13th – 27th April: Antigua
After the eventful night in Guatemala City, I was determined to follow the advice of the travel guides and get a private shuttle to Antigua. We contacted one of the company’s recommended in the travel guide, but they couldn’t transport our bikes in the normal shared shuttle bus – we needed to book a private shuttle just for us and our bikes. Brilliant! We made inquiries with the lady at the front desk, who managed to find a private car to transport us to Antigua for USD 40. It was pretty steep, but I just wanted to get out of there and the lady on the front desk assured me that it was safe and that she had been using the company for several years. I was very happy to wave good-bye to Guatemala City!
I fell in love with Antigua from the moment we arrived. It is a beautiful colonial city surrounded by three impressive volcanos. The city has a really cool vibe and the people are very friendly. There are some wonderful cafes (my favourite was Sabe Rico), restaurants (serving both local and international cuisine) with lovely garden courtyards, cool roof top bars and the most impressive MacDonalds that you have even seen!
The car dropped us in front of our hostel – The Terrace Hostel – where we planned to spend our first three nights in Antigua before moving to our host family. We had booked a private room in the hostel and unfortunately, it was one of the worst rooms that we have had on the tour – noisy, small and stuffy – for some bizarre reason, someone had sealed the windows shut, so we couldn’t get any fresh air. We would have moved, but we had paid in advance. Thankfully, the upstairs terrace had amazing views and good food and the staff were all lovely.
After three long nights at The Terrace Hostel, we moved to our lovely host family. Teddy and Astrid were the nicest hosts imaginable – nothing was too much trouble. Their house was more like a guest house and we met some wonderful people who were also studying Spanish at our school, Don Pedro de Alvarado.
We had heard that Guatemala was the cheapest place to study Spanish and although I had studied Spanish for 4 weeks in Oaxaca, there was lots of room for improvement. There are a huge number of Spanish schools in Antigua, but my friend Greg (who I met in Oaxaca), had chosen to study at Don Pedro, so we decided to go to the same school. I could not have been happier with our choice of school. For the first week I chose to study 6 hours a day – 4 hours in the morning (from 8am-12pm) and then in the afternoon for 2 hours (from 2pm – 4pm). Classes are one-on-one with your teacher and you typically have a morning teacher and an afternoon teacher. My morning teacher was Maria and my afternoon teacher was Angela. They were both wonderful and we got along brilliantly. Although classes are one-on-one, the school organizes lots of social activities (including breakfasts, dinners, salsa classes, museum visits, etc). It was fabulous! However, after the first week, I opted to reduce my hours to 4 hours per day, as 6 hours of one-on-one classes plus social activities was simply too exhausting. My Spanish improved in leaps and bounds during my time at the school and I was conversing reasonably well with my teacher in Spanish by the end of the second week.
David only studied Spanish for 1 week (he didn’t really gel with his teacher and 1 week was enough for him to pick up some Spanish travel essentials). For the second week, he amused himself with a mountain bike tour with Ox Expeditions and two dirt motorbike rides with Moto Tours (http://www.mototoursguatemala.com/). Unfortunately, the mountain bike tour was a real disappointment. The “guide” kept crashing and couldn’t keep up on the trails (David had to wait for him at the top of every hill!). Thankfully, the dirt bike ride lived up to his expectations. David tagged along on one of Moto Tours’ “Dirt River Tours”. The dirt bikes were in good condition, the guides were professionals (local champions), the trails were challenging and he had an awesome time! He also took the dirt bike out for a spin up to Hobbitenango (near Antigua), which was good, but not as good as the guided tour. We can’t recommend Moto Tours enough. Jose (the owner) is a top guy, all of the staff are super friendly and the Moto Café is a great, chilled place to hang out, with the cheapest beers in town!
While in Antigua, we also went on a 2 day overnight hike to Volcano Acatenango with Ox Expeditions. I have written a separate blog about this awesome hike, which you can access here (http://www.eat-bike-globe.com/hiking-volcano-acatenango-guatemala-with-ox-expeditions/).
28th – 30th April: Lake Atitlan
We didn’t want to leave Guatemala without visiting Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan has been described as the most beautiful lake in the world and it is easy to understand why. Surrounded by volcanos, it is simply stunning. We thought about cycling there, but it was out of our way and we needed to be in Nicaragua by the 9th May to meet up with David’s cousin, so instead we took the bus and left our bikes in Antigua with our host family. We arrived in Panajachel (the most accessible of the villages around Lake Atitlan), but spent the bulk of our time in San Pedro and San Marco. We caught local boats to go between the various villages, which was an inexpensive and picturesque way to get around.
We had been tossing up whether to stay in the village of San Pedro or San Marco. Thankfully, one of the guides at Moto Tours recommended that we stay in San Pedro and we were very glad that he did as it was more to our taste. Moto Tours organised a room for us at Hotel Sak’ Cari, which was situated right on the lake, with gorgeous views.
We easily could have spent more time at Lake Atitlan, as there were many more villages to explore, but unfortunately we only had 2 days. I guess we will just have to come back!
We took a minivan from San Pedro (via San Marco) back to Antigua thinking it would be quicker than going via Panajachel. But, in hindsight, we think it would have been quicker and more enjoyable to get the boat back to Panajachel and then get a bus from Panajachel to Antigua, as the roads around San Pedro and San Marco are pretty dodgy.
Friday 1st May: Antigua – Chiquimulilla
After nearly three weeks off the bike, my ribs were feeling a lot better and we were really looking forward to spinning our legs. First up though, we had to negotiate our fully loaded touring bikes through the cobble stone streets of Antigua, which was a slow and bumpy ride. My ribs and I were very happy when the cobble stones ended and the smooth bitumen road began!
The ride from Antigua to Chiquimulilla was lovely and mainly downhill, through farmland with volcanos often visible in the distance. The locals seemed even friendlier in Southern Guatemala and waved as we passed. Around Escuintla, there was a wonderful, super smooth highway, with a wide shoulder – perfect for cycling! As it was a public holiday, the highway was packed with friendly lycra clad cyclists on road bikes, who waved as they went past!
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fully enjoy the ride, as we suffered a day of mechanicals! In total, we had three broken spokes (2 on David’s bike, 1 on mine) and 1 flat tyre (David got a nail stuck in his tyre)! By the time we limped into Chiquimulilla, we were hot and bothered. All we wanted was a cold shower and air conditioning, but all of the nice hotels were booked out, as Chiquimulilla was hosting a rodeo that weekend. After making inquiries at 3 hotels, we eventually found one with a vacancy. It was very basic, with a fan (no air-conditioning) and only one power point, so we had to prioritise between using the fan and charging our electronics! But, we were happy, as we didn’t want to cycle further that day.
While I went to buy some essentials (beers and snacks!), David tried to locate our spare spokes. He had put them inside the seat post, which seemed like a great idea at the time, but over the months of touring they had gradually worked their way down into the seat tube to the point where they were impossible to reach by hand. We spent at least half an hour trying to (quite literally) fish them out – with fishing line and a fish hook! Eventually, we managed to pull them out and David replaced our spokes.
We went to a little nearby café for dinner and were surprised to see bars separating us from the serving staff/cook. It made us wonder whether Chiquimulilla was as safe as it seemed? The food was simple, but good and we arranged to have breakfast there the following morning – the owner agreed to open half an hour early just for us! How nice