Pan American Adventure [Guatemala]

December 30th 2019 to January 27th 2020 [Day 99 to 127]

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Soooo, I’ve been hanging out at Lake Atitlan now for over a month, the break’s been great but I’m definitely ready to move on, I’ve almost got too settled here so packing up and moving out is easy to put off for another day, or another week, or just until… whenever!  I’ve given myself until Monday the 27th, 2 days after I finish my 3rd week of Spanish School to get going…

I moved to the other side of Lake Atitlan for my last 2 weeks here, from San Pedro to a little village called San Marcos and camped at Pasacap where there are a lot of other Canadian & American snowbirds hanging out to escape the winter of home.  It’s pretty nice here and the people are friendly, they all meet everyday at 5:30pm for happy hour drink[s] and they do lots of different day hikes through the mountains surrounding the lake.  I decided to stay here for my last week of Spanish school and commute across the lake to San Pedro every day by boat.

It seems almost every little building in San Pedro has a little shrine to the main man himself, Rome has managed to insert itself here in a big way, Catholicism here seems to be a hybrid mix of Roman Catholicism and Ancient Mayan Ceremony.

I went on a day trip to Chichicastenango Market about 90 minutes north of the lake as an activity organized by my Spanish School in San Pedro.  This is the biggest market in Central America and it’s really cool, there’s so much quality hand made stuff for pennies, and I mean pennies,  that it’s hard to restrain myself from buying anything because I’ve no room to bring anything.

These Pasacappers made me skip my last day of Spanish School for a 1pm pub crawl spread out over 3 villages, they all of course got pretty messy drunk and I had to carry them all home :p


So I finally got going and left the lake on Monday morning.  It’s gonna take a few days to get used to being on the road again, at this point it’s a struggle!  On the way out up the mountains to get out of the lake there were 2 newly dead dogs on the road, one with a pool of fresh blood out its mouth, shortly after that there was the body of a dead woman on the side of the road partly covered in local woven sheets.  Not sure what the heck was going on but it was an ominous start to my day!

It was a 4 hour ride to the border from the lake so I got some camping for the night on the Guatemalan side of the El Salvadorian border.  I wasn’t sure how long the border crossing would take and I did not wanna be roaming around El Salvador after dark trying to find a place to stay.

Some updates on trying to replace some stuff…

I found a local motorbike mechanic in San Pedro to see about buying a new back tyre and a replacement clutch cable so I have a spare incase my new clutch cable breaks.  This guy seems pretty good and he was able to order the parts I need in from Guatemala city in a couple of days for a pretty reasonable price.  The tyre is now replaced and I have the second new clutch cable threaded alongside the other one should I ever need it again.

ATM Withdrawal
The 2,000 Quetzals I withdrew from the ATM in Flores that never came out of the machine is still in limbo 1 month later, I don’t have much faith in ever seeing that again.  My bank did say they had to give this bank 45 days to respond, I’ve no idea what happens after that, not much I’d say!  Let’s strike that one off as a charitable donation to Guatemala, I wonder if I can offset it against my tax bill.

Replacement Phone
I’m not sure if I’ve ranted about replacing my stolen phone yet but here we go gain regardless…  Since Google Maps was nice enough to lead me down a path to armed robbery where my phone was stolen I decided I’d throw more money at those fuckwipes and buy a new Google phone to have delivered to my friend Robert in San Francisco so he could register it with Google Fi and forward it on to me… BUT, FedEx left it at his door?  It wasn’t there when he got home and looked for it.  Two weeks later I’m still trying to sort that mess out.

Trying to speak to a human at google is like trying to… [meh, make up your own analogy], anyway, I’ve been dealing with GiGi, a google shipping “specialist” over email, each email back and forth takes a day and before she’s willing to help me she wants me to update my account home address from Vancouver to California, the phone shipping address.  I respond with no, my home address is valid, and my shipping address is valid, 4 days lost with these back and forts we can move onto the problem at hand.

It seems the phone was shipped to the wrong address by Fedex so it takes a full week for them to collect the package at the wrong address and reship it to Robert, when it finally arrived it turned out to be a Google Fi sim card and not my phone at all!  I mailed my trusty google shipping “specialist” again, it’s been 2 days now and I still haven’t got a response.

