7 September – Day 47
Panajachel, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala
Distance: 80kms (time on bike: 3 hours, including a landslide and a river crossing)
Today was a day for the adventure bike riders: windy roads, a landslide across a fair chunk of the road, a protest blocking the main road out of one of the towns we needed to go through and a river crossing – because the bridge was washed away in a tropical cyclone two years ago and hasn’t been replaced!!
Yup, just another day on tour in Central America, where even a short stretch of 80kms can take you hours!!
The day kicked off with breakfast with one of Adrian’s ‘brothers’ – a guy from Germany riding a BMW who’d spent the past five months riding from New York and is heading south to Ushuaia like us. We’d past him in the road yesterday on our way to our boat trip as he was just arriving into town. He’s the first ‘brother’ we’ve seen for a while, so Adrian was pretty excited – and I was looking forward to hearing about his experiences, too.
So after that relaxed start (because we’d thought it was going to be a fast, easy day on the bike – ha ha), we started the lovely ascent up over the mountains surrounding Lake Atitlan, with gentle sweeping turns to keep Adrian happy and a lovely view over the lake and volcanoes for me. It was stunning. The clouds seemed to be coming in early and fast, so we were happy that we hadn’t dawdled any longer before getting going.
There were no directional signs on the road (seems to be a reoccurring theme in Guatemala—the only signs for a city/town are once you’ve actually arrived… not very helpful for navigation) and Adrian’s GPS was making up roads that clearly didn’t exist, so we (read: Adrian) were using Zen navigation based on a rough understanding of where we though Antigua might be. And all was going well until, all of a sudden, the road was blocked with stones and we were forced onto a dirt track running sort of alongside where the road was.
We didn’t have to wonder why for long: after about 200m, we could see that a bridge over a small river had washed away (some time ago – the trees growing out of the rough, broken edge of the asphalt were already knee high). Our options were: turn around, go back through Panajachel and look for a road out going to Antigua the other way around; or ride across the river. It hadn’t rained at all yesterday and wasn’t raining at that particular moment, which meant the water levels were relatively low.. just over my ankles. The issue was more that the riverbed was very rocky – and although it wasn’t deep, we couldn’t see the bottom. Which made for interesting ‘cross-my-fingers-hope-not-to-drop-the-bike-in-the-water’ kind of riding for Adrian!! And me? I just walked across.
Back on the bike, we continued on our merry way. The road got progressively worse… I guess there’s no need to maintain a road when, due to the missing bridge, it’s essentially impassable anyway.
In the next town, we were redirected by the police into a small backstreet going in the opposite direction to where wanted to go. Again, detours here aren’t signposted – so you’re directed off the main road and then essentially left to your own devices to navigate, on rough cobblestone and multiple one-way streets, your way around whatever the mysterious blockage is that caused you to be directed off the road in the first place. We picked a car to follow, hoping that we’d get lucky and the car would lead us out of the town. Eventually – after one wrong turn that nearly saw us end up in the middle of the protest that caused the detour in the first place – we came to another fork in the road with a police man directing traffic. I jumped off the bike to ask him which way to Antigua – and we were off again! And then it started raining, and then the roads flash flooded, and then the sun was shining and our wet weather gear dried in the sun and the wind, and then we made it to Antigua!!!
It wasn’t quite the nice and easy 80kms I’d imagined – which I guess really captures the essence of this trip. Every day is an adventure, and the only thing that’s worth expecting is the unexpected.