We spent a low key New Years Eve – four Gallo beers and a rum with coconut water – relaxing in the quiet beauty of the Oasis Chiyo in Las Conchas, Guatemala. We brought the noise: J finally got to shoot off the last of the fireworks we purchased in Mexico and those that he received from Santa, in a soccer field that doubles as a cow pasture. Even though we aimed the rockets away from them to avoid a stampede, the cows were not pleased with the noise and smoke and we could see their eyes reflected red in the flashlight beam move deeper into the corner of the goal where they took their repose.
We have been in country for two weeks now and I think I’ve seen enough of Guatemala to suggest some New Years resolutions:
Put up road signs. Not the kind that tell me the road is going to curve to the left, but the kind that tell me where the hell I am and where the right fork of the road goes. All too often the road splits and there is nothing to indicate which way leads to heaven and which way leads to hell.
We wanted to get to Raxruja after we drove off the ferry in Sayache. The road going up took two directions – one paved and one not – but had no sign indicting what lay in either direction. The GPS apps we are using are wrong often enough where we can’t blindly trust them and – see paragraph two below – the fact that a road is not paved doesn’t mean it is the road less traveled. Remember, we got to the Mexican-Guatemalan border by driving through a muddy cornfield.
When there is a sign indicating what city lies on either fork, the city named is often hundreds of kilometers away and not the next city en route. This happened in Mexico as well and requires us to memorize the map of the country for city locations way beyond our hoped for destination. It’s like coming into New Jersey from New York across the George Washington Bridge and following signs for Las Vegas to get to Paterson.
Finish paving your roads. We can be cruising steady at 45 m.p.h. on this beautifully smooth and flat road and I will have to hit the brakes hard because the pavement ends and is replaced by a muddy, bumpy mess of a path. And you can never be sure that the muddy trail called a road is the wrong way. The infrastructure of the place puts it firmly in the category of developing countries – while waiting 30 minutes for the ferry to take us fifty meters across the Rio La Pasion in Sayache, J asked, “Why don’t they build a bridge?” Good question.
We had a plan to drive to Semuc Champey, a blue waterfall described to us as one of the most beautiful places in the world, but there is no really good way for us to get there. Option one was to drive a paved road about 200 kilometers west to Coban so that we could then drive 150 kilometers east on a mostly paved road to Lanquin to park Wesley and take a 4WD to the waterfall. Option two was to drive a shorter but unpaved, rough rocky road that may or may not be in the process of being improved straight south for 50 kilometers to Lanquin Option three was to drive north, then east to Rio Dulce and catch a 4WD that drives 5 hours on another rough, unpaved road through Cahabon to Lanquin.
We went to bed planning on option two but in the morning we read some things that dissuaded us from that notion, so planned to skip Semuc Champey all together and go to another waterfall in Las Conchas. Then the hotel owner went off about how beautiful Semuc is compared to Las Conchas so we were back to option two even though the owner suggested option one, saying it would take the same amount of time. We picked up a campesino hitchhiker and he was of the same opinion, but against all available local information, I thought we should try option two because you never know how bad it really is until you see for yourself. “This is the shortest route to a top five tourist destination in the country.” I thought, “Why wouldn’t they have paved the road by now?”
Option two was like trying to ride a unicycle over an avalanche. Picture what a group of ten year old boys would do with some hammers and a pile of boulders. This is the road. After twenty minutes, ten of which I spent out of the car figuring out how I was going to get Wesley turned around (solution: get Coconut and J out of the van and safely to the side; put R behind the wheel, and push) we decided to skip Semuc for the time being and go to Las Conchas and then Rio Dulce where we may try option three. I was initially relieved by that decision and all the tense driving and abuse of Wesley that would be avoided, but felt like a real loser when I saw a low-riding pick-up truck with five or six campesinos standing in the bed rolling steadily up towards where we had just turned around. Sigh. Maybe I’ll be a man tomorrow.
Teach your people to smile, and to say no once in a while. We had read the people in Guatemala were more reserved and it is true. We are often met with silence when greeting people. Wesley is no longer met with smiles due to his/her headlight eyelashes. When walking along the road, I miss being greeted by all eight people in the taxi as it drives by. On the other hand, people are very helpful and accommodating when we do strike up conversations. When we were jumping off of waterfalls the other day, I asked whether it was safe to jump in a particular spot. “Si,” the boy said. “You jump here? It’s deep enough?” I asked. “Si.” “Right here?” I asked, pointing at the spot just to be sure. “Si.” So I got ready to jump only to be stopped and told that it was safer to jump in a different spot. We don’t know if they are saying yes to be polite or because it is true.
Kill all the mosquitoes. We all know mosquitoes are useless except as food for bats, so why are there so many of them? When we were sitting at restaurants in Flores, we could tell who had been to Tikal by the condition of their legs. Red and scabby meant they had been to the jungle. Now we are those people. I have a bite on my neck that is so big you could hang a picture on it. And they itch like crazy; I have bites from last year that still itch this year. Plus, they carry diseases with cool names like Dengue Fever and Chikungunya, but that you don’t want to come down with.
Coconut has been under the weather lately with a fever as high as 40 Celsius (about 103 F) and we worried it was one of those mosquito-borne diseases with a cool name like Dengue Fever or Chikungunya, but which we certainly don’t want her to come down with. We took her to a doctor who quickly looked her over and decided Coconut has a throat infection from the weather changes and general climate. He prescribed a number of medications which seem to have helped so we are hopeful that he was right in his diagnosis. Otherwise, I will have something else about Guatemala to complain about.