When you’re from Nebraska, waking up to a volcanic eruption is kind of a big deal. When you’re from Antigua Guatemala, it’s just another regular Thursday.
There are lots of things to see in Guatemala. On this visit, I would only be visiting a couple of the most popular tourist locations: Lake Atilan (last episode) and Antigua Guatemala (this episode). On my return trip, I plan to see more of the country, especially the northern part. The ruins at Tikal are still high on my list.
“Antigua Guatemala” literally means “Ancient Guatemala.” This is due to its history as the former capital of the country. After a series of earthquakes in the 1700s, the capital was moved to the east to present day Guatemala City.
But not everyone left this place, and in recent decades the city has had a major rebirth as a tourist destination and even a place to live for expats.
Wednesday, January 31
Now that I kind of knew where I was going, leaving Lake Atilan was fairly easy. One last look:
The winding road that climbed out of the valley only had one lane open, so I had about a 30 minute wait before I could pass. I made some new friends and got to practice Spanish, so it didn’t bother me.
The road to Antigua was in pretty good shape. Additionally, this was my first riding day without rain since before the crash. I kind of forgot how nice dry pavement feels. (On my tires, not my skin) 🙂
By mid afternoon, I made it to Antigua. The roads here are definitely “antigua,” haphazard and uneven cobblestone.
I set sights for a hostel which advertised free parking. They told me that this was not the case, so I re-routed to a place called Hostel Antigueno on the east side of town. I met the owner, Christian, and saw a couple of Suzuki DR650s parked in the courtyard. Christian speaks perfect English, but he did not reveal this fact until I had finished stumbling through the check in process. I actually kind of appreciate that. 🙂
I met the owner of the first bike, Ben from Colorado, right away (I guess I never got his picture though). We got to swap some stories and talk about common places that we had visited. I pointed to the other bike and asked if he was travelling with “that guy” too.
“That guy” ended up being Mary from Quebec (add male chauvinism to my list of faults). She is still fairly new to riding and has had a wild journey so far. She has had two fairly major crashes, both of which cost her a broken collarbone. Still, she had a great attitude and seemed to be enjoying her journey.
The next night, I got to sign her bike (named Blue). It was my first time signing a bike. It’s a lot of pressure! 🙂
I had a calm evening of typing and relaxing, with just a brief stroll to grab some street food.
Thursday, February 1st
Now that it was a new month, I was eager to review my finances from January since it was my first full month in Latin America. A few stats:
$301 spent, 29 nights paid (2 nights free camping), average of $9.71/night.
$188 spent, $6.06/day.
$90 spent, 1,840 miles, 27.92 gallons, 65.9 miles/gallon.
Average cost of fuel: $3.22/gallon
(Annie has been loving the ethanol-free gas down here.)
Obviously there are lots of other expenses, but these core categories are fairly close to my estimations. I’m still feeling fairly confident about the budget.
The hostel provided a nice breakfast. Shortly thereafter, it came to my attention that one of the three volcanoes that surrounds Antigua, Volcan de Fuego, was having an eruption.
I kind of felt like I should call the police, or write my congressman, or something like that… But none of the locals seemed too concerned. Christian said that eruptions are fairly common, but they only get one this big about once per year. And it happened on the one day that I was in town:
(Haven’t gotten to use that in awhile)
My new friend Darren and I wanted to find a better view. Christian said that there was a cafe close that had a third floor terrace. We walked over there and got some great views.
The waiter brought us a menu, but we just left a few Quetzales (Guatemalan currency) for the use of the view.
I got out to see more of the town. Every visitor to Antigua probably takes this picture:
I only had one full day here, so I’m not sure if I can offer too many relevant observations. I feel like it is a place where people come “to be” rather than “to do.” There’s definitely a charm to Antigua.
I was able to find a “Ferreteria” (a hardware store, not a pet store that specializes in ferrets) and get a couple of bolts that I needed to fix the hand guard that had been damaged in the crash. I completed a couple of other mechanical things as well. I spent a good chunk of the evening doing research for my border crossing into El Salvador the next day.
Friday, February 2nd
I met so many more wonderful people from so many different places over breakfast. A good idea for a blog would be to write nothing about one’s own trip, but to focus solely on other travelers that one meets. Obviously I am too vain to execute this idea. 🙂
I needed an eclectic mix of supplies, so I stopped at a Wal-Mart in Guatemala City. Most importantly, I needed a new pair of jeans. I do have some “real” motorcycle pants ordered, but I didn’t want to ride in my paper thin hiking pants until I get them. I was all prepared to search for some in centimeters, but all the jeans were in inches. In fact, being in this store almost felt like I was back in the states:
The rest of the road in Guatemala was quite nice….
…but there are always a few surprises.
There were lots of little roadside stands selling whole pineapples, 3 for 10 Quetzales (about 40 cents apiece). It took a decent amount of restraint to not fill my remaining trunk space with fresh fruit.
As I neared the border, I stopped at a little booth to try to make all the copies I would need for my border crossing.
(For posterity’s sake, this is the blog post that was most helpful for this crossing: http://www.ironroamer.com/crossing-the-border-at-las-chinamas-from-guatemala-to-el-salvador/ )
I stopped about half a mile from the border, took off my jacket and made sure that everything was locked up. I like to be able to hop right off of the bike and start walking. It at least presents a moving target to the “helpers.” (The people who try to charge you for their services in border crossing assistance.)
As I neared the border, guys waved large stacks of money at me. Perhaps they wanted me to take off my clothes, but I think it is more likely that they wanted to exchange money. One of them sprinted after me and was present by the time I locked up my helmet.
I told him that I would exchange money later, since I wanted to make sure that there were no more charges in Guatemalan currency. He decided to send his young apprentice with me, who accompanied me through the rest of the procedures in Guatemala.
Migration and customs probably took about 45 minutes. It was a fairly painless process. But when it came time to change out the rest of my Guatemalan Quetzales, I got got.
Now let me say this: I do pretty well with numbers. I have a minor in Mathematics. Some people assume that this means I can do any math problem instantaneously in my head. This is not the case, but I would say I’m at least above average in this area.
They did the calculation on a little pocket calculator. I thought I would get about $20 (the currency for El Salvador is the US Dollar) for my Quetzales, but the calculator only showed $12. I knew it was wrong and asked them to type it in again. Same result. I was ready to get moving, so I just took it and left. A few minutes later, I realized the trick.
Instead of dividing by the exchange rate, the guy with the calculator pressed multiply. I had not noticed that there was not a decimal point. I should have trusted my mental math. I was more embarrassed than angry, but I won’t fall for this trick again. If you have to get robbed in Central America, this is surely the most preferable way.
Welcome to El Salvador!
This was perhaps the most calm border area that I have encountered so far. They directed me to pull over right after the bridge and most of the paperwork was done under this little canopy.
All of the staff were friendly and efficient. Even the guys at the little copy hut wanted to chat about my trip. It probably only took me 30 minutes to get through the whole process. Additionally I didn’t have to pay for anything, not even the importation of the bike. I think I’m going to like El Salvador. 🙂
I’m going to stop there and do all of El Salvador in my next update. Other than my final experience, Guatemala was very good to me. I can’t believe the amount of things that I got to experience in just four nights. I can’t wait to come back.
Stay active, everybody!
Realtime update: I’m safely into Nicaragua, currently in Esteli. I crossed two borders yesterday, only spending a few hours in Honduras.