A little anxious I take an early start towards Guatemala's border Wednesday morning. Have so many different things read on the Central American border crossings: many hours of waiting, pay money here & there to get ahead, intrusive "border helpers" etc. And this all by myself. But: I had chosen to drive solo and now therefor had to go through that on my own as well.
Thanks to Pat, an American Biker, I got the tip - and also the exact way of processing - to cross the border in El Ceibo because small and unproblematic. And indeed, it was no problem at all. I also did not make the mistake again just to drive on without stopping (which I actually could have done again as they just waved me through at the beginning) but dutifully pounded the various stations: customs & immigration on Mexico’s side and then reversed immigration & customs on Guatemala’s side. My only "problem": the customs guy in Guatemala was sort of disappointed that I did not have a sticker from me he could put on his wall in the office! Finally, the bike was somehow "sanitized" what cost me 25 Quetzal – no matter that I could not see what they actually had done at all. But anyway: I was through and could now really get onto the roads of my first Central American country. Honestly, what a great feeling.
The road conditions changed relatively abruptly - and you can take that literally - and the villages and houses seemed even more impoverished. The signaling of the roads rather poor which makes it not really easier to get around - unfortunately there does not exist a map from Central America by Garmin. But if I really do not know how to go on I still can ask the locals. To my great disappointment it has unfortunately also the famous "bumps" in Guatemala. Only named no longer "topes" here but "tumulos" and are usually not signaled previously. And thus even more dangerous - but at least it has less of it than in Mexico. The last 30km of my way point of that day “Flores” the main road is not paved but the gravel fairly ok. Except a couple of huge mud-water holes, some of them covering the complete street. No further comment to that, except: the Guatemalans are also very helpful and mostly at the gas stations it has car-washers as well ;-) They even want to do such a perfect job that they at the end dry the bike although it is raining hardly that moment! And all the work for the equivalent of CHF 1.50.
So I spend my first night in Flores, Guatemala. Everything is just fine and I look forward to the upcoming days. At the gas station the next morning I meet 2 Guatemalan BMW drivers who show me which road I should take to my next destination and so I go for the start for about 250km on a more or less fine paved road and so have time to look around and watch the landscape and the people. The last 65km are then however quite cracking. Gravel road with many big rocks, mostly steep uphill and of course again at stifling-hot and humid temperatures. Under these circumstances machine and woman come to their limits; but because the people who live here take the same road with small motorcycles, with people crammed pick-ups and normal cars, I decide that must be possible for me as well. On the way I take a sort break in the vicinity of a house. Two men sitting on the bench in front of the house are waving me over and I "dare" it and drive up to them. Like most houses here very poor, the house consists of a single room. But that's actually also a small village store and they offer me a Pepsi - even somehow cool. They ask me of course as usual: how, where, alone (unthinkable for them), how many languages I speak, what is the landscape in Switzerland, how are our houses built, etc. Their toilet which I can kindly use is a few meters away from the house up in the woods and is as might be expected – and alike the ones on our Alps - a squat toilet. However, funnily I did not understand the description right and first ended up in the enclosure of the pig, which they naturally amused quite a lot. It was also interesting that the wife had indeed stretched all the time her head out of the window and listened but came out only for the "group photo" - or could come out. I was not sure which was correct and of course I did not dare to ask. Just before I wanted to hit the road again there was a bunch of school children passing on the homecoming route and made a drinking break at the same house. When I finally drove on they all could say "hello" and "goodbye" in Swiss German - has taken some minutes and initiated a lot of laughter to learn these two words :-) A great encounter that encouraged me again in my belief that most of the people are friendly and totally ok. They have quite other problems than to harass me little Swiss girl. It is really inconceivable to me how the people live here: corn and other is growing even in the top angles but otherwise I have no idea of what they live.
As a glorious ending of the day I had to leave the main road onto a gravel side street – this time steeply downhill with correspondingly not better "covering". And additionally I was actually the first time stopped by a "roadblock". 2 street workers had a rope stretched across the street and wanted to pay me a “toll”. No continuing without that. To my question: why? came the simple answer: because we repair the road for you. Well, not much to say against that. So I grabbed the smallest Quetzal bill I had (converted CHF 2.50) and with that they were satisfied. Shortly after I finally arrived in Lanquin where I will stay 2 nights. Graciously once again just in time for the daily downpour. On Friday I signed in for the “tourist tour”. What a fun: in bikini and trekking shoes, with a burning candle in one hand, partly swimming, partly climbing through a stalactite cave! Who felt like could also prove his courage: jump down into the river from a long swing and from the edge of a 5m waterfall - yeah, of course I had to try that – yes, I know, sometimes the little girl is making its way up and pushes the grown-up aside ;-) it was that much fun I even had to jump more than once. To conclude the morning then comfortably on big tubes (and a beer in one hand) down the river. After lunch, a steep and sweaty climb up to the "mirador” which was absolutely the correct name for that spot. From up there you had a gigantic view of the "jungle" and the river with natural pools in which we also went for a swim after climbing down. All the time coming with us: eager little “helpers” who constantly wanted to offer us cold drinks they carried with them in small coolers. Even on the tubes in the river ;-)
In the evening four of our group went up to the village for dinner and in a small hut could order the omnipresent tacos - the only menu available - but delicious anyway. The obligatory downpour this time not just a short one but going on the whole night. Despite a soothing purring little cat on my bed I repeatedly woke up and the longer the night - and thus the rain - lasted, the more I was afraid that the gravel road up the hill – not in perfect conditions anyway – would be even far worse after the long rain. But it was once again better than feared. On time at 6 clock the rain stopped, and thanks to the high temperatures and the fact that I decided to change my plan and not to take off early, the road was almost dry and the few water-holes I could elegantly drive around ;-) Like that I even looked forward to the 65km (as signed on the map) gravel road until Coban, the next bigger village on the way to Antigua. When I once again made one of my photo stops along the road, a peasant came along (with a huge machete on the side) and spoke to me and told me a lot about the political situation in the country and the problems of the rural population. I could not really contribute much to the conversation as unfortunately for such conversations I still do not have the vocabulary. But it seemed to me that it was important to him to explain me as a tourist everything. Really important topics right now with the upcoming presidential elections and majority of corrupt candidates. More on the elections then in the next blog about Guatemala. After only 20k the gravel road changed all of a sudden to a nice pavement road and therefore my plan to arrive Antigua just in time for dinner should turned out good – it did but with some delays: I had foolishly lost my way in Guatemala City which was a real challenge: 1. find out of the city without GPS and 2. survive the even more aggressive driving style of the Guatemalans.
But everything is fine now and I will stay a few days in Antigua before driving towards El Salvador quite quickly - and from now on no longer alone for the next few weeks but with a companion. More about him also in my next blog from Guatemala;-)