San Marcos, Guatemala to Ahuachapan, El Salvador

Day 30/31/32/33
Wednesday, April 7 - Saturday, April 10, 2010

San Marcos to Chichicastenango
Chichicastenango to Antigua
Antigua Day
Antigua to Ahuachapan, El Salvador

I left in the early afternoon for Chichicastenango for the Thurday market and encountered more pea soup fog along the narrow road as well as the Pan American. I had experienced the fog the day before as well. Thank goodness the Pan American In Guatemala is excellent. From Quetzaltenango south it's actually a nice 4 lane divided highway with what seems like brand new pavement and concrete. San Marcos was also recommended by Julio from Guatemala City who had recommended the other two places. He was right twice so I felt good about this one. I was having a blast carving back uphill from where I had come the day before. I started to pass a loaded collectivo taxi and gunned it while accidentally popping to clutch. I'm not sure what qualifies as a wheelie but the front wheel definitely came off the ground and went back down with a plop. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned I just popped my first wheelie ever in 25 years of
riding. Thank goodness I have spare underwear with me. ....underwear? ...oops! I left all my clothing, except what I was wearing, at the laundry in San Marcos. I can just see Patti snickering right now, she knows me well ;-)

I ended up staying in an extremely expensive hotel in Chichicastenango but I needed some luxury and peacefulness since I was still feeling sick. The sky opened up this evening and hit the corrugated plastic roof of the restaurant patio so hard that it was hard to hear conversations.
The market on Thursday was the highlight of the day. Market, Shmarket I thought as I took the 10 minute walk from the hotel. I've seen markets before I thought. What's so special about this one? I asked myself as I dodge tricycle taxis and insane chicken bus drivers.

Chichicastenango market

WOW!! is pretty much all I can say about the Chichicastenango market. It was simply amazing. It's as if vendors just show up, start setting up in the centre of town and then just expand outwards as the day goes on. The best parts are when you get away from the more touristy part with the blankets, aprons and other cute stuff. Bags of various kinds of corn, beans, spices, dried fish and who knows what else line the isles. I asked for permission to take pictures and was never refused, especially since I assured everyone that I would not take pictures of people. Only one gentleman asked that I not take pictures of the dried fish ...ok.

Chichicastenango market

Why did the chicken get in the bag?

No one says you can´t be traditional AND use a cell phone
Chichicastenango market.

Chicken Bus, They´re at the top of the food chain on the road.

Now it's time for some smaller roads again. I decided to take the backroads from Chichicastenango to Antigua. When I saw the sign for Panajachel I just had to go back down to Lago Atitlan. Who knows when I'll be back this way. I was really just trying to get back out of Panajachel when I saw another 650GS with Mexican plates. Phillipe, from Paris, had rented the bike in Mexico City and was on the way back from Panama.

Philippe from Paris

Heading back up the mountains to head to Antigua, the mist was swirling up the slopes from the lake far below. It was a beatiful road curving along the slopes, following the lake. It was odd that I didn't remember seeing this when I rode in ...hmmm. After consulting my map and a highway sign I turned around in search of the correct road. It seems that each time I get lost I end up gaining something beautiful or interesting.I had decided to take the back road towards Antigua, route 1, it's the one that many posts on Horizons have warned against since locals talk about some holdups having happened there somewhere, sometime. Too vague for me, so I went anyway ...of course no problems whatsoever aside from not wanting the road to end, it being so picturesque ...albeit very bumpy.

Route 1 from Panajachel

Nearer to Antigua I was on yet another beautifully paved road. The asphalt couldn't have been more than 6 months old. "A new road for the tourists" I mused. Then the pavement suddenly ended with no warning. Luckily these bikes stop fast. I flagged down a van coming the other way and the smirking driver told me to turn around for Antigua. The rest of the road to Antigua was actually kinda bumpy much for preferential treatment for tourists. The clouds became more and more ugly looking and I knew we were in for another typical afternoon thunderstorm. I was now trying to outrun the rain.

When you think of rain down here don't think of that Vancouver moistness. Think of water tanker overturning on an overpass and dumping its' contents on you. I pulled into Antigua as the drops got bigger and fatter by the second. Just as I found the hotel I was looking for the water tanker overturned and soaked my bike, but I only got some of the splashback.


Volcan de Agua

Very, very nice is all I can say. It has a certain quiet charm as if it were resisgned in a dignified way to the fact that it's surrounded by volcanoes that could obliterate it. It's a major tourist attraction but it's all low key with no pesky touts around. The clouds were lifting as the sun was setting and I suddenly noticed a volcano through the famous arch. The peak had a cool cloud sloppily draped over it's cone. Like someone had thrown a soft duvet on top and just let it droop all over the place.

Crazy Monkey Delivery. Very apt name the way some of them drive.

