Crossing the border from Belize to Guatemala is a complicated undertaking. But I think they all are.
There are papers to sign, copies to be produced, fees to be paid and you have to wait and wait. We finally got our paperwork and window sticker and drove off, just to get stopped again at a little bridge where a young lady charged 50 quetzal to cross. Günter tried to barter but she started to yell at him, so: Ok – we paid.
Bienvenidos a Guatemala.
Here some impressions from the drive to Atitlan.
By now the thermometer hit 40° C and we beelined for the Verapaz Alta region. We did not go to Tikal because we had been there previously. I had read a book about coffee (“Uncommon Grounds”) and wanted to see the area where many German families had settled in the mid 1800s to grow coffee and spices. Coffee grows at certain altitudes and is not a hot climate crop. It was a long dusty drive on sometimes good – but mostly bad narrow roads winding their way up and down mountains. At dusk we were still far from Coban, there were many people on the roads; colorfully dressed groups of women walking with bowls of corn kernels on their heads, even little girls had their little bowl with grain balanced on their little heads as they walked and talked. Many people carried heavy loads of wood and plastic jugs of water. The bridges were almost not passable because of all the people getting water, doing laundry and bathing. Even the “Bomberos” fire trucks were stopped on bridges to fill their tanks. All this slowed us down and we ended up driving into the dark, something one tries to avoid. When the sun goes down and it gets cooler, more people come out of their homes to go about their business, they appeared out of nowhere and we were worried that we would hit somebody. It was stop and go in the dark at times, when we finally arrived at “Holanda”, an Eco Hotel south of Coban, Günter was worn out. Eco can mean anything, from a pool to a zip line which, by the way, is called “Tyrolesa”. I guess they think that’s how the Tyroleans in Austria get around. In Europe and Australia they call it “Flying Fox”, that could be a fruit bat or a good-looking woman zipping around on a wire?
At the “Holanda” the night guard let us in, he was a slight young man with a BIG gun, never ever saw him without that big gun the whole time we were there. It was peaceful under the trees at at this camp site, it is not really a camp ground, just a little park, and we enjoyed it. A colony of birds (Montezuma Oropendola) had hanging nests in the big trees above us; they made funny sounds, from gurgling to whistling.
After the crazy drive Günter needed a break, so we stayed for a few days, went for walks through the surrounding farm land and visited the little town of San Juan Chamelco. Nights were cool and daytime temperatures hovered around 25° C. What a treat.
The road from Coban to Ustapan was rough and dusty, for the big trucks we tried to share it with it was just another day at the office. They were barreling down, creeping up and barreling down again. The same with the busses. By the time we got to Uspatan we were ready for a break, but the only hotel with a parking lot did not have room for us. So we drove on to the next town and found one hotel with an enclosed parking lot. Funny thing was, when I asked the owner if we could park there, she said we are taking up space for three cars so it would cost us 3x 70 quetzal (=U$ 28.00). That was steep and when I asked what a room costs she replied that a room with bathroom and shower costs 100 quetzal and parking is free (go figure) – we took a room. It had not window except for a little opening in the bathroom wall. We took the only room with a fan, a rusty-dusty-noisy one-legged contraption and tried to leave the room door open for a while. I was afraid I would suffocate in there, the lumpy bed had a threadbare sheet that barely covered the mattress, no top sheet and one frayed towel, that was it. There was no water and it took Günter a while to get them to turn it on. But we were in Guatemala and not in a town that sees many tourists, we had to adjust to their standards. We slept ok, the fan drowned out any noise from outside, there were fire crackers and lots of different music in town, the fire crackers are very popular in Guatemala and go off every night in every town.
When we left the next day it was one of the few times on our trip where I was glad to move on.
The town was filthy and the river was too. Plastic garbage is such a curse, we western countries hand it out to them, bags and bottles, but when it comes to proper disposal, there is no help from all the companies that sell them the stuff. So it goes in the ditch, gets washed in the rivers and the ocean, there it washes up on beaches and ends up in animals stomachs. It is chucked out of trucks in the forest and beside the road, blows into fields and hangs in the bushed. It is a disgrace. But enough, I know there is a lot more of this ahead of us and all we can do is trying to minimize the use of plastic ourselves.
We finally made it to Lake Atitlan and Pierres place “Pasaj Cap” outside San Marcos, a nice estate on the lake, peaceful and lush with garden, trees and a dock from which we swam every day. There our camper stayed for almost two weeks. Vroni and Michael, overlanders from Nürnberg (aber schon Schwaben:-) showed up after we wrote them about this great place. We loved it there, the view was hard to beat, volcano San Pedro right across the lake, the other towns glimmering at night. A resident mockingbird lived nearby and woke us every morning around 5:30 am. I can’t believe how many different songs he had, he rarely left.
San Marcos was a 10 minute walk away, and Hans aus Ulm was 2 hours away in the other direction. He lives in Jaibalito (no roads to it) and owns a Posada, serves Gulasch and Kässpätzle, sells sausages and German bread, roasts his own coffee, has lots of chickens and ducks, on and on. Günter said that Hans reminds him of an “Hüttenwirt”. We went there twice. A great place and a great guy.
Of course, if you drink one of those 1 liter bottles of good Guatemalan beer, you can also take the boat taxi back and forgo the return hike.
With our friends Vroni and Michael we took a tucktuck and a truck taxi up to the crater rim and after visiting the market in Santa Clara we hiked back down through incredible steep coffee fields.
Between boat taxis, tucktucks, vans and truck taxis one does not need a car here.
The market in Santa Clara.
Gunter climbed the volcano one day, he had to pay a fee to do so and was forced to take a guide but after an hour or so, told him to go home, he did. The view from the top was beautiful, you could see the other volcanos and below the lake.
The New Age crowd, backpackers, rastas and baby boomers (some of which I swear still wear the same clothes they wore in 1968) all mingle with the locals in their colorful outfits. Most evenings you hear their drumming across the lake in the evening, and Benjamin aus Wien, in his early twenties, gave us lots of good advice: About how to get rid of parasites in your intestines and about the fact that Costa Rica is as expensive as Switzerland. It never gets boring once you walk into town. Alas, the day we planned to leave for Antigua, Günter came down with the stomach flu, not food poisoning, a gastrointestinal virus. Most of Pierres twelve employees got it, our friends Michael maybe and poor Vroni for sure. So, we stayed a little longer and when he improved we finally left for Antigua, a famous town and former capital city that has seen its share of earth quakes and destruction.
We got a parking spot at the tourist police lot (former hospital grounds), they share their toilets and showers with us, a local family cooks for them. Antigua is a historic and famous town and was interesting, but the traffic, fumes from the busses (former American school buses) and trucks and crowds pushing around made it unpleasant for me. It happened to be Mothers Day weekend and a lot of families came from the city (Guatemala City) to treat mom.
We toured some former monasteries, all ruined by several earthquakes, ate a nice lunch and then I got a long Ayurveda massage. A nice Mothers Day.
We left after two nights, went to Guatemala City to stock up on basics and headed for the Honduran border.