A Guatemalan Back Road Adventure
Feb 4, 2009
|Well there was no change in weather today except it might be just a little colder. We loaded up and I checked our planned route to Flores with the lady at the front desk. My concern was that my map showed this route as being only partially paved with a 50-60 km section of dirt road. No, she assured me, the road to Flores is totally paved now.
One thing that is common in our experience in Guatemala is the complete absence of directional signs in most towns or cities. Typically, the highways you are on with simply dissolve when you hit the city. Usually there is no indication as to how to navigate through to the other side and the streets are a maze. It was no different here in Coban.
We had great difficulty finding our way out of town and at one point were starting down the wrong highway altogether. After stopping to ask directions a few times we finally set off on the road we wanted. (Well at least it was the road we thought we wanted).
The road itself was paved and wound its way through the mountains. The scenery was amazing, even through the fog and rain. We passed many villages and always there were people walking along the roads. The women are dressed in large pleated skirts and brightly coloured shawls covering intricately embroidered blouses. These women are often carrying a baby in the shawl and/or carrying a basket or jug on their heads. Everywhere there are people carrying loads of firewood on their backs.
We were rolling along quite nicely for the first 60 km or so when the pavement suddenly ended, just as my map had indicated it would. The rain had stopped and the entrance to the narrow road did not look too bad. “Let’s give it a try.”
The road was only one vehicle width with wider spots now and then to allow passing. This was necessary as there were many large farm type trucks on the road and they all seemed to be coming towards us. There were also quite a few small vans which do duty as buses in rural Guatemala. I was actually quite amazed at the amount of traffic on this remote road.
The road was extremely tough with large loose rocks in some places and large, imbedded boulders in others. There were also sections of rough bare rock, usually on the hills. I would rate this as a primitive, non-maintained wilderness road if it was back in Canada or the USA. Here it has a highway number!
There were villages along the way and, as we had seen in Honduras, many people were living in mud brick shacks but there were also substantial homes of concrete with tin roofs. There were also schools every so often.
This would be a great road without such a heavy load on the bike but fully loaded and two up, it was quite a test. About 10 km in it started rain heavily again and the surface became pretty muddy and slick in places. Even the little vans were having trouble maintaining traction.
We still had perhaps 50 km to go and it had taken nearly an hour to do the first 10 km. We would not get through by dark at this rate and it was becoming just too slick. Falling off and needing help here would be a very bad situation. You always have to keep in mind just where you are. "I've fallen and can't get up." takes on a whole different connotation out here. We had to turn back.
It seemed to be a little faster coming out but still took close to and hour to reach pavement again. From there we had to backtrack all the way to Coban, right where we had started this morning.
It was still raining and heading out on the “correct” road to Flores at this late in the day did not make sense. Sjoerd Bakker had a hotel listed in Coban so we checked it out. It turned out to be very nice and much cheaper than last night’s hotel.
The hotel still had no heat but when we asked the proprietor for extra blankets he must have seen us shivering. He brought us two blankets he had warmed up in the drier. It was so nice to wrap up in the warm we soon fell asleep.
Tomorrow, with any luck, we should find our way to Flores and some sun.