Guatemala? I fairly know her!
Six weeks of injury time in Antigua
Hello friends, family and those we've met on the road! Welcome to the fourteenth edition of our newsletter, this time penned from Antigua, Guatemala. And no, that’s not a typo.
For those of you haven’t seen our social media posts over the past six weeks, we had a little hiccup. On the day we left Antigua, heading towards El Salvador, Ed had an accident on his bike. A piece of material got stuck in his front wheel, bringing him to a very sudden stop on a downhill and flipping him, head over handlebars, onto the tarmac. Despite being incredibly dramatic (I viewed the event from behind) he was, miraculously, mostly fine. A trip to the local clinic was followed by an ambulance ride to a hospital, where it transpired Ed had broken a finger along with bruised ribs and some nasty cuts. Not only that, but his fork and front rack were not in good shape - both needed to be replaced. It became clear we would not be able to continue riding for the foreseeable future.
This was, of course, completely heartbreaking. Not only had we only just come out of a period of extended illness (we had been so keen to finally build up momentum again), but the accident also meant we had to say goodbye to Greg. He was thankfully with us when it happened, helping us with his flawless Spanish and even temperament under pressure. (We were also helped by a local man, Fausto, who was superhumanly kind and patient when we were incredibly flustered. Thank you Fausto!) After a night in a hotel near where the crash happened, Greg pedalled onwards while we readied ourselves to return to Antigua. All aware it was likely the last time we’d see each other on this trip, and emotional from the events of the past day, it was a difficult moment.
Greg also felt like our last connection to an earlier portion of our journey; by this point many of our cycling companions from Alaska, the lower 48 and Baja have motored ahead, and we’ve lost our original cohort. Saying goodbye also felt like saying goodbye to a world where we were confident in our friendships and the likelihood of encountering pals organically. Although we have already made new friends (more on that later) and can now benefit more from all the information about the road ahead being fed back to us, it would be a whopping lie to say it’s always been easy to see the bright side during our enforced stay in Antigua. But that is not to say we haven’t made like Beyoncé and whipped up some lemonade from these plentiful lemons.
We spent our first week post-crash in a bit of a daze, staying with welcoming Warmshowers host Thomas and spending all day and night on our phones, trying to find a way to get new bike parts to Guatemala, and a place to stay at short notice at a price we could afford. Antigua is very much the centre of tourism in Guatemala, so prices here are suitably inflated. Ed, understandably, didn’t really fancy the three-hour bus back to Xela with his hand in a splint. And so we reached out to a variety of WhatsApp groups of cyclists we are members of. In one, a Warmshowers host called Ana, from another part of Guatemala, offered to put us in touch with a friend of hers in Antigua. Said friend offered to rent us her apartment, and suddenly we had a place to call our own on the north side of the city.
Ed really needed the rest and a comfortable bed, but the apartment has also given us our first real taste of privacy since we spent a week in Lake Tahoe in Jared and Nikki’s house. We have been making meals we used to make in London, watching TV on our tiny phone screens, reading and resting. Although we’d rather have been on our bikes, we can't deny that after nine months on the road, six weeks of slower living might be of overall benefit. Having a base for an extended period also made getting those bike parts a little more simple - Surly sent a new fork for free, which is still mind-blowing to the both of us, and Allan, who we last saw in Mexico City, was able to ferry a new rack from Copenhagen to CDMX, and then send it onward to Antigua via a pal of his. The global bike-based community really kicked into gear when we appealed for help, and we are so, so grateful.
Another plus of being in one spot is that we’ve had time to take four weeks of Spanish classes. Ed and I had four hours a day in a beautiful garden with our teachers Maria Marta and Glendy, who were the most patient and skilled maestras anyone could ask for. They also helped us learn lots about life in Guatemala, and further upped our apprection of chocobananas. Although neither Ed nor I are near to being confident Spanish speakers, we now have a really solid foundation from which to improve. I in particular am finding it much easier to understand people, which in turn means I can learn from what they’re saying. Before I would feel good if I could catch a word or two. So we are certainly in a much better place for continuing our journey south in terms of language.
And in terms of timing, things haven’t gone too off the rails. Whereas before we had hoped to spend a little time in Colombia before the rainy season, now we hope to arrive near to the end of it, and hopefully catch the first days of dry. Overall our trip is now looking a little longer, and the next portion through Central America will be stinking hot, but our arrival into both Peru and Patagonia - which are the most weather-sensitive portions of the trip - should still fall during favourable seasons.
