A combination of all of this made my thinking very irrational or perhaps I just refused to give up. I decided to head out towards El Mirador. Not knowing the way, no civilization, no signal, an hour of daylight left and 60km of a narrow rocky path. Within miles I know I’m not going any further. I passed 2 junctions already with no idea if I am on the correct one. The path is now only a hair wider than the bike with boulders spicing things up. Trying to turn around the bike goes down. All right. I knew I will have to muster up what’s left. I left the bike in the sleeping position for about 5 minutes to get a breather. A little struggle and up it went and now to finish the 30 point U turn. El Mirador will be conquered next time. Assessing the damage, the luggage box must have picked the pointiest rocks to fall on putting a huge dent right in the middle and the other bending the bottom of the box to a point where it separated the seams. Woohoo. I got what I asked for. I am mad at my own stupidity. I run from Carmelita. My body and brain all go into emergency mode and gather strength from I don’t know where. What took me 3 hours before, I just did in just over an hour. I completely forgot that I could have stayed at the rancho there or pitch and ran for Isla Flores. I have never bottomed out the shocks on this 20 000km trip. During this hour alone, hitting speeds up to 100km/h, I bottomed out the front 8 times and even the rear once upon a landing. I make town just after dark almost dropping the bike at one of the roundabouts in town. My almost non existent rear tire must be getting to the last bit I’m thinking. Hotel Green World. Finally. Same place even the same room Alex and stayed four months ago. Anxious to get to bed I go outside to start the bike to drive it into the reception again. For those catching up now. Isla Flores is a picture perfect little island on Lake Petén with colourfull colonial homes and hotels pretty much glued on each other. No front yards, no backyards. I turn the key and nada. No way I’m thinking. After all this? Tried again and nothing. Not even the dash lights up. Well, I do like this place. I push the bike inside the reception and park it. No point of thinking about it today anymore. Almost 400km today with 75% in the dirt. I undress my bike gear and no food, no shower, exhausted I fall asleep.
I don’t like tasking on an empty stomach so I go around the corner to get something in my stomach and in front of the hotel next to mine I see a guy mingling with a Suzuki Vstrom. Fellow rider from Georgia tackling on Central America. As it turns out, Ray, had a little mishap on the way to Samuc Champey. The same place where my headlight and front caliper fell off four months ago, Ray dropped his bike there and was stuck for 6 hours. He broke the shifter but unbelievably he carried a spare. The bikes get an unreal beating here.
Stomach is now satisfied, now to the electrical problem. Within minutes it’s eureka as I realize it’s just a negative connection that must have gone loose on my insane trip back from El Mirador. Thinking back now I realize just how crazy yesterday was. Easy fix. I strap my bags on, put my gear on and ready to make way for Belize. I get the bike off the center stand and try to push it out of the reception but the thing does not want to move. Now what? Within seconds my eye catches the flat front tire. I must have punctured it last night coming back I’m thinking. Now it makes sense why I almost dropped the machine on the round about last night. I must have been riding almost on flat. No problem, I got a tire kit. But what the hell is this?? I notice the front rim is completely bent open about an inch from its original shape. Yup, I think I remember which pot hole that was. This could be a real delay.
Head down I go back to the room to take all the bike gear off again. The hotel owner offered to call her mechanic last night when I had the what I thought electrical issue. After a short conversation he points me in the right direction. Or so I thought. I pop the front wheel off along with the bent left luggage box and jump in a tuk tuk to take me to a wheel repair shop. Upon arrival the driver and I realize that it’s just a tire shop. “I need somebody who can heat aluminium and bend this thing back”, I’m explaining to the owner as he’s filling the tire with air to check for anymore leaks. We submerge the wheel into the water tank and more problems. The tire is fine. It’s the rim that’s leaking. It must have been such an impact that it created crack through the rim, right at one of the ten spokes. Staring at him I say, “now I need someone who can weld aluminium also” He seems to know someone just down the street, so we pop the tire off and back in the tuk tuk again.
