travel through Guatemala

Posted from Santa Rosa Department, Guatemala.

Guatemala roads

The road in Guatemala leave something to be desired, but the scenery is your reward for enduring the bumpy ride.

The smell of smoke constantly lingers in the air. It follows you like a cloud and it’s not just because every tourist has taken up smoking again – packs are about two dollars. But as we drift these streets I’ve come to learn the difference between wood smoke and plastic smoke – the latter usually indicating the burning of garbage.

guatemala speed bump

People walk along the roads and speed bumps ensure that drivers keep a safe speed.

We pass ladies in traditional dress with large round necks carrying massive bundles of anything and everything on their heads. Wood, food, clothes, matts, baskets. Men in denims and straw hats carry bundles on their backs supported by a strap around their forehead. People mine things on the side of the roads, and garbage is everywhere. It makes me sad.

Guatemalan ladies

From village to village the traditional dress changes a little. The ladies create their own lace and weave their own cloth using beautiful colours.

The roads, the roads – they’re horrific. Perhaps they were paved at some point, but this volcanic and earthquake prone country can’t seem to keep up with the repair work. Massive patches and potholes abound causing drivers to veer into the opposite lane searching for the cleanest route. It’s a constant game of chicken. And then there are the speed bumps. Massive speed bumps in every village, or in the middle of no where, that make any 100 km journey take four hours as the driver must come to a near stop to pass over them. Travel is slow in Guatemala. Seat belts don’t exist.

Guatemalan roads

Missing blocks of pavement abound. Where has it gone?

But the landscape is beautiful. Gratuitous green mountains and deep sparsely populated valleys. Villages seem to be in the oddest places, even when we get to 1500m. A haze hovers in the valleys and I wonder if it’s smoke or mist. We pass some children filling in potholes with shovels and our van driver slows enough to press a few Qs into their hands. Dogs aren’t afraid of the road and we nearly hit dozens of them.

Semuc church

A church in the country-side on the way to Semuc Champey breaks up all the green.

Not everyone is dressed in traditional clothing. But I wonder if they’re the odd ones out. The traditional dress changes village to village, slightly, but if you look close enough you see it. Men, it seems, no longer dress traditionally – at least not where we’ve been.

A man in Antigua is painting a railing.

Things are expensive here – and not what I expected. Gas is over $3/gallon. Food is comparable to the cheap restaurants I’d frequent in Toronto, and I’m dining at the cheap places in Guatemala. It gets more expensive, but I saw Mainland cheese in the grocery store, and I realise we aren’t in the middle of nowhere.

Most everyone I’ve met has gotten food poisoning in Guatemala. But the food I’ve been getting is rather western, and the traditional food I’ve had is nothing like the flavour of Mexican food. It’s almost boring. Maybe I need to spend more money, but I just can’t.

San Pedro Volcano

Our first view of the San Pedro Volcano.

When we finally saw our first volcano we were rather stoked. Only the smoke, or the haze, hinders our view. It’s kind of the norm now.

We continue to ride private shuttles through Guatemala. They have doors that lock and can’t be opened from the outside. Chicken busses, as they’re called, the local transport, aren’t safe. A friend we visited in San Pedro La Laguna was robbed on one. They constantly stop to let people on and off, some of them are passengers, some venders who just go a kilometre or two. Six people (men and women) came on board with guns and machetes. She lost her phone, passport, credit cards and a small amount of money. She was travelling with her Guatemalan boyfriend. It doesn’t matter if you’re a foreigner. Everyone gets robbed.

They say in Guatemala City the chicken busses are very dangerous and even residents take alternate transport. Tattoos should be concealed as they are a sign of gang activity. We have had zero problems here, apart from my travel companion constantly being asked if he wants to buy some weed or another drug.

Children are free to roam. They know the rules.

Machine guns are everywhere. Automatic rifles? I don’t know the difference. They’re outside banks, shops, pharmacies, museums. Everywhere. I feel safe, actually. But we’re told how corrupt the police can be. These guys with guns aren’t police, though.

Tonight we get on a shuttle to León, Nicaragua. They say it’s 17 hrs. We go through three border crossings. It leaves at 2 a.m. and should arrive by 7 p.m. We’ll be on the main highway, which is actually four lanes of pristine pavement. We haven’t seen it much. And then we’re more than half way through Central America.

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