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xela otra vez

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments

the bus arrived sometime in the evening and i spent the rest of the night looking for an accommodation as the school i lived in the last time didn’t have any free rooms available. it took a while longer as a couple of places i visited were either full, too expensive or had no secure place for the bicycle to offer. the lady of one of the guesthouses was kind enough, after she had no room to offer me herself, to walk me to a nearby place of a friend of hers and on the way i was glad to see that the two weeks away from spanish lessons were a rather welcome break and my mind was able to use what  i had learned now more freely. on my second day there i was following some stairs and found myself on the roof terrace that from then on became my regular spot to study or play the guitar.

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i continued with my spanish classes and had some time to repeat the grammar of my past classes. one day some students stopped by at our school and invited us for a trip to a nearby cooperative of mayan women who weave cloths, dresses and accessories which they sell in their shop. the project of the students was to write a business plan and to help the cooperative with their sales. we were invited as a sort of test audience of target customers to see what products we liked and what we would like to see improved. as part of the trip there was also a demonstration of the traditional weaving process,

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as well as a tour through the history of indigenous clothing culture which two of our older students were more than happy to pose for as models.

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the lady on the left is one of the women who helped starting the cooperative around forty years ago.

the first time i stayed in xela, the soccer league had a break but now the first games with the superchivos, xela’s soccer team, were on again and so we checked out the atmosphere of a latin american stadium.

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fireworks and bengal lights are still allowed in the stadiums and the “fanaticos” were making good use of them. the morale was a bit low after an “auto goal” and a 0:2 deficit, but was getting better after the superchivos leveled the score and had a couple of great chances to score another goal within the last ten minutes of the game. in the end the tie seemed pretty good to us, but the hardcore fans were still a bit disappointed and i could have picked up enough curse words in spanish to last me for years.

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pan am racing team

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments

my hands were pretty shaken because of the cobbled streets until i reached the paved road at the city limits of antigua. the road then slowly wound its way over the surrounding mountains before it went mostly downhill towards lago amatitlan. less famous than his cousin to the east and with not quite as spectacular views, it still proofed a nice cycling route along its southern shore as a bypass of the capital. just when i was leaving the area and arrived at the panamericana, the street was lined with hundreds of motorcycles and it seemed some motorcycle clubs were about to start a tour around the lake.

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it was a nice change to be on the highway again. not only for the smooth surface and the wide shoulder, but also because it follows a more moderate terrain and from that point towards el salvador it is mostly downhill. it felt close to flying after the uphill-downhill routes so far and i covered in one hour three times the distance than i had in the morning. when i stopped for dinner, i asked for some nearby accommodation and being informed that next door would be one, i set down to eat without any worry about the time. the hotel turned out to be a little to expensive for my taste, one of those car hotels where you pay for the parking space if you need it or not. i felt refreshed after my meal and i wasn’t worried when i was told that i had to cover ten miles to the next town even though it was beginning to get dark. the downhill continued and i was busier with humming to myself than with pedaling until i reached barberena where i stayed the night. the downhill continued even the next morning and i was already thinking of reaching el salvador that day when the road became level again and, after almost no need to pedal within the last hours, i was quite surprised that my efforts to do so again did not result in any foreword movement anymore. i never had a problem with a freehub in my life but knew immediately that i had a problem that i could not fix with the tools and parts i had with me. it took me a while to realize what had to be done instead. there were but two options: to take a bus to san salvador or to guatemala city, the place that i successfully circumnavigated within the last two days. i opted for guate as it was closer and easier to reach without any border crossings or changing of busses in between. i pushed my bicycle back to the last pueblo i had passed and even found a repair shop. it was a bit difficult to explain the problem in spanish as i was lacking the technical terms, but after five minutes the man got what was wrong with my bike and showed me some of his replacement parts. it turned out that in guatemala, the cassette and the free hub body are one and not compatible with the two-part system i was used to from europe. he told me i would be able to pick up the part once i am in the capital, though he wasn’t that optimistic about the chance of a bus stoping for me and taking my bike. but there was nothing for it but to try my luck. it is common here to wait for the auto- or chickenbusses at the speed-bumps as the drivers have to slow down anyways. to my surprise the ayudante (co-driver) of the first bus was willing to put my bike on the roof, though i could see he wasn’t happy about the delay. he told me he had to charge me more for the cargo but in the end i paid only two euros for the two hundred kilometers ride.

since i hadn’t planned on coming to guate, i just made my way roughly towards the center and had a look at wikitravel in an internet cafe for some place to stay and looked up the addresses of some bicycle shops. i checked into the “pension meza”. i highly recommend this place as guate has not a lot of budget options and this was one of the cheapest places i found with clean rooms around a beautiful inner courtyard.

