Category: Great American Trek (page 1 of 23)

Pyramids in the Jungle – Fun and Games in Guatemala

Finally. Guatemala. After nearly a year on the road we were getting closer to Mexico. After a rather uneventful border crossing, lunch at Wendy’s and a big tar highway we were en route to Antigua, a beautiful colonial town, right out of antiquity and filled with ruins and more tourists than you can wave a stick at. But getting there was easier said than done (remember I had busted my rear shock and my clutch just before the border, and was now heading to civilisation to get it fixed). Before long, we realised that we had arrived in Guatemala City on Independence Day, their biggest holiday of the year, and one celebrated by locals off all ages, creeds and states of intoxication. People were walking, running, and hobbling through every street, including all major highways, drunk off their faces and arranged into pelotons, each followed by empty buses acting as ‘support’ vehicles. As is customary with Latin America, the above was accompanied by industrial quantities of fireworks and flaming torches, all set to the ever-present, ear-splittingly loud party music. Now don’t get me wrong, this is my kind of place, and I am an avid appreciator of Latino party-culture, madness, and mayhem, but having an entire country’s population waddle through the streets in a surprisingly accurate display of Brownian motion during rush hour, while riding with a broken shock and weak clutch, doesn’t do much to help the infamously atrocious Guatemala City traffic. On a normal day of the week 2km can take 1hr 30min in rush hour, and we had to go all the way through the city to get to Antigua.

Guatemala - they take Piñatas pretty seriously here

Guatemala – they take Piñatas pretty seriously here

Luckily the trip was great entertainment, it kept us awake and energised and helped us to bide our time whilst we got to our destination, once again, true to form, in the pitch dark. In Antigua we found a lovely place recommended by friends in the more authentic, local (read: cheaper) part of town. Shortly after arriving we decided to sample some local cuisine, this came in the form of a Caesar’s Pizza and a rum nightcap, I slept like the dead.

Building of antiquity in the old colonial town of Antigua, in Guatemala

Antigua is a gold-mine of culture and old colonial buildings and ruins, a photographer’s dream

Building of antiquity in the old colonial town of Antigua, in Guatemala

Building of antiquity in the old colonial town of Antigua, in Guatemala

Building of antiquity in the old colonial town of Antigua, in Guatemala

The next day we were reunited once again with the lesser spotted Martin, who had made his way up to Guatemala after a frolic through luxury in Costa Rica with friends. He was now firmly back on the bike, back in the dirt, back on the road, and once again, severely poverty stricken. With the festivities in full swing we were able to get our fill of spectacular street food and local booze, gently enabling us to sleep happy and drunk for yet another night. Eating and drinking is what we do best, and combined with riding a motorcycle, this makes roughly 60% of our trip. If you were wondering what the other 40% was, it is entirely composed of waiting, more specifically, me waiting for Megan. In Antigua we were lucky enough to meet Tolga Basol from Ride Must Go On, who will soon be heading back down into South America and then over to Africa on a Husquervana 701.

Matthew Snyman, of the Great World Trek meeting Tolga Basol of Ride Must Go On, in Antigua, Guatemala

Tolga Basol, from Ride Must Go On

But it wasn’t all holiday, eventually I had to take a break from being inebriated, and make a plan to get my bike back to working order. Touratech’s absolutely spectacular customer service had made it possible to get my rear shock replaced with a top-of the range custom built monster, which was delivered to BMW in Guatemala City and installed free of charge within 3 days of sending them an email. This is the sort of customer service which will win me over for life, knowing that any problems with their product can be sorted out in no time, even when on the road in far-off places. A huge round of applause for Touratech and lots of very well deserved praise indeed.

But before I get ahead of myself, There was the ordeal of actually getting to BMW. Megan is not always partial to lane splitting, especially at speed in bad traffic, and to my fault, I am not partial to waiting and taking my time, even after all the practice. This often results in interesting situations, and this was definitely one of these times. Whilst I was leading the way (the GPS is on my bike, because I am a man and don’t ask for directions), I lost Megan. The usual plan of action for turnoffs is to wait for her at the said turnoff until she sees me, after which we ride off happily together into the sunset. The only problem this time, was that Megan was so extremely flustered and overcome by Guatemalan traffic-madness, that she completely missed both me and the turnoff, even after staring directly at me whilst I was frantically waving at her.

