You know you are in Guatemala when you stumble upon one of these badboys
The following article is an excerpt taken from my 2013-14 travel diary ‘Travel Journal Of A Lost Soul’
29th November 2013
I am now in the Guatemalan lakeside tourist town of Panajachel. The word “epic” would be an understatement to describe today. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing and I would have made my day a lot less painful if I’d just swallowed my intrepid pride and taken the tourist shuttle bus. Instead I decided to inflict fifty shades of mayhem onto myself and opt for the hard, irrational and masochistic way. Either way I had to wake up super early this morning; 5.15am.
The first leg of the journey from San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas was perfectly fine on a comfortable and modern Marcopolo bus. Three hours after departing San Cristóbal, we arrive at the Mexico-Guatemala border. I exit the bus, cross the road and receive my Mexican exit stamp from the small immigration office. There is a line of taxis outside all waiting to take me to the Guatemalan side; 10 Mexican pesos shared or 40 solo. Since I quickly figure out that nobody is going to be joining me anytime soon, I fork out the full 40 pesos just so I can press on and leave this godforsaken place. Once on the Guatemalan side, I promptly receive my Guatemalan entry stamp and change whatever remaining Mexican pesos I have into Guatemalan quetzals without paying too much attention to maths and exchange rates. Then I hop on a rickshaw-like vehicle to take me to the bus station (if you can call it that!). And here I am having traded swanky modern Marcopolo buses for the ubiquitous, dilapidated and hair raising chicken buses which plough the roads of the most down at heel parts of Central America. When their first life as perfectly innocent USA school buses expires, their next life is less gentle on the thug life streets of Tegucigalpa. I am bundled onto a brightly coloured and ornate chicken bus heading to the city of Huehuetenango. I feel blessed to have reasonable space for my legs. Two is comfortable where I am sitting. But after only a few stops, that number doubles to four. Yet I look on the bright side; one of the advantages of being squashed like a dead skunk on the side of the bus is that whenever the bus is turning on the narrow, long and winding highland roads, I am not forever sliding form one side of the bus to the other.
We arrive at the Huehuetenango bus terminal a few hours later. This terminal has all the classic trimmings of a crazy, dishelved and chaotic bus terminal in any third world city. This is raw. I am not in Mexico anymore. Mexico may be poor but I never once in all my time in Mexico witnessed a bus terminal as dirty and rundown as this one. I have some spare time to eat a very basic lunch of well done beef strips, rice and beans. Gourmet food this most certainly ain’t, but I hadn’t eaten all day until now. I have been to Huehue before on my last trip through Latin America a few years back, but I have no reason to stop there this time. An old dilapidated Mercedes “Pullman” bus (this one is two steps up from a chicken bus) with tyres so illegally smooth will take me to Panajachel – apparently. Even though I have my own seat, the upholstery is all crumpled up, loose and looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since I was five.
The bus journey goes well, until I ask the cobredor (bus conductor) what time we will be arriving at Panajachel? He replies that we went past it 40 minutes ago. This is not a directly Panajachel bound bus and will be going Guatemala City (the last place on Earth I would want to arrive at night). It’s already dark and I am so pissed off at this revelation. The cobredor then tells me that in five minutes he’ll drop me off at a stop from where I’ll be able to catch a bus to Panajachel. I think it myself thank god I have at least a foothold on the Spanish language otherwise I’d really be in a veritable no-mans land. When I get dropped off, I am literally dropped off on the side of a very busy highway. It’s dark, it’s cold, the highway lacks illumination and the night sky is downing in fog. There are enormous trucks going at impossible speeds. And I have to cross this death trap to get onto the other side. My heart is beating so fast I feel like it is going to explode from my body like a high pressure jet of water from a burst pipe. I honestly haven’t a clue where the fuck I am and I begin to feel a tremendous longing to be back home with my family. By some grace of god I manage to cross the road with all my things unscathed. Once on my side there is little tienda (convenience shop) and a small bay for on-coming buses to stop. I get chatting with some three toothed viejo (old dude) on the side of the road. He re-assures me that a bus will be coming soon. Seguro? (Are you sure man?). I give him a moneda (coin). His mood duly lifts and this time he is super seguro that every little thing is gonna be alright.
And soon a bus doth come along and I am bundled in with all my crap. Alas I don’t think this one will be going directly to Panajachel. I am so depressed I think I need a shot of mezcal and a band of impeccably dressed Mariachi musicians to console me. The driver drops me off at a busy crossroad from where I am briskly transfered onto another chicken bus. Maybe this one will be the last one? I am sitting on the floor at the back of the bus swerving like a lunatic as the bus driver takes to the narrow winding descending country roads Formula One style with Spanish language power ballads turned up full blast. He seems to be in a race with another chicken bus in a never ending game of ¿quien es más macho? I am not religious but I make the sign of the cross. Thirty minutes later I am bundled off this bus at a stop where there are about six other chicken buses. I am told that the one at the end of the line is going to Panajachel and, seguro, this will be the last one. I make a dash with my things towards it like it’s some holy chariot of good fortune. Once inside the bus, I look out the window and, through the bus lights, notice a sign which says, ‘Panajachal 8kms’. I will be so low if this bus doesn’t go the full eight kilometres. No matter how reckless the bus driver may be, I rejoice when this bus finally stops right at the side of the beginning of the tourist drag of Calle Santander in Panajachal town. Even though it is a little chilly, it is nowhere near the Lapland temperatures of San Cristóbal. I find a hotel and go to sleep.
By Nicholas Peart
(All rights reserved)
image source: www.amusingplanet.com