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Old 02-23-2013, 02:13 PM   #177
0theories OP
Gnarly Adventurer
Joined: Nov 2010
Location: Eugene, OR
Oddometer: 299
02/10/2013 – Around Lake Atitlán and my first police escort!

Posada Casa Rosa, Panajachel.

Lake Atitlán is beautiful and I wanted to spend some time exploring it. So I woke up early and headed out, or at least that was my intent. Before I could leave Panajachel, I needed to use an ATM as the smaller towns are more limited in that regard (some have no ATMs at all and you need to take a boat to another town to get cash). However, since it was Sunday getting money became a real chore. I went to several ATMs all of which were either broken or had no money. I eventually found one behind some metal bars (it looked out of order) that actually had cash left! Thrilled, I got on the bike and rode south and east, clockwise around the lake.

The road curved around the lake with many beautiful vistas, and eventually turned to dirt. I must have missed a turn-off somewhere, because it soon became near-impassable by car and on my GPS it ended just out of sight. I don't really trust the GPS (for the record: I'm using open street maps and the ENTIRE lake is missing from these maps. The boat routes across the lake look like roads on dry ground, which can be confusing when trying to navigate). As I suspected, the road continued on and eventually met up with a very nicely paved highway that rounded the lake at higher elevation, but in the meantime I had to ride some pretty difficult dirt, deep dust and baby-head boulders. It was challenging, but fun! The quality of the road varied greatly from one place to the next, but until after Santiago Atitlán, the worst was over.

Road begins to deteriorate.

Daily bike pic.

Dirt road winding around and up. Not too bad yet... but no photos of the worst part as I was too busy trying to stay up.

Santiago Atitlán was a mess of construction and detours. It was also market day which made exploring more interesting, but navigating more difficult. After passing through Santiago Atitlán, the road veered away from the lake and behind Volcán San Pedro. I rode probably 5 Kms out of town and stopped to take some pictures when I was approached by a group of locals (mostly kids and a couple of adults). Through a series of broken sentences and hand signs it was explained to me that the road ahead was serious bandito territory and it was extremely likely that I would be robbed at gunpoint if I continued onward. At first I didn't believe it, but they seemed pretty serious so I returned to Santiago Atitlán to verify this story with the police. Apparently the locals weren't kidding! Once I got my story across (which took some doing [glad I'm going to learn some Spanish]) the police informed me that the road was extremely dangerous (armed robberies on a very regular basis) and anyone traveling that route got a free police escort. They made some calls and told me there would be a unit waiting to escort me to San Pedro.

Santiago detour.

Before riding the peligrosa (dangerous) road, I stashed a bunch of cash and my photo card in various secret places on the off chance that the cops don't come through or, worst yet, that they're in on it. So unfortunately I wasn't able to take any photos of the most brutal road I've ridden to date (so brutal that for the first time ever I dumped the bike, luckily when the cops were too far back to see ***). The police met me as promised and followed me around Volcán San Pedro, a very beautiful road. There was a short section, maybe 5 or 8 Kms of dirt climbing around hairpin turns in deep dust/sand with medium sized boulders. This is where the banditos get you because it's impossible to ride away! I, however, saw no banditos and all was well.

Outside Santiago.

These kids rode over to warn me of banditos! Thanks!!

The cops here are friendly and safe (which may come as a surprise to many). Thanks!!

When I got to San Pedro La Laguna (famous for hippies and drugs) I reinstalled my photo card and moved on as my destination was San Marcos, further around the lake. The road was paved and the riding was easy. I made my way to San Pablo where I saw an old, beat up KLR and some sort of 80's 550 sitting outside a restaurant. The KLR belonged to Stephen, who was on his way to Panama when he got stuck in San Pedro a year and half ago (Stephen lurks here on advrider, but I don't know his handle). The 550 belonged to “Winter” who was here with John (on another KLR) doing the first of a series of 12 documentaries about volunteer work and travel (see We chatted a bit then I followed them to San Marcos as Stephen works at the only hostel with parking; Hostel Del Lago (highly recommended!).

Cruising past San Pedro. I'll visit later.

San Pablo where I met Stephen and Winter.

The hostel is really great. Right on the lake with a small beach, staffed by really good people and a social crowd hanging out. I got a dorm bed for 35 quetzales (it's less even if you commit to several days). After settling in a bit I went out to a great curry dinner, but was shocked by the number of hippies and rainbows hanging out in town (the town actually really grew on me and I was sad to leave when I did. Another place one can get stuck indefinitely! Example: Stephen). San Marcos La Laguna consists of a few paved footpaths on the hillside leading down to the lake. On the map it looked like roads, but there was no way I was reaching my intended hostel on the bike so I'm extra glad I ran into Stephen along the way!

John and Winter at the hostel.

My dorm: Hostel Del Lago.
Enthusiastically skeptical...
KLR650, WR250x

Oregon to Panama RR (Guatemala actually...)
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