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Guided in Guatemala
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Greetings from San Llorenç in Cataluña, Spain! I’m here with Cristina and the baby bump Luca and we’re just a few weeks away from his arrival. We landed a lovely house in the countryside as the baby basecamp where we’re planning the last expedition from Vancouver to San Francisco and Luca’s first expedition the California Peace Ride from San Francisco to San Diego. Life is good. Enjoy the last Latin adventure in Guatemala!
Guided in Guatemala
I had dreamed of traveling in Guatemala for years to explore the rich culture, history and natural wonders. There is no Latin country that has maintained their indigenous roots better than the people of Guatemala and I was eager to dive in and investigate. But Mother Nature seemed to have other plans for me as another storm had settled in and was predicted to hang around the first several days of my planned Guatemalan expedition. They had just seen a massive hurricane and volcanic eruption a few weeks earlier so this made roads and bridges pretty wild.
My hosts Ori, Gula and little Dan Dan from Antigua invited me to seek refuge in their place so I hitched a ride with them from El Salvador to Antigua. Once we got in the dry car I was glad I did. The roads were pretty chaotic and the scenery vanished by thick clouds. Ori and Gula are a lovely Israeli couple I met via the internet who run a surf business in Antigua making trips to Guatemala. I had no idea I would connect so deeply with them and their 1-year old son Daniel, but clearly this family was who I was meant to be spending time with. They live in a beautiful house outside the charming city of Antigua, which I was not able to see much of for about four days due to the storm, so we spent much of our time on their porch talking, playing with Dan Dan and watching the rain fall.
When the weather finally cleared I invited Ori to head out on a back road adventure to the lovely Lake Aticlan with me. The blue skies and sunshine were such a treat after such a soaking. The volcanoes were out in full force, including an active volcano spewing smoke as we rode our way west. It was a blissful day to be out riding and before we knew it we were climbing a steep dirt road towards Acatenango. Our pace was slow but we were enjoying the strenuous workout and fresh air. But something told me to stop and talk to a man on our right to take a break from the climbing and grab some water.
The man’s name was Manuel and his first glance at us and the bike was quite alarming. His eyes were showed genuine concern for our well being when he asked where we were heading. When we told him our grand plan to ride to Acatenango and on to Patzun on the back roads he clearly was worried for us. “This road is famous for assaults and robberies”, he told us. “There have even been murders. I strongly recommend you go back and take the main road”. Ori and I were bummed to hear this news and sat for a while in the shade with Manuel and his friends who were all road workers working on the eventual paving of the notorious route. Manuel’s friends also confirmed his concern and agreed with Manuel’s advice to turn back to avoid being harmed or robbed. It was a hard decision to make since I was really looking forward to the ride, but we finally choose to take “Manuel the Angel’s” advice and head back down the hill.
On the way back down I could not help but feel discouraged and bummed out. My hopes were to spend a good 3 days exploring the back roads and meeting some of these cultures I heard so much about. The only other way to the lake was the busy Pan American highway which I knew would be chaos, especially after so many storms. By the time we made it to the base of the mountain we were both pretty hungry and decided to have lunch at a small restaurant outside town and catch some of the World Cup action, which lifted my spirits a bit since Holland had just upset Brazil.
My spirits continued to lift when Ori shared with me how much this trip meant to him, whether we made it to Acatenango or the lake or anywhere. I was just thrilled to be part of the trip and to get out on the bike being active. He then shared that he was actually happy that it happened this way since now I could enjoy the traditional family dinner of Shabbat that Friday evening. The final lifting of my spirits came when we were outside getting ready to pedal back to Antigua. We met several people in front of the restaurant to all confirmed Manuel’s advice and told us we should be grateful we met him since we were sure to have been robbed at some point on that road if we had continued. Something told me at this moment to just surrender and allow myself to be guided here in Guatemala and to stop trying to make it be a certain way that I envisioned it. So I did, and my burden fully lifted and off we pedaled with big smiles on our faces back to Antigua.
Back in town the orange shirts of the highly ecstatic and plenty intoxicated Holland fans were impossible to miss. Gula’s brother Gal owns a sports bar and we rolled the tandem in for a celebratory beer with the Dutch party crew. The sun was out, the vibe alive and Ori and I were glowing from our adventure together so life was good. I befriended a Dutch woman named Nienke who insisted on buying me several beers to join the party and it turns out that she loves to ride and was free the next day to join me on my highway adventure to Lake Aticlan so I settled into the fiesta and let World Cup fever set in.
