Central America - Moto Mundo Maya, Part 2

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Ken Freund, Alfonse Palaima

As we continue our journey through four time zones and seven countries, we cross the border (frontera) from Mexico into Guatemala, near El Carmen. We're surrounded by chaos. At least a dozen pushing and shoving street hustlers encircle us, yelling simultaneously in Spanglish that they're the best ones to change our dollars to quetzels and help us get through inmigración, customs (aduana), and importación of the bikes.

Amid the confusion, my co-conspirators Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima and Jeff Fredette, and I, complete countless forms in Spanish and pay various "fees" to enter this small country for a day. Border crossing with motorcycles varies in each country and the Central American immigration authorities don't deem it necessary to clarify mandatory processes. First, each person has to check in and get his passport stamped. Then, each bike must be checked in, with more paperwork, of course. They require several copies of every form, which must be photocopied somewhere in the border village. We find a shop that makes copies, but as luck would have it, it's closed for siesta. Another shop is open, but the copy machine is broken. Finally we find one that works, and for the price of about a dollar a page, we're on our way. A couple hours pass when finally the border guardians spray our bikes with some unknown chemicals, to "disinfect" them from some dreadful disease or such. We clear the hurdles and officially enter Central America.

Time weighs on our minds as we follow a crawling conga line of smoking diesel trucks on Highway 2, in a torrential downpour. We still don't know if we'll make it to our goal, the Panama Canal, within our fifteen-day timeline, but we've heard that Guatemala's Lake Atitlan is spectacular, and we all vote to detour off Highway 2 onto Ruta 11 to visit. The mountain roads take longer than expected, and we roll into town just before reception closes at Hotel Toliman, in San Lucas Toliman. Our lodging features the charm of large comfy rooms and a restaurant overlooking the lake - highly recommended.

Come morning, we dine on tasty fare at the adjoining restaurante while taking in the magnificent views of azure Atitlan, then ride around the village and head north on local Ruta 1. It's a tight scenic mountain road with switchbacks that eventually intercepts the main Highway 1 to Guatemala City. Along the way we explore some fascinating mining tunnels right beside the road and then cruise through the quaint town of Patzicia. Based on the looks we get, it's obvious they don't see many tourists on motorcycles.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2010 back issue.