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Xela otra vez

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.


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,


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.


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.


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.

equipment locations travel

Pan Am racing team

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.


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 anyway. 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.


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 part.



It was a big change coming from the small NGO Maya Pedal 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.


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),


and spend some time around the central plaza,


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


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.


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. tTey 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.