On the buzzed ride back to Ori’s place I met an interesting chap named Franco as I turned to climb up to the house. Franco was a caretaker of one of the houses in Ori’s development and he rode with me to Ori’s pad. When we got off and I snapped a photo of us, he put his large hands out and I wondered by. On further investigation I realized he had 12 fingers! He then told me he also had 12 toes! Gotta love the characters you meet out Peace Pedaling!
The Shabbat dinner was divine. I felt honored to be part of their family celebration and Gula had prepared a marvelous dinner. It was at this dinner that I decided to honor my intuition, which was telling me to head back to USA and Spain a week earlier than planned to have time with my own family. This would mean flying back from Guatemala and not riding in Mexico. With the foul weather, bad roads, newly cracked broken bike frame and several other strong signals it felt good to honor them and change my plans accordingly.
The next morning I made my way back to Antigua to pick up my guest rider for the day Nienke. I kept my expectations low since she was partying pretty hard the night before. But she was awake and excited when I arrived at her hotel at 8AM to begin our adventure. It was great to have some strong Dutch legs on the bike. In all of my travels the Dutch were by far the best guest riders and Nienke was no exception. That is, until the serious climbs came our way on the way to Chimaltenango. I’ve seen some steep climbs on my travels but these were by far some of the steepest. When we stopped to do some filming Nienke almost fainted but somehow was able to laugh about it and keep pedaling. She was grinning ear to ear the entire ride and admitted that this was the most she has smiled continuously her entire trip.
By the time we made it to Chimaltenango the clouds were threatening to dump some serious rain once again. We stopped for some tortillas and sodas and the second we sought shelter the skies opened up and the heavy rain fell once again. We opted to escape the soaked PanAm, wild Chicken Bus drivers and dangerous washed out roads by hopping a bus up the hill to Encuentras. The moment we arrived the rain stopped and we knew we made the right choice. We pedaled the rolling hills above the lake and made our way to Sololá for a late lunch. We were blessed to find a cultural festival going on with live music, food and a market so life was good!
Nienke was a solo female traveler and I was excited to ride with her and hear more about how she got over the fears of traveling solo as a woman. I’ve met so many female travelers who constantly say they would love to travel alone but are afraid to do it due to harassment and other fears. But here was Nienke, an attractive solo traveler making it happen and I ran the cameras on the stunning ride down to the lake and she shared some amazing nuggets of wisdom with the world.
One thing Nienke had never done in her travels is stay with a random local family like I often do. She was excited to give it a go and when we rolled into the town of Panajechel we turned on the radar looking for a stranger to host us for the night. Nienke even took the lead at times, entering strangers front yards and asking shop owners where we can find locals living in this touristy lakeside town. The rain began to fall as darkness set in and we rolled the tandem under some shelter in front of an auto repair shop outside of town. We befriended a group of greasy mechanics and decided to put all our eggs in one basket and make an assumption that one of them would be able to host us for the night.
We settled in as the rain, lightning and thunder came rushing in. It was Saturday night and the guys were all excited to have the next day off so we bought a box of wine and got the party started right there and then. Before we knew it we were a dozen or so of us chatting away, laughing, sharing and enjoying the festive Saturday evening in Panajechel. All the mechanics felt that the shop owner Hugo would be our saving grace but it turned out that his house was washed away by the recent hurricane and he was living in a small apartment. Once we got word that Hugo was not our man a 20-year old smiling face came out of the mix named Nisho and offered us a place to pitch our tent at his family home just down the road. Just like that, we found our home in Panajechel.
Nisho had his own bike and we road over the recently repaired bridge to his home, passing the homes and businesses that had fallen in the river from the recent storms. My plan was to ride a road that came out of this town towards San Lucas the next day but Nisho told me that road was completely destroyed from the storm. So much for plans. When we arrived at his house his smiling father, mother and siblings all gave us a warm, hearty welcome. The kids all started lending a hand with setting up the tent in their courtyard when Nisho’s mom came in with a cute smile and offered us a spare room in the house that had two large beds just for us! We were thrilled!
We hit the town that evening by rickshaw and had a lovely meal on the street of El Salvadorian Pupusas followed by some yummy cocktails and great conversations. Nisho was truly enjoying the experience of being with an American and European guest. He shared his dream to start his own mechanics shop soon and told us about his girlfriend who had just returned from a year in the USA who lived in the town of San Pedro on the other side of the lake. He had not seen her in the two weeks since she had been back and we could tell he was concerned about whether she lost feelings for him while away. He asked me if I would not mind accompanying him across the lake the next day by boat but I told him I was going to take a boat to San Lucas to do some riding. He was a bit bummed out about this, but understood.
