Adam writes on 2014.01.07:
I am writing from Cobán, Guatemala which is a via point for a visit to the Tikal ruins in northern Guatemala. We are staying at a very simple and affordable place called Hotel La Paz. Our room costs just less than Q75 (about US$10) and includes hot water, soap, toilet paper, towels, and a mirror outside of the bathroom area and not much else – certainly not internet. That said, it is clean and is excellent value compared to the higher costs of the definitely more touristy Antigua. The place was probably much grander in years past, and while it is not one of these places with a nice, tropical courtyard, it has several seating areas which are pleasant enough, and ample space for secure parking. The owners seem to care about their property and there are many small details that make it feel homey (lambs on the curtains, tropical plants strewn around, local handicrafts, etc.). While even during the day, the Señora unlocks the gate at the main office, after hours you must be cleared by the night watchman who has a little room near the gate which includes a bed and a toilet – a thankless job if you ask me.
We had considered staying at a the Casa Luna Hostel nearby, but since its cost was double with little extra to add beyond the ambiance (or not) of hanging out with other travellers, and internet, we decided against this since getting our bikes into the courtyard – while the lady said that it wouldn’t be a problem – it seemed like we would have to remove all of our (semi-permanent) luggage to get it through the front office and then struggle with the bikes on the grassy courtyard. While we don’t consider internet mandatory, we like the convenience of having it, and alas, we moved onto our next little project – mobile internet.
Figuring that we are going to find ourselves without internet for the next while with the assumption that we will be doing some tenting, we forked out for a wireless USB modem with a 5GB of data through Latin American telco provider “Claro” for Q100, or about US$15, which includes the cost of the modem wit SIM card. That’s pretty cheap and certainly a reminder as to what a blatant rip-off mobile telephony/data is in Canada.
This is not “tonnes” of data and data heavy applications like Skype and YouTube would use it up quickly, it is certainly enough to for general usage. There has been a number of occasions where we found ourselves wishing we had had internet the previous day to do a bit of research on our next destination. With any luck, I will be able to “unlock” the already cheap USB modem for use in subsequent countries.
We had originally only planned to overnight in Cobán but neither of us is feeling fantastic, and it seems like my head cold has made a 180 and is coming back. We awoke to cool, wet temperatures having had dinner and gone to bed during a somewhat unexpected downpour. It looks like the local “Chapines” (Guatemalans) are freezing and are fully decked out in sweaters and jackets – and people are occasionally coughing, or blowing on their hands to warm them up. This is somewhat amusing to watch since it is well, well above freezing, but I guess it is all relative.
North Americans reading this may be amused (or not) as well, since you guys are undergoing a record cold spell and would probably kill to be at 13 degrees Celsius (edit: 9 Celsius as of 8PM), almost English, weather. All things being said and done, we are in hoodies, rain jackets and wool socks and a bit surprised by the fluctuation. We have our 3-season down sleeping bags out since the windows don’t seal and are constructed of horizontal glass slats, similar to Venetian blinds, and absolutely appropriate for warm, tropical conditions…
Having left Antigua yesterday in the cool but comfortable morning, several hours north it got really warm – probably low to mid thirties – and the landscape really dried up. We had expected narrow, mountainous, twisty roads enveloped with the greenery we have seen elsewhere but found dry, rolling mountains including various cactus (and littered with impromptu garbage dumps by the side of the road). This was reminiscent of certain parts of Mexico, more so than Guatemala – proving that I don’t know everything there is to know about Guatemala. The dry hot temperatures dissipated about 70 kilometers outside of Cobán, as rain clouds shrouded the mountain tops and we travelled through a biosphere area. The road was now lined with lush greenery, eco-resorts, and protected wildlife areas, and continued this way all the way into Cobán.
Upon leaving we simply plugged Cobán into our GPSes and expected some sort of sane route. Instead we got a grand tour of Guatemala City with all of its sprawl. I am considering buying a new rear tire in Guatemala City but hadn’t planned on going there until that time. Essentially, a good chunk of our morning was “wasted” getting through Guatemala City starting out with a road work diversion that sent us on a wild goose chase down a long strip of in-city highway without sufficient (or well signed) turn-around points. While traffic was fine for much of it, it was bad at other times and a complete detour of the city would have been appreciated.
The last couple of days in Antigua mostly revolved around trying to rest up and feel better. Its not like we are down and out sick, but a cold is a cold, and in addition to a few “digestion issues”, it’s enough to keep us feeling rundown and less than adventurous. Our schedule generally consisted of us sleeping in, going out for a late breakfast followed by a little sightseeing, returning to the room for rest, going back out for more food, then returning to the room to chill out until bed. Nothing super-exciting to report here. We are hoping that the rain starts to clear up soon, as we are anticipating camping at Tikal, and being outside, cold, and soggy while feeling under the weather isn’t ideal and doesn’t make for ‘happy campers’.
We did, however, get held back in another road block of unknowing political activity not to far out of Cobán. This is number three so far – and definitely the longest. Early on, the nut vender – what better time to sell your nutty snacks then to perhaps several kilometers of frustrated drivers – suggested to us that since we are on “motos” we should just weave through the masses and go to the front. We did manage to get quite far ahead of the line and eventually the blockade was opened and we were on our
We have been quite lucky with our roadblocks in that we seem to show up just as they are letting the backlog through. Some of the other unlucky drivers had been waiting around for six hours. As much of a pain that these political protests are, it is a good sign that the people of the community are trying to reclaim their power against the cartel, government, large companies, or whomever the bully happens to be.