After I mailed my last travel-letter I moved to Antigua and took 2 weeks of Spanish course, it is very intensive, you have your own private teacher for 4 hours a day and normally you are staying with a local family, neither the teacher nor the family speaks English. There are a lot of Spanish schools in Antigua and else-where in Guatemala, the price is normally 100 $ a week including 3 meals a day with the family - so if you have some spare time I really would recommend you to go here, take 2 weeks of Spanish in Antigua, and after that travel the country for another few weeks - don't take an organized tour, you will get plenty of ideas and help from your fellow travelers here. If you don't bring your own bike you can rent small off-road bikes for around 100 $ a week, and traveling by bus here is almost free.
Guatemala is a very touristy country for good reasons, but it is very different than going to Greece, because almost nobody comes on organized tours, everybody goes on their own, but since we all visit the same places you will meet friends all over, once you have met them in Antigua. And if you like traveling company it is easy to meet some with the same desire, especially if you start with a Spanish school you are bound meet someone.
Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala but after a large earthquake in 1773 which almost destroyed the city and its inhabitants, the capital was moved to its current location. Today Antigua looks pretty much as it did then (I think) it is pretty small, a lot of the ruins, churches etc. are still there, but there is nothing higher than 2 floor, and there is no new buildings because they probably were afraid they would be destroyed by new earthquakes, but it seems that the earthquakes focuses on the current capital - The last one in 1976 killed 25.000 people in Guatemala city, and the capital before Antigua was completely buried under a landslide, which was the result of earthquakes.
Antigua feels like a very quiet town, maybe because of the many Spanish learning students, they hang around in the park or the cafes doing their home-work and in the evening many of us go to one of the many gringo-bars talking English although the real serious ones even try to do small-talk in Spanish. It is amazing how exhausted you get of just having 4 hour of Spanish every morning, maybe thats why the town is so quiet. The only thing the town is missing is a beach, but it might be difficult to arrange because we are 1530 meters above sea-level.
After 2 weeks in Antigua I got my bike back, at that time I had been almost 1 month in Guatemala, and therefore I went in to the customs to get my permission for the bike renewed. While doing this I found out that I had got a 5 day transit visa and permission for the bike instead of a tourist visa/permission, the result being that I got to practice my Spanish quite a bit. The immigration wanted me to pay a fine of 40 $, but after a lot of talk I got a 75 % discount. The worst problem was the customs, they wanted me to go back to Mexico where the error was made, which I purely denied so I ended up talking to the director, who gave me a letter and sent me to the border of El Salvador which is a 2 hours drive away. When I went there the next day (Saturday) the person in charge there would not fix it, so I had to go back to the director of the customs on Monday, he made a phone- call to the border at El Salvador, it was kind of one-way communication, and after that I again drove down there and this time I got it all fixed. So never underestimate the problems the Immigration/Customs can get you in.
Well I finally started my trip around the country, first I went to lake Atitlan a beauty-full lake with a Volcano right in the middle, I stayed in Panajachel also nicknamed Gringotenango. The town is beauty-fully located down to the lake with the volcanos, and the sunset here is just amazing. It is no wonder that the hippies discovered Panajachel during the sixties, and a lot of them are still there.
In Panajachel I met Allan Squire again (I met him in Antigua before (and later)), he is on his way back to the USA from Costa Rica on a BMW R69 from 1958, together we met Rody Fastabend from El Salvador who was there on a R80GS 1981, Rody always spends his honeymoons in Panajachel - it is nice to have something stable here in life. I stayed a week together with Allan in and around Panajachel. There is a very nice road going down to Panajachel, it drops 500 meter on 8 kilometers (sorry we are not in the US anymore) it is like a roller-coaster with superb view of the lake and the volcanos, and three 20 floor hotels, I turned out that the hotels was abandoned even before the was finished, so one afternoon we went visiting them, and climbed all the way to the top, it was very strange, it all looked as the day the construction had stopped 15 years ago, some apartments were almost finished, while the top floor was a mess of construction iron etc, Rody climbed it twice since he was the only one with a camera, and he left it in the bike, I hope he will send me a picture some day.