The place sells hydraulic lines and has some lathes in the back. One guy is saying yes, one no, as I explain to them what I need done. Like synchronized bobbing heads, bobbing in different directions. “I can do it”, a voice from the back that must have been listening to us. As the bobbing heads make room, out comes the biggest and dirtiest Guatemalan I have seen yet. “I can do it, come back in an hour” he repeats. With some hesitation but little choice I leave the bent rim and the luggage and head off to find an inner tube. Just in case the rim still leaks, I would prefer to have one in there. No more off roading I’m promising myself. I’m staying on asphalt all the way to Canada. Within an hour I’m picking up my items. Wow. Asides from a few spots where the hammer struck, the box is resembling its original shape. The rim, the rim! Let me see the rim!! Have I had not known where the impact was, I would have not been able to tell. The crack was cut into and refilled with aluminium. The heat treatment to bend it back scorched a lot of the paint but he took his time to sand and repaint with matching paint. Genius. “That will be $25, is it ok?” The big guy says. Not only would I never say no to him, I was refraining myself from giving him a friendly punch how happy I was. In Canada it would be way over $100 with leaving the rim there for a few days. Ok, back to the tire place, assemble it all with the inner tube and back to the hotel…
Next morning I set off to the sacrificial altar as recommended by Josue. Riding now a dirt road in the altars direction, west towards Mexico. Within a few miles I have to take a ferry to get across one of the Rio Pasión arms. Hmm.. He never mentioned anything about a ferry.
After crossing I keep driving for about half an hour. Starting to have doubts I stop what was the only vehicle coming towards me. “Si, si, about half an hour” was the response. Well I’m this far already so I’m not turning around. After 45 minutes at close to 70km/h I finally get to the river and thus the end of the road with Mexico on the other side. Beside the road, a rumble of rocks without any resemblance of an sacrificial altar. Thanks Josue. Well at least I now know an escape route from Guatemala to Mexico. No ferry, no crossing no customs here though. Disappointed I drive back to Sayaxché. Semi tired and covered in dust I shared the ferry back with the typical colorful school bus a.k.a. chicken bus. Sort of wasted 120 km. When I got to Sayaxché, the big ferry was on the other side loading fuel trucks so I had to wait a bit. I was put on the ferry along with two fuel trucks and a dozen or so foot passengers. These trucks were obviously full as the ferry was so heavy it was not going to peel off the river bank. Watching the previous day from the floating restaurant I already knew what was about to happen so I put the bike on center stand, motor off, engage gear and sit on it with bith feet down foot down and both brakes on. There is about a 15 ft of room behind the semis so they back all the way up. All of the sudden the both simultaneously shoot out racing towards the end of the ferry. Yup, just 15 ft away. They barely get to put it in second gear and as if synchronized they come to a screeching stop. Bam. Quite a jerk and we are free. Last wave to Josue and Marina as they are waving at me from the restaurant.
I have heard many awesome things about El Mirador. A way bigger than Tikal, recently discovered Mayan city to the north side of the Mexican border. Currently being excavated but still open to public. To the ones who dare rather.
After getting off the ferry I shoot 100 km to the north side of Lago Petén to San Andreas. That is about to become the only 100 paved km I do that day. To get to El Mirador there is 70km of a nasty dirt road that has to conquered to the small communinty of Carmelito. This I was clear on. It was the rest that was shady so I quickly started gathering up info from locals. After today’s adventures it was still only 2pm. Ok, so from Carmelito to El Mirador it’s another about 60km. The map confirmed that. After that I got a few stories on how to get there. It can be done by bike, it can be only be done on foot, it may be done with a mule. Challenge accepted. To my relief, if all fails, there is lodging in Carmelita. No time to waste. Some dry food, canned fish, refried beans, lots of water and a few beers.
As usual, deeper you get the nastier the road gets. Surprisingly given the road condition I drove through three communities on the first 35 km and there was a never ending colony of tractor trailers coming out of the jungle all fully loaded with no more than 3-4 enormous tree trunks. Kind of controversial when Guatemalan license plate slogan, including these semis, is ‘cuidamos los bosques’. We protect out forests. Sure. We don’t need trees. We need oil palms.
Bizarrely, with no soul in sight, I still went through two military check points. Thankfully, the more you travel, the more you see, the more you learn, the less you are surprised. Nearing the end the semis finally became non existent and unfortunately the road also. Beat up and covered in white dust from the lime rock dirt road I reach Carmelita. A huge wood mill with about 15 straw huts, one being the lodging, gathered around an airstrip that also seems to serve as a soccer field.
