If you read my last post it was clear that I wasn’t exactly wallowing in admiration for Guatemala during my first couple of days here. But once I got down to Antigua in the center of country, things picked up immensely.
Antigua is the former capital of Guatemala and a colonial time capsule. It sits in a wide valley surrounded by no less than three volcanoes. It looked like time had passed the city by for the last hundred years. With its colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, comfortable climate and plethora of bars and restaurants, it was the perfect place for me to spend a few days R&R.
I needed to care of business over the internet so I splashed out on a nice hotel with strong Wi-Fi and a great patio where I could work. At forty-eight dollars a night it was a bit spendy for my budget but a great spot to get some tasks taken care of.
My days were mostly taken up with updating the blog, paying the bills, skyping, and researching upcoming destinations. My evenings were mostly spent at the first real Irish pub I’ve found on the trip so far. With Guinness on tap , curry chips and pub quizzes, you can’t go far wrong! Sure it wasn’t the real Guatemalan experience, but it was a nice break from the road.
A few photos from out and about in the city.
Back Down To The Coast
Antigua was getting too comfortable. It was tempting to stay longer but I needed to get a move on and cross into El Salvador.
It was just over a hundred miles to the border so, ever the optimist, I reckoned on getting there in three hours easy. And for most of the drive down there it was easy. The driving was as crazy as ever but the road was a lot less twisty and the surface was good for the most part. Most every car on the road was overloaded with passengers. In particular I was amazed at pick-up trucks loaded to the gunwales with passengers standing in the bed of the truck and hanging on for dear life. Each time I saw one go over a speed bump I was baffled how they didn’t all fall out in a big pile on the road.
I’d adopted a new strategy that I thought would help me make better progress on these chaotic roads. I call it Follow A Local ™. I would seek out a car or motorbike that was driving somewhat sanely and at a reasonable speed and going the same direction as I was. Once I confirmed their brake lights were working I stuck to them like glue. This gave me two advantages; to some degree they would shield me from oncoming traffic, and I got advance warning of potholes, speed bumps, children or cattle on the road, etc.
In this manner I made great time until I came upon a line of traffic backed up for a couple of miles. One of the great things about being on a bike down here is you get a free pass to jump every and any vehicle queue you come across. So, in what was now becoming second nature to me, I pulled into the oncoming lane and rode up to the head of the queue.
Up at the front of the line there was bad news and good news and then more bad news. A good news sandwich, so to speak.
First piece of bad news: A bridge had been washed out from recent rains, causing the huge traffic backup.
The good news was that they had put in a temporary bridge just fifty meters away. The other bad news was that an impatient trucker had wedged his truck on the bridge. They were working on freeing it but it was well stuck and no one was going anywhere soon.
One of the side effects of this transport crisis was that some enterprising locals had set up food stands to cater to hungry, stranded travellers. This is on the main Pan-American highway and there were hundreds of vehicles stopped with no way forward. The locals had a captive market and were doing a booming trade. I went and got lunch while I waited.
Shortly after lunch they freed the beached truck so I shot across the bridge while I had the chance. What I didn’t know and couldn’t see was that the trail back to the road on the other side was very narrow and packed with traffic making its way down to the bridge. I got so far and then ended up pinned with a fence on one side and trucks and buses going past inches from me on the other side.
This was not good. Trucks and buses were just inches away from me and I couldn’t move out of the way. I waited for a break in the traffic but it just kept on coming against me. I needed help so I told a bystander I’d give him a dollar if he could stop the traffic pouring down the hill for a few seconds. Straight away he strode out in front of a bus with his hands outstretched, commanding then to stop. This guy should have been a traffic cop! That gave me the break I needed and enough space to clear the bottle neck and get back up to the road on the other side of the bridge. I was on my way again, and best of all my lane was clear as all the other eastbound traffic was still stuck back on the other side of the bridge.
It was close to three PM by then, and whole episode cost me about two hours but I was just an hour from the border and thought I could still make it there, process through into El Salvador and still find a hotel before nightfall. But Then, not much further down the road, another bridge was out!