Speaking of fortunate timings, we’ve also ended up being in Antigua during a period of celebration - lent and Easter are huge here, and every Sunday has seen a procession go through town. Hundreds of men and women carry large platforms with figures of Jesus and Mary atop, while billowing incense clouds fill the streets and walking bands play rousing, melancholy tunes. It really is a sight to behold, as are the technicolour alfombras (carpets) that decorate the streets and local churches. These are made of coloured sawdust and are complemented with offerings of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The city really comes alive at the weekends, with street vendors on the route selling popcorn, ice creams and mangoes covered with ground pumpkin seeds (delicious).
We’ve shared a fair few ice creams and beers with friends during our time here too. In a surprising slice of good fortune, we were able to enjoy an evening with Jerilyn from the US, who we first met on our second night of our whole trip in an Alaskan campsite. She has since been following this newsletter and our Instagrams, and it was so fun to catch up nine months later in Guatemala.
Thank you to Simon for this photo!
Not long after, Simon and Lizzie from Cambridge, who we first met in Oaxaca at Christmas, rolled through after their own break from the bikes in Xela for Spanish school. Along with fellow Brit cyclist Joanna, the four of us (sans a still-injured Ed), scaled Acatenango, a volcano not far from town that is a popular hike for tourists. It’s so popular because from the top you get a clear view of Fuego, an active volcano that regularly spews out fiery lava, creating a breathtaking light show as soon as the sun goes down. Normally attempted as part of a tour group, we four borrowed some backpacks from Thomas and braved the five-hour trek ourselves, camping at the top and spending hours watching the neighbouring volcano erupt into the night and chatting happily. I was not completely certain I’d make it to the top (I am not an experienced hiker and it’s not the easiest trek) but with the patience and encouragement of the others and about a kilo of banana bread, I just about managed. My only regret was Ed wasn’t there to see it with us.
Thankfully our next excursion from Antigua was as a pair. After finishing Spanish school, Ed and I decided to take a three-day jaunt to Tikal, a Maya ruin in the northern part of Guatemala. After an overnight bus to Flores - and a morning spent exploring its candy-coloured streets and taking a dip in the beautiful lake that surrounds it - we hopped on another bus to the national park. What makes Tikal unique in terms of archeological sites in this part of the world is that it’s in the centre of dense jungle, so we were excited to spend a night in the campsite there before getting up early to experience the ruins with few other tourists around. It was fantastic - walking down the causeways under the canopy of the rainforest was almost as magical as the structures themselves, which date from as far back as 200BC. We scaled as many as we could, took some very touristic snaps and delighted in observing spider monkeys, agoutis, coatis, oscellated turkeys and even an orange breasted falcon. It felt really gratifying to see such a famous and historic part of the country that we’ve called home for six weeks, and was certainly worth the long journey.
Now, Ed’s hand is feeling much stronger and we’re spending our final few days in Antigua before we get back on the road. In the past week we’ve made a whole host of new pals; Antonita and Henk from Holland, Kirsty and Ian from Harrogate, Frauke and Nils from Germany and Ivan from Mexico (and that’s not to forget all the cyclists from weeks gone by - more shout-outs below!). It feels good to know we’ll only be a couple of days behind these riders as we restart our journey. Please wish us a smooth road ahead, and that the next newsletter will finally be written from somewhere that isn't Antigua!
Toot or boot
Um...Ed crashing and breaking his finger BOOT
EVERY PERSON THAT'S OFFERED HELP AND SUPPORT: SUPER TOOT
Only one supermarket in Antigua BOOT
The main market being the sort of place where you can buy new pants and get your bike saddle recovered at the same time TOOT
Not being able to afford yoga classes in Antigua BOOT
Having the space to practice with Youtube in our own little casita TOOT
Cloudy weather the whole time we were in Tikal BOOT
Cloudy weather meaning it wasn’t insufferably hot the whole time we were in Tikal TOOT
Thanks and shoutouts
Simon and Lizzie
Thomas and Sofia
Allan and Lennart
Mikkel and Gustav
Antonita and Henk
Frauke and Nils
Kirsty and Ian
Mimi at Old Town Outfitters
Ana, Sofia and Diego
We are Edwin Foote and Suzie McCracken - thanks for signing up for our newsletter! Edwin is from England and Suzie is from Northern Ireland and normally we live together in Deptford, south-east London. We arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, in May 2022 and are attempting to ride our bicycles the length of the Americas, hoping to finish in Argentina in 2024. If you have any recommendations of things we should do, people we should meet or places we should stay, we'd love to hear from you! Please reply to this email, or follow us on Instagram (ed_win or _suziemccracken).