Right now we’re 20 emails deep and there is still no sign of the phone I ordered 3 weeks ago.

Canadian Bank Cards
I lost my Canadian credit card (which had just expired anyway) with my wallet back in Mexico City (forever ago) and since I was a card down I wanted to not have the same thing happen to my only other Canadian bank card, my debit card, so I stashed it under the insole of my motorcycle boot to keep it safe and always with me, it did remain safe and with me, and in fact I still have it but what I didn’t count on was the friction waring off the magnetic strip making it as useless as the credit card I lost with my wallet.  Now I have no way to get at that stash.  I still have my Irish visa debit card but those assholes block every online transaction and I have to call them each time to say it was me using my card.

I wasn’t sure if my Canadian bank would ship a new card overseas so I updated my address on my online bank account to a friend of a friend in Vancouver who could reship it to me and rang my bank to order a new one, the card arrived in Vancouver, said friend of friend destroyed it by mistake thinking it was for a previous tenant…

I called my bank again to see if they ship a card overseas and they do, now I need a credit card and debit card, the credit card side agreed to mail my card using UPS on a 4 day service to Guatemala and the Debit Card side said they would only send it snail mail so it takes however long it takes, fantastic, you might as well fuck it in the Pacific and wait for it to float to Guatemala!

The credit card got to Guatemala City within 4 days then I spent another 4 weeks trying to get them to forward it on to where I was taking Spanish Classes in Lake Atitlan (the address on the package), for ages on the online UPS tracking they wanted a local number before they attempted delivery, which they already had, my school and I tried to contact them multiple times, which was almost impossible, finally my school got talking to them and passed on the telephone number of the school, great, it was supposed to come that week but 2 weeks later, still no sign, we call again and now they want more money to send it the last 200km from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan.  In order to pay the extra money I have to take a boat to Panajachel, an hour away, and deposit the money into some unknown bank account without any explanation as to what the additional money is for, since I have zero confidence at this stage that the card will ever arrive so I said fuck it…

I called my bank again in Canada and spoke to Frank in credit card security services and that was an interesting call, as soon as I said I needed a new card shipped to Costa Rica the response in his best Russian accent was “No… that’s way too dangerous”, I wasn’t sure whether to start laughing at him or not but I asked him why they shipped me one to Guatemala then, surly Guatemala is more “dangerous” that Costa Rica.  After much fucking about he cancelled my previous card sent to Guatemala and agreed to send another one on a 4 day service to Costa Rica.  Lucky I left with 4 different bank cards.

In addition to this I’m getting emails from the same Canadian bank wanting me to physically fill out forms to prove that I’m still tax resident in Canada because they have to share this information with Revenue, solely because my banking address was temporarily changed to Guatemala to have my card shipped to me and I cant email it.

My card did arrive to Costa Rica in 3 days so now I have pictures of it and can use it for everything online at least!

Head Lamp/Battery Pack/Bike Parts
I had some other stuff I needed to replace, some of which were also stolen, bike parts, new head lamp and new platypus water bags, all small items, that I ordered online in Canada and had sent to a reshipper in Vancouver (shipbymail).  There online quoty system says the cost of reshipping my stuff to Costa Rica, based on size & weight (which I grossly over exaggerated), is gonna be $60, fine I go ahead, order the stuff and have it delivered to them and now they want over $200 to ship $250 worth of goods and since they have my stuff now there isn’t a whole lot I can do about that but pay their ransom.  I tried to pay with my two remaining cards and they were both declined so I tried to call the reshipper multiple times over the course of a day to try sort it out but there’s no answer so I eventually email them to see what my options are.

There are a lot of back and forth emails and honestly, I hate the way this company does business so it’s very difficult for me to restrain my disdain for their shitty business model while responding to their emails.  They purposefully have an online quote generator that under estimates the final cost by a factor of 3.5 just to get your business, then when you have your stuff sent to them to reship they fuck you and you can only smile and pay if you want them to forward your stuff, soooo frustrating!  In retrospect I’ve read quite a few online reviews of this company where the bone of contention is the same as mine, anyhow it’s too late for reviews now so I’m gonna bitch some more and see if they’ll do anything.

