It’s Pronounced Shel-ah
The road to Guatemala from San Cristobal isn’t very long but it possibly has the most topes (speed bumps) per km. It made the trip to the border pretty slow. The last hour or so in Mexico it gets better. Checking my motorcycle out of Mexico was a breeze.
Now I was ready to cross into Central America for the first time. I had looked up what I needed to do at the border and was warned about all the people who will solicit their border crossing services and offer bad money exchange rates. Following the advice of others riders I opted for the La Mesilla border. I was expecting the worst and it turned out to be incredibly easy. There wasn’t a single car, motorcycle, truck, or person in front of me to get into Guatemala. I think I lucked out. I got my stamps and was on my way in under 30 minutes. It cost about $25 to get myself and my motorcycle into Guatemala.
As soon as I crossed into Guatemala it looked different. The mountains shot up to the sky, the road condition worsened, and along the road were hundreds of homes selling jugs of gasoline. I heard it’s smuggled in from Mexico so it’s cheaper. Highway 1 here looked like it had been damaged from land slides from all the recent rains. The ride was nice though. I was feeling great after having such a simple time getting into the country. I still had plenty of sunlight left so I took a small diversion to check out a nearby site of ruins. A few minutes outside of Huehuetanango is Zaculelu. Supposedly these are the only known ruins that were made of white stone. The site is used more as a park as there were families picnicing and kids were flying kites. I found out that in Guatemala for the month of November it’s tradition to fly a kite starting on Dia de los Muertos. If you’re not going to make it to Tikal (like me) this is a pretty cool site even though it’s small. It’s only a few miles off Highway 1. Worth the stop.
The park was closing in 30 minutes so I didn’t spend much time there but it’s small so I saw everything. Where I did spend a lot of time was trying to get back to the highway. Every road I thought was the main one ended up just being a different busy street. After a few dead ends, I was back on Highway 1 heading for Quetzaltenango or as the locals call it, Xela (pronounced shel-ah). I arrived just as the sun was going down. Within 20 minutes of being there I was pulled over twice at police checkpoints. They asked for my license and immediately handed it back. I tried to find Mario’s house but ended up having to call him from a pay phone. That’s a nice thing here; there are still pay phones everywhere. Since I’m only going to be in Guatemala for two weeks I didn’t get a SIM card for my phone to work here. Mario and his sister met me and I followed them to their house.
Since I was a few hours late I missed the big traditional Dia de los Muertos dinner with his whole family but when I arrived his mom was nice enough to fix me up a plate. Mario grew up in this home and is living here with his dad, mom, and younger sister. Such a nice family. Mario’s dad is a mathematics professor at the local university and his mom works at the university as well. His dad is quite the gardener and their yard and home were surrounded by beautiful gardens.
On Saturday morning we got up and all five of us piled into their car and drove up to Las Fuentes Georginas, a natural hot spring in the mountains. It’s a short 30 minute ride out of Xela and a great way to relax after a long day of riding from San Cristobal. The ride is gorgeous on a clear day as you ride past farms built into the hillsides. It’s paved the whole way but is very narrow and has sharp blind corners. So far in Guatemala I’ve seen that at popular places they have a price for nationals and a price double or ten times that for tourists. Mario set me up with a disguise of a baseball hat and sunglasses so I could get the cheap price. Sorry no photo of me disguised as a Guatemalan.
There are 3 pools, each a different temperature. I went to the largest one first and should have taken a clue that everyone else was in the other one. I put my feet in and instantly the water felt like a thousand needles in my foot. I took another step deeper. Ok I’ll come back to this one. I went to the lower pool and it was about your average hot tub temp. After a few minutes in there I decided to give the other one a try again. This time I made it up to my neck submerged for 3 or 4 minutes. It was better if I didn’t move or talk. Is this really healthy? I got out and looked like I had the worst sunburn. Just as I was getting out as fast as I could a guy dove in and started swimming around! He must be on drugs or he’s done this so much that he’s boiled his nerves and no longer feels a thing. All the photos are from Las Fuentes Georginas website. Visit to find out more about the history and the great rates for the bungalows available to rent.
On the way back we stopped by the main market for ingredients for lunch. Everyone pitched in helping prepare the meal.
Mario works as an architect for Habitat for Humanity Guatemala or Habitat para la Huminidad. On Saturday night there was a 10k race in the nearby city of San Marcos and he invited me to come along. San Marcos is the city that was almost leveled from the earthquake here last year. In the past year alone, Habitat has built 400 homes in the city, as well as done hundreds more fixes to others partially damaged. The 10k run was a fundraiser to continue providing homes for people who lost theirs.
Mario’s sister, Nadia, and I volunteered to hand out water along the route. There were several hundred people that participated. As the runners passed I shouted vamos! vamos! agua! agua!
When the last two runners came by our station we packed up and jumped in a truck that drove behind the runners. These two girls must have thought it was 10k walk. We were behind them for at least half of the course, waving flags and cheering them on. Even though all the other runners were almost 30 minutes ahead of them, people who lived along the course waited outside their homes and cheered as they ran, I mean, walked passed. Many of them shouted thank you as the Habitat trucks drove by.
After the run we walked over to have dinner.
The next morning Mario was running in the big half marathon down in Xela. I went with his family to watch the race. This was a big event. It was broadcast on the radio and there were motorcycles with cameramen filming the leaders. Many of the leading runners weren’t from Guatemala but when the first few Guatemaltecos passed the crowd erupted into cheers.
We drove to the finish line hoping to catch Mario pass and just as we got there he came running by. He had a nice finish.
I used to go to track meets and races often back in college to cheer on my best friend. I was happy to cheer on my new Guatemalan friend, Mario.
Across the street from the finish line, my favorite sunday morning sport was being played. I miss Sunday morning breakfast with the guys watching Red Zone and the Eagles play.
After the race, Mario asked if I wanted to see an old church or go up to the mountain overlooking Xela. I opted for the mountain. So up the road we drove.
On top is a small park but then his family started walking down a path where I heard a lot of laughing. As we came around the corner there was a set of 4 slides going down the steep hillside. We grabbed pieces of cardboard that were laying there and held on. You can get serious speed on these! So much fun.
Watch me almost fly off the slide.
From the other side of the park is a view of the city of Xela. It doesn’t look as big from up here.
Off in the distance I saw dark clouds which made me anxious to get on the road to San Pedro before the storm came.
Thankful for a great weekend with Mario and his family.