Thursday, 31 December 2015

Livingston, presumably...

Bit of a photofest here as we've not been up to much... Happy New Year to all

We didn't feel guilty for not riding to Livingston as the only way to get here is by boat. It was a pretty cool journey across the lake and up through the mangrove and jungle.

"Welcome to Africa" said the hostel tout as the boat docked at the jetty. The Guatemalan people here are descendants of African slaves and I guess the relative remoteness of the place has kept  their appearance true to their ancestors.
We're on the edge of the Caribbean Sea here and the whole place has a very laid back vibe. It's a bit of a shanty town and actually it's the first place in Guatemala that I've instantly warmed to on arrival.

We've had 2 'firsts' today. Neither of us have even been to the Caribbean before let alone swum in the warm waters. That fact still stands as despite the local beach looking ok in this photo, the water (I went in knee deep) was pretty polluted with plastic bags and general rubbish. Despite not swimming we sat on the sand, feeling the warm sea breeze and listening to the little waves lapping on the shore. It felt good

Another (more practical) 'first' was lunch. A little street stall served us up delicious BBQ fish, cabbage n beetroot slaw and a proper mansize portion of rice n beans. It was yummy, cheap and for virtually the first time we came away from a meal actually feeling full. 

In fact it was so good we went back the second day

It's bloody hot up here and uber humid. Just sitting in the shade you gently sweat away, God only knows what it's going to be like once we ride along the coast towards Honduras. Right now though we're just going to chill out here for a few days until the New year.

Here's a few shots of the town

These are the seats in a local pick up truck, I guess you can imagine how good the rest of it looked

NYE came and went. We were in bed by 10pm but not before eating a special dinner - Tapado, a coconut milk based soup with spices and coriander. Bit tricky to eat but tasted great. That fish was whole, it's head emerged as the soup level lowered and I ate the plantain that was hiding it

More food photos, the first breakfast of 2016. Luke warm chow mein. Scrambled egg, fried tortilla, plantain and refried beans. Bit weird but did the job

We walked out to some waterfalls but never found them, still, got us out and about

There is so much rubbish washed up on the beaches here. We humans are bad

Not only a genuine dugout canoe but here you also get a chicken thrown in for free

We stopped off for a drink. I wonder how you say "kiss me quick" in Spanish?

While we're at it, let have a luvverly bunch of...

Me trying to get arty (inspired by Louisa Eagleton)

Back in town we went back to our favourite (because it's cool n breezy) spot. Seems this guy liked it as well. He sat there until the tour boats came in and then scrounged the left over packed lunches the tourists hadn't eaten.

I just wanted to also mention a great Canadian guy we met. I reckon Eric had it just about right. He lives in a small off grid cabin that he built up the hill from the small town in British Columbia where he was brought up. He's got a decent engineering job in town and has travelled the world quite a bit. He loves getting out there but has decided that his favourite place is home. He has solar power, an outdoor shower and no TV and his head is properly screwed on. Good on ya Eric, you're doing well mate.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Messing about on the river

It took us 3 buses to get from Fry to Rio Dulce but not before we hit town for some breakfast.

The buses were the usual crammed experience. Most of these locals are small n skinny but when you get a few big mammas on board, it gets a bit squeezy with 22 people in a Toyota Hiace.

This one should have had a warning on the roof rack 'Caution, contents may settle during transportation' which resulted in no more than a few more scratches and a bent mudguard.

Accommodation options were tight so we were 'forced' to book a night out at a river lodge. At £30 a night and near western prices on the menu it provided a 'world away' slice of luxury. 

The next afternoon we headed back into the hot and dusty town to wave Mel off on her bus trip back to Guatemala City and then onto the UK. The £11 ticket and estimated 6 hour transit time kind of made a mockery of the effort it had taken to get here....

We then checked into our new 'back in the real world' digs. At 15 quid it's still a bit pricey for what we got but at least we could literally ride the bikes straight into the room where they became handy as a clothes horse.

