When we first arrived to San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlan, the guy at the coffee shop where we stayed was unsure if we were staying for 4 months or 4 days. Soon it became clear foreigners had a hard time leaving this place and he couldn’t believe we were only there a few days.
The dry spell of the rainy season came to an end, at least temporarily. This, once again signaled our time to move on in search of drier grounds. We headed for Antigua, well not at first, but it’s where we ended up (and not so dry either). Instead of driving back up and out the way we came we opted for the shorter route around the San Pedro Volcano. This came with it’s own problems, as the route is notorious for armed Banditos. However we were in luck as Guatemala provides police escorts for free (only asked to help with ‘gas’).
Arriving to Antigua we checked into a police station right in the centre of the city as we heard they let overlanders camp on their lot. The theme of the day was police, as we started with a police escort, got stopped at a police check point and slept at a police station. Having briefly visited Antigua a few years back we retraced our steps to the same pizza place, as we could not find a place that would let Ella inside. We took our pizza to the park as we did two years ago but this time out of necessity, as we would have rather cozied up inside, away from rain and the dark. Once again I tried to sell Ella to the local passerby’s but she barked them all away. Alas, we headed to Café Nose, a cool indi joint that not only allowed the dog in but had one of their own.
The next day we got ready for roaming around this charming town, but after lunch time with no end to the rain, we called it quits and packed our van for the beaches of El Salvador.
Little did we know how handy the one pair of long pants we each had would come in Guatemala. In ten minutes from the Belizean town of San Ignacio we arrived at the Guatemalan border where we were warned to get ready for unhelpful and grumpy border guards. Brett’s usual border jitters seemed to have infected me as well for no logical reason as we have yet to encounter any real trouble at any border crossing. We arrived to the smiling, helpful border guards and the most organized border crossing yet. While waiting to get the car permits sorted we once again bumped into Prayash who was looking to hop on a bus, but instead jumped back in with us.
This time we headed to the couchsurfing gig that Brett and I scoped out and Prayash was the guest of honour. We were excited to meet our host Maria who lived just outside Santa Elena. Maria being involved in the communities’ social and political aspects was a great source of information about the community’s issues including the local pre elections gossip.
The following day the three of us headed to Semuc Champey. But first we needed money, phone data and car insurance. In three hours we were on our way but with the river ferry crossing and the winding mountainous roads the journey could not be completed in a day.
For the first time the driving extended into the night, something we have avoided so far, but considering it got dark at 6 this was hardly avoidable. We proceeded on in the dark following trucks rather then relying on our pathetic lights to spot the potholes. The highway or road was beautiful, scenic and packed with people walking back from work or school and carrying all sorts of things. We had to settle in Coban for a night as we were still a ways away from our final destination. For some reason Coban seemed to have been booked and we could not find anywhere to sleep. Finally Prayash skillfully negotiated our stay in a fenced parking lot with access to the bathroom in the hotel across. He himself slept on a bed in the hallway of the hotel. with our stay sorted we strolled the streets tasting various foods from the street stalls before retiring to our sleeping quarters.
Semuc Champay was as the guidebooks described: deep, blue crystal clear pools of water surrounded by jungle. Ella as usual entertained the crowds with her rock huntig obsessions as she skillfully navigated around the pools.
Just before Semuc Champey was a small town, nestled between the hills and quite isolated from the next place over. We loved it and decided to spend some time there.
Ella got in her first chicken fight and left looking more like a street dog with a cut over her eye. We hoped this would stop people from asking us she could breed as her offspring’s seemed to be in high demand. The following day we packed up… well folded up the bed back to a seat and headed west. Through Brett’s discretion we opted out for the dirt road that would take two hours before becoming paved again. As Brett dodged the holes and crevices in the road the van bobbed and we with it. So much that I blame both of our backackes which lasted about 2-3 days on that drive. But it was a beautiful scenic route through rural Guatemala, passing through hills, meadows, villages and towns. As we drove on, the local folks worked on the road filling in pot holes in exchange for some money, food and water. The following are some pictures from this long and winding drive through rural and urban centers.
After a few overnight stops in various places we were on route to Lake Atitlan. The lake lies in an old volcanic crater, surrounded by three volcanos and numerous towns along its shores. This short drive would truly test our brakes but would be well worth it. We now rest at the shores of San Pedro La Laguna before making our way around the lake.
We have crossed 14,000 km so for and just in time for another brake line leak. Through the word of mouth we found a good mechanic. We were told to come back the next morning at 8 am if it didn’t rain, we crossed our fingers for the rain to hold off as the forecast did not look good for the next 7 days. Next day by noon we were leaving the mechanics after the longest shift ever of watching someone work but in company of his wife, daughter in law, parrot, nice dog, crazy dog and cat it was quite entertaining. This time the damage was $50 vs $300 back in Canada.
After a few days in Chetumal we were off to Belize. Without any real traffic it took about an hour to cross the border. Between getting us out of one and into the other country, then doing the same for the car and the dog, fumigation and a few other stops it turned into a lengthy procedure. Especially since there was no clear identification of what to do or where, and no one thing was really done at the same place. So trying to find these places, backtracking on a one way street and then having to buy car permits on the side of the road, we were thankful there was not many other people there and that the spoken language was English. It also feels really rewarding once you get into the country.
We headed for Hopkins a small beach side village which we really liked. After a night in a hostel we decided to stay another night, so we parked on the street next to the beach for a cheaper alternative. It was a sweet spot, with doctor’s office on one side, great neighbours on the other, police in the back and beach at the front. However as it was still low season most everything was closed and we struggled considering our current home does not have a bathroom. We spent the evening on the dock. While Brett chatted with the fishing dudes I watched the stars and held our fierce dog back from everyone else.
The following morning we woke up at 6:30 am, apparently still later then many others. Students were dressed in their uniforms and hanging out while they waited for a bus to take them to school. The girls living in the house where we parked next to, who went to elementary school still had some time so they splashed around at the shore while showing us killer bees, sting rays and other local wildlife. It seemed like a pretty awesome way to start the morning before heading to school.
We left Hopkins for Rio On Pools, but passing though Belmopan, the capital, we saw Prayash a fellow traveler we met in Hopkins who was walking along the road. He has been couchsurfing his way across South and Central America and after listening to his stories we were hooked. So to start we joined him at his current couchsurfing gig. And it was a luxurious one, we spent the evening relaxing, chatting and watching a Spanish movie we did not understand a word of, called Sin Nombre (great movie by the way). Ella was loving the air-conditioning and the carpet she made herself comfortable on, so much she tried to avoid any kind of outside activity.
The next morning together with Prayesh we headed to Rio On where Brett and I spent a couple of nights in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest (Prayash hitchhiked home to his host’s house in the afternoon). We swam and slid in some of the many natural pools nestled in the granite rocks. With no one else around we had a great time relaxing and enjoying the nature. Also watching Brett pull a cockroach out of his underwear was pretty entertaining.