letsgocamping.ca: Volcán Santa Maria
A Pleasant Day

June 3, 2016

Locals warn us about treacherous conditions ahead, but then a Coca-Cola driver makes Andrew’s wish come true.

What happened…

Andrew writes: So today went as expected, as far as long, 1500m+ descents go. We left the hotel “late” as it was around 1000hrs, and climbed out of Xela. The area above Xela is full of little valleys, with each one being full of small farms. We saw trucks of onions, potatoes, cabbage, flowers, corn, and tomatoes driving every which way, and the farmers in the fields were working hard to provide more.

I had a bit of a scare when we approached the Santa Maria tunnel. It isn’t long, maybe 300m, but it was really dark, and most of the traffic wasn’t bothering to turn on headlights. I ended up stopping just inside the tunnel mouth to put on my rear blinking light. When I looked up, Amanda was already out the other end. I kept it on for a bit since we were cycling through layers of cloud or fog. This road is the main artery to Guatemala City and there were a lot of chicken buses and large tractor trailer trucks coming and going in either direction.

So at some point I glanced down at my GPS and realized that we had missed a turn. It was about 4km back, which ended up taking us almost an hour to ride up the 300m in elevation. There was a small cafe where we bought a Coca-Cola and sat down to eat our lunch. I started talking to the nearby moto-taxi drivers about this and that. Something was getting lost in translation because they kept saying that the way to Mazatenango (the next big town) was back the way we had just came, as in down the main road. I showed them the route I had from Google Maps. They all shook their heads and everyone was talking at once. “It’s a bad road, especially in the mud.”, said one. “There are some really bad people down there, you might get robbed or killed.”, said another. Eventually an english-speaking driver showed up and he confirmed what everyone had been telling me. So after lunch, Amanda and I set off back down the hill. It took us less than 10 minutes to get the 4km to where we had turned around before. Ugh.

We rode through the large town of Retalhuleu, passing the Disneyland of Guatemala, Xetulul. I saw a police car pulled over and chatted with the officers and they confirmed what the men higher up the mountain had said. Oh well, it wouldn’t be the first time that Google Maps steered me wrong, and I’ve often told myself that so long as I listen to the locals, everything will be alright. It was such a piss-off though, all the back and forth, and especially not being able to go where I thought I wanted to. I hate it when people tell me I can’t do something. We merged with the busy CA-2 highway and as Amanda took a bio-break I heard some honking from across the road. I went over to talk to the guys at the Coca-Cola truck who had been signalling at me. I don’t remember any names, but I’ve got to admit, after almost 2 years of riding these guys made a dream come true for me. They handed both Amanda (when she came) and me a bottle of Coke, and we chatted for a few minutes. We took pictures, and even got a recommendation for a hotel in San Bernadino, just past Mazate, where we had hoped to end up tonight.

Man alive is the CA-2 a busy highway. At one point, we had pulled over for a bio break and I glance back and see a semi-truck barrelling towards us in the regular lane, but then there was a mini-van coming straight at me in the shoulder. I took a few steps as the mini-van passed Amanda’s parked bike and mine with only a few feet to spare. I’m not really looking forward to two or three more days of this.

Mazatenango has this weird area called the Plaza of the Americas, sort of like an outlet mall, with a regular mall in it, and a dozen or so American-style restaurants. I came out of the supermarket there, and I could tell something was wrong with Amanda. She said she would tell me later, and that we had to leave right away. We reached Pablo’s Hotel y Restaurante in the late afternoon and took a walk through San Bernadino to stretch the limbs a bit. It’s a nice place, but it’s just weird how narrow the two-lane road is through town, and it’s full of buses, trucks, cars, moto-taxi’s, bicycles. So there was a lot of stress to end the day, and hopefully we don’t have another day like today.

Amanda writes: As Andrew said the road was far busier than we’ve had of late, but we made due. The Coca Cola stop was pretty fun especially because it was at the entrance to a rubber tree farm. For some of you this may not be news but for me it was fabulous. I feel like a kid in school some days because I’m learning so much. I didn’t know that rubber came from trees. Sure it’s processed a bunch to create tires for cars and such, but it’s amazing to me that it comes from trees. While Andrew chatted up the Coke boys I wandered amongst the rubber trees taking photos.

Andrew went into the mall to see about getting my eyes checked. I’ve had glasses my entire life and I know I’m due for an updated prescription. We saw a sign in town saying that today there was a special on eye exams and I figured since we’re here lets try and take advantage of it. So Andrew headed into the mall and I stayed with the bikes. It’s not uncommon for people to be curious and strike up conversations with me about the bikes and our travels. It’s also normal for people to warn us about how dangerous it is. I had an older fellow chat with me and tell me that we were crazy and that people in Guatemala are bad and we should not be doing what we’re doing. I thanked him for his concern and he walked about 20 feet away toward some other men sitting on benches. I could tell he was telling them about me as my Spanish is getting better and I could also tell that we wasn’t being overly complementary. I’ve learned to ignore certain people and pretend I don’t understand or can’t here when I don’t want to engage in uncomfortable conversations. After a few minutes he was trying to get my attention as I faced the other direction. He was yelling across the entranceway to the mall first in Spanish and then in English “hey lady!”. I ignored him and the laughter and comments from the other men. They continued to become increasingly loud and obnoxious to the point that security ended up coming by and telling them to knock it off. It left me feeling very uncomfortable and just wanting to get out of there the moment Andrew returned.

Today’s Photographs

letsgocamping.ca: Volcán Santa Maria
A Pleasant Day