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i didn’t stay out long that night. maybe because of some warnings i read about the security situation in the capital or just because some of the streets were hardly lit-up and with no shops open after a certain hour, i didn’t feel that comfortable wandering around the city after dark.

the next day i continued the search for a replacement freehub body. i had already checked bicycle shops along the way to the center the day before and was directed to one promising place. this modern shop could have been anywhere in europe as well and it had a couple of items in stock that i had used on my bicycle as well, above all, the cassette without integrated freehub body, which got my hopes up that they might have that part separately. after i tried in vain to explain the situation to one of the guys working at the shop front, i had to wait a while until the mechanic had some time to spare. he immediately understood the problem but had not the part that i was looking for. as i didn’t have more luck the following day, i decided to return to xela and wait for a shipment with the replacement parts.

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antigua

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments

it was a big change coming from the small ngo mayapedal and arriving in ciudad antigua, probably the most touristic town in guatemala. i read about a place to camp pretty much in the centre of the city run by the tourist police. but before they let me in i had to make a copy of my passport and answer a couple of questions as it seemed they were pretty annoyed by people taking advantage of the free camping and liked to return, though it is limited to a one-time stay for five days. many overlanders on their way through central america stop here and one meets mostly long-term travellers. my neighbour for example was a guy from germany who drove a yellow vespa from the post service all the way down from alaska and intended to continue to the south of chile.

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in the evening i just set up camp and walked over to the nearby market to grab a bite to eat. the next day i explored the famous old part of the town with its cobble-stone streets and nicely restored colonial buildings (the archway being the arco the santa catalina),

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and spend some time around the central plaza,

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which is lined with historic buildings, here the Palacio del Noble Ayuntamiento, today home of the city government.

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most of the churches of antigua lie in ruins, result of the heavy earthquake in 1773, which led authorities to move the capital to a safer location away from the central american volcanic arc to its current location, guatemala city. the name of the old capital therefor changed to “la antigua guatemala” (the old guatemala) or simply Antigua.

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the historic part of town is really small and i could understand why people would mention first how touristy the city is before telling anything else about it, as about half of the people are tourists around the central square. there are some patios which are beautiful decorated and have plants and flowers like in a botanical garden. they mostly belong to restaurants and hotels or jewelry stores, but if you move a little bit further from the center, there are the usual trades around the market as in any other guatemalan city. i still thought after two days that the prettiness of the town alone wouldn’t hold me for long and so i made plans to leave the next day and find a route to bypass guatemala city in a big circle to the south.

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maya pedal

February 9th, 2014 · No Comments

it was quite difficult to find the place as everybody in town seemed to know the organization but not many its current location. as they moved quarters a couple of times within recent years, i received five different directions before being set on the right path. i was greeted by the three girls volunteering at maya pedal almost as i was an expected guest and soon after was walking through the yard among the newly constructed bici-maquinas. here the newest addition: the washing machine.

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the workshop has most of the tools to transform a pile of old parts into a bicycle again or into pedal powered machines for daily uses, like blenders or grinders.

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the day i arrived turned out to be a special day for emma and diana, as they planned to slaughter a chicken for the first time in their lifes. it was a rather quiet affair, at least on the side from the chickens. but the girls grew rather upset with the knife in their hands and it once being on the throat of the animal realizing, that it is more difficult to cut than an onion. but after some crying and some help from the neighbours, the two chickens were soon bled dry before being put into hot water to make it easier to pluck the feathers.

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with mario, the guy running maya pedal, i rode to the city the next day to buy some tools for the workshop. later i ended up helping at a nearby village to shred the corn before it was fed to the chickens.

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the machine is doing its work since more than twelve years without the need of much maintainance, a time during which mario was still a volunteer himself. he invited me to his house for lunch before showing me the newly aquired site where the organization will find a new home this year. it is considerably bigger than the current one and comes even with spaces for camping for the occasinaly passing cyclist. the bulding on the right will host the office, kitchen, bathrooms and accommodations for the volunteers.