I am probably the most tired I have ever been. To add to the misery, because of the insane dust, and hot air I can barely keep my eyes open and my eye drops just aren’t cutting it anymore. I get pointed to the mill for El Mirador information. By now I am 100% positive it can’t be done with the bike. So my option are, guide and donkey to carry my gear or guide and two donkeys to carry me and my gear. But what? 5 day trip? Nobody in San Andreas ever mentioned this and it for some reason it has never occoured to me but it makes sense. 60-70km is about two days. Day there and the trip back. Remember the “defense mode”I mentioned earlier? It won. Well that and the fact I didn’t have with me the $300 necessary for this 5 day voyage. That was the biggie making this adventure unreal. The defensive part was that I would have been in no shape to walk or ride a donkey at 5am for the next 3-5 days. In reality I probably could have if I put my ass into it. See what I did there? This day was not meant to be. Really at the the edge of exhaustion, combined with chugging two nasty, warm beers, I made what was the worse decision….
El Ceibal is a Mayan site that wasn’t discovered until 1959. I had to do some hardcore offroading to get to it. It was more of a walking path than a road. Well deserved though as I had the whole city to myself. Going through the guest book there was only a dozen visitors there all week. A couple from France earlier today. With the level of difficulty to reach this destination I was not surprised. I spent almost three hours on this, mostly unexcavated archeological site. The guard didn’t mind so I went back to my bike to grab my sleeping bag and made camp on top of the astrological circle structure for a while.
Sayaxché is only a few miles away. I going refuge in one of the three hotels in the village.
I treated myself and got an air conditioned room overlooking the river for $13. Stomach was growling now so after a shower I headed to town to get some grub. With nothing to suit my taste I find a floating restaurant right beside the ramp to the ferry. More like a bunch of planks nailed over empty oil barrels with a roof over it. The whole structure is tied to the river bank. There is only one table inside where a lady is washing laundry and two guys fishing in between the planks in the floor.
My kind of place exactly. After a few minutes we are all best friends and they fish out three different types of fish for me. Since there is no kitchen in this restaurant, the lady runs up to the house to make dinner. And delicious it was.
I ended up staying long into the night and, as I was the only customer that day, got told many stories about the surrounding area. My speculations only got confirmed as I was told about big companies taking over the native land to grow oil palms. Yes, they might have lived there forever but most of the elderly are illiterate thus applications for land titles were never submitted. Not only have they never adapted to something of this kind, they probably never even thought that someone would ever try to take this distant land from them. Now most of them are employed on what used to be their land.
Josue, one of the guys fishing through the floor, pointed me in a few directions to find some historic sites. Some of them I was familiar with but one particular sparked my attention. A sacrificing altar a few miles from here where I would set off to the next morning. Josue was very proud of the floating restaurant as he helped on with the construction. He said the original place burned down about three years ago. “There is no kitchen here. How could it have burned down?” I ask. I don’t think anyone could ever guess the answer. Rio Pasión is a fair size river that requires a ferry to get across. In the dry season, the electric wires that cross the river, hang about 25 ft above it. Are you starting to see where this is going? In the rainy season, the river goes so high that the floating restaurant reached pass the cables and set itself on fire. Whoever passes by has to stop by. What a joint. You will always find the owner Marina there. Unless the river was high that year.
A little celebration at the side of the road
Unlike getting into Honduras, there was absolutely no soul upon exiting so it took all but 5 minutes to check out.
Off to Rio Dulce, Guatemala. This is the same place where i got so insanely sick 5 months ago and got the syringe of an unknown substance in my right but cheek from the holistic healer.
From Rio Dulce I really didn’t want to take the regular route up north to Tikal and than to Belize. I studied a few maps and google map but everything was pointing to that the route I wanted to take is not finished. I was looking for a connection between the Caribbean coast, from Rio Dulce to be exact, towards the inland in the direction of Mexico and than up. Reasoning for this is not only that I already know the other route but that there is almost a dozen Mayan sites on that route. After talking to a few locals of which some concurred that, yes it’s passable and some who haven’t. Challenge accepted!! I know I might be asking for trouble. Not only because I’m heading into the unknown, but now I’m riding solo and with with a rear tire that barely has any thread on it. A wipeout or a flat for the least are becoming imminent.