Having already taken the offramp, it was now impossible for me to turn around and head back onto the highway through one-way traffic, usually a one-way street means absolutely nothing to me, but in this instance logic prevailed and I chose life. This is not, after all, Bolivia. Meg had officially been separated from the herd.

I decided the best thing to do was to live my life and continue on to BMW and wait for her there, she knew where she had to go. Little did I know her cell phone had no local SIM, and she had become lost on the other side of Guatemala City (the wrong side). Having to rely on her rudimentary Spanish to get wifi from the phone of a petrol attendant, so that she could load the correct one out of two BMW dealers in the city. She stopped at a station on the industrial road, nearest to a Mc Donalds for safetly in numbers, and proceeded to load her directions. In the meanwhile, I booked my bike in, spoke to the mechanics, oggled the fancy new bikes, and drank a coffee, or three. Like the man who buys his wife a new ironing board for Christmas, you can probably tell, this was not going to end well for me. And true to form, it didn’t.

Megan made it safely to the dealership after her solo adventure through the concrete wilderness. On arrival she proceeded to give me the most terrifying stare I have ever witnessed and the most intense silent treatment on offer. Even the guys who worked at BMW were scared, I could feel the anger from outside the building.

I was busy contemplating my current predicament whilst blankly staring at a poster on the wall, which proudly displayed a bunch of squeaky-clean BMW models with shiny-teeth, wearing pristine adventure gear and laughing and grinning at each other in front of the Alps. Fuckers. It was about this time I heard I voice behind me: ‘Matthew! How is your ride going?’. I countered with a blank, confused stare into the open, friendly face that greeted me. ‘You’re probably wondering who I am…’ The man behind the voice was Carlos, an amazing human, who had been in contact with us through Facebook, and was soon to become a close friend of ours, Carlos whipped us up, fetched our stuff from our hostel and welcomed us into his beautiful home, unknowingly also saving me from the wrath of Megan, and getting me a lighter sentence from Judge Dread herself.

Once again we had been shown the most amazingly warm hospitality by complete strangers. Carlos and his wife, Sigrid, welcomed us as family, and helped us sort out all of our bike woes. As any overlander will know, there is something indescribably special about staying in a welcoming family home for a while, its personal, its warm, its safe and its comforting. It means the world to someone on the road.

We had the most amazing time with Carlos in Guatemala City. We were even hosted on a ride to the coast, and through the waterways on a Panga, with breakfast in front of an active, smoking volcano, the ground occasionally giving a shake as the volcano growls.. To top this off, Carlos treated us to a weekend at his house on Rio Dulce with his friends, riding around in the boat, drinking all day, and lazing around in a jacuzzi. It was an absolute paradise. Thanks Carlos for showing us the most amazing, warm hospitality, we cant wait to see you in South Africa soon.

The ride out of Guatemala City and into the countryside, Volcano in tow

Riding through Guatemala, there are no shortage of volcanoes

Guatemal always boasts magnificent views, and they normally contain at least one volcano

The views are spectacular, and there is nothing like a smoky, active volcano, this was our view from the breakfast table

What a stop for lunch!

What a stop for lunch!

Riding Guatemala, what a place

Our lunch stop – a house tight on the beach

Happy Monday from Guatemala

We just had to do another ‘Happy Monday’ shot for everyone back home

Carlos and myself - chilling out with a mid-ride swim

Carlos and myself – chilling out with a mid-ride swim

The Great World Trek, getting their bikes on to 'Pangas' to get them down the river in Guatemala

Getting the bikes on the panga for our trip down the river

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The Great World Trek taking a panga through the Guatemalan wetlans

The Great World Trek taking a panga through the Guatemalan wetlans

Livingstone - a tiny town with no road access at the river mouth of Rio Dulce, where it joins the Caribbean

Livingstone – a tiny town with no road access at the river mouth of Rio Dulce, where it joins the Caribbean

A day on Carlos' boat

A day on Carlos’ boat

Boating down Rio Dulce in Guatemala

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Matthew Snyman from the Great World Trek floating around on Rio Dulce in Guatemala

Life’s tough in Guatemala… overlanding isn’t for everyone

the banks of Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Carlos' spot on the river

Carlos’ spot on the river

The Rio Dulce in Guatemala

Eventually we had to leave Carlos and Sigrid, and head North to a little town called El Remate, where we would stay on the shores of lake Peten Itza, before visiting the famous Mayan ruins and pyramids of Tikal. On arriving in the wet, humid forest and parking the bikes under a corrugated iron roof behind the hostel, we walked barefoot through the trees, where we were enveloped by the smell of old, damp leaves on the muddy floor as the sun set over the lake. There is a special feeling that comes with cleaning yourself in a clear lake in the forest whilst the sun sets after a long day riding through a foreign country. With nothing else to worry about other than whats for dinner, and if you should go inside for a beer, or float around long enough to see the stars reflecting off the water.

