Thursday, 18 April 2013

Xela, Lago Atitlan and on to Antigua

Receiving my postcard/ certificate at the end of my week at the Spanish school with my lovely teacher Jacqui
After the two days of Trocaire visits Rowan and myself were going separate ways for a little while. Rowan was off to try and catch some scuba diving in Belize and I was staying in Xela for the week to do an intensive Spanish course for which Xela is famous in these parts. I had arranged to do a home stay for the week which was all too remenicent of being back in Irish College as a teenager complete with Ban an ti! Similar to Irish College you would not want to be relying on the meals provided to fully satisfy you and me a hungry growing “buachail dana”.
Ban an ti
Church by night at main square in Xela.

Looking back down into the valley with Xela in the background

Bike having a rest after the climb out of the valley
After more than a week off, between the Trocaire visits and the Spanish course, I was happy to be back on the bike.  I didn’t have too far to go as it was off to Lago Atitlan which is another popular tourist destination a challenging day’s cycle from Xela. Aldous Huxley described Lago Atitlan as the most beautiful lake in the world..! Unfortunately it was misty when I cycled the extremely steep windy road down to the lake town of San Pedro.

The round widing sharply ahead of me down to Lago Atitlan
Rubbish dumped over the cliff

It's not all dumped though, some plastic containers being recycled
While I was in San Pedro I met Irish man Paul from Bray who runs an Irish restaurant as opposed to the more common Irish pubs one usually comes across. It’s fair to say that “The Clover” serves the best Irish breakfast in Central America, and possibly the only one!

It was a very pleasant surprise to get a full Irish in San Pedro, I had to have a bite before I took the photo.
Then it was across the still misty lake to Panajachel on a small passenger boat.

Church on the main square in Panajachel
The market at Panajachel
The cycle out of Panajachel was another beautiful, grueling Guatemalan day on the bike. The roads up out of the lake were steep and windy. It took me five hours to cycle the first thirty kilometers. It was one of those days on the bike that I will remember for a long time due to the difficult climb, the incredible natural beauty and some of the interesting things I passed that day.

Old man carrying a tree on his back!

What looked like very make shift mines. It looked like very tough work for the men who were scrambling in and out of these passages.

Beautiful natural landscape

Some significant potholes on the road 
Landslide blocking one lane of the road
The river had washed the road away but thankfully I got to cross before the rain season started properly
I met Guillermo from Colombia who was cycling north. He had spent a good few months cycling through Central America and gave me a few suggestions for getting from Panama to Colombia.
I was tired when I finally wheeled into the cobble stoned town of Antigua, Guatemala, the former capital of the country.  Antigua is a beautiful well preserved old colonial town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Antigua ceased being the capital after it was devastated by an earthquake in 1773. The town receives an abundance of tourists due to its charming beauty.  Having already witnessed a good deal of poverty in Guatemala some of the days cycling on the open road and during the Trocaire visits it was strange to be in a place so full of wealthy tourists frequenting cafes, bars and expensive restaurants that you wouldn’t see as much in other towns. Time for an overpriced latte.

Many of the churchs are still shells never having been fully restored after the earthquake that devastated the city 

Cobblestone streets and the main Arch in Antigua
After Antigua I was heading into Guatemala City for the day to visit the Trocaire offices and attend the trial of Rios Montt, the former President, army general and dictator from the 1980's on trial in Guatemala's National Court for the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.

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