Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Guatemalan Charm

Since our last post we have left Chiapas, Mexico and continued through the Guatemalan highlands to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  We’ve experienced Guatemalan hospitality, our first border crossing, Guatemalan drivers, and the beauty of the Guatemalan highlands.

The people so far have been poor, but very friendly.  Many have approached us for a conversation, giving us an opportunity to practice our Spanish.  It’s almost tiring on the bike to wave and say hello to everyone we pass, as they all give us big silver grins (dental hygiene is a work in progress here).  They also have an incredible knowledge of random English phrases, such as: goodbye, how you doin’, what’s up man, hey you, etc.

Colourful necklaces made from corn, nuts, and peas.

Colourful Mayan necklaces made from corn, peas, and nuts.

It stuck its tail out of the cage for Jenn to pet.

Our first Guatemalan hotel had a monkey!  It stuck its tail out for Jenn to pet.

Our first Central American border crossing went without incident.  We got our passports stamped at Mexican immigration before riding the 4km to the border.  It was such a zoo that we walked right through the border before realizing that we were in Guatemala and we had to go back and get our passports stamped!

Mexican - Guatemalan border craziness

Craziness at the La Mesilla border crossing from Mexico to Guatemala.

As in Mexico, we have found the Guatemalan drivers to be quite courteous to us.  The roads are windy and narrow and most drivers are quite cautious, with one exception …

Chicken buses are retired US school buses which are colourfully painted, packed with passengers, and driven like mad through the winding roads of Guatemala.  The destination and often religious slogans are painted on the front … perhaps as a reminder to say your prayers before going for a ride in one!  The best part to watch are the “chicken bus jockeys”; 12-20 year old kids who collect the money, direct passengers, and arrange luggage on the roof rack.  They leap on and off the bus while it’s in motion, yell out stops, and are often seen climbing on the roof. 

Chicken buses have become a bit of a national Guatemalan symbol, and I think it’s a point of pride for the drivers to be as crazy as possible.  Instead of slowing down for corners, the drivers blare the horn and take them at top speed.  We get the heck over to the side when we hear one coming!

Chicken bus near Huehuetenango, Guatemala.

Chicken bus near Cuatro Caminos, Guatemala.  Note the jockey on the roof!

Chicken bus on the Pan-Am in Guatemala

Chicken bus in Nahuala, Guatemala.

Note the colourful paint, chrome, and the “chicken bus jockey” on the roof in one picture.

The Guatemalan highlands are a beautiful place. The roads have travelled through narrow valleys, over high passes, and through lush jungle.  It’s been very hard work so far.  We’re averaging over 1500m of climbimg per day, and we’ve climbed our highest pass yet at 3140m.

Roadside waterfall near La Demogracia, Guatemala

Jenn riding past a roadside waterfall near La Demogracia

Huehuetenango city centre from our rooftop.

The Guatemalan flag in downtown Huehuetenango from our hotel rooftop

Lago Atitlan and San Pedro nestled on the shore.

San Pedro la Laguna, nestled on the shore of Lago Atitlan.

Descending the switchbacks to Lago Atitlan

What an exhilarating descent it was from the volcanic rim through hairpin turns on mostly dirt roads to reach San Pedro (we can’t believe the buses come down here!).

San Pedro will be our home for the next 6 weeks as we take immersion Spanish lessons.  So far we’ve found our lack of Spanish skills to be quite a barrier to experiencing the local culture and making new friends.  We’re both really excited to be comfortable conversing in this language spoken by over 500 million people worldwide.

Feliz Año Nuevo!


  1. LOVE!!!!!!!I remember coming around those bends, half asleep, to the open lake and volcano and just sitting STRAIGHT up my eyes just googling to take in the amazing beauty that i had NO idea would be waiting for me!! have such a blast you guys!!! y buen suerte con el espanol!!! :D can't wait to see you guys!!

  2. Great pictures and stories. You know what I mostly hear is what makes the news, and that certainly does not appear to be as pleasant as what you're experiencing. Thanks for publishing the blog, it really does help my understanding of places where I haven't been. Have a blast over the next few weeks. Take Care... JPP

  3. This is so very exciting from my comfortable chair in Baton Rouge. I remember fondly Guatemala and trust you will have a positively life-expanding experience there. And, congratulations on arriving!

  4. Great pictures! Give Rainbow and big hug for me when you see her. And Rainbow, give Dave and Jenn big hugs for me, too! Enjoy your time together

  5. Thanks for your comments everyone. We really appreciate the support!

  6. 1500M a day? Yikes! You must have legs of steel now.

    The chicken busses sound like fun and crazy.

    I hope your enjoying the break and your lessions.