Big Pictures – Guatemala

(We are constantly trying to think of ways to tell our story without just giving our readers an elongated blow by blow of our trip in every single post. This post is going to summarize the last few days with photos and extended cutlines – enjoy!)

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediate left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever got to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive was one of my favorite travel experiences to date - made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer. Photo: Alex Washburn

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediately left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever go to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive is one of my favorite travel experiences to date – made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer than the pyramid. This photo represents my favorite spanish word – ‘Madrugada’ The sliver of time between night and day. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. The moments where the tourists could collectively refrain from fidgeting were remarkable. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn't very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn't gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn’t very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn’t gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs in groups of 10-50. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food the noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food they noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

I don't really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

After Tikal’s dawn hike we took a quick nap and hit the road for Flores. I don’t really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. I had Nathaniel take this our first day in Flores. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random times - swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random moments – swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it's also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15,  and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it’s also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15, and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

As I type this post and am about to publish it we are in the city of Coban Guatemala. Our ride here yesterday was miserable because it rained on us more or less all day. By the time we checked into our hotel we were both soaked and my hands looked like raisins. We hope to arrive to Antigua after 4-5 more hours or riding and we are both really excited for it. I went to Antigua several years ago with a friend and it is absolutely gorgeous.

Thanks for looking.

The Coastal Highway

This video was shot on the Coastal Highway in Belize, the road that all of the locals told us not to ride. I shot it all with a GoPro Hero3 silver edition and edited with the new GoPro suite.

Three Roads

Nathaniel prepares to record me crossing a bridge along the gloriously names 'Coastal Highway'. Photo: Alex Washburn

Nathaniel prepares to record me crossing a bridge along the gloriously named ‘Coastal Highway’. Photo: Alex Washburn

It is impossible to get lost driving in the country of Belize. It’s tiny – at only 8,867 square miles in size it is barely larger than the state of Massachusetts.

In addition to this; a large percentage of this tiny country’s land is still untouched and they have minimal infrastructure. This has negatives and positives for the country as a whole, but what it meant for us as we looked at a map on Sunday is that there was only one obvious route to Placencia from Belize city and really only three major roads in the whole country.

A Canadian very familiar to the country had warned us about how terrible a fourth road (the coastal highway) was but we took the warning with a grain of salt because foreigners from first world countries sometimes have a skewed perception of what a ‘bad’ road is.

Sunday morning several Belizeans at our hotel confirmed that the coastal highway (which by the way is neither coastal nor an actual highway) was a terrible road. However – when we came to the turnoff where we could take the unpaved coastal highway or continue on the road most traveled we decided to have a little adventure (video coming soon).

We were on the coastal highway for less than 10 minutes and I could feel the smile slowly spreading across my face. It was rocky, dirty, muddy bumpy and everything our Kawasaki KLRs were meant to handle when we decided they were the best bikes for the trip. It took us 2.5 hours to drive 37 miles and it was fantastic (even if I tipped over twice and got super muddy).

A group of locals concentrates on their game of dominos in the shade next to the only gas station in Placencia Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

A group of locals concentrates on their game of dominos in the shade next to the only gas station in Placencia Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

Placencia itself was pleasant enough… We decided to go because a local Belizean told us the miniature peninsula along Belize’s southern coast was beautiful and it is! However, most people seem to be in Placencia to lay on a beach and get a nice day drunk going which is just not the kind of tourists we are. Although, I got accidentally tipsy one day because the infamous “Ms. Brenda” served us two rum and punches but Nathaniel doesn’t drink. Ms. Brenda is not the kind of woman you send food back to so I had to drink both glasses while Nathaniel ate his spicy jerk chicken lunch without a beverage.

As we attempted to leave we ended up hanging out at a gas station for about twenty minutes with some of the locals. I was feeling really dehydrated and I didn’t want to start the three hour ride to San Ignacio before drinking some water so we filled up and chilled out. The taxi drivers and gas station attendants were more than happy to let us share their shade and laugh at their brisk games of dominos.

Belizeans have been super friendly towards us no matter where we’ve gone. There were a lot of homeless people and panhandlers in Belize City, but everyone we’ve met from gas station attendants to hotel clerks, fellow restaurant diners and random people on the street have been welcoming and talkative. The men at the gas station accepting our presence so quickly is just another example of this.

The ride to San Ignacio up the Hummingbird Highway was the most beautiful stretch of road we’ve come across in Belize. The hills are so overgrown with palm trees, flowers and vines they resemble the scenery in Jurassic Park. The asphault on the “highways” is generally in great condition and it isn’t until you drive through the cities that you encounter insane potholes. I have never experienced potholes like they have in Belize.

They are epic pits appearing from nowhere waiting to swallow your front tire whole. In many places swerving around one hole just dumps you right into another so it’s best to just ride straight through and try not to break your teeth as you grit through it.

When we arrived to San Ignacio we had our first meal of the day at Hode's where this flute player provided the soundtrack. Photo: Alex Washburn

When we arrived to San Ignacio we had our first meal of the day at Hode’s where this flute player provided the soundtrack. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our bikes parked in front of Hode's restaurant in San Ignacio Belize. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our bikes parked in front of Hode’s restaurant in San Ignacio Belize. And yes – that is a giant red umbrella attached to my bike. Photo: Alex Washburn

We arrived to San Ignacio in the early afternoon and after battling some epic potholes and unpaved surfaces in the city itself, found a place to eat and a hostel with a secure yard for our bikes. We didn’t have to actually come to San Ignacio, but we wanted to be close to Belmopan (the capitol) because we made an appointment to have our bikes looked at today.

We are both eager to (hopefully) cross the border into Guatemala after our appointment and continue our adventures in Spanish speaking Latin America.

RECOMMENDATION: If you are riding bikes from the US through Latin America it might be hard to get your bike serviced in Mexico depending on what you are riding. If you come to Belize – Motor Solutions in Belmopan is a well stocked shop that should be able to help you out and English is the official language of Belize which should be a relief if you don’t speak spanish.