Monthly Archives: February 2014

Into Guatemala

We made it through Mexico with no major problems. No run-ins with the cartel or banditos. No police bribery or break-ins. The biggest problems we faced were where to go and what to eat. Mexico is such a diverse country and even after almost three months, I feel like we barely scratched the surface.

Our last photo in Mexico

Our last photo in Mexico

We were all excited to be going to a new country and entering Guatemala. We had heard lots of cautions about crossing the border, but it all went really smoothly. First, we had to get our car fumigated. The fumes tickled our throats a bit, but other than that, the routine is starting to feel familiar.

1. Change left over currency.

2. Get passport stamped etc.

3. Organize the temporary vehicle permit.

No one tried to charge us for anything they shouldn’t and no one tried to force their help on us for a fee. The Friday markets at the border town, La Mesilla, seem to deter a lot of people from crossing the border at this time. Works for us! There were barely any lines and the van is small enough to weave through busy, narrow streets.

Hola Guatemala!

Hola Guatemala!

Lunch by the river.

Lunch by the river.

There are a lot less organized campgrounds in Guatemala, which is both a good, and a bad thing. It’s not as easy to find a place to stay, but is forces us to practice our Spanish. Our first night turned out great. For 50 Quetzals, about $7, we were able to park on the lawn at a nice little secluded hotel.

Waking up in Guatemala. Ladies working hard, as per usual.

Waking up in Guatemala. Ladies working hard, as per usual.

We made our way, as quickly as the van would allow, towards Antigua. We passed through mountain range, after mountain range and had to pull over a few times so Oscar could cool down.

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The best kind of stopping, for food. The tortillas are definitely thicker here.

The best kind of stopping, for food. The tortillas are definitely thicker here.

When we got to Antigua, this lady was waiting for us!! We have been so lucky to have friends come and visit us along the way.

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The free camping at the tourist police compound in Antigua sounds like it used to be an awesome option for overland travellers and backpackers alike. However, they’ve had some recent problems with partying and drugs, and apparently lots of the troublemakers drive combi vans. We had to laugh, Oscar is usually making us friends. We tried to convince the police that we were legit, but they were having none of it. They also asked us our ages. Their current stance is families only, and the older you are the better. So, the girls booked into a hotel, and Mark and I slept incognito on the streets.

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We spent the next morning in Antigua drinking coffee, catching up with Margot, and wandering the streets. It is a really cute little city.

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In the afternoon we booked a tour to hike up the Pacaya Volcano. This was our first hiking tour and it ended up being pretty entertaining. I’d read on trip advisor (my first mistake), that “it’s harder than childbirth”. Ummmm, I truly hope this is the case, but I think this might be one of the bigger overexaggerations on the internet. The tourist organizations and even magazines are still promoting the volcano’s glory days. I was really hoping to see red glowing lava, but all that’s left is volcanic rock and warm smoking holes. Still, it was a beautiful setting for photos.

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Mayan Ruins of Palenque

I really wanted to visit Palenque, but I didn’t feel like driving all day through mountains and valleys and worrying about the next time we might stall on the side of the road. We were spending a few days relaxing in San Cristobal while I tried to sort out the issue and waited for the mechanic in town who might be able to help.

The girls found a cheap tour that would take us to Palenque and back in one day.  Basically, it was just a shuttle to and from Palenque in a 10 seater van, no frills, exactly what we needed and nothing more.  So, we got up super early one day and met our driver in town at 5am.

We stopped at a couple of well known waterfalls for a swim on the way.  First, Agua Azul, where the water cascades over calcium covered rocks into bright blue pools.

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And then another impressive waterfall at Misol-Ha.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We arrived at Palenque in the heat of the day and had a few hours to wander around the ruins, exploring the many trails that led to other parts of the ancient city that had been reclaimed by the jungle.

This place is amazing.  So many of the remaining structures have incredible stone roofs and plaster panels with intricate carvings that have survived for thousands of years. I can’t help wondering what the city would would have been like back in it’s heyday.  For some reason this city was abandoned, long before the Spanish arrived here, and it was gradually overgrown by the jungle until it was rediscovered hundreds of years later.

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San Cristobal de las Casas

Once again poor Oscar limped to our next destination, San Cristobal. We drove for about 10 hours and he was doing great right up until the end. We changed our route plans last minute and were glad that we did. San Cristobal is a nice place to be stuck for a few days, while we figure out what is going on with the van.

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Mark found a German mechanic (Jergen) in town. He’s on Mexican time now, so we did a lot of waiting. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry, and he was a big help to Mark as they tried to trouble-shoot what the problem could be. In the meantime, Mugsie and I wandered more cobble stone streets, and spent all our pocket money on amazing fresh produce.

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The political climate in Chiapas is also really interesting. We have been learning about the Zapatista movement. It has been called a modern day revolution. Since the first uprising in 1994, there has been a tense cease fire. The movement seems to be gaining popularity with the public at large. You can buy t-shirts that are very Che-esque. The native people are fighting for justice, education and the freedom to control their own industry. That is still probably simplifying things. There is a lot I still don’t understand about the Mexican government and politics in general.

As we drove through the country side we would see ladies in their amazing embroidered outfits working the fields. They looked more fancy than I would going to the office.

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We were in town for a tamales festival, which was delicious. I have been making an effort to have more tamales in my life. With the down time, we were able to explore more of the little pockets of San Cristobal on our morning runs. Our forested campground, definitely felt like home for a while.

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We met a number of overlander’s while we were in San Cristobal, who are also travelling to Argentina. Overlanders in general seem to be really organized, responsible people. It’s funny somehow that the name also applies to us. I sometimes feel like an imposter in the van, while they all drive reliable 4WD’s. Nevertheless, it was the first time we’d met a group of people doing the same thing as us. They were all super friendly, generous and interesting people. Although we have to start moving as quickly as the van will allow, we hope to see them all again.