The next day was our ‘Tikal’ day, our day to see the ruins, everyone says you should get up really early and then try to get into the park before 6 am. Fuck. That.

As you might have guessed, we are not the most diligent people when it comes to alarms and dragging ourselves out of bed while its still dark. We pride ourselves on being massively indecisive,  packing the bikes and leaving whenever, it sort of seems to happen naturally, and embracing our lazy side on a regular basis in order to more thoroughly savor experiences and the world around us. To our credit we did actually try. We set the alarm, and when it went off, we noticed that not only was it still dark, but the rain was bucketing down on our little room. Not going to happen.

We woke up when we were ready, had a lazy breakfast, and then decided at 13:00, once the rain had stopped, it was a good time to head out.

Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘Idiots!’. Well you’re wrong. Ha. We got on the bikes and made our way into the park, and because all the buses leave the ruins at 14:00 latest, we had the entire park completely to ourselves in beautiful, cool weather with the smell of rain all around us. Laziness for the win.

Tikal is a magical place and an awe-inspiring experience. The sheer size and beautiful condition of the pyramids is absolutely astounding, and the walk through the jungle was both peaceful, quiet, and full of life and sound at the same time. Tikal has it all, grand ball-courts, huge ceremonial courtyards, beautiful forest and monumental pyramids from which you can stare out over the canopy at the other pyramid peaks in the distance. A real first-class experience.

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

The ruins of Tikal

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

The tops of the pyramids, as seen poking out of the canopy from the top of another temple

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

Meg 'orungutaning' it

Meg ‘orungutaning’ it

The inspiration...

The inspiration…

The ruins of Tikal, in Guatemala

A fox runs through the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala

We were even joined by a fox as we walked through the ruins

The ruins of Tikal, in Guatemala

The ruins of Tikal, in Guatemala

The ruins of Tikal, in Guatemala

Megan Snyman of the great world trek, gazing out over the Tikal runs in Guatemala

The tree of life, I shit you not, thats what its called...

The tree of life, I shit you not, that’s what it was called…

The Tikal ruins in Guatemala

On our way out of Guatemala, we stopped by another set of ruins, a lesser known, partially covered and non-touristy set pyramids known as Yaxha. These became our favorite ruins of the trip. There was absolutely no one at the site apart from us. It was the most peaceful, authentic set of ruins I have ever been to and is set right on the banks of a river. The staff are also extremely proud of the site and are determined that you have a good time, explaining things to you as you go, just for the love of it. Another great thing about Yaxha is the fact that it is one of the last sets of ruins you can actually properly interact with. With no boundaries or cordoned off areas, you are allowed to climb over the ruins, and climb to the top of the pyramids up the original steps themselves. On the top of the tallest pyramid you can see a beautiful view over the jungle, with a dark river cutting straight through it, one of my fondest memories of the trip.

And then came Belize…

And on to Yaxha, on the banks of a river, they are an AMAZING set of ruins

And on to Yaxha, on the banks of a river, they are an AMAZING set of ruins

Ruins at Yaxha, guatemala still lie uncovered, scattered through the forest

Ruins still lie uncovered, scattered through the forest

The ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

The ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

The view from the tallest temple

The Great World Trek explore the lesser-known ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

The Great World Trek explore the lesser-known ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

The Great World Trek explore the lesser-known ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

The Great World Trek explore the lesser-known ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

The Great World Trek explore the lesser-known ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

The Great World Trek explore the lesser-known ruins of Yaxha, in Guatemala

Riding El Salvador – Dynamite Comes in Small Packages

El Salvador, it’s the smallest country in the Americas, and the most dangerous. Run by gangs, and plagued by rampant with shootings, robbery and kidnapping. What the media will neglect to tell you, however is that it is also full of friendly, generous people, beautiful landscapes, great food and a strong sense of pride and patriotism. It is often grouped with Honduras with regard to danger and avoided like the plague by overlanders, if anyone does tend to travel through it is usually by necessity, with people blowing through from border to border in a single day. We were having none of that and decided to stay as long as possible in a country smaller than some of our game reserves at home.

