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Sun Mar 03 2013: Riding through the Guatemalan mountains

We've got a couple of travel days ahead of us, as we are booked for more Spanish school in Quetzeltenango in the south of Guatemala next week. Since we're dropping into the country at the very north end, we've got some mileage to do, so not a lot of pictures off the bike.

We ride through many villages, some tiny, others a bit larger

It's a rainy ride through the northern department (states are called departments in Guatemala) of Peten. The first time we've ridden in rain for months. The land here is very flat but the hills start to turn into mountains, as we enter the central highlands of the southern region.

Vast tracts of farmland everywhere! Guatemala is so lush!

Weather is slightly cooler, so we didn't mind donning our rainsuits

Women carrying bowls of corn on their head. If they were carrying jars, the jars were always painted with stripes

Hilly terrain in the background

Our stop for the evening is in a town called Coban, in the department of Alta Verapaz. Instead of looking for accommodations right away, we ate a late lunch in a restaurant. When we came out to the bikes, Neda exclaimed, "Oh no! One of my dry bags must have fallen off!" Upon inspection, someone had cut the Rok-Straps holding the bag onto the sidecase and made off with a sleeping bag and pillow. Most of the stuff not in our hardcases are just clothing, sleeping bags and camping equipment. Nothing that we'd thought we'd be too bummed out about if they were stolen.

Until it was stolen... It's still a hassle having to replace it, and the Drybag and the Rok-Straps are not as easy to find around here. So we are kind of bummed. I'm thinking about getting a PacSafe to secure our drybags, but I'm not sure if it's worth the hassle of locking and unlocking every night.

The thief hid between Neda's bike and a parked car next to it while he worked away at cutting the straps holding the drybag down. Since we parked on a quiet side-street, they took advantage of the fact that there was little traffic around the area. We are parking in the middle of crowded streets next time!

Some colonial buildings in downtown Coban

After finding a hotel, we walked through the markets in Coban and Neda told me she was half-hoping to find her sleeping bag for sale in one of the stalls!

Walking the wet streets of Coban

Our next riding day to Quetzaltenango was much dryer. Neda's GPS pointed to a 450 km round about way all the way south-east, through Guatemala City and then back west again. My GPS had a much shorter route, although it wasn't on a highway, was only 250 kms! Since we had good luck with my map on the way to Sayaxche, we decided to follow my GPS again.

Stuck in a religious parade in the streets of one of the villages we rode through

Neda's bike looks unbalanced without the right drybag

Not to spend too much time dwelling on the stolen drybag, since we've basically shrugged it off by now - there's a saying, "Don't bring anything that you can't afford to lose". However, there were two drybags on Neda's bike, one containing my sleeping bag and an old ratty pillow that Neda's been trying to get me throw out but I love it cause it's so comfortable. The other contains Neda's sleeping bag and a special orthopedic pillow that you can fill with water. This was given to us by a friend before we left. And of course, this was the one that was stolen...

The road is getting a bit gravelly... But the scenery rocks! I mean, there are a lot of rocks here...

The northern road through the mountains of the central highlands turns from broken asphalt to hard packed gravel, and then mud and loose stone. We have to make it to Quetzaltenango to meet our host family in the evening, and our estimated time of arrival is not looking very realistic given the terrain.

Steep drop on the left as we encounter wide traffic ahead

She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes!

Amazing views! We are glad we took this route instead of the highway, but it's taking a lot of time

"'Let's take the shortcut', he says.
'This'll save us some time', he says..."

Oh, and also mud. Next to sand, our favorite terrain...

Some really tiny villages

And then a bridge. Is that pavement at the other end?


We were going to be a couple of hours late, so at a restaurant in one of the villages we passed through, we borrowed a phone and called the school to let them know. We arrived in Quetzeltenango late in the evening, with the temperatures dropping to single digits. Shivering in the town square, we waited for our host family to arrive and take us to a warm home.

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