We met a Spanish cycle tourer and went out to dinner with him. At 30 years old he's done a lot of touring in far flung places. His stories and enthusiasm has re kindled our zest to ride and we now feel more determined to get out there and make this shit happen. Well, in a day or 2, we've just got a bit more sitting around to do....

Sunday, 27 December 2015

T for Tourism. A for Adventure

We'd chatted over our sumptuous (?) Christmas dinner and decided that we should head for Semuc Champey, allegedly one of the highlights Guatemala had to offer. The only accommodation we could find was for the night of the 26th, so, we were on the move again.
"Rapido, rapido" our hotel owner shouted in a whisper. Why was she whispering? We were the only guests in the hotel... Also why was she telling me to Rapido when it was her who'd made us late by taking forever to cook a breakfast pancake?
We were hurried onto the bus as the bikes got tied onto the roof rack (what again?). It was 5.55am. Merry Boxing Day.
The 2 hour drive was gorgeous. Mist laid in the steep jungle valleys, glowing orange as the sun rose behind it.
By 8am we were bundled off the bus and transferred into our African Safari style 'shuttle truck' that would bounce us down a rough track over the mountain to our des res digs.

"You can't put your bike there, it's blocking the water bowl for the dog" was our greeting. Well, morning to you as well!
We were well and truly back in the land of the 'processed tourist'.

So, we did what we were supposed to do, paid out £5 entry fee and duly paid homage to Semuc Champey, or in other words a river complete with turquoise tinge and some waterfalls. Now I don't know if it just that we've seen too many places like this or it was just our fellow tourists who spoilt the whole experience but I have to say, despite the obvious beauty, we were a bit underwhelmed.

We decided to 'split the gaff' (is that cool hip speak?) the next day.  After a luxury lay in, 7am saw us loading the bikes back onto another roof rack for the bouncy, rough ride back out to the main road. 
The idea was to ride the continuation of the lovely road we'd been on the day before. We had about 60km of rolling countryside to cover so envisaged no real issues. The fun started within a few metres, not before a quick 5 star breakfast though.

Roadworks had left a not so lovely road covered in marble like gravel. The sun was hot, there was no breeze and the climb was steep. Could this get worse? This certainly didn't seem much like the continuation of the lovely road we'd missed out on the day before.
It did get worse, much worse.
By lunch time we'd only covered about 18km. The road, although extremely scenic, was bloody awful to ride on.

"Tarmaco?" (yes, before you snigger, that is how you say it in Spanish). We had various answers ranging from 3-5km, 15 and a 25. B@llocks, this was hArd work.
We pulled over to hide in the shade of a church. This was the first village we'd seen and there'd barely been a vehicle pass, and when when did it was full to the brim

We were hungry and there was no food around but luckily Mel managed to talk a shop owner into opening up so we could at least buy some water. We discussed our options. We had 3. Ride back - no way. Wait for a vehicle - not very inspiring or ride on in the hope one would come along. When the village idiot turned up and started eating our peanuts like a monkey in a zoo we took our cue to leave.

Riding on the broken, rocky surface was really horrible. Mel's been riding a mountain bike which hasn't been great on the roads but really helped her here. It was the opposite for us. Our skinnyish tyres (700x28c for the nurds) slid about all over the place. The front panniers slowed our steering and the drop handlebars made braking & general control much harder. Going downhill was actually worse than going up. Thank god a truck came along. We bundled in and for £5 between us he took us about 8km until he turned off. Back to it then.

By about 4pm we turned a sharp corner and knock me down with a soggy tortilla, tarmaco! Sublime, super smooth tarmaco. The best we'd ridden on anywhere in Guatemala. The road wound its way through jungle and farming land. A village came into view. The kids crowded round again as we devoured dry bread rolls and bottles of coke.

With renewed energy we rode on. Up some much more sensible climbs and back down the other side, swooping down gently though the jungle.

By 6pm we arrived in the town of Fray somethingoranother, luckily know as Fry. Hotel, shower, pizza, beer, bed. 

A great fun (I think that's the word for it) challenging and rewarding day. One that makes you smile as your head hits the chopped foam pillow and your tired body doesn't sink into the rock hard mattress. Ah, bliss....