Right upon entering the dashed marked road on one of the maps I knew I might have chewed more than I can swallow. Road is obviously under construction. I’m pretty much walking the bike for the first 10km with about 90 more to go.
Zig zaging the Caterpillars and Terexs with occasional explosions blowing away the mountains in the middle of the pristine jungle. A few times I had to get off the bike, put it in first and walk it. Boulders that were making the base of the new road were impassable. After about an hour of the battle I start to feel semi comfortable. As I get deeper into the center of the country I encounter more indigenous villages. No electricity, just a new road in progress and the jungle. Kind of sad as I figure a majority of these people haven’t encountered modern civilization little less a dozer plowing through their front yard. The further I get the better the road gets. They obviously started from the other end.
The jungle starts changing into plowed ground as far as the eye can see. I can only imagine what’s next. Yup, oil palms. The further I get the more mature palms. To add to the rape, two pipe lines turn from the jungle and follow the road for the next 50km to a transfer/ storage station in a small village occupied by mostly people of Mayan descend. I know what you are up to, Chevron.
As I near the intersection to hang it north, the palms are about 8-10 years mature. That’s how long it took to build the road than. It’s just a matter of time before the virgin jungle where they are working on the road now will be turned into palm fields. Through out this whole strip I have encountered only about 5 vehicles. The Mayans don’t drive, so who exactly is this road being built for? Is it the palm or the crude oil? Never mind, as I hang it right now in direction towards the Yucatan Peninsula. Thinking I’m getting away from the nightmare I now drive for another 120km in the middle of oil palm farms. As far towards the horizon, to the left and to the right with indigenous communities in between.
By far the hardest drive ever. I have done some similar to this type were I would venture off on a 250 XT or a CR but the rewarding destination had us pushing on. I have had a spill last summer on a road easier than this. This one dragged on for 100km deep in the Guatemalan jungle of the Cordilleras
Semuc Champey is supposed to be the 8th wonder of the world. I will be the judge after seeing the 7th only a few weeks back. We set off from Rio Dulce but choose not to take the easy 350km ride but opt for the hard, 130 kilometers.
Enthusiastically we hit the dirt mountain road. Results start showing shortly. The bimmer is the first. The bolt on the left side of the headlight happens to hold the left projector light has come loose and gone MIA. The headlight is now bouncing around loosely and in danger of breaking of completely. A bolt that happens to be the same size is taken off my crash bar for replacement. This bolt is too long so a few washers and a Canadian toonie where I knock the center out make for a perfect spacer.
Second scare comes minuted later when I pass Alex as he thinks that he has a blown front shock. Hundreds of thoughts get processed instantly. Ok. Trip is on hold. Need to find a truck to put the bike on. Get the bike to Guatemala City. All and all, about 8 days to get back on the road. What a relief it was to find out that only the front fender got bent and jammed under the front wheel. What a relief.
Every time we ask for directions the ETA seems to be getting further. We never really knew the distance but the first time frame we got was 2 hours. After an hours driving, the couple of guys that walked out of the bush said three. Another hour goes by and we are getting really exhausted as this seem to be the reminiscent of a Dakar rally stage. The group of Mayan girls just turns around and runs when I ask them so I opt for the man walking this kids. “Dos horas”. C’mooon.
It took us about 5 hours to drive this technical course of 100km to get to Languín. The last stop with a restaurant and a hostel before Champey. Beat, we settle in one of two hostels awkwardly called Rabbi Itzam that happened to be full of Israeli backpackers. Never in my life would I have thought I would drive this far for a dip.
We said bye to Blake the previous night without a doubt that we will cross paths on this trip again. Not an uncommon thing. We have been running into the same people ever since Mexico. He was rushing to a family reunion in Antigua some 500km away and we were going to backtrack to the ancient city of Tical. By now I’m totally sick. I felt a sore throat the day before but thought that if I ignore it, it will go away. All the tequila and Gallos have just added to it not to mention a slight hangover. The morning was a struggle. Tical is off the grid way in the jungle and what a sight. The day was so fulfilled with excitement that the crappy feeling has totally gone until the next day. My jaw dropped when I entered the Main Square. I know I have said this before, but this, this has outdone anything on this trip.