I told them all my shit was stolen and I was trying to have it replaced while being stuck in Guatemala waiting and also sent a link to my blog where the last post was about the robbery and that seems to have mellowed the situation to the point they’re willing to help…

December 29th 2019 [Day 98]

Santiago, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Well… today got real interesting real fast…

I packed all my gear last night for an overnight camping trip to Volcán Acatenango this-morning.  I set out around 6:30am just after dawn from San Pedro and set Google Maps to route me out of the lake northbound over the mountains.  Somewhere along the way either I took a wrong turn or Google Maps of its own accord rerouted to take me the southbound route out of Lake Atitlan but I never noticed the update.  This route leads to Santiago la Laguna and is pretty sketchy, you’re not supposed to go this way without a police escort.

There’s one place on this route where the paved road turns to shit, it’s not paved and it’s pretty sandy, just after I hit this section, only about 20 minutes into my trip, two masked guys jump out of the bushes about 10 meters in front of me, one pointing a shotgun at me and the other is waving a handgun.  My initial reaction was Oh Fuck… here we go… which quickly subsided to Oh, they just want my shit, then it stopped being scary.

Shotgun guy on my left eyed my phone in the cradle that I was using to navigate [Fuck you Google] and he helped himself to that, he was also patting down my pockets and wanting me to give him my wallet while I’m trying to stabilize the bike and turn the engine off while in gear so it’s not running away from me.  Once I did that I took out my wallet and pulled out all the cash in it and gave it to him.  I keep very little in there so he only got about 300 quetzales ($35USD).

Handgun guy on my right was going through my tank bag and pulled out my Kindle, looked it over on both sides before putting it back it, finding this immensely funny, I felt like I made a new friend at that point, this guy doesn’t like Amazon either :p.  Next he wants to see what’s in my backpack on my back, I told him it was all my camping gear and camp food so he helps it off me and has a look inside,  sees my tortillas and other food stuff in the top and didn’t care to see anymore, like my drone and other backup phone in the bottom.  He found my camping headlight & battery pack in the top zippy part though and the prick pilfered those too, at this point he was finished and helped me get the backpack from the ground and onto my back again before they both ran off into the bushes uttering in Spanish for me not to tell anyone about their dirty business.

Happy New Year Mother Fuckers…

I found this video on youtube where this British couple were held up in the exact same location and it went down almost exactly the same way except my guys didn’t have a Machete

At this point I couldn’t continue to Volcán Acatenango because I was without navigation and a head lamp as well as not having a camera anymore so I turned around and tried to find my way back to San Pedro.

Fuck… Guatemala is mostly great, but it sure is a bumpy ride!

December 23rd to 28th 2019 [Day 92 – 97]

San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

This week was a full on five days of one on one Spanish tuition for four hours per day in the morning between 9am and 1pm.  That’s a lot of information to take in and my plan was to do two to three weeks back to back but now I’ve decided to take a full week off in between each week of Spanish classes to give my brain some time to rest and put to use what I just learned.  The school is right on the edge of the lake and classrooms are little huts with a table, chairs and a whiteboard.

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It’s Christmas week here and the amount of fireworks that are going off is just fucking insane, it sounds like a very active war zone and it’s hard to walk around without squinting in anticipation the next explosion.  It’s also painfully catholic here so being the good boy that I am I went along to church in the local square (only for the spectacle) with my host family, they were trying to shuffle me up to the front at the end of the 90 minute ceremony so we could kiss baby Jesus which I politely declined.  The only time there was no fireworks going off was for this 90 minutes, there was a guy lighting bangers again in the congregation as the priest was finishing his last words and mass was just about over, this place is hilarious.

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There’s another Finnish family of 2 adults and 1 kid staying in the same homestay and they’ve made the experience there a little less awkward because we all find the same things funny about our situation, like the 5 year old communal food time conversations that get very repetitive very quickly that you can only laugh about it.

Heramias, our new adoptee father, took us on a day trip to climb Indian Nose, one of the inappropriately named mountains surrounding the lake, the peak of which looks like a nose with a nostril.  The trip to the other side of the lake to access the mountain was via tuk-tuk and human cattle trucks, at one point there were eight of us in the tuk-tuk and Heramias had to get out and walk on the steeper sections because the tuk-tuk, even with it’s enormous decal of the blessed virgin Mary, didn’t have the power and might to make it up the hill under its own steam with all of us on board.

