GUATEMALA, 24th February – 1st March 2019
Well hello there loyal followers, thanks for sticking around, I know things have been mighty quiet around here for a while, so thanks for not drifting off to look at cyclists on Instagram or anything like that. They tell me that’s where all the cyclists post online these days, Instagram, they say no one blogs anymore. Well, take a look at this, I’m still blogging, I’m blogging right now aren’t I?! Looks like ‘they’ are wrong. And thankfully the lack of action on the blog does not reflect a lack of action in reality, and there is lots of exciting excitement to catch up on. I’m going to try my best to write a post a day for the next week in order to get you all up to speed with what’s been going on, quite a change of pace, eh? Life in the old blog yet!
Now, we left you with us enjoying the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. And by ‘us’ I of course don’t just mean me and Dea, but Dea’s father Niels and her brother Johan too, who had come out to enjoy Guatemala with us (in this instance ‘us’ just means me and Dea) for a couple of weeks. Walking around Tikal had been splendid, and after doing so Johan and I cycled the 60 kilometres back to Flores together. This time we opted to stay on the paved road and we made excellent time too. I really enjoyed the two days of cycling with Johan. Dea’s family is really important to her and it is also very important to me that I get along very well with them, so it was great to spend this time together with Johan cycling along and playing games like “catch the leaf” which he was a natural at, and stopping to enjoy ice cream breaks. Great fun, good times.
Back in Flores we all dived in the lake, as was becoming a daily tradition, and then we went out for a nice dinner together. Things had been going so well together that it was a real shame I couldn’t join everyone in leaving Flores the following morning. My dental appointment meant that I would have to wait behind for a day and a half as Dea began cycling south towards Rio Dulce, with her father and brother taking buses and linking up with her along the way. I felt pretty bad watching Dea cycle off on her own. I know she can take care of herself, but I didn’t like that we were splitting up like this. I resolved that once my tooth was fixed I would do my best to catch up to everyone as soon as possible.
With everyone else gone I spent my day alone in Flores with Ciaran, his presence rendering my use of the word ‘alone’ there quite erroneous. He had been hanging out in a hostel in Flores for some days, ever since we had abandoned him, and seemingly a little unsure of his own next move. I joined him hanging out for a day, and then the next morning abandoned him again, heading for the dentists and my root canal operation. Luckily I was now in the hands of a friendly, English-speaking dentist who I bonded with over our shared love of cruises, and he performed my first-ever root canal successfully completed by a non-Iranian. It was 10:30 a.m. when I got back on my bike, my face numb from the anaesthetic, and I set myself the challenge to try and ride to the hotel where I knew Dea and her family would be staying, 120 kilometres away, by 6:00 p.m., the time when it would get too dark to be on the road. It was an ambitious challenge, especially as it was uphill and the wind was against me, but ambitious challenges is my middle name.*
*Not really, it’s Matthew.
The headwind made things almost impossible, but I really liked that. I like challenges that are close to impossible, the kind where you have to be at your best to succeed, where you have to do everything right. I had to stop to pee just outside Flores, but after that I didn’t get off the bike for 60 kilometres, keeping my mind focused on pedalling at a decent average speed. With the time available I worked out that I needed to average 16 kilometres per hour, and for the first 40 kilometres of the ride I was on 17.5. The middle 40 was the tough section, when things got really hilly, and my average dropped way down, to 15.9. As the road flattened out I pulled back ahead of the required average until, 95 kilometres in, I got a puncture. It was on the back wheel as well, so I had to unload the bike, but I fixed it as fast as I could and got myself moving again. By 113 kilometres it seemed like I was back on course, but then the road climbed up a long, steep pass. It was not what my body needed after pounding out over a hundred kilometres of pretty much non-stop riding, especially as I had run out of water. I kept on pushing hard anyway, motivated by the reward of seeing Dea and joining up with everyone again. Surely it would be worth all the sweat and toil. I finally crested the pass and took the descent at speed, racing down the hill and through villages, looking out for signs for the hotel, until there it was. I had made it at 5:56, four minutes to spare. I approached the receptionist, who informed me that yes, my friends were here, but they had gone out to dinner, at the top of the hill ironically enough, and unfortunately they had with them the only key to the air-conditioned ensuite hotel room.
