The ride from Lanquin to Antigua is a little harder than I envisaged. I thought it might take me a long day but was ready for two. I set off in the morning riding up through the hills over the dirt roads, still muddy with the rain of the last few days. After a hard uphill the bike temp light came on and I looked down to see the radiator had disappeared behind layers of mud. I cleaned it off the best I could with the water I had on hand.
After an hour or two I hit pavement again and was astonished by the speed of the road. When they make a road here they make it well, unlike the poorly made roads I had found in Mexico. The Google maps tell me once more to turn off. I miss the turn off at first as it is small and nondescript. The ulterior route would take me many miles east and south, then double back on its self to go north again. So I turned off. Possibly a big mistake.
On my paper map the road looks good. Its short and a good short cut. The road winds up the mountains and then turns into a track. Then starts to degrade. Then I encounter a river crossing. Fun as it is the first I have ever done. Not really very smart as I am totally alone, and haven’t seen another soul on this road. I manage the crossing well and two more come and go.
I am enjoying myself though I am back to 15- 20kmp/h. Yes it might have been quicker to go the other route at 100km p/h, but I am having fun. The I start to go down hill, through big thick piles of gravel. At one particularly steep corner I loose it and the bike goes over high side down. I smash the windscreen, and break the other indicator, and there seems no way I can get the bike up. My feet just slide, as does the bike, in the loose gravel. I take my time, slowly taking of the luggage and carrying it down the hill and leaving it at a flat space where maybe I think I can park the bike safety to reload. I haven’t seen another person on this road at all so chances of getting help are limited, unless I feel like walking a few miles down the hill and into the town in the distance.
Finally unloaded I manage to get the bike up. Drive a few meters and then drop her in the gravel again. The only surviving mirror I have falls to the dirt. Brilliant! At least I look more like a local now!
I finally get the bike sorted and limp into the town 2.5 hours after my 20km ‘short cut’. I go to get gas to ask advice of locals. Should I keep on my route, or should I go back east to the sole highway in the region? I am told the road is gravel at times but good. Well better than what I have just encountered so I push on.
I realize I have just spent my last 100 quetzal buying gas. I need money. I carry on through a funeral procession to the next town.
I search out a bank, asking a traffic cop where to go. He points me in the right direction and alerts the other cops to guard my bike while I go into the bank. The ATm doesn’t work. I try another. Still no joy. I find some US dollars to exchange and go into the bacnk “we only change $50 or $100 notes. Sorry”. So my pile of small change is not cutting it this time! I search my hidden stashes, ‘nope, nope, nope’. I ask if they know another place that will exchange smaller curreny. I walk around the town till I find a place. They wont accept half my money because it it as a small nocth in it, is creased, or they don’t like the look that the the man in green is giving them?! I walk away with a few quetzal, with which I can at least buy something to eat.
I am tired, hungry, thirsty and my body aches. I head back to the bike and take out the lonely planet. I could stay in this town I think… I am trying to get my bearings when a drunk man walks over to me and grabs the bike. He has lost a few teeth and blood is coming out his mouth. He is mumbling something and grabbing at my arm in a drunken way. I cannot understand a word and I doubt he is speaking Spanish. The security guard that was watching my bike comes back and tries to pull the man away. He won’t leave. Children come up and try to distract him, start throwing little bits of food at him. He pays no head and holds tight to my bike. I am getting ready to leave as best I can, talking to him calmly, soothingly, as my heart is racing and my fingers stumbling on my helmet clip. I finally manage to pull out and get away. I feel sorry for him, but I cannot stay there. I leave the town and head on.
I make it to Rabinal and find a little Posada. I get my own room and a courtyard. I have a little bit of light left to fix the bike the best I can. Cleaning and gluing once again. I make the most of having my own bathroom and walk into the shower in my riding suit, trying to scrub away the rusty mud that makes it look like I have been in a bloody knife fight.
I get on the internet and start to read a little more about the area. I stumble on some old Adv reports of bandits, an muggings in Guatemala. Facebook posts in my news feed talk about fear. I feel worn out and in my vulnerability I succumb to the sense of unease that starts to creep in.
I decide to walk out to the market for dinner. It’s a quaint little town that seems not to know the gringo well. After the backpacking hangouts of the last few days its nice to be off the trail again.
I walk the streets of the simple local night market, and find a full plate of carne and tortillas for $1, and a massive glass of horchata for 30c YUM! The people are calm, and seem to accept me in a quite way. It’s a delightful space.