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if you feel like helping them with a donation or some spare parts or tools you are willing to send to guatemals you can contact me through te contact page or directly contact maya pedal through their website.

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lago atitlan

February 9th, 2014 · No Comments

i left xela after five weeks and felt like it is a place i might come back to one day. it was a wonderful day to start cycling again. the sun was shining in a clear blue sky and while i was climbing the mountains surrounding the lake along the panamericana, some views could be obtained of the santa maria volcano we had climbed just two days before. but once i started my descent on the other side, the fog kept the lake out of my sight for most of the time.

i arrived in san marcos in the afternoon, a place popular with people seeking a spiritual refuge. most places where fully booked but one guest house had still a place in their dormitorio. the next morning the weather was better and i saw the mountains and volcanoes on the other side of the lake for the first time.

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the streets are really steep around the lake and the signs seem to pay tribute to that.

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the road from santiago atitlan is beautiful. a narrow road with little traffic but with lots of flowers and trees along the way that sometimes form a baldachin over your head. on the eastern shore the road climbs again while leaving the lake but offering some last views of its wonderful panaroma.
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and another with the volcan san pedro in the background.

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i stayed in patzún for the night before returning to the pan am for a short while the next morning. antigua being my next destination, but i wanted to at least visit a place on the way: maya pedal, a ngo located in san andrés itzapa.

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volcan santa maria

February 9th, 2014 · No Comments

we started our tour at five in the morning. considering the early morning hour, we didn’t feel too tired. after half an hour’s drive with the bus we got dropped off at the starting point of the trek and began our ascent while it was still dark only guided by the beam of the flashlight of our guide. you don’t need to take a guide but in the past cases of robbery have occured and the people of our school who organized the trip, strongly recommened it. we had a small breakfast at the foot of the volcano and from then on everything was covered in mist and water was dripping from the surrounding trees like rain. the fog was so thick that after a while we weren’t hoping for good views anymore. but about half an hour before we reached the top, there was a brief burst in the fog and clouds and we could see the surroundings for the first time during the day.

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we arrived just in time on the top to see the neighbouring volcano santiaguito erupt a fountain of dust and smoke.

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by then the weather was perfect and it lasted until we started our descent when the clouds closed in around us again. the lava dome of santiaguito is actually a side cone of the santa maria volcano, which formed itself after the massive eruption in 1902. we spent more than an hour watching the surrounding mountains and other volcanoes like the ones around lago atitlan as well as the highest peak in central america, the volcan tajumulco. a little later shreds of clouds were swirling over ours heads while the landscapes around us were covered underneath a sea of clouds.

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we took some photos of the group before starting on our way back. in the evening everbody felt exhausted but still we agreed that it was worth the effort.

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¿habla español?

January 29th, 2014 · No Comments

every friday we have lunch at the school with most of the students and teachers. everybody contributes a dish resulting in ladden tables with all sorts of delicious food.

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between christmas and new years, the school was rather empty, but filled up quickly in 2014. so we hardly fit all the people in the dining room and food on the tables. in this picture the lady sitting next to me is my teacher linda.

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besides the weekly lunch, there are several other activities like salsa or cooking classes as well as excursions to mountain villages or hiking trips. our goal for this saturday: the volcano santa maria.

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one of the more dificult hikes around xela, but, weather permiting, with some of the best views not only of xela, but over the guatemaltecan volcano chain and even the pacific.

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xela

January 29th, 2014 · No Comments

the road from toto was still pleasant for a while but one could sense its drawing near the panamerican highway. the density of chickenbuses grew, sometimes blocking whole junctions while letting off people or taking on new passengers while the exhausts and the sounds of their horns filled the air.

just outside the city, i saw a peloton on their racing bikes complete with jerseys and later another group of riders dressed in a similar fashion overtaking me on the way towards the center. it was nice for a change to get in one of the bigger cities with still a couple of hours of daylight to spend. i visited one of the three spanish schools i had contacted. it was a friday afternoon and not much happening around the school. ilsy from the staff showed me around, a quircky and lively person, sadly no one of us spoke the others tounge very well. the main advantage was, that the school has a couple of rooms for students, i didn’t want to have to walk far to school when the class would start the next week at eight in the morning. and i didn’t want to crash at a guest family with my two words of spanish a day before christmas. here’s the view from the room.

