4 August - Capan, Honduras – Chiquimula, Guatemala - 65km
It was a short ride to the border where we crossed without any problems. Two mountain ranges run from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions. No doubt it is going to be very mountainous. We cycled along hilly valleys with dramatic scenery, which sounds easier than what it was.
We were now heading for Petén; a sparsely populated area and home to Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is still extremely hot and humid -making for rather slow going.
Along the way Ernest found that his front rim was broken and nursed the bike along to the first town we got to. Off to the bike shop he went in search of a new rim, and spent the rest of the afternoon spokeing it. After all that work he found that he did not have enough of the right length spokes to do the whole wheel. Nothing to do but undo the whole lot and use the spare rim he has been carrying with him.
We stayed the following day as well so Ernest could fix his bike.
6 August - Chiquimula – Rio Hondu - 36km
We headed off and after about 25km reached the small village of Estanzuela. To our surprise we found an interesting museum holding dinosaur bones and bones from a prehistoric whale from some 30 000 years ago. Quite amazing. Ernest still had to sort out his rim, which was not completely round and as soon as we reached Rio Hondu we found a hotel with rooms around a courtyard where he could work on the bike and where we could spent the rest of the day watching the Olympics.
7 August - Rio Hondu – Quirigua - 65 km
It was a fairly short ride today, but it was rather slow due to a puncture (Ernest) and broken brake cable (me). We cycled along the river in a beautiful valley for most of the day, with the green mountains towering alongside, making for a very scenic ride. However, this “Carretera Atlantico” is the main road between the capital and the coast. It is a very busy road, with 18-wheelers bearing down on us like bats out of hell. I tried to stick as close to the side of the road as possible but it was still nerve wrecking as the shoulder is often broken or obstructed.
This is an interesting part of Guatemala, and each day we seem to discover something new. Yesterday it was the dinosaurs and today we reached Quirigua where there is yet another Maya Archaeological site (which we plan to explore tomorrow). This also appears to be cowboy country where guns, big hats and leather boots are worn and sold everywhere.
8 August - Quirigua
We spent the morning at the Quirigua Archaeological site, well-known for its huge statues or stelae (I´m getting ever so clever with these names). The large stone is 10.5 meters tall and is the largest Maya stela known. The stelae are housed under thatched-roof structures to protect them from further deterioration from the elements. It is therefore difficult to get a good photograph. On our walk back to the village we took the shortcut through the banana plantations and past the old railways station. Now only a dilapidated building and a few old rail coaches, it was still fun looking around. Back at the hotel the lady was kind enough to do our laundry for us (high time as well).
9/10 August - Quirigua – Rio Dulce – 74km
It was a fairly easy ride to Rio Dulce past some lowlands and ranchos. We reached pretty Rio Dulce on Lago de Izabal and we were surprised to see many gringos, the most we have seen in a long time; the reason being that it is a popular safe harbour for yachters. We found a cheap room and decided to stay the following day to explore the region.
The following day we took a walk to the nearby castle, the El Castillo de San Felipe. It was a short and nice walk and the castle was interesting. Castles are always nice to visit as there are normally more than enough nooks and crannies to explore. The castle was built to keep pirates from looting the villages on Lake Izabel, and although it worked for a while, the pirates soon captured the castle and burnt it down. The castle was however rebuilt and used as a prison for a while.
11 August - Rio Dulce –San Luis - 90km
It was a difficult day on the road, both hot and very mountainous. We pushed on the best we could, stopping ever so often to fill our water bottles. We entered the hot jungle province of El Peten. The jungle unfortunately seems to be fast disappearing as more and more land is cleared for the planting of oil palms or ranches.
12/13 August - San Luis – Santa Helena – Flores - 120km
Early morning we set off up more hills but fortunately the road levelled off a bit after Poptum. We reached Santa Helena in the afternoon and opted to stay in Flores. We arrived in Flores just as the sun was setting over Lago De Peten Itza on a hot and humid day. Flores is a stamp size little island, just off the mainland and is connected to the shore via a short (barely 500m) causeway. We easily found a room as the little island is jam-packed with hotels, hostels and restaurants. Our room was spacious and even had a little balcony overlooking the lake.
Ernest was not feeling well and seemed to have come down with his strange recurring illness which he picked up in Borneo. He stayed in bed the following day while I wondered around the narrow cobbled streets of Flores. At sunset I took a short boat ride on the lake, just to see the island from another angle.
15 August - Flores – Tikal - 67km
We finally left Flores and headed in the direction of Tikal, the famous Mayan Ruins. Needless to say it was hot and hilly (part of the course around here). What makes Tikal unique is that it is truly situated in the jungle. The park measures 550sq km, with the ruins somewhere in the middle of that jungle. From the park entrance we still cycled for another 17km through the lush and dense tropical jungle before we reached the camp site at the ruins. Along the way saw warning signs for snakes, jaguars, and other animals, and we wondered if our camping plan was such a good idea. The park houses a large number and variety of wildlife, so it was a noisy night with howler monkeys and raucous birds.
16/17 August - Tikal – Le Remate - 34km
At 6 am that morning we walked into the site of the ruins as soon as the gates opened. It was a misty morning and rather magical to walk through the forest without a soul in sight. The iconic Gran Plaza, with its towering pyramids, was half hidden in the fog, giving it a ghostly appeal. Some of the temples have wooden staircases, which allow one to climb up to the top for a view of the other structures soaring above the treetops.
Once we had seen all we wanted we headed back to our tents, packed up and cycled back to Le Remate. Le Remate is situated on the lake and is a cool place to have a swim and relax. The following day Ernest updated his blog and I took the bus into Santa Helena to withdraw some money and do a bit of shopping.
18 August - Le Remate - Melchor de Mencos - 69km
Up and down the hills we went in the direction of Belize. Fortunately the road was paved for most of the way, as the small sections which were not, were true dust bowls as trucks came roaring past in clouds of dust. We soon reached the tiny border town of Melchor de Mencos, and as Ernest was still not feeling well, we stayed for the night. We found a comfortable room, did some shopping and relaxed out of the heat for the rest of the day.