Disappointed not to be hanging out with everyone, I went to the shop next door and bought some chocolate milk, and my disappointment naturally faded with every sip of energy-reviving chocolatey deliciousness. Before too long they all came back, surprised and impressed to see me so soon. It meant that the following morning I could cycle with Dea for the remaining distance to Rio Dulce on the unremarkable main road. Apart from Dea falling at one point, grazing her knee and getting a bit of a fright, there’s not much to report about the ride. We reached the very busy town of Rio Dulce by early afternoon and met up with Niels and Johan at our agreed rendezvous point by the docks. We’d organised to stay at a place hidden in the jungle along the river, and, after making a call to the accommodation, it wasn’t long before a small boat in the charge of two funny men arrived to take us there. We got all our stuff into the small boat, apart from my sunglasses, which disappeared into the river, and motored along for a few minutes. It was a great relief to leave the chaotic, noisy town behind and head off to this jungle location, accessible only by boat.
The accommodation proved every bit as good as we had hoped. We were staying in a wood cabin, one of a few accessible by boardwalk in the jungle. An accompanying restaurant provided our food, and the following morning Johan, Dea and I took a little row boat out by ourselves. It was an unstable boat, with me nearly falling in the water as soon as I stood in it, but somehow we navigated out through the narrow channel we’d arrived in and out to the wide river, where a floating pontoon waited for us. From this pontoon we played a variety of games, such as ‘catch the tennis ball while jumping off the pontoon’, ‘race after the tennis ball’, and ‘catch the American football and throw it into the boat, while jumping off the pontoon’. Life doesn’t get much better than this, folks.
The only way out of this place was of course by boat, and we arranged to be picked up by the tourist boat that heads down the river to Livingston, a small town on the Caribbean that is also only accessible by boat. The boat was packed with foreigners, and we paid a visit to the fort at Rio Dulce and stopped at some hot springs along the way. The real highlight of the trip though was when the river narrowed and snaked through a canyon of tall, jungle-covered cliffs.
We arrived in Livingston and made our way to our hotel. It was an odd sort of town, very different from the rest of Guatemala, with a strong Garifuna (people from the Caribbean who settled on the Central American coast) culture, as well as a strong tourist culture.
The next day was sadly our last one together, and we spent it walking along the shore out of Livingston to find a natural attraction known as the seven altars. It was a long walk, a couple of hours, but a very nice one along the beach. We eventually reached our destination, or the start of it at least, a waterfall in the jungle. A trail led up to it and across the top of it, enough of a physical challenge to make Niels think he’d be better off stopping here. He was probably right in that decision, the rest of the walk proved even more treacherous, following the river upstream, sometimes on slippery, hard rocks beside it, other times on slippery, hard rocks in it. The effort was all worth it when we came to the series of rockpools and the final waterfall at the top of it all. There was a big pool in front of it, perfect for swimming in. I tried swimming up to the falls but the force of the water flowing from them held me back. Johan came in too and we had another go, and this time I realised that with enough determination it was possible not only to reach the waterfall but to swim through it to the other side. Johan followed and soon we were sitting on the rocks behind the waterfall which was a seriously friggin’ cool place to be hanging out, by the way.
We all walked back together along the beach chatting, and I reflected on how much I liked Niels and Johan and what a great time it had been. I was sad that they were leaving so soon. We had dinner together one more time and then went to a hostel where we had heard we would be able to experience some live Garifuna music. It was a party hostel full of young people, but that didn’t stop us taking a seat and watching on as the drums were slapped and the hips were swung by the Caribbean musicians. Then the call went out for all the girls to come up the front and do a Garifuna dance, and I was surprised that Dea joined them. Then it was the turn of the boys. “No way,” I said, as the musicians tried to coax us up. To my surprise, not only did Johan jump up, but so did Niels, and our final night together ended with all of the Jacobsens swinging their hips to those funky Garifuna beats.