Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Guatemala part 1, ruins & almost ruined

Fumigation time, what a wonderfully friendly way to welcome us into the country! Luckily though we seemed to have snuck through the fumigation wash to enter Guatemala without it actually spraying those nasty chemicals at us, taking our lucky Belizean bugs onto new adventures, for only $2.50USD! The Guatemalan border crossing goes something like this: Go through fumigation wash, pull over and pay fumigation, move car to other side of road directly across the street, have a few little kids following you "helping you" around since nothing is labeled or makes much sense, go to 1st unmarked counter and wait for lady to be done putting on her mascara, give lady your passport, get stamp, move to next unmarked counter to the left, give man car title and copies of license, sign a bunch of papers, go to 3rd person down the same counter who looked at papers and then disappeared for a bit then go to little window that is the cashier and pay for vehicle entry and get stamp on random piece of paper given by 3rd guy, go back to 3rd guy and show the stamp, go back to 2nd guy and get a copy of paperwork that you signed earlier. Get sticker for windsheild of car, and viola, you are a legal tourist in Guatemala, simple as that. Now we just have to remember how to speak Spanish, crap! We don't speak very good Spanish!! Or 1 of the 21 different Mayan dialects in this country!

Roaches check in, but they don't check out

Just when we thought we had left the critters of Belize behind, we headed straight back into the jungles of Guatemala... this time in search of the grand daddy of all the Mayan ruins, Tikal. Considered one of the most spectacular of ruins in Central America, Tikal was once home to over 100,000 people. It's size alone is overwhelming, one does not just go for a quick stroll around the ruins, a map is needed to figure out where the heck you are in this maze of trails and temples. The ruins are huge and dispersed in thick jungle in a large ecoreserve, so walking around in the park is an up close and personal national geographic experience. We saw families of spider monkeys swinging and playing in the trees above us, a coati climbing in the branches over our heads, an agouti - looks like the offspring of a deer and a rabbit combined, parrots, toucans, some kind of turkey/peacock hybrid, intricate trails of leaf-cutter ants, and even a family of howler monkeys complete with little baby howlers. Howler monkeys are very cute when they are sleeping in the trees during the day, but come night fall, they sound like loud, screaming dinosours killing people... it is quite remarkable how ferocious the little guys sound! (One of the park signs we read said the monkeys sometimes throw feces at people, fortunately we did not experience such behavior.)

Mallary standing in front of the nifty Temple II

Tikal ended up being so impressive, that we were happy it was the last of the ruins in Central America we plan to visit, anything else soon after would be disappointing in comparison. Overall we had a blast climbing and marveling at the ruins, and especially loved the 210 foot Temple IV where we could sit atop a ruin above the canopy and gaze out at the endless jungle with a few temples poking out above the tree tops. Temple IV is very cool because they are still working on its excavation, so you can walk up the wooden stairs to its top, and look down at the workers uncovering it piece by piece in the front, meanwhile the back of it still just looks like a giant hill covered in jungle floor and trees. Which made us realize that as we were walking through the trails, a lot of the time we were actually walking on unexcavated ruins of a mega city, cool!

Atop Temple IV, a similar view was used in one of the Star Wars movies
Current excavation on Temple IV, and a before & after of Temple V
Chris on a unexcavated pile of who knows what

We camped inside the park for a night (highly recommend it) where Mallary had a very close encounter... thinking she was pretty safe in a well manicured field, she left the confines of our small palapa towards the bathroom, and saw a decent sized spider. Chris assured her they were harmless, and that there are tons of them all over the field, so she bit the bullet and confidently walked on with a headlamp for light. Not 3 steps later did she almost take a step, step back, and screamed for Chris, cause she had just missed (like by a centimeter) stepping on a tarantula the size of her hand, and now gnats and bugs were literally swarming her face, hungry for the light of the headlamp! Oh how funny it must have been for the fellow campers that night to witness this all in the middle of the open field. A little dance, followed by a big scream, followed by one creeped out girl making her boyfriend escort her to the bathroom!! Needless to say, 1 night in Tikal was a enough for us.

We made a quick pit stop in Flores, a cool little town in the middle of a lake, and made camp at the best Guatemalan campground in Ixpanpajul National Park. We enjoyed the beautiful horses roaming the grounds, and a 24 hour security guard sporting a rifle that looked like it saw action in WWI. We felt wierdly safe and weirdly incarcerated, all the while wondering why in the hell places like parks, grocery stores, and gas stations need heavily armed guards, and hoping it is all just precautionary!

Our only pic of the Flores pitstop

We were making our way south towards Antigua, when Lola gave us our first bit of car trouble yet. Warning: Long Story Alert. It was late afternoon, pretty high up on a steep mountain road that ran through tiny villages full of little wooden shacks and people carrying water on their heads dressed in either beautiful traditional Guatemalan attire, or recycled salvation army shirts from the US sporting X rated sayings that they clearly did not understand! We roll over a little speed bump, and Lola stalls. Wierd, but she starts right back up and we push on. The road gets substantially steeper, and Lola gives out again, stalling us in the middle of a curvy uphill dirt road! We roll backwards, fire her up, and retreat back into the town, only for her to stall out yet again, and this time refuse to start back up! So, here we are, 2 english speaking white folks, in the middle of BFE Guatemala, dead in the water, where we think they speak some Mayan dialect. Less than an hour prior we had fueled up at a gas station that looked less than promising. Combined with the fact that this country is known for selling low quality fuel, Chris thought for sure the engine was protesting the garbage pumping through it. Chris checked some of the usual suspects, nothing found, damn, looks like professional help might be needed. We flagged down a random tuktuk (basically a motorcycle with a cab attached), kind of explained the situation, and off one of us went in search of a mechanic. Five feet later the tuktuk got a flat tire. Seriously... what is up with this day, and is this how the rest of it would go?!?! One new tire and lots of worried glances from Chris, Mallary and the tuktuk guys were off!