We stopped our hike a little short of the top with some good views of San Pedro.  When I asked about making it up the rest of the way he told us it wasn’t safe, also at the foot of the climb he picked up another local guy to hike with us for added security.  Looking into it after it seems to be a common place for for tourists to be robbed at machete point by bandidos hiding out in the hills.

There’s tonnes of little coffee and corn plantations growing on the sides of the mountain that the locals cultivate and process.

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Christmas day was fun, I met a bunch of Irish and English folk living here by the side of the lake hanging out eating home cooked food so I stopped a few hours and hung out with them by the campfire.  One of them insisted on me going to their place to get some leftover Christmas dinner that I took and ate by the fire.  I love these random days!

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December 22nd 2019 [Day 91]

Antigua, Guatemala to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

This morning was a tough start making my way out of Antigua since I didn’t get in from the party until 3am ish.  I ended up riding the wrong way for a while before realizing google maps was telling me it was gonna take 4 days to get to Lake Atitlan and not four hours as I had expected, when I stopped to see where the fuck it was bringing be, I saw that the destination was set for Vancouver, Canada!

Along the way there was some great views of Volcán de Fuego erupting every 2 to 3 minutes spewing a quivering tower of smoke and ash into the sky, I’m really looking forward to camping on the dormant Volcán Acatenango opposite it.  It’s supposed to be roary loud and bright by the mute darkness of night.  It’ll be an itty bit scary methinks!

On the way into Lake Attitlan coming from the south I passed one of Guatemala’s infamous dumps, i’m not sure if this one was government sanctioned or not but it appeared out of nowhere on a twisty road through the mountains.  Over the edge of the road was a steep drop down into forest for hundreds of meters and it looks like dump trucks full of trash tip their shit from the roadside down the mountainside.  It also had a smouldering internal fire going on so the place smelled like every breath was inducing cancerous cells in my lungs.  I stopped briefly to take a picture where the vultures were looking at me uneasily, there was even a few dump dogs scavenging through the pile.  The dump is at the foot of Volcán de Atitlan coming into the lake.

I hit 3km of road that was rutted and sandy not far off San Pedro, this was a struggle on the bike and I really wasn’t in the humour for it today, I dropped the bike at one part and was struggling to get it upright again as it’s so heavy especially when it’s lying downhill, as in its normally top part was on the lower side of the hill which makes it even more of a knee crunch to get it up.  Luckily two cops on motorbikes came along at the right time and helped me up with it.

I rode the next 20 minutes which got me to San Pedro the village where i’ll be taking Spanish School, the streets here are pretty narrow, super twisty and very steep with tuk-tuks and motorbikes flying around the place, just as I got into this hive of activity my clutch cable snapped while I was rolling down one of those steep hills about 500 meters off my destination.  I had thoughts popping into my head of just walking away and leaving the bike there which were kind of reassuring (always an option :p ).  I found a place to pull the bike in and began deconstructing it to get my tools out working to swap over the second good clutch cable I had wired up in parallel to the broken one before I left Vancouver, all the while tuk-tuks, motorbikes & chicken busses were whizzing past my feet while I was working on it trying to make myself as small as possible so I could keep my feet for at lease one more day.

I got it going again after 30 minutes or so but the new clutch cable was super tight and I had to use all my left hands strength to disengage the clutch that I thought I was going to snap this new cable too, anyway, good enough for now I thought and left it like that, packed up my sprawl and rode 500 meters to the Spanish School stalling the bike many times as I had to meet a guy there before 6pm and time was getting there!

I got to the Spanish School where they hooked me up with my host family that I will stay with for a week while attending the Spanish School, this is going to be super weird, staying with a random family over Christmas and new years, but hey, it’s all part of the adventure!  I had to follow Magdalena, my new host mom, in a tuk-tuk through the warren of San Pedro up hills that you need to get down on all fours to crawl up and through a crowded market street where I think I wiped out someones vegetable stall with my panniers but I didn’t want to stop to see so I kept going with my eyes on the tuk-tuk.

I finally made it and shuffled all my stuff into my room after meeting the family of parents 1 gran parent and 2 boys that look like their 10 & 20 yrs old respectively.  I then took a much needed nap.

