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Cycling Guatemala, part one

Cycling Guatemala, balnearios camp

Cycling Guatemala, part one

Making Do, the tale of the mysterious ATM

After spending 4 months in Mexico, it is finally time to continue our cycling tour in Guatemala.
El Ceibo is a tiny bordertown. The electricity shuts off and the whole town shuts down from 10.00 at night until 6:00 in the morning. There are only a few houses, maybe two small hotels, and a few small convenience stores and eateries. There is no bank or official currency exchange office anywhere.

The only place where we can exchange the rest of our pesos is at the convenience store, that also acts as the copy-shop for the border crossing.

Cycling Guatemala
Cycling toward Guatemala City

Since we generally try not to have any local money left when we exit a country, we only have a few pesos to exchange.
Luckily, we always have a few dollars for emergencies stashed away. We hope that we will find an ATM in the next town not too far away. But, just to be on the safe side, we go ahead and exchange a few dollars into Quezales.
After a quick breakfast we get going. It is another hot and humid day.

The ride itself is fairly easy; we only have to cycle over gentle rolling hills. We try to take nice long breaks in the shade to avoid the worst of the heat. Yet, the heat is wearing us down.
As we cycle through a few villages we ask about where to find a bank or an ATM. Although, we see ATMs marked on our mapping app and locals tell us where we could find one. We are unable to locate any of them.

Cycling in Guatemala
Cycling through steep Guatemala mountains

After cycling over 55 miles in the heat, we are beat and want to call it a day. The problem is, there is no wild camp spot, and we have very little cash. Fortunately, we find a small hotel along the highway, next to a gas station. The owner is super nice and the price is much better than what we experienced last night…including a very nice room, shower and A/C.

Unfortunately, the lady tells us, that she is not able to take credit cards.

But, like any good business women, she has a solution. She tells her son to go with us across the parking area to the gas station. He briefly talks to the lady…and voilà…somehow, we are able to pay for our room at the gas station with our card…lucky!

In the morning, we grab a quick bite to eat. After talking to one of the other tenants, who happens to be a 70 year old herbal remedy salesmen and looks like he is 50, we get going.

Our wallet is frighteningly light. Since we hardly have any cash, we go ahead and stock up on water and snacks at the gas station, before we take off.

Guatemala tuck-tuck

In the next few villages, we continue our search for an ATM.
Again, people tell us about the banco rural. Yet, like the day before, they are unable to help us at the small bank teller. Apparently, the banco rural are just small teller windows, located at small stores where only locals can deposit or withdraw money.

Also, a lady tells us about an ATM at a gas station outside of town. But again, it is non existent.

Eventually though, we make it to La Libertad, a good size town with a chaotic market area and ATMs. It still takes us a couple of trials to find one that actually works.

The gringos are coming! The tale about finding shelter and ridiculously steep roads

Soon after La Librtad, we experience more mountainous terrain.

The shops and markets in the villages are tiny and more people dress in traditional, coloful clothing.

The houses reflect that the area is poor and many of the huts only have dirt or red-clay floors.

As we head deeper into the mountains the villages become more tribal. People, especially the men, tend to stare silently at us as we cycle by.
On the other hand all the children, no matter how young or old are greeting us with ”Gringo, Gringo” about 500 times a day.

Cycling Guatemala, Ferry crossing
Cycling Guatemala, crossing a river

At times, we even see young mothers running into their house to pull their toddlers out. Together they wave and yell ”Gringo Gringo ” some more.

Unfortunately, ”Gringo” is oftentimes the only word we understand. Apparently, most people in the villages only speak Mayan Dialects. Just trying to buy water in the village stores can be a little bit of a comedy act as we try to say Agua and water in several different ways, while the person behind the counter generally tries to hand us a coke or some other extremely sugary drink.

Along our route through the middle of Guatemala are no official campsites and for the most part no hotels either. We do find a few nice balnearos, where locals bathe and wash their clothes, and where we can pitch a tent.

Cycling Guatemala, Camping at balnearios
Camping at our first balnearios in Guatemala

The roads become narrower and the climbs become steeper and steeper. At times even the few serpentine curves feel like we are hitting a wall straight on. While Ron is able to stop for a moment to take a rest before continuing the treacherous climb. I, on the other hand, am unable to get pedaling again once I come to a stop on the extremly steep inclines. So all I can do, is slowly push my fully loaded bike up the mountain.

Sometimes it feels like we are a traveling freak-show as we slowly crawl past people in the villages.

Like the climbing is not enough. We also encounter a torrential downpour as we look for one of the balnearios to camp at.

While we find our way through the tiny village in the rain, some people wave at us to come find cover under their huts.

Since we knew, though, that there were some covered shelters at the balneario, we kept going. We finally arrive there; soaked to the bones, despite wearing rain pants rain jackets.

Cycling Guatemala, drying clothes
Finding shelter at the balnearios

We hang our drenched clothes, change into something dry and warm and set up our tent under the shelter.

In the evening, the rain dwindles down to a drizzle and we watch several boys come to the riverside to play ball.

As it is getting later, the boys go into the river with their clothes on and start washing themselves and their clothes. Some strip down to their shorts or underwear to soap up. Once they seem happy with their laundry and bathing job they put on their wet clothes and head back home.

As it get almost dark we also notice a few grown man coming to the river to bathe and wash their clothes as well. Again, they leave with soaken wet clothes on their bodies to head home.

In the morning, we watch a few women and children carry bags of laundry to the river where big stones lay at the river’s edge to wash more clothes.

Unfortunately, Ron had a difficult night, is plagued by stomach issues and feels weak and exhausted. Although, the ”camp spot” is wet, muddy, and only has a makeshift drop toilet, we decide to stay another day to give his body a chance to recoup.

When we head into the village, we ask the balnearios keeper where we can find water and food.

We come by a small hut. It only has a counter and a few items in the back. The floors are made of red mud and red dust seems to be everywhere.

The only water available is purified water sealed in 500ml plastic bags. We find another small shack where we can buy eggs and head back to our camp.

Cycling Guatemala, camping at balnearios

As we return, the balnearios keeper hands us 4 tamales and wishes us well.

While we spend the day at our camp, we have two young man visit us and chatting with us.

They seem very interested in our old Samsung phone as we use it to translate at times.

In the evening, we watch the boys play and bathe themselves again, before they head home to eat.

At last, in the morning we decide it is time to continue our ride over the long and ridicoulesly steep mountain roads.

….to see more of our adventures, feel free to follow us along on YouTube as well
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