After Panajachel I drove down to El Salvador to visit Rody who I met in Panajachel, he has a machinery shop where they make all kind of agricultural machinery, and while I was there we made an extension to my luggage rack so now it is less likely that my exhaust will burn more holes in my luggage. I think Rody can make just about everything and he is crazy about BMW so if you are on the road down here I would suggest you pay him a visit, his address is
Rody Fastabend, 5 Avenida Sur No 36, Santa Ana, El Salvador, C. A.
but you might have to wait some months, because he is heading down South America too, and I expect to meet him later on. The roads in El Salvador is the worst I have tried so far, they are all beeing rebuild now that the civil war has ended so in a few years they will probably be perfect, but right now they are no fun.
I only stayed for a few days in El Salvador mainly because I wanted to go to Peten and visit the MAYA ruins at Tikal, and I certainly would like to avoid extending permission once again, although I think I know how it works now. On my way to Tikal I stopped at Jungle Farm near Poptun called "Finca Ixobel" which a lot of travelers had recommended, and I will recommend it too. They have got the most delicious food there and believe me for the first time in a very long time I was sleeping in a bed which was 10 cm. longer than me. I found it very difficult to move on from there. altogether I stayed for a week going on day-trips to visit drop-stone caves in the jungle, or just playing with the 2 monkies there, they liked to share your food whether you liked it or not, and if they really liked you they would hang down from the ceiling in their tail scrutinizing your head for bugs. There was also a free flying red parrot, normally it would sit right outside my window picking on it to get in, so that it could consume some literature.
I left all my stuff at Finca Ixobel and traveled light to Tikal, I walked around the ruins and was planning to spend the night in the ruins on top of the highest temple, so I went up there to watch the sunset. There were five of us who wanted to spend the night there, and everything seemed OK even when the guard came and told us about the hard times, and that a few dollars would make it easier for everyone as long as nobody was told, so we paid and were quite happy, but then another guard came and we were told to go and sleep another place in the ruins because they were afraid the director would check this place out (this 65 m high temple is quite famous for this) since we had little choice we followed them. The next morning before the sun-rise we climbed back onto the temple and watched the sunrise and the jungle wake up from above. I was full of red spots all over my hands and my head but they were not itching, so it was not the moskitos who had made this Tikal tatoo, and they disappeared after a few days. The most interes- ting at Tikal, in my opinion, is the jungle. It is very fascinating to sit on top of one of the temples and watch all the collorfull bird from above, specially the green parrots, when they sit in the tree they are green and you cannot see them but when they are flying and you watch them from above they are very collorfull, there are also some which looks like flying bananas I think they are called Tocans.
After spending a few nights in my long bed again I went back to Antigua,
staying with the same family as I stayed with when I studied Spanish.
I actually planned to take another week of Spanish but I am too lazy and
I think I can manage with what I have learned. From Antigua you can go on
a guided tour to the active volcano Pacaya, and so I did, it is a 2 hour
walk all the way to the top of the volcano, you go there in the afternoon
and go back when it starts to get dark. It is a great experience being up
there when the volcano erupts, first you can feel the ground shaking and
then it erupts glowing lava high up in the sky and you can hear it falling
down not very far from you. The descend from the volcano is just as
interesting since it is dark and you are walking/sliding down the step sides
which is all covered with ashes, I can tell you I was sleeping very well
Tomorrow my permission for my bike will expire and I will say farewell to Guatemala, I liked it here a lot, I think it is a pretty safe country although you hear a lot of stories, and you will meet people who has been robbed. The most dangerous is probably climbing the volcanos or the temples I am sure that would not have been possible in Denmark, but then again we don't have any.
Next is Honduras, I don't know where, probably the Caribian coast, but I am getting used to base my next move on the information I will receive from the people I meet, which reminds me of a question I was asked by a Londoner:
"Do you never take any false turns ?" - I replied "No but I sometimes have to change my plans".Stay tuned and I will give you my impressions in a month or so if I find an e-mail connection.