Volcanic Eruptions, Rain Forest and Mayan Ruins – the Taste of Guatemala

Guatemala is setting new standards in sweating: it is tropical, humid and hot. Steamed we stand at the border post, where not much is going on. The fees for the motorcycle import are supposed to be paid in Guatemalan Quetzal – but where should to get it from if we haven’t been to the country yet? They do not accept card payments.

At least I am allowed to walk the two kilometres to the next cash machine – in motorcycle trousers and boots. I lost at least two liters of sweat when the paperwork is finished. Now we are allowed to enter country number 17 with the motorcycles on this trip.

Guatemala – the geographical centre of the American double continent. On the first kilometers we are welcomed by happy children and long braided women carrying baskets full of corn on their heads. The northeast of the country, through which we first ride from Belize, is particularly humid and largely covered with rainforest. Actually not our preferred climate, but there are cultural treasures to be discovered: the ruins of the Maya.

According to our Taste

We visit Yax-Ha and Tikal, where we not only ride up directly with the motorcycles, but are even allowed to pitch our tent. While visiting the impressive ruins we are almost alone – and watch as many wild animals as nowhere else.

The site of Yax-Ha lies between two lakes and had its peak between 700 and 900 AD
There are thousands of ancient structures throughout the region
Only a fraction has been excavated by decades of archaeological work
At sunset the concert of the howler monkeys begins
For the sake of the animals, slow riding is mandatory in the national parks
The most famous step temple of Tikal is 47 meters high
As with Machu Picchu, it is the spectacular surroundings that fascinate us
Besides coatis we also discover an aguti, toucans, a woodpecker and various parrots
At least 50,000 people are said to have lived in Tikal alone

Bad Bumps

For three days we are in the middle of the jungle, then the rain won’t want to leave our side. We admit defeat and ride to Guatemala City. After a few kilometres across the country it becomes clear how unequally property is distributed in Guatemala: while we passed quite a few wrecked corrugated iron huts on the overland journey, the better earners are hiding in the gated communities of the capital. Both are terrible in their own way.

The reason why we venture into a big city in the first place is usually motorcycle maintenance. It always puts me in a bad mood before, because I can’t stand mechanics. But with more than 10,000 kilometres covered, an inspection for both Tigers is pending.

In addition, my side stand, which fell victim to a bump, also needs to be repaired. We already know the nasty bumps from South America. The topes – as they are called here – are supposed to serve as speed limits and often show up without announcement or marking. Now some topes in Guatemala are so high that my tiger hits the ground.

I prefer to spend my travel time far away from workshops

No emancipation please

But now back to the misery with the workshops: I’d like to leave the bikes with professionals and have a coffee in peace. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way when the budget is small: we have to do what we can ourselves. And by “we” I mean Moe, who I would love to watch. I’m happy to hand him the wrench and give some good advice – not more. But that’s not what he thinks. To my regret, Moe would like to see more equality in screwdriving.

I can understand that. Still, I don’t like it. I find that my time would be much better spent with other things . But if you love your bike, you’ll screw or something…

A virus is spreading

Disturbing news: The Corona virus is spreading worldwide and we’re watching border after border close. Since we want to travel the USA and Canada in summer, we should return to Mexico sooner rather than later. There it wouldn’t be so tragic to get stuck. Anyway, there is still a lot we want to see.

One question becomes more and more important: What is the future of the journey?

Fuego

But first we visit a place we have been dreaming of for a long time – we climb the Acatenango. The almost 4000 meter high volcano in central Guatemala is unique because it offers a perfect view of its neighbor, the volcano Fuego.

Fuego, that means fire – and the name says it all! When do you ever get to see a volcanic eruption with your own eyes? We park the motorcycles, pack our backpacks and walk up with tent and photo equipment.

Around noon, we take off in blistering heat…
…and arrive at the top five hours later.
The path is very pretty and there are relatively few people on the way
We intentionally go to the other side of the mountain, where there are no camps of the guided tours

A show beyond compare

Just in time before sunset we manage to pitch our tent on the mountainside. To our great joy we are almost alone, but it worries us that we cannot see Fuego. A thick cloud cover denies us the view. At least we can hear it and it already gets extremely under our skin.

We can therefore only roughly estimate how we have to position our tent entrance and the tripod. I am exhausted from the ascent, but still excited to be so close to such an active volcano.

It gets cold quickly and we crawl into our sleeping bags to get something to eat. Meanwhile, I hope to finally see what all the noise promises.

And then, as the sky dips into a dark blue, the magic kicks in: Suddenly all clouds have disappeared and we are looking directly at Fuego.

All night long we are witnesses of huge eruptions, one bigger and more beautiful than the other. Now and then we doze off, only to be woken up again by the fireworks. It fills me with great awe to witness this spectacle. In retrospect, I am still very moved when I think about this special night.

A picture that gives me goose bumps

Exhausted, we leave the tent the next morning to climb the last three hundred meters to the crater of Acatenango. It is incredibly cold and windy, but above all simply surreal how breathtaking this place is.

At sunrise the Fuego is still bubbling
Dream scenery in changing colours – it can’t be better
Wide visibility and thin air at 3976 meters altitude

Spoiled by tourism

Now that the situation in the surrounding countries has further deteriorated, we really have to hurry to leave Guatemala.

On the way to the border we decide to spend our last night at Lake Atitlán. We had heard quite a lot of good things from other travellers about the lake. So we got the feeling that we should at least have seen it once.

But then we are immensely disappointed by this detour. Sure, the landscape of the lake with the volcanoes is beautiful, but from our point of view it is simply extremely touristical. Maybe it was beautiful here twenty years ago. Shows again how far apart opinions can be about what a quiet place is. Or maybe we just landed in the wrong corner.

A last short stop in the supposed paradise

Although the unsympathetic owner of the campground wants to convince us to stay longer, we flee the next day. The fear of not being able to get out of Guatemala is too great. And it was the right decision: only one day later the borders are closed.

Even though we were not allowed much time in this country, we already liked this taste of Guatemala very much. It would be nice if we could go back again sometime. But for now we are facing a huge change on this trip…

If you would like to treat us with something for the 234567 hours of work, because you enjoy our stories: You can give us a roll if you like (guaranteed not to be spent on rolls but on beer).

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