crevasses on top. Thermal action.

Watched the sun descend over the Pacific. Unreal atmosphere. Set up a small shelter from the misty breeze and watched the stars, satellites & shooting stars as I fell asleep. What a place to sleep. Atop a 11,500 foot steaming volcano.

28 December, Tuesday. Sunrise. Atop Volcan Atitlan. The shadow of the cone formed a phantom pyramid on the eastern horizon. Blues, roses, over the rugged Guatemalan landscape. We could see the Mexican Escarpment, the Mayan Mountains of Belize, the Honduran Highlands and the El Salvadorian coast. A five-country view. Clear as a bell. Incredible.

After the sunrise it started to warm up. Muy bien. Just spectacular high over Guatemala on a steaming volcano. Just looked over the countryside til around 10.30 and then we packed up and headed down.

Real steep down the cinders to treeline, then down. Scrub, pines, maize, jungle then coffee. To the first bar for a refresco frio and the panadaria. Muy bien.

Decided to thumb back to Panajachel rather than wait for the boat manana. We made it half-way then camped out on the side of the road, under the pines and stars, by the side of Lago Atitlan

29 December, Wednesday: Up before the sun. Caught an early bus back to Panajachel. Unloaded our gear at Dennis’. Went to el mercado and bought food for supper. Walked around town for a bit.

Went back to Dennis’s and relaxed. About 2pm we went down to the lake to wash up…due to the wind the water was murky towards shore. Ate a good stew for supper and just relaxed and read afterwards. Easy day.

30 December, Thursday: A very, very easy day. Up early and cooked a dynamite breakfast of French toast and scrambled eggs. Mostly relaxed all day, going into town in the afternoon to shoot pool and drink beer. At an excellent dinner (guacamole salad, vegetable soup, expertly-prepared steak and dessert) for one Quetzal. Walked around town and bought some very fine cards. Caught up with some friends of Christian’s and partied at Dennis’ house into the night.

31 December, Friday: Another kick-back day. Ate a good breakfast of eggs. Walked along the road to Santa Catarina, relaxed, and spent some time at the beach. A real relaxing day. Ate out for a Puerco dinner with a half litro of ron con pasos helado for dessert. Noisy night, Much partying, loud music everywhere and dogs barking.

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