The next morning we had some fresh squeezed orange juice and hit the lake for a nice swim. While sitting on the lake I felt inspired to spend more time with Nisho and to cancel my plans last minute to go to San Lucas solo. I told Nisho I would come with him to San Pedro to find out what was up with his girlfriend and be there for him. He was totally thrilled. We bid farewell to Nisho’s family and Nienke made her way back to Antigua. Nisho and I hopped on the bike for a short filmed local ride before getting on the boat to San Pedro.
On the bike Nisho and I chatted about life while weaving our way through the busy streets of Panajechel. It was on the bike that Nisho shared his message to the world with me, and it was a powerful one, “We’re all human. We are all one”. This message resonated with me, and it seemed fitting that the last guest rider of the Latin ride would sum up the entire message of Peace Pedalers. Sure, I’ve seen the cultures, colorful faces, different traditions, religions, rituals and ways of being of the world in my 8+ years of traveling in 80 countries. But really, we are all the same. We are all human and we have so so much more in common than we have differences. Sure, I could said goodbye to Nisho and boarded a boat solo in the rain that afternoon to meet another person and make another friend. But both those friendships would be pretty surface with me rushing on to the next destination. I decided to develop this friendship by showing my support and being with him when he needed a friend. And it felt good, very good.
The rain began to fall as we boarded the boat to San Pedro. When we arrived Nisho had a plan for me to call his girlfriend and speak English to her, hoping this might make her more interested in him by he having an American friend. But I knew in my heart that if she had not contacted him in 2 weeks since arrived it was over. But he needed to know it for sure. So I made her come meet us for coffee but she was not available until after 5PM, which meant after the last boat back to Panajechel departed. I invited Nisho to stay with me that night in San Pedro so we could get some closure on this relationship, and the gesture literally brought tears to Nisho’s eyes.
By the time we met up with his girlfriend my suspicions were confirmed. She was no longer interested in a 20-year old mechanic who spoke no English and made about 30 bucks a week. She was just stringing him along and at the final coffee date she broke up with poor Nisho. Nisho had waited one full year for his love, and he was soon crying profusely in the coffee shop as his lady went off to her job at an American hotel without a care in the world. I spent the evening consoling Nisho, which he was extremely grateful for. By the time he left the next morning he was recharged with tears of gratitude in his eyes, excited about his new single status, and eager to meet the woman of his dreams.
That next morning the sun had some out in full force, my spirits were at an all time high, and I felt ready to close my Latin adventures. I decided to take a final solo ride around the northwestern portion of the lake to San Marcos. San Marcos is known for its yoga, meditation and rejuvenation retreats and it sounded like just the place for me to reflect, get grounded and prepare for the next adventures in my life as a father, family member and part of a community.
The ride to San Marcos was nothing short of perfect. The roads were steep, hot and challenging but the scenery totally stunning. I arrived in San Marcos and made my way down to the lake to find my 3-day chillin’ spot and scored a lakeside cottage for 20 bucks a night with a perfect hammock spot right on the lake with views of the majestic mountains. I spend the next few days soaking in the blissful life on the lake with home cooked meals, saunas, hammock swings, naps, and the company of chill, real people. It was the perfect final gift to me.
I made my way back to Ori’s in Antigua and, as my luck would have it, Gula had her first major DJ gig in Guatemala city the night before my flight back to USA. So we made a party out of it, including inviting friends and former guest riders Jessica, Walid, Nienke and more out for one final boogie before my flight home. Ori and I did not even say goodbye since we’re going to be reconnecting on the Peace Ride this October. Gula rocked the decks and we boogied until 3AM and I hopped my flight home a few hours later feeling content, relaxed and guided.
As I sit here in the shade in Spain it’s a surreal experience to be writing the journal on the 80th country of this Peace Pedalers expedition. In just a few short months I’ll be retiring from full time Peace Pedaling and starting my new life as a father, full time family member and part of a community once again. I’ve got emotions in every category as you can imagine but overall I’m fired up, proud and confident that I’ll continue to be guided and protected as I move into the next adventures of life.
Over n out from Spain!
Live Big. Give Big. Love Big.
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