After making it through Honduras without being robbed, shot, raped and sold into slavery to work on a drug farm (this is what people are scared of, I shit you not), we arrived at border of the infamous El Salvador with much excitement and anticipation. A car out front with four flat wheels, an animals nest in the backseat and a jungle growing out of the undercarriage didn’t fill us with faith as to the waiting times to get through the border. Luckily this was once again a big rouse, and we were ushered through a neat, clean and amazingly efficient border post, with friendly, welcoming officials who even supplied us with tourist guides and a map for free.

Waiting times at the El Salvador border

This isn’t a good sign when you.re about to cross a border…

The Great World Trek crossing into El Salvador

No officer, of course my numberplate isn’t fake…

The Great World Trek riding into El Salvador

And into El Salvador we go!

This was about the time we came to realise how ridiculously small this country really is. We had decided that, after finishing up at the border, we would ride through the first town and spend the night in the second one we came across. The ride took us under ten minutes.

Having become aware that we could probably ride through the entire country in an afternoon, we lost all sense of urgency, and pulled in at the first good-looking place we came across. Meg proceeded to put on an award winning bartering performance, driving the hardest bargain I have ever seen to claim us a spot in an air-conditioned room overlooking the jungle. As many of you know, when a woman says she will not spend the night in a tent, this is not a discussion, just let them do the bargaining and the owner will soon come to the same realisation. For dinner, as per our usual routine, we ordered the countries speciality, which in El Salvador is known as a Papusa. A papusa is a difficult thing to describe, basically, they consist of two juicy, fried maize-meal patties separated by a filling of ones choice, they are artery-cloggingly delicious, and became my go-to staple for our entire stay in the country.

The 24 hour woman

Apparently I’m a 24 hour woman…

ElSalvadorian Papusas

Papusas, mmmmm…..

When our trip started in the Americas, we were contacted by a friendly young El Salvadorian by the name of Gabriel, who had been following our journey the whole way until his doorstep, where he had kindly offered us a room in his family home. A big dreamer himself, Gabriel is currently saving and getting his ducks in a row to plan a big bike trip of his own, hosting as many overlanders as possible to try and immerse himself in the culture of traveling by motorcycle. On our way to meet Gabriel, we had, as usual, unknowingly wandered into one of the most dangerous parts of the city, where we stopped at a petrol station and headed inside for a bit to eat. We must have been looking rather worse for wear at this point, because an old local lady wandered up to us and tried to give us money. People literally thought we were homeless. The fact that we are actually are homeless and unemployed has nothing to do with it. Obviously we thankfully declined, but the old granny was having none of it. She insisted tooth and nail that she was buying us a coffee and a muffin each and forced five dollars into my hand, I was shamefully forced to accept the donation to the needy whilst wearing my Klim suit with my BMW parked outside. As anyone with a grandmother knows, when they want to give you something there is absolutely no refusing, its either the money or more trouble than you can handle.

When we were done panhandling and looking homeless, we finally met up with Gabriel, who kindly hosted us and proudly showed us around his beautiful country for a few days, even organising for us to stay in his friends beach-house for a night. He also made my day the following evening by being chased by a rather enraged turkey at a viewpoint. Well… enraged, horny, who can tell with turkeys…

El Salvadorian beach house

Beach-houses: Totally rad

Beach house in El Salvador

Not a bad welcome to El Salvador

Getting charged by a turkey in El Salvador

Gabriel getting charged down

Turkey in El Salvador, next to The Great World Trek's motorcycle

He’s an angry-looking bastard too

All-in all we had a bloody good time in El Salvador, visiting all the beautiful local spots, including a hidden view point into a dormant volcano that Gabriel had discovered, and sampling the frankly, fantastic El Salvadorian craft beer on offer. A country with good, cheap beer will always hold a special place in my heart. We even got the full experience when we ran a bit late one evening and had to ride back into the capital city under the veil of darkness, this is absolutely not recommended and it became immediately apparent as to why: San Salvador has street lights, but they don’t work, the cars and bikes also have lights, but they don’t use them, they have manholes everywhere, especially in the middle of highway lanes, and not a single one has a cover, they also tend to look like they are, by design, shaped and sized to swallow a motorcycle wheel. Im sure people have drivers licenses as well, but you could have fooled me. My bike also has a light, but as you might have guessed, it hardly works. All of these factors joined forces to provide an adrenaline fuelled hair-raising hell-ride through the dark. Just a tip: If you ride fast enough over open manholes, they don’t even need a cover, just hold tight, twist the grip, close your eyes, and pray to whatever God you have even the most fleeting belief in.

