WEEK #53 How are we doing? Bienvenidos a Guatemala

“A bad day on the bike is better than a good day at work.”

Depends on what line of work you’re in I guess. Also, how long have you been on the bicycle? What counts as a bad day? And why is it better than a day at work? I’ll try to answer this in the next couple of paragraphs. I want to share with you what cycling has been like in Guatemala, the highlands to be exact.

It started with some hassle at the border of Mexico and Guatemala. Apparently you have to show the receipt of your visa that you bought when you came into the country. I didn’t have the receipt, thinking that the visa would be enough evidence. Guess I was wrong. No stamp means no entering Guatemala. Now what? Pay again? Not an option for me. After a discussion with border patrol, I learned some new Spanish words and they learned some new English words (not too proud of that), I decided to head over to Guatemala and see if I would be allowed into the country without the Mexican stamp. 5 minutes later I was in Guatemala with a stamp in my passport for 90 days. According to them the visa was enough evidence. Bienvenidos a Guatemala. Awesome.

Then the fun begins. From the Mexican border I was looking straight at them, now I was entering a new world; the Guatemalan Highlands. The next four days proved to be quite the challenge. Not only the distances, but also the elevation and the weather had changed dramatically. Bring. It. On.

Mountains reaching over 3000 meters, grades of over 10% are “normal” and the afternoons are guaranteed to get you wet. Tropical thunderstorms spread out over the highlands and the rain doesn’t stop until late at night. 4 days in a row I wake up at an altitude higher than 1600 meters. Every day starts with sunshine and heat, salty sweat dripping off my body and over the bicycle, to be washed off by the rain in the afternoon. Once something gets wet, it will not dry. You get used to it though. Except wet shoes and socks, I’ll never get used to that.

IMG_4788All this climbing and raining makes it sound like it isn’t fun. On the contrary, the highlands of Guatemala have given me some the most extraordinary views I’ve had since Canada and Alaska. Between the border and Antigua I have seen some incredible things. One of them is Lake Atitlán.
Voted one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, it’s a magical place to be. The lake, which formed in a volcanic eruption 84,000 years ago, rests at an elevation of 1,500 meters. The depth is still uncertain, but some claim it is 600 meters deep. The three volcanoes surrounding it give you stunning images you can stare at for hours, losing yourself in its beauty.

Three weeks ago I survived a flash flood. Now I was cycling towards Antigua and having a déjà vu; the rain was coming down so hard that complete roads were being washed away. Rocks, trees, boulders, everything was being taken down the mountains by the flow of water.Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 15.55.55
Halfway through the ride I came across a river that had washed away a whole bridge. What to do? Go through mud and water (great, wet shoes again) to reach the other side. Backtracking wasn’t an option. Call me crazy, but once I was at the other side I really started to enjoy this weather a bit more. It had something adventurous to it, the challenge and adrenaline felt good.

Friday the 13th. A day of bad luck? Not for me. I arrived in Antigua, Guatemala after having some rough days on the road. Things were about to change. Some of my former colleagues in Amsterdam (Stayokay Hostelling International) had secretly organised a fundraiser. The initiative came from Wouter “Prins Pils” Adamse. They had raised enough money to put me in an apartment for two weeks, give me Spanish lessons and even make a generous donation to 99%RIDE. I’m almost forgetting they also gave me “drinking” money to enjoy my first night in Antigua. And I did. Guys, thanks again for the worst hangover I’ve had since I started this expedition.

Friday the 13th in Antigua. An unforgettable day. No bad luck here, just lots of love and laughter.

“A bad day on the bike is better than a good day at work.”

My work is on the bike. It’s with (and about) people who are spread out over two continents. It’s in the rain and it’s in the sun. It’s also been in snow. It’s always outside. Everyone has bad days, but they’re always in the shadow of the good ones. Keep it that way. Do what makes you happy and there will be no bad days.

From Antigua, Guatemala,

Dirk Spits

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