Antigua Public Library Courtyard

After a day running errands, adjusting things on the bike and resting it's time to move on again. You absolutely must go to Kaffee Fernando's. Good breakfast and very good coffee. If you're lucky you'll get Telma as your waitress. She's one of the happiest and friendliest people I've met so far. Kinda like a wisecracking, joke spewing motherly type with graying hair and a kind word for everyone.

Five fully clad dirt bikers roared past, zigzagging around cars while standing on their pegs. "Jerks" I thought. I finally found my way out of town after a few passes through the cobblestone streets while standing on my pegs, zigzagging around traffic :-)

Once more I opted for the backroads. My map showed a road south of Antigua which should connect me to the CA-1 for El Salvador. I once more made several passes through some little village trying to find my way through. I finally made it out and came around a bend. The flagstone road changed to dirt. Oh well, it's not very far to the main road. Got stopped by construction and someone confirmed that I was on the correct road. A few minutes later a man walking the other way shook his head, wagged his finger and did the universal scissorlike "road closed ahead" with both hands. "Whatever, I'm on a bike" I thought. I can squeeze through. "No hay paso" said the nice flagger. "Mismo no con la moto?" (Not even with the moto?) I asked. He went up the hill to check and see. I got back on my high horse and rode all the way back into Antigua for the road more travelled.

No hay paso

The road to Guatemala City is very good, with four divided lanes. I took another scenic route around parts of Lago Amitlan ...very pretty. You can tell that wealthy people from Guatemala City have homes here. Anther unmarked turnoff, so I stopped to consult the map. A Guatemaltecan biker and his female passenger stopped on the Kawasaki crotch rocket to help me find my way to the CA-1.

Lago Amitlan, Guatemala

I have found Guatemala to have excellent main roads and very potholed and narrow secondary roads. I found the main roads overall to be better than in Mexico, not counting Mexico's toll roads.

Time for the El Salvador border. First you have to check out of Guatemala. I was quickly approached by several money changers and a "helper". I was hoping to just keep going but they got so close that I was afraid of my overweight bike getting knocked over. So I stopped. The "helper" offered to "help" me through the exit procedures for exit procedures????. Ya goes to Aduana, ya tells them you're leaving the country, ya tells them you'll be coming back soon so could I please keep the vehicle permit?, ya smiles a lot and ya assures them that ya understand that you'll have "muchos problemas" if you don't check out properly on the way back. Then ya heads to Migracion and they stamps yer passport and ya goes on your way to the El Salvador border. The Guatemala border official was even nice enough to ask if I had copies and then made a bunch for me when I wasn't sure. "There are no fotocopias available down there on the weekend" she told me. Very nice lady, 10 minutes of time, no charge. I rolled down to the Guatemala Migracion and the fellow in the shiny pickup truck who had earlier passed me asked if I was crossing the border. He advised me in good English not to use the "helpers" since they weren't required. He seemed to have waited up for me to "rescue" me from the helpers. Very nice fellow, like most other Central Americans I've met. Even the "helpers" and money changers are nice enough once they realize they just need to leave you alone.

Now across the bridge at Valle Nuevo and into El Salvador. The friendly border official immediately shook my hand and asked if this was my first time. We went through a bit of paperwork and he sent me over to Aduana ...hmmm, I thought I WAS at Aduana. The lady inside was a hoot, and so was the guard. We had a blast cracking jokes and me translating the T-Shirt of the man standing outside "Your village called, they want their idiot back". The man was clueless about what the shirt said. I ended up giving him a rudimentary translation. Do some North Americans hand out these shirts and then laugh all the way back home? ...snicker!

About 15 minutes for the permit, I was told. I had heard from other travellers that this was a fast crossing. 3 1/2 hours later I couldn't wait any longer since the sun was getting lower on the horizon. The company was great and friendly, the papusas from the local vendors were delicious and the cold Pilsner I had in front of the Aduana office went down very well. I even tried to look cool, reclining on my bike with the beer. I quite frankly think I succeeded in that respect ;-) They were having connection problems to the main computer and it wouldn't spit out a confirmation number. Without it there's no way I could get the permit and enter the country. They tried on 4 different computers, called several tech support people in San Salvador and made no headway. My options were to head back to Guatemala and go around El Salvador. It was the weekend and Sunday might present the same problem. Or I could get a 24hour "transit permit" with a $1500 fine if I didn't leave the country within those 24 hours. I was very disappointed that I would have to rush through the country and not be able to enjoy it for a few days. I went back inside to ask for the transit permit. The lady smiled and said "si" when she saw me. I did a little dance of joy and was out the door in a few minutes with my 60 day permit. Walking up to the bike I started loudly singing "I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it".

I roared up the hill eager to get to the nearby town. Around the first bend were cones and another checkpoint. Two startled officials, including the one who first greeted me, jumped up to stop me from the other side of the road. "Permit please" ...sigh! what a moment killer.

Staying in Ahuachapan for the night. It's all in US dollars here so no problems with conversions.


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