August 22, 2015
Looking at the map, there were basically two roads from where I was to where I was going…one was CA-5 and the other was CA-13. According to Google Maps, it was a toss-up: about 250km and just over 5 hours either way. CA-5 had one long straight section that looked pretty boring, so I chose CA-13. And that was the beginning of my lesson in route selection.
I stopped at the ATM on the way out of town. My XT250 doesn’t completely blend in with all the 125s, but it doesn’t exactly stand out either.
I knew the road would be relatively straight and at low elevation (warm) for the longest part of the day. I had a few nice climbs and good views in the first 50 miles.
I passed a guy on a bicycle headed the opposite direction as I rode into a small town, and he waved, so I turned around and chased him down.
Kris is from Germany. He started in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of South America, last September on a one year ride. He’s headed to Cancun and will fly home from there. He said next year he’s going to get his motorcycle license and do the next trip on a motorbike!
About thirty minutes after meeting Kris, I stopped for fuel and as I was preparing to leave, Marvin rode up on a KLR650. He started in New Mexico in January and has made it this far south. He asked me where I was headed and I told him Semuc Champey.
“Which way are you going?” he asked.
“I’m going to take this highway”, I replied.
“This highway doesn’t go to Champey.”
“My GPS says it does.”
“No. It’s a dirt road. You can make it, but it’s rough.”
Hmmm. Well, that’s interesting. Not what I thought I was going to do today. Oh well.
I took off, and shortly the road turned to fresh concrete.
I rode along on this nice, new concrete road for miles along the side of Lago de Izabal, a huge lake in southeastern Guatemala. In the back of my head, I had two conflicting thoughts:
- This concrete is really new. It can’t go on forever.
- Maybe Marvin was wrong about which road I was on.
And just like that, everything changed. The nice, new shiny road went from the above, to this:
And that’s the way it stayed, for the next 60 miles. I was doing good to average 30kmh, but then again, the road was marked 20. My GPS meanwhile said I would arrive in two hours. An hour later it said I would arrive in two hours. An hour later, it said I would arrive in two hours. And that’s the problem with trusting a GPS, especially in a remote place like Central America. My GPS thinks this is a highway, and that I should be moving along at 60mph. So after an hour, when I’ve only gone 18 miles, it adjusts my arrival time but it still thinks I should be doing 60mph.
When I left Flores, the GPS said I should arrive in about three and a half hours. Three and a half hours later, it said I should arrive in about two and a half hours. Eventually, it turned out to be about 8 hours. Lesson learned, but probably not well enough, yet.
I rode through a couple of small villages, and then into the larger town of Cahabon. It was Saturday and the local market was in full swing, taking up all of the main street of town. I rode around for a few minutes and couldn’t find a way through town. Backtracking, I found the local Policia, and asked how to get through town. He gave me a detour around the market and I was back on the dirt road and heading west. The scenery continued to impress as I climbed.
Eventually I pulled into Lanquin, and then south down a very steep, rocky path to Utopia Lodge, my home for two nights. I was quite glad to be on the little bike and not on something like the Tenere or a BMW 1200GS.
Of course I was the only guest that drove in with my own vehicle. It’s a hostel, and the place was packed with backpackers from the U.S., Canada, Italy, France, Britain, Germany, and other places I’m sure I missed. They all rode the bus for more than eight hours, either from Guatemala City or from Flores to get there. And I was about to find out why.