Here is Mallary's side of the story: I'm shoved in the back of this little tuktuk with 3 guys that speak 4 or 5 words of english tops. Its hot, and I can tell they are amused at my spanish skills and even more amused at the whole situation. We stop by a random shack of "the village mechanic" but he is not home. The shakey little tuktuk rolls on headed down the mountain road out of town. We drive for about 15 or so minutes, me silently wondering if I made the wrong choice by insisting that Chris stay with the car and me go for help. (What if I never make it back? What if the car decided to start while I'm gone? What if I get dropped off in a random town and don't know how to get back to the little mountain village without a name???) And then, we pull over to an isolated house about halfway to the next town. They tell me a mechanic lives there. I shyly walk over to the abandoned looking place and holler in for someone. Nothing. I look back at the guys, and they just laugh. I try again, and they motion me to just walk up to the house. Finally one of the guys helps me out and we talk to the wife of the mechanic, only to find out that he is somewhere far away for work until at least 6:30 that night. I look back to the street and in a moment of desperation of not wanting to get back in that tuktuk, look at this kind woman and say something in Spanish that I can only hope resembled this "listen, i really need some help. my boyfriend and my car are up there in the mountain, and we can't get out. It is getting late, and I really need to find a mechanic. I don't know what to do." I smile a bit, and make some faces at her that I'm now sure she understood to mean, "I cant get back in that tuktuk" and she graciously offers me a ride into town... on her motorcycle... with her 14 year old daughter driving! The teen and I head down the rest of the mountain, and into a town we did not come through on the way in. I try hard to mentally note the numerous turns she makes, knowing that if I need to hitch a different ride back, the only hope at making it back to Chris was me remembering the way, cause I sure as heck have no idea what that place is called. We roll up to a legit mechanic shop, and a few greasy guys meet me with curious faces. I try my best to tell them the problem, make some bad impressions of car sounds, remember to tell them the make and model, and they say "ok". The young girl motions for me to get back on the bike. We head out of town, and I get worried that something was lost in translation... There is no mechanic following us back!!! I think girl keeps saying "yes they are coming" and I trust her and enjoy the ride back. Chris seems relieved to see me back after a 2 hour adventure... We just have our fingers crossed that a mechanic is actually on his way!

Chris stayed with the car, and spent a couple hot and desperate hours feverishly tinkering and testing various components. It wasn't looking good. Meanwhile, every villager in the area slowly ambled by, almost lifeless, staring silently at the commotion, not saying a word. They would have done well at a Walking Dead audition. Fortunately the mechanic and his wife roll up on a motorbike a few minutes after Mallary arrived and was ready to get to it. Him and his assistant pulled out their old 8th grade science project of a few wires with a tiny light bulb attached to the end, and started testing Lola. Chris offered him a modern day multimeter but the mechanic wasn't digging it. Fifteen or so minutes later the mechanic found the problem! It was just a loose wire hidden near the fuel pump/kill switch. We cussed ourselves out for a minute, frustrated and exhausted from the ordeal, and thanked the mechanic and his wife for all the trouble. We followed them into town to make sure that fixed it, and found ourselves a cozy (not cozy at all by American standards) gated hotel, and camped out in the secure parking lot of quite possibly the most random town we have found ourselves in yet. All in all, we were only down $20 between paying the tuktuk, gassing up the little girl's motorcycle, tipping the girl, and paying the mechanic. And in the end improved on our social and spanish skills, had a bit of an adventure, and gained a heck of a lot of patience. Once again, we are thankful to some kind stangers for helping us out! Would we have sent our teenage daughter out on a mission with a random stranger for no gain of my own? Would we have driven 30 minutes up a mountain to check on the car of some crazy lady who hardly speaks my language? NOW we will! :)

Orange triangles of embarrasment


We pushed on towards Antigua. Guatemala has never failed us in the crazy routes, roads, and detours that we encounter along the way. Getting to Antigua turned out to be quite a long driving day that included 1 very precocious river crossing, crowded little towns, and an insanely steep hill that even had police waiting near the runaway truck ramps for the next accident! We made our way all the way down the steep hill and most of the way back up (one way streets on this hill) to find a wonderful "ecological park" to camp for the night. We woke up early Sunday morning to the sounds of a little church service happening in the forest right next to our car, complete with people chanting, crying, and even throwing up... awkward, here we are stumbling out of bed and trying to get ready and make some tea right in the middle of a pretty intense little gathering! We slipped out and booked it down to the city to seek out a perfect home and spanish school for the week!

Fingers crossed that us and the fifty cows in the truck next to us don't sink
Kinda straight by Guatemala standards
Pushing our way through another tightly packed town




  1. Church services that include vomiting? That sounds like Chris' cup of tea.

  2. Since we knew you made it to El Salvadore, we figured that you got Lola fixed and Mallary returned safely from her tuktuk ride. BTW Your father diagnosed the loose wire immediately. Stay safe! Mom & Dad (Carol & Lou)