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We're Not There Yet

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Making a Break for the Coast – Xela to El Tulate, Guatemala | We're Not There Yet

We love Xela, we really do, but the mountain highland location makes it hard to remember that it is still summer. We are not the sunbathing, hammock-lazing, piña colada sipping types (although sometimes we like to see how the other half lives), but it was time for a trip to the beach. We rounded up a good-sized group of folks from Xela, most of whom also did the Atitlan ride with us, and headed to the coast. There are two major differences between the ride to the beach versus the ride to the lake: first, it is mostly downhill, turning into flat; second, it is hot as hell. I know that was kind of the point- to get out of the eternal winter of Xela and into a more summery frame of mind, but good heavens, this was a shock to the system. I can’t believe we used to ride every day in heat this intense on the US leg of the trip. We are definitely not used to it and it threw us off. Luckily, the end of the ride found us on the beach, running directly into the ocean with barely enough time to get off the bikes.

Lunch break on the way- the Aussies are vegetarians and so had to politely explain that no meat meant no pollo, res, salchichia, or jamon. Just cheese and ketchup, thanks.

The only drawback to the whole weekend was that it coincided with the national election and, therefore, fell under a nation-wide ban on sale of alcohol for the entire weekend. I don’t want to come off like someone who finds it hard to make it through the weekend without beer, but nothing caps off a long, hot ride to a beachside destination like a very cold beer. And because the concept of tourism has yet to make it this far south in Guatemala, there really wasn’t anything else to do. We managed to sweet-talk the proprietress of the place where we were staying into breaking the law- just a little bit- and slipping us a round of beers with our fresh grilled fish dinners. It was the least she could do, since she didn’t make much of an effort to give us all a place to sleep. The 8 of us spread out between two rooms in her ramshackle beachfront restaurant. About half of us slept- two people per twin bed, and one in a hammock- in a room that was presently functioning as a storage space and a couple of others scored a small room with a sand floor and no door. That seemed like the better of the two options until they woke up in the morning with a terrifyingly enormous pig for a roommate.

See the beach? It’s right behind that giant pig

Despite the lack of amenities in the place, it had a certain charm and, afterall, we were just there for the beach. It is not the tropical vision of the Caribbean coast, featuring black sand and forceful waves in place of tranquil turquoise water meeting powdery sand, but it was hot, sunny and all ours. Well, ours and the beach pigs’. The whole stretch of beach was dotted with pigs of various sizes and colors rooting around in the sand, frolicking in the waves, and loitering unsettlingly close to our pile of flip-flops. There is not much in the way of tourism in El Tulate, so the locals live like they would anywhere else- with livestock wandering around like housecats. A troop of piglets belonging to the aforementioned MegaPig ran free all around our little spot. Perhaps the lack of alcohol was a good thing in hindsight, since wriggling piglets, soft sand, and tequila make an old-fashioned pig-wrestling match awfully tempting.

Frolicking piglets!
The view from our “room”
The sinks
The showers, some of which actually contained pigs
Our room/storage space. And yes, the hammock counts as one of the beds.

The weekend was not all fun and pig-themed games, however. Two of our group, including R, managed to scrape off generous amounts of skin along the highway. While the roads are in decent shape for the most part, there are some obstacles that can wreak havoc on cyclists. One fall was the result of a long, sweet downhill interrupted by a pothole that was easy to miss at high speeds. The other was a pretty spectacular launch off the bike after hitting an umarked speed bump at high velocity. Luckily, both made it to the beach with lots of cuts and bruises, but limbs and heads intact. R is still healing from his fall, but only complains a little.

Walking down the strip

The other unexpected twist to our itinerary occurred when we stopped in a mid-sized town for water. We had grouped up in the middle of a pretty happening market and were getting ready to continue on our way when a couple stopped me and told me something very emphatically, but completely unintelligible. After a few rounds of miscommunication, I just shrugged and smiled and continued on my way. That’s when the local police showed up and asked us if we had any idea what we were doing. Turns out that just outside of town and continuing for a couple of kilometers was an area so dangerous that the police insisted on rounding us up and escorting us for the next 4km. Apparently the area has a heavy narco-trafficking presence, which was exhibited by an unusual concentration of tattooed men on motorcycles. Truthfully, we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary along the road, but the compulsory police escort did put us all on edge for about 15km, at which time we figured that we were safely out of harm’s way and ditched the authorities. It was one of those scenarios where we weren’t sure if we should be more nervous about the police who were supposed to be protecting us or the unseen gang members. Many of us had had previous experience with police soliciting bribes and we weren’t sure if we were better off with or without them. Happily, we lived to tell the tale and our wallets remained intact.

A small river separates the beach from the town
The team on the ferry ride back

It was another amazing weekend trip with our awesome Xela friends. Since we only had a day of riding in Guatemala before our arrival in Xela, these mini bike trips have been a godsend. We are managing to get our Spanish classes in and experience staying in one place for a while, but we still have the chance to squeeze in some riding and see really interesting places in Guatemala that we might not have seen otherwise. Our time in Xela is winding down, but we are still making plans up until the very end.

The bikes safely atop the chicken bus for the ride back to Xela This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.