What a day!

December 20th to 21th 2019 [Day 89 to 90]

Antigua, Guatemala

90 days… WTF!

This is a pretty little colonial village about 400 years old surrounded by volcanoes, one of them, Volcán de Fuego, is active and spouts out plumes of smoke every few minutes that you can see from the village.  There is another volcano opposite it that you can hike up and camp overnight to see Fuego spout its fire in the dark of night.  I was supposed to do this yesterday until the weather changed, there’s still time though.

I stayed an extra day because it’s pretty chill and my next stop is Lake Atitlan for a few weeks of Spanish school so I figure I’ll be there long enough.  I met a group of local guys in a bar and ended up going to a party with them a few km’s outside Antigua which turned out to be a rave on the grounds of some business in a pretty rural area.

December 19th 2019 [Day 88]

Semuc Chempey, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala

I made it out after all the rain and only dropped the bike once, not bad I say, stress levels were pretty high though!  It’s 7 hours to Antigua though and I wanna get there in daylight so there’s little time for fucking about today.

It took me an hour to get through Guatemala City and was fully dark by the time I got out at 6:30pm, this city was total chaos, it was rush hour when I hit it and oh man, just total chaos!  I was super happy to make it to Antigua though.


December 17th to 18th 2019 [Day 86 to 87]

Semuc Chempey, Guatemala

I explored the Natural Monument of Semuc Champey today which is a short walk from where I’m camping, these are a series of natural pools with turquoise water, well at least it’s turquoise up until the point that the sky unzips it’s fly and decides to let rip for a solid 24 hours, then it turns to total shit.  I was dreading riding back out on those already difficult roads, now difficult swampy roads.

This is the river before and after the 24 hours of lashing rain, it’s about half a meter higher after all the rainfall and moving about twice as fast, funnily enough people were still tubing in it after all the rainfall.

There were 2 other 26 year old amigos from Guatemala City camping here tonight and they came over to say hi, then we hung out for the night, one of them was keen to practice english.  They were both hilarious, one of them walked all the way to the US to try and get in for a ‘better’ life but was turned away, he works in a market 7 days a week here selling vegetables with his mum.

December 16th 2019 [Day 85]

Flores, Guatemala to Semuc Chempey, Guatemala

I went to take some cash out this morning to last a few days at a convenience store ATM and the machine made the “I’m fetching you money” sound for 2 minutes, then it shit it’s pants, an orange light came on and it never gave me any cash but it came out of my account, pfft, to be continued…

Today is the day Charles & I part company! The guy who owns the hostel on Flores wanted to buy Charles’s bike, and Charles is running on borrowed money for the last while so he decided to call it a day, sell his bike and try to make it back to Vancouver to spend the holiday season.  I’m both excited and apprehensive for the change 🙂

Holy Crapoly the road today to Semuc Chempey was f’ing insane, I never thought I’d make it, Google Maps was telling me it would take 3hrs 15mins for the last 71km, which was already freaking me out and it wasn’t lying either.  The Forestry Service Roads in British Columbia are like paved highways compared to this.  There was also a few road blocks along the way by locals with ropes across the road looking for money to pass.  This part of Guatemala is super remote and it’s a pretty simple way of life around here, it’s nice to see it, the people are pretty humble and everybody somehow fits into the economy to exist.  It was definitely an interesting first day to go it alone!  I made it though and found camping in this families property on the river.

These are some images I extracted from my GoPro Video of the trail to Semuc Chempey.

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December 15th 2019 [Day 84]

Flores, Guatemala

Free day in Flores today so while Charles was nursing his hangover I rode to Tikal to check out the Mayan Ruins about 60km away.  These are the tallest ones I’ve seen so far and there was tonnes of Howler and Spider monkeys hijinksing around in the trees.  This place was a maze and was pretty hard to find your way around even with a map.

December 14th 2019 [Day 83]

San Ignacio, Belize to Flores, Guatemala

We crossed into Guatemala today with another relatively easy border crossing.  Bikes successfully exported from Belize and imported into Guatemala, the whole process took about 2 hours and it wasn’t long before we were sampling our first Guatemalan beer on Isla de Flores where we are staying at a hostel for the night.

Read More… Belize