This time there was no traffic jam but the diversion was a very circuitous dirt trail to an alternate bridge. it was one of those trails with a lot of corrugations and it felt like the bike was being shaken to bits. I had to slow way down going along the dirt track so it took me the best part of an hour to get back on the main road. Once I got there I stopped and checked that nothing had come loose from the bike and that all my fillings were still in place.
By now I’d given up on getting to the border that day so I diverted to the nearest beach to look for a hotel for the night.
The Beach And A Proxy Marriage Proposal
After ten miles on a “road” that had more potholes than tarmac, I arrived shaken and stirred at a beach called Chapeton. It was a sleepy place with thatched roof houses strung around a central green. There was more livestock wandering the street than cars. The only accommodation in the village were prison cell style rooms for eight dollars. All this suited me just fine as I wanted a low-key sort of place to rest up for the night.
It was time for dinner. There were no restaurants in the village; it was the sort of place you had to ask around until you found someone who would cook for you. I was eventually directed to a group of women (age range seven to seventy) sitting by the green.
I made a deal with one of them to cook me some shrimp. Not only that, she could offer me a beer too! Off she went to prepare dinner and said why don’t I sit with her friends in the meantime? Sure, why not.
Of course they all knew I was the guy who rode in on the motorbike a couple of hours before. It seemed the whole village knew about. When I ride in to these off the beaten track places on my oversized bike looking like some sort of a spaceman in my riding gear, people just stop in their tracks and stare. Here it was no different.
Anyway the usual questions started. Where are you from, What are you doing, where are you going, etc. Then the enquiries moved on to why I was travelling by myself. I replied that well none of my friends are mad enough to do a trip like this (which is true) and we all had a good laugh at this.
Then one of the ladies said, so you’re single then? Yep, I replied, “I’m single, unemployed, and am basically living out of a motorbike. I’m a real catch!” They all burst out laughing.
The same lady pipes up that I was very handsome and had beautiful “celestial’ eyes and the rest started sniggering. “Aha! this one fancies me” I thought to myself. Although she wasn’t my type, (even if she was it would have been tough to go a courting with the whole fucking village watching!) what was the harm in a little bit of flirting? It was a nice way to pass the time. So back and forth we went with the compliments until the cook lady came back and said my dinner was ready and I should go back to the house.
I made my excuses and went across the street to the lady’s house and sat down to eat in the semi open air living room/garage. I took a seat while the family were lounging around in hammocks watching television. There was a car parked in the middle of the room, and chickens and dogs walking around the place. I wish I had brought my camera. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
That’s not the weird part of all this, though. One of the group women I was having a laugh with outside earlier came in an sat directly in front of me as I was eating the shrimp (It was delicious by the way, thanks for asking!). A little company would have been fine by me but she looked to be all of fifteen years old.
Very diplomatically, I suggested she might prefer to sit outside with her friends instead? No, she wanted to ask me a few things.
Hmm, Ok I suppose.
All business-like, she asked me if I was really single, did I have a house, a car, any children, what age I was, and so on. All the while she stared at me intently and had a very serious demeanor during the interrogations. Seriously, I’ve been at job interviews that were more laid back than this. It was getting annoying so I asked her what’s with the fifty questions?? She was blunt and to the point.
Her: “Well my mother really likes you so I think you should marry her and take her back to the US with you”
Me: “Even though I only met her twenty minutes ago, what would you do if your mother moved to the US with me?” (In spite of my shock, I couldn’t help asking)
Her: “Well you would have to adopt me, my sister and two brothers, and then bring us with you too.”
Me: “…………………” **sound of crickets chirping** “…………………..”
It took me half a minute to regain my composure and lift my jaw up off the floor. Bear in mind all this was going on while the family was lounging around in their hammocks.
Me: “Senora, the bill please!, and I’ll take another beer to go!”
I told my prospective daughter as gently as I could that the conversation with her mother had only been harmless flirting and please don’t take it seriously. You seem like a nice family, but you don’t even know me and I’m not interested. She seemed ok with this, and then I said I’m really tired after the food and was going to sleep.
So that’s the story of my would-be Guatemalan wife and children. With that I fled back to my concrete cell and called it a night.