Day 52: 4 Caminos, GT to Chimaltenango, GT

Among the noise and smog of 4 Caminos, the breakfast options weren’t looking too good at first, but after looking at and ruling out a couple of places, we poked our heads inside another, and once inside, it was actually a pretty nice and cozy place. The coffee and eggs were good and fresh, and as usual, made all the better by those thick Guatemalan tortillas.

There were more hills to climb and descend today. We ran into some road construction, and had to make our way dodging past some boulders that were being pushed off a cliff by a bulldozer from a temporary roadway up above.

After riding 20km up, 10km down, the 10km up again, we stopped for some lunch of fresh fried pork rinds. We learned there that Chimaltenango was another 80km to go, with more of the same road conditions. So we decided to catch a ride from the general store across the road. We had inquired about getting a small van or pickup truck, similar to what we had taken in Mexico, and it sounded like that’s what we were getting, but soon a big converted school bus pulled up, and we were motioned to get ready to get on board. We unhooked our panniers from our bikes, and help lift them up to the top of the bus, where they were just placed without any straps or rope to hold them in place at all.

It was a tough squeeze working our way into the mostly-full bus seats, with a very narrow aisle to accommodate ourselves and all the bags we carried. Room was made for us in two separate rows, though, about halfway back. The ride was quite an adventure; imagine your stereotypical third-world bus ride scenario from “Romancing the Stone” or another such movie. The road made the same climbs, descents, twists, and turns that we’ve gotten used to on the bikes. There was more construction, sometimes with the road reduced to one lane, or gravel or dirt surface. The bus driver took all this in stride and at full speed. Just when you thought he would not dare try to pass on that blind turn or into oncoming traffic in the left lane, sure enough, he would. All the while, vendors stood at the front of the bus, reciting their sales pitches (or preaching from The Bible), trying to peddle their goods to their captive audience.

We passed a popular tourist and resort area that was recommended to us, Lake Atitlan. It is surrounded by volcanoes, and is reputed to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. There looked to be lots of good lodging options, and it would have been a bike-able distance, but since we had somebody expecting us in Guatemala City within the next couple of days, we unfortunately had to abide by our self-imposed timetable.

When we boarded the bus, Ray had told the driver to just let us off in the city of Chimaltenango wherever it was convenient for them, near the center if possible, since were weren’t familiar with the city anyway. When we finally got to the city, they dropped us off, and hoisted our bikes off the roof. They appeared to be in one piece and in working order, thankfully; we were amazed that they had arrived at all. As we loaded our panniers back onto our racks, Ray happened to notice where we had ended up being dropped off and gave me a nudge. It was right in front of a Sherwin-Williams store! So we stopped in and got a picture.

We rode around the main plaza area to try to find a hotel, but ended up a few blocks away before finding a place. It was very reasonably priced, but probably the most secure establishment I have ever stayed in. To access it from outside, there was a large steel gate that was kept locked. Once inside, the courtyard/parking area and the rooms were very well kept.

After getting cleaned up and relaxing in the room for a while, we walked back into the center of town to explore. Ray got a much-needed haircut; I probably could have used one, but decided to pass. This seemed like a fairly working-class city, but oddly enough, we saw the first signs of a recreational bike culture here for the first time since leaving the US. From the bus on the way into town, we saw three guys on high-end mountain bikes riding up the road, wearing spandex and helmets and the whole deal. While in town, we saw one of these same guys hanging out in the street talking to a guy on a nice road bike.

For dinner, we decided on a local pizza place. After eating, we still felt kind of hungry, so we went to the Domino’s up the street and got two more pizzas (another two-for-the-price-of-one deal), then headed back to the hotel.

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