I was so hyped to see this place that I never grabbed a map guide. I climb up the highest spot possible and just when I thought I have seen the best of it I see two more temples out on the distance to the west. Without hesitation I set out westward. I find Alex to ask him to join me but he is still limping from our little incident when we tripped over the Tropic of Cancer way back in Mexico. To add to the sorrow, he thought it would be a good idea to kick a coconut laying on the road while doing 80km/h. Yes, using his already swollen foot. He politely declined.
Cool thing about this place that there was very little tourists. Tikal is luckily not very easily accessible and Guatemala is not the most popular tourist destination. It damn should be.
I found myself alone almost every time I went off the main path and every time I was getting myself into a never ending maze of Mayan structures. The other cool thing is about Tikal is that it is in the middle of the jungle and thus not maintained to a degree like Chichen Itza. You can not see from one place to another through the trees and there is no abundance of wild life either. I have seen wild turkeys and pizotes roaming together, with spider and congo monkeys above. It all added all that much more to the atmosphere. I make it to temple IV and clime all the way up. What a sight. Nothing but thick jungle with now the main place and temples I and II in the distance. It was a perfectly sunny day, but to add the the spectacle a dark cloud with a tube of rain and a rainbow coming at us from the left.
I spend about 3 hours exploring and getting educated. The ancient city is spread over an area of more than 100km square and at one point had up to 80 000 inhabitants. Over a million pieces of artifacts and tools have been dug up and apparently over a million still hidden in the ruins that to this day still have not been excavated.
I find in at the off the grid hotel/ cabins by the parking lot and not surprising, he is sitting there with the Czechs that we ran into in Belize city. The hotel owner let’s us pitch our tents up on the grounds. Nice. I missed camping and there was very little choice as it was nearing dark and the closest town with a hostel is 50km away. Not that we couldn’t afford the $75 cabins but the further south we get the further we seem to push the envelope on how little we can survive. Cold shower and a toilet. What else could you possibly need. To top it off they ran the generator until 9 to keep the beers cool. We dragged it long into the night. No big good byes as again, we might see each other in perhaps another country down the road. That night we decided to go 200km south to Rio Dulce and than perhaps take a boat down the river into Livingston on the Caribbean side again. They decided to head west to Semuc Champey
I forgot to mention that, despite its bad rep, both Alex and I were extremely impressed with Mexico. Towns, especially in the south were super clean. I have even seen encouragement for recycling. Nothing but friendly people along the way and wherever we hung out. Even though we probably broke the traffic laws a few hundred times with or without the presence of the police, there was never any trouble nor bribes necessary. Police was always friendly and helpful. Despite thousands of topes (speed bumps) we have gone over, Mexico is in my top ten.
Remember Jim and his wife, the club owners that we met at Chichen Itzá? I got an email from him that he featured us on the club sites. www.musclebikesofamerica.com and www.musclecarsofamerica.com Thanks Jim. I will be sending the photos shortly.
We pack up and head out towards the Guatemalan border about 100km away. We drop by at a hotel/ restaurant about 20km from the border to get a coffee. Coincidentally, the South African owner was from Boquete, Panamá and we had a lot of friends in common especially from the bike club there, the Macho Montes.
Again, easy border. By now we are getting into the routine. In and out. Having no lineups really helps. Thus far, the Canada to US border was by far the most dreadful.
Beside us pulls up an old school, camo KLR with Ontario plates. Blake is an awesome dude from Ottawa that has been doing the same trip and has been on the road four months now. We drive together about 80km to Isla de Flores. Amazing town on a lake island. Very reminiscent to old Quebec. Narrow cobble stone streets with music coming out of the tons of restaurants and bars. In someway I feel pity for people who buy into prepackaged vacations in the ordinary vacation spots. We have hit dozens of magical spots along the way that are easily accessible for single travelers, couples and families on any budget.
We settled in a nice hotel for only $30 a night overlooking the lake and backing onto one of these cobble stone streets. Due to its tiny size, there is no back nor front yards on Isla de Flores so the nice lady let Alex park his bike right in the front lobby and I drove mine down the hallway right up to the room.
After the usual stroll through this beautiful island town, we set out to the boardwalk where there is dozens of stands and vendors selling local food. For 10 Quetzales (equivalent to about $1.25) I had a filing supper of 6 tostadas with just about every possible topping. And I was told it gets cheaper the further south we go.
We meet up with Blake and head the bar district to share many amazing stories and many more beers.