Topping out – San Cristobal Totonicapan to Panajachel (77k/11,349k, 1250m)

(February 27 – written by Dave)

We survived the night in our rough hotel room.  We discovered that the shower AND the toilet leaked.  We had a toilet seat but every flush sort of flooded the floor a little.  Yuck.  They have a sign in hotel rooms hear about not cleaning your shoes or the floor with a towel.  We broke rule with the floor.  We lead such glamorous lives.

We were out of the hotel before 7AM, neither of us was in a lingering mood.  Back out at chicken bus corner, the buses were 2 or 3 deep with horns going all out.  The helper guys on each bus were out on the streets really working the customers to get their buses full.  Throw in a good cloud of dust from the soft road shoulder and some smoke from the corner bread sellers burning their trash and you pretty much get chaos.

Chicken buses 2

Gentlemen, start your engines

We were more than happy to head south from chicken bus corner even though the climb started right away.  There was remarkably little traffic as most of the traffic was headed west to Quezaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city.  We knew we had a 600 meter climb so we weren’t overly stressed – just had to get on with it.  It was cool, only 4 degrees C (less than 40F) but we warmed up on the climb.  The views were fantastic, looking back towards San Cristobal with a nice volcano thrown in for completeness.

Morning view 2

Part of Quezaltenango from above

Morning view 1

Morning volcano

We stopped about 7k into the climb at a Shell station for a coffee and a break.  The first half of the climb was the hardest.  We had a little downhill at about 9k, then another 10k to the top.  The road was a dual carriageway but the shoulder had kind of an edge so we had to be on our toes to make sure we didn’t get in anyone’s way.  The slow speeds we were riding and the stress of the shoulder gave us both sore arms by the time we reached the top.  Ok, the legs were feeling it as well.

Sign at Shell

At the Shell station – top says that there is no paper in the bathroom, buy it in the store.  The bottom one is in the local indigenous language – now we have to learn another new one!

We topped out at 3050 meters, that’s just over 10,000 feet.  We’ve been climbing for three days since we left Mexico where we were at 1,000 feet.  We could sure feel the thin air.  And of course, the chicken buses were out – so we had a lot of “smog” air that didn’t help much.  The highlands of Guatemala are not for the faint of heart.  No pass sign again.

new weird fern on rock 2

Weird fern like plant seen near the summit – close as I can get to Pete’s flower of the day

The downhill was fun but it didn’t go on long enough.  And before long we were climbing again.  We had 10k of downhill, followed by a good bit of rolling up and down.  There was more down than up but the ups hurt – we are ready for a rest for all these hills.

At some point on the downhill, we were passed by a road rider.  He slowed up and started to chat with us while we were moving.  Nancy couldn’t hear us chatting so she sort of powered down the hill while Victor and I slowed and eventually stopped to exchange details.  He was on a training ride, heading over the pass twice – respect.  He headed on soon after but we saw him coming back up the other side.  Victor had toured in France a few years back and was riding a bike (carbon Specialized) that someone gave him when he was in France – probably one of the nicest bikes in Guatemala.


Thanks for the chat and for slowing down for us Victor

We stopped for lunch at a servo and to validate the route ahead.  There were a couple places to cut off and head down to Lake Atitlan.  We were going to take one of them to make the day shorter.  The first one was basically an unpaved goat track so we passed on it.  The second one looked better but Nancy asked a local and she said it was hilly and full of dogs.  Strike two.  Finally, we decided to just add the extra 7k and take the normal road down.  I don’t really think short-cuts in Guatemala are really a good idea.  Bumpy, steep, slow and full of dogs – we’ll stick to the main roads.

Up or down, we chose down

Up to the left, down to the right – we went right

The downhill to the lake was not all downhill – there were a few rises.  Nancy was over riding at this point but we had to push on.  I was really hoping that the views would be nice.  Well, Lake Atitlan didn’t disappoint – wow, what a view.  The lake is surrounded by mountains with three very distinct volcanos.  We’ll get some more photos tomorrow.

Lake Atitlan 3

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan 1

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan - Pa

View of Panajachel from above

We picked out a posada (Posada Los Encuentros) and after a hair-raising ride down the hill, we rode right to it.  Nancy thought we were lost but I had memorized the route.  She was yelling out to me to check the map.  I pushed on and said follow me.  Quiet funny actually.  We have a little cottage like room in their garden.  It’s a nice place, a little ways from Panajachel town centre.

We walked into town for dinner and found the number one rated restaurant – Japanese no less.  Nancy was in heaven, she is having a harder time than me finding things she likes to eat.  The woman running the place was from Yokohama and the food was stunning.  We are taking a day off here and may have to go there again.  We had a bit of look around town and will do more tomorrow, after sleeping – yeah no alarm!

Rogue, first since Alaska 1

The first Rouge we’ve had since the free ones we got in the Yukon!

I may get up for sunrise on the lake.  But then again, I may not.  I’m sure Nancy won’t!


9 thoughts on “Topping out – San Cristobal Totonicapan to Panajachel (77k/11,349k, 1250m)

  1. Thank you for the continued excellent stories and photos of your adventure. I read them every day and sometimes remember a similar location that was part of my past. Viajes Seguros!

  2. I did not know Rogue beer would be found there. They have more extensive distribution than I would have imagined. You deserve a rest day or two there.

  3. Nice flowers, but the journey sounds tough! Have a good sleep & a slow day tomorrow! Looks like a big lake, and maybe warm enough for a swim!

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