A Guatemalan Christmas

Merry Christmas from Antigua, Guatemala.

View Over Antigua with Volcano In the backround

View Over Antigua with Volcano In the backround

Christmas in Antigua feels like 68 degrees F with aqua blue skies peering through firework stained clouds, the result of last night’s celebrations.  The town’s population (35000, mostly Catholic) bring in Christmas day with fiestas till midnight.  The parties were preceded by roughly 30 days of religious ceremonies and traditions honoring Mary (the mother of Jesus) and reenacting the journey of the Three Magi (some in Mexico travel more than 500 miles by foot caring torches to Mexico City, and back after).  Christmas day is spent with family resting and relaxing.  As for Seth and I, we are using today to finish our Christmas gift for the Hostel we’ve been staying at, grouting the tile in their newly renovated bathroom.

Molten Lava fireworks on hike

Molten Lava fireworks on hike

 

Founded in 1524 by Spanish conquistadors as the capital of Guatemala, the town of Antigua is located roughly one hour east and upward of the Pacific Ocean.   At 5,029 ft, the towns surrounding vista is dominated by three volcanoes with the largest peak reaching 12,356 ft.  Although the most recent mass eruption occurred in 1972, one of the mountains is currently blasting small amounts of lava and ash every 15-45 minutes.  Other than the town itself, the active volcano is one of the major tourist attractions for the area.  Daily tours are offered, guiding you up to climb the volcano. The terrain around the town is perfect for growing coffee as result of nearly 80,000 years’ worth of eruptions and ash distribution, as well as, a nearly perfectly steady climate.  Antigua is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its beauty and longstanding cultural relevance.  Although, it is no longer the capital of the country, it remains one of the top “must dos” when visiting Guatemala.  As for us, “disabled” travelers (both lingually and transportationly), Antigua was the solve all to our current problem and next step in our adventure. 

Guatemalan Border Crossing/taco shop

Guatemalan Border Crossing/taco shop

We entered the country on 8th of December through Guatemala’s newest and smallest border crossing El Ceibo.  The crossing was made up of nothing more than some trailers and orange cones with a few military personnel.  The officials were friendly and helpful as only a handful of people use that crossing daily, let alone two gringo hermanos on the biggest bikes they had ever seen!  After an hour and a half of paperwork & pictures/autographs(hahahaha) with the officials, we were off.  Winding or way through the hills, avoiding the potholes, pigs, chickens, burros, & slow homemade vehicles, we eventually ran straight into a river that was lacking a connecting road.  Instead of a bridge, there was a ferry, a hand welded/wood-built moto carrier.  Paying our captain, we ferried across the water to the small river town of Sayaxche, this was where we spent our first night in Guatemala.   The next day was a roller-coaster of emotions. 

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Heading south from Sayaxche, our eyes feasted on the marvelous topography and cultural implications of the new road/world we were entering. Guatemala has some of the most beautiful landscapes we’ve ever experienced and every thrilling corner, climb, dip, and downhill run trumped the last.  It was the best riding of our lives, each moment a higher climax, nothing could stop the ebullient grin that was hiding beneath our helmets until IT happened, THE BLOWOUT…….

Starting the Tow

Starting the Tow

Twenty-five miles outside our destination, Seth’s bike took a MAJOR SHIT on our high.  Initially bewildered at what would impede the magic of the day we patiently worked our way through the possible causes of the immovability of the Honda.  Eventually push starting it down a hill, (that afternoons gringo entertainment for the local extended family living in the valley of doom and gloom), we could hear a clanking in the motor.  We knew this was a big breakdown and there would be no way to ride the bike into Coban, luckily, we brought a rope.  The rest of our day was spent in a mildly depressive state. The only supplementation to our moods being the adrenaline that was stimulated by the jerking of our tensioning towline, the smell of burning Seth’s brakes, the pressure waves of passing dump trucks, and the jeering locals who knew we were disabled.  On tow for an hour and fifteen minutes with ten miles left to our destination we stopped at a gas station for a break.

Nearly speechless, yet our minds racing on the future repercussions of our problem, we were interrupted by a stranger of the kindest sort.  Cecil, an elderly Guatemalan in a small Toyota, seen us in all our glory.  I was watching him from the corner of my eye wondering what this stranger was planning with his stares.  My initial perception of malicious intent turned out to be only empathy.  Cecil would become our savior and friend.

Pablo, with our bikes

Pablo, with our bikes

Although limited in our speech we communicated through inherent knowledge of the needs of each other, along with drawings and hand gestures.  Pretty soon our new friend had a set up with a mechanic in Coban, and a nice economic hotel ($10/night). We thanked him and tried to pay him for the aid, money which he refused.  In the following days, we diagnosed our problem, determining it was piston failure, and tried to figure out what the best solution would be.  Unfortunately, most of the mechanics had never seen, let alone worked on bikes as big as ours. Although willing to work in Coban, we didn’t feel comfortable with turning the bike over to a novice and began looking for someone with more expertise, and ideally able to speak a little English.   Two options were presented, Guatemala City or Antigua.  Both around a 6-7 hours’ drive from Coban.  

We knew it would be insane to tow this far so began looking for a truck that could haul us the distance. Again, Cecil came to the rescue.  Cecil had a grandson, Seths age, named Pablo.  He was visiting for the week and was headed back to Guatemala City in a few days, also, he was driving a truck.   As dumb luck would have it, we were able to hitch a ride and opted for gringo friendly/English speaking Antigua over Guatemala City.   That’s been our adventure to date and how we ended up in this beautiful town.  

Christmas Eve with Danish Dave

Christmas Eve with Danish Dave

Since arriving here ten days ago we have found a mechanic and ordered a new piston head, which was cracked, from the USA.  Unfortunately, Christmas slowed down our priority shipping and it is looking like we won’t be road worthy until the end of this week.  To pass the time and save a little on our accommodation costs, we volunteered to put our trade skills to work by updating a deteriorating bathroom at a local hostel in exchange for staying in the room.  It’s been a nice experience, and we have made many new friends from all around the world as people come and go.  It’s also very cool to know we are leaving our mark on Guatemala and twenty years from now we could come back and know this was our bathroom! 

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Merry Christmas to all and thanks for following!

Naylor Boys