Sachitoto, a beautiful El Salvadorian colonial Town

Sachitoto, Just another beautiful, cobbled colonial town

Sachitoto, El Salvador

Sachitoto, El Salvador

Matthew Snyman, of the Great World Trek in El Salvador

Gabriel and I, having a pose

A totally rad El Salvadorian craft beer - Cadejo: The Devil's Dog

A totally rad El Salvadorian craft beer – Cadejo: The Devil’s Dog

Sachitoto, El Salvador

Sachitoto, El Salvador

Sachitoto, El Salvador

A ride up to a secret viewpoint of a volcano in El Salvador

Checking a secret viewpoint of a local volcano

A ride up to a secret viewpoint of a volcano in El Salvador

The Volcano

A ride up to a secret viewpoint of a volcano in El Salvador

The Crater

A ride up to a secret viewpoint of a volcano in El Salvador

And the obligatory selfie with Gabriel

The Great World Trek dodging open manholes in San Salvador

An open manhole – one of many, hold on tight, this might hurt…

The crowning glory was a ride to the lake with Gabriel. All the other Sunday breakfast riders were also there en mass, The lake is a magnificent crater-lake filled with powder-blue water and green banks. Fancy houses, far above our pay-grade, line the shores and jet-skis and speedboats dot the water. Life is tough in the third world.

It was here we had to part ways with Gabriel. A wonderful, kind host and a good new friend. We were, once again, shown such welcoming hospitality in a foreign country feared by the rest of the world. Muchas gracias Gabriel!

Lake in El Salvador

Its a beautiful lake…

Lake in El Salvador

Tough life…

Lake in El Salvador

Storm on a lake in El Salvador

And the storm rolls in

We were on the road again, now riding towards El Salvador’s border with Guatemala. The plan was to camp next to a volcano in the jungle that we had been told about, so off we went. Before long, the jungle thickened, the road worsened, mud and rocks rose up to meet us and I got chased by some terrifyingly angry black dog through the foliage as the sun began to set. Oh, and it started to rain.

But wait! It gets even better! Whilst trying to brave off my GPS’s most determined and valiant attempts to murder us in cold blood, my rear shock decided that now, in the most dangerous country on the continent, alone on a back-country route in the rain, it was going to give up the ghost. So now, over big, round, slick rocks interspersed with mud and going uphill, I was on a pogo stick. Now completely over-excited with its lack of dampening, my rear shock managed to shoot my bike up so enthusiastically into the air that my pannier flew of and landed in a bush, just for extra insult. Then Murphy decided to enforce the best part of his legal arsenal and selfishly struck me with the collective damage of a misaligned clutch, installed in PERU. Now I had a clutch with the traction of a wet paper towel to add to the mix. With enough anger, fury, and foul language to land me up at the international criminal court in the Hague, we decided to turn around. It is a magical trait to know when enough is enough.

The Great World Trek riding through the El Salvadorian jungle at night

The Great World Trek riding through the El Salvadorian jungle at night

They say adventure is only glamorous in retrospect

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And a busted-arse leaky shock

And a busted-arse leaky shock

So through the jungle we went, pogo-sticking downhill over the slippery stones, with the same unsympathetic bastard Cujo-esque hound rabidly taunting me once again when I was at my most vulnerable. Before long we made it back into town, where we demanded a hotel-room where I could lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself. Luckily (a word that was now not that familiar to me), the clutch was not as bad as I thought, it still had enough traction to avoid me having to use the tow-rope of shame, making it possible to limp into Guatemala the following day on my own steam.

Next up: Guatemala:

  • Meg gets separated from the herd
  • I pay a small fortune to have my bike fixed
  • We make awesome new friends
  • We meet up again with the elusive and mythical Martin
    The Great World Trek crossing into Guatemala

    Hola Guatemala!!!

The Maasai give me a lesson in making fire with only wood, complete with Zebra dung – the magic ingredient. And all of this in raging wind, after refusing a lighter, they say its easier this way…

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