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almost every morning it looks different. the light changes, sometimes the mountains are covered in mist and the clouds never run out of new shapes and forms. dusk lasts only a short while but has its charme too.

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xela seems to have quite a bit to offer. a bit of a music scene, places which show movies, some bicycle culture, vegetarian eating options and nice surroundings for daytrips. i’m happy here so far. the first few days of spanish lessons are over and it reminded me that learning a language is quite a task. but i am motivated and am looking forward to the signs of progress along the course of the next few weeks.

i rarely use my bicycle around town in the busy and narrow streets, most of them just passable in one direction and with coblestone which is rather rough. so, i walked most of the times and explored the city bit by bit with some nice views from time to time like here over the cathedral at the parque central.

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more about the life in the school on the next page.

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coban to totonicapan

January 29th, 2014 · No Comments

the department of alta verapaz is famous for its coffee and as i was getting closer to its capital, more and more hills were covered with plantations.

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i stayed at the la paz hotel, a nice guesthouse in a tranquil part of town not far from the city center. just next door was a cafeteria which served the best coffee i tasted on this trip so far. a good cup of coffee is sadly not too common in many parts of guatemala since most of the coffee is produced for export.

i was planing on staying in town for a while and look for a spanish school. the first that i had researched was closed, i didn’t have the address and never received a reply from the second one and the third one was not to my liking. coban was in one aspect everything i wished for in a place to learn spanish: off the tourist trail. but after two days of searching without any result, i already felt like moving on and after a couple of emails to schools and positive replies i set off towards quetzaltenango.

i had heard about the bad road conditions after a big landslide swept away a part of the road in 2008. and as there was no official attempt to repair the damage, there is now a make-shift road built by the people of the surrounding villages.

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there were worse parts along the way than the few hundred meters of that road past the landslide and it was at a slow pace that i continued towards sacapulas, where i intended to stay only for lunch but ended up staying the night in a nice guesthouse with a great view from the balkony over the river.

i set off early in the morning. knowing that my goal for the day lies 2500m above the sea level whereas my starting point only at 1200m. and by now familiar with the roads of guatemala, i wasn’t expecting one gentle climb. but at the beginning of the day i had such a nice time cycling until santa cruz del quiche, with finally some stretches without road damage, heavy traffic or steep climbs. just the omnipresent political slogans. the parties must have armies of people running around the country and painting the sides of the roads with their colours.

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from santa cruz del quiche it was another five hundred meters to climb to toto, but first the road dropped steeply towards a river, into a beautiful valley with sheer rock walls on both sides and just enough room for a narrow road next to the riverbed. once i climbed out of the valley the road followed a mountain ridge with beautiful views over the surrounding valleys and still i was not worried although the was sinking low. it was not until a certain kilometer marker around which i had expected to reach the city, that i grew suspicious, according to my map i should have reached the town by now. in the end the map was ten kilometers off. ten kilometers of a gnawing uphill part through a ever darkening forest. at that time i was really glad i brought a headlamp in addition to my front light as there was no other light whatsoever, if not a blinding one from an oncoming truck. an hour later i reached the end of the forest and after another bend i saw the lights of totonicapan spread out before me. i was still around three hundred meters above the city and after the downhill through the night chill, my hands were stiff as a rock. i got directions to a nice guesthouse near the central plaza and a chinese comedor which served a plate big enough for two and even i had to take a little break before finishing it. but it didn’t take long until the thought of a dessert crossed my mind.

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semuc champey

January 21st, 2014 · No Comments

after thinking about to join the tour of the guesthouse, i decided to do it by bicycle myself and my own pace as the tour included two other sights and a rather tight schedule. if i had known the road would be as challenging as within the last days, i might have opted for the tour instead. after only nine kilometers i was soaked in sweat and ready for a swim. still i decided to climb to the viewing point first,

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before i went to the pools below.

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in the evening i was quite happy again about the buffet which gave the energy i needed on the next day for yet another heavy climb out of the lanquin valley. the last days had been very strenuous on the bicycle but as in most cases also very rewarding.

 

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