|Waiting to board the ferry - Photo by Chris Ihle|
Recently I had a conversation with a concerned party (Shane!) about what might happen if I ever got a bee in my helmet. Would I crash the bike in sheer panic? I suggested that it hadn't happened yet in all these miles, so it may never happen now.
It just happened! (You knew that was coming right?) In the end I think it might have actually helped my phobia a little bit. I didn't crash, getting stung on the cheek didn't hurt that much (although I did verge on elephant woman for a day or two) and, well, as most things in life, the fear was far worse than the reality.
Leaving the delicate and pretty little island of Flores behind, Chris, Frank, and I hit the Tuk-Tuk
traffic and set off for the green mountains of Guatemala. We were going to ride to Semuc Champey. A place that is recognised for its beauty, but also for its difficult-to-get-to location. We had dirt bikes and 4x4 though. Bring it on! Actually we expected the ride to be far less dramatic than people made out, but we were hopeful for some adventure.
The first 2 thirds of the journey were paved (albeit potted in places) and hot, but extremely enjoyable. After crossing the river by (moving platform style) ferry, we stopped for chicken and chips (only brecci on offer) and pottered happily along, taking pictures often, as we wound our way along the warm tarmac and through the green farmlands. We stopped for directions in a small village. The guys we had just overtaken, carrying pigs, came up behind us and pointed us in the right direction. Two guys sat above the pigs, on the metal framework and were in the perfect pointing position. We followed their finger and carried on, not quite sure whether Frank was now ahead of us or behind us.
The pig truck became a regular feature for the next hour or so, as we worked our way upwards. We
would overtake, we would stop for a junction or a picture or a drink, they would guide us or just wave as they went past and we would overtake again. It was a little game we all seemed to be enjoying playing, and a bond (if only fleeting) developed between us.
The tarmac eventually ran out and our directions led us up a rocky trail. It looked like fun, so after a brief assessment and conflab, we went for it. Chris flew off on his XR650, leaving me for dust, clearly excited to be getting off the black stuff. I followed his trail and smiled to myself. I too was quite pleased to see the end of the smooth road. Rhonda needed a challenge, and so did I! As I rounded the first corner, I caught up with Chris. It's not hard when the other bike is horizontal and the rider is still counting his limbs.
I always love the beginning of a trail. It's a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Fear of the unknown. How will it go once we round the corner, and the next? What was coming up? I love it.
I had to laugh when I saw Chris though, and quickly fumbled with my head-cam to turn it on. Chris
saw me and quickly tried to pick up the bike in a race to save his dignity! He laughed with me "What an idiot" he said. "I guess I was going too fast". At that point he looked to have got away with some gravel rash. It was only later his foot started to hurt.
The track ahead looked rockier and steeper and so we let some air out of our tyres. That helped a lot and soon, grateful to be on dirt bikes, we had found our rhythm, heading onwards and upwards into the
beautiful mountains of Guatemala. We had run out of water by now, so when we came to a little stall selling drinks and snacks, we were pretty chuffed! The family who ran it were lovely. They confirmed we were heading towards Lanquin as we had hoped and that we had another 2 hours of this trail before we would arrive. 2 hours? Wow this was going to be a long day! We had already been riding for hours and had thought we were nearly there. The Hondas had no issue pulling us up and over though, and it turned out to be a wonderful ride. The scenery was breathtaking at times. We had to keep stopping to take it all in! I just kept saying "I love this place!" and I meant it!
It turns out Frank was ahead of us somehow, and we met up with him at a road block in a small village on the trail. They had blocked the road and would not let us pass without payment. "What for this road?" we laughed "You want payment to use THIS road?". Frank did the haggling and eventually we agreed on half the original price. There was little else we could do.
Eventually we came to Lanquin and found a bed and a bar! By now Chris could not put weight on his foot. The adrenalin had worn off but the friendly locals were there to help us with our luggage, a room and most importantly - a bar stool! By the morning, we had acquired some ancient crutches and we were ready for the next challenge - getting up to the limestone rock pools of Semuc Champey. The bikes were not an option now as the road was going to be rough and with only 3 good feet between us (we'd lost Frank again the night before), we had no chance - so we paid a driver and a 4x4 to take us most of the way.
I think this has to be in the top 10 of beautiful places I have seen so far. It was hard work for Chris as it was a fair hop on stoney ground to get there from our drop off point, and it was hot! His efforts paid off though with cool, turquoise rock pools waiting at the end - complete with natural slides and fish that nibbled off your dead skin (we didn't like that bit). The best bit was that there was hardly anyone around. Just the local kids who were a lot of fun. They advised me where was safe to jump and said "be careful lady" as I edged closer. Poor Chris could only swim and watch the rest of us jumping. I'm sure he would have put us all to shame had he been fit! He seemed happy to watch and shout encouragement or "chicken" at the appropriate times though!
4 days later, I was still in Guatemala City waiting for my parcel!! Said parcel had arrived in the country about 3 weeks before but they were not willing to give it up without a fight and A LOT of paperwork! I was sure I would have to give up. On the 5th day I got it, packed up quickly and headed for the Mexican border in torrential rain, on roads that were now rivers.