Guatemala

Guatemala is a small country situated between Mexico, El Salvador, Belize and Honduras.  It is the poorest country in Latin America but also one of the most stunning with a landscape full of steep Volcanoes, thick rainforests, crater lakes, high mountain plateaus and numerous ancient Mayan sites.   Bike touring around the countryside on two separate occasions in 2009-2010 left a lasting impression with the excitement, welcoming locals, and endless dirt roads and trails to explore.   I’ve been meaning to come back ever since, particularly to train in the mountains surrounding Quetzaltenango (Xela) up at 7500 ft and hone in the Spanish skills.  The years have flown by but this year the opportunity came up to race Guatemalas 5 day cross country mtb race “El Reto de Quetzal“. This was a good opportunity to get the body fired up for the season so I organized a 5 week training camp surrounding it and have set up base camp in Xela.

Doing research on Guatemala before the trip all I heard was don’t do this alone, don’t go out at night alone, don’t travel on these roads due to bandits, don’t a taxi out of Guatemala city in the middle of the night, look out for roadblocks, don’t eat the street food etc…  Landing in Guatemala city at 1 am on friday morning I preceded to do everything listed above in the next week and have had zero problems.  It’s bizarre how the media loves to build up negative points to such a point that makes people nervous to get out of there beds in the morning.  What I’ve experienced is that you can run into trouble anywhere in the World if you go looking for it. At the same time if you take a few precautions, put a smile on your face and treat people with respect that this World is a very hospitable and welcoming place.  Knock on wood…

The first few days in Guatemala were spent in the tourist mecca of Antigua, a charming colonial city with cobblestone streets and towering Volcanoes.  A couple days were filled meeting locals, riding single track off of Volcan Agua and preparing to bike pack 2 days over the course of the El Reto de Quetzal to Xela in Western Guatemala.  With all the talk of bandits along the way I made sure to check with the local riders and was given the green light that it wasn’t as bad as it was made up to be.  The next two days were spent riding dirt roads and patches of sweet single track traversing the heart of the Guatemalan country side.  The ride was rad, everyone was friendly, even the tough looking gangsters out in the middle of nowhere, all they needed was a smile and a buenos dias. 

The biggest problem were the dogs as they are sketchy and everywhere in this country.  The Guatemalan dogs apparantly really like to get it on with each other without any regard to birth control.  The ones that bark are easy to defend against but the ones that silently take chase require eyes in the back of your head.  Usually you can out ride the dogs, but when you can’t, option B is to stop and use the bike as a shield and water bottle and rocks as weapons. It seems whenever the dogs are confronted they thankfully coward away.  The other problem was getting lost high up on a mountainside at 3000 M when my GPS lost signal.  The next few hours were spent mostly hiking, traversing out of the thick forests towards the Pan America highway in which I could ride a ways before re engaging the trail down to Xela.    

This past week in Xela has been pretty smooth, training in the mornings, attending spanish school in the afternoons and meeting up with other travelers and locals in the evenings.  The mountainous terrain surrounding Xela is great for riding. There is no way I’ll be able to explore all it has to offer in just 1 month!  The dogs are a pain in the ass still, but the city itself is pretty rad with a historical colonial center, a fair number of tourists, but still a very Guatemalan dominated feeling which makes it a good place to practice up on the Spanish and get immersed into the culture.  The travellers are pretty rad as well as they are either focused on volunteer projects, taking spanish courses or off on cool adventures.  A big contrast to some of the hippie hang out backpacker places in which most everyone seems content on drifting through there travels in a hungover state. 

The highlight so far has been meeting up with the local riders, Carlos, Juan, Julio and Cesar and the rest of the crew at BiciCasa Xela.  One of the best parts about racing around the world is hanging out with the locals, learning there ways and seeing the sweet local riding areas they have. There certainly is no shortage of great places to ride bikes on this earth!  Cesar and his crew at BiciCasa Xela have given me a home away from home and have been looking after the Kona Hei Hei for the race to come in a few days.  Its so clean right now I’m afraid it may become allergic to dirt.  Thanks boys!

 

Off to pack the bags to head back over to Antigua with Cesar via the infamous Chicken buses this afternoon.  El Reto de Quetzal kicks off Wednesday evening with a Night time trial before heading to the slopes of Volcan Agua for Stage 2 on Thursday 🙂   

Race Results should be found here:  El Reto De Quetzal Results

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