Thursday, 28 August 2014

0092 Caterina to Panajachel

Woke up, had a nice (hot) shower, and sorted the car out in readiness for all the Guatemalan military check points I had heard about, and went over to the gas station to ask how I got to the road to take me to San Marcos.  As there was a cop car in the gas station with “San Marcos” written on the side, I figured they would know the way – Wrong !!  All three of them pored over my map, turning it this way and that (no spacial awareness ??), and discussing the answer to my question.  When I tried to say something, one of them held his hand up for me to be quiet while they were busy thinking.

Eventually they all agreed that I should turn right, so after much muchas graciasing, I went right.  The reason I was a bit unsure was that my Tom Tom which covered US, Canada and Mexico only, was now a blank screen, while my (relatively) new Garmin was waking up after 6 months lack of use, loaded with (non Garmin) maps I download for central America only a week ago, so I just didn’t trust it 100%   Although, when I turned right like the cops told me to, Garmin seemed to agree !!  So off I went into Guatemala.

I was headed to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan where I knew there was camping, and it was supposed to be really beautiful.  Two choices – road “CA2” to the south, then turn north on minor roads, or road “1” to the north, all the way to near Lake Atitlan.  They both looked reasonably straight, similar roads on my Guatemala map, and both had high numbers on (so they must be OK, right ?), so I went north.

Well, put it this way – They don’t put all the bends and all the hills on Guatemala maps that are 1:470,000 scale. 

I ended up having the most incredible drive, I only drove about 200 kms, yet it took me about 8 hours – And I was going as fast as I could !

Put it this way.  In that 200 kms, I climbed from sea level to over 3200 metres, and ended up at 1500 metres.  (And spent a lot of time repeatedly climbing up and down between 2800 and 3000 metres).  Never saw a straight or even flat piece of road longer than about 200 metres, and if they had gradients marked on the hills, I am sure much of it was 1 in 6 or steeper. I was in clear blue skies, I was in cloud, I had sunshine, I had heavy rain.  (No snow, fortunately !)   I saw a bus which had a chassis that was so twisted out of alignment that its front was 2-3 feet across from the back – And it over took me !!!  I saw locals carrying bigger loads on their backs than I have in Troopie, and I saw a bus with SO many empty 1 gallon jugs strapped to the roof that if it had fallen in a lake it would have floated – Sadly no photo – I was laughing too hard !!!  And I repeatedly saw views that just took my breath away.    It was just an amazing day.

But it wasn’t what the map looked like at all, so the whole day really was a surprise.  What made it even better was the prize waiting at the end, in Lake Atitlan.

After leaving the Bella Vista hotel, after over 2 hours driving I eventually arrived in San Marcos which was about a quarter of the distance – According to my map! By now I was beginning to wonder if I would make it to Lake Atitlan today. Then I got lost in San Marcos !!  What happens here is that the towns and villages have been here a long time.  Then they built the roads.  So you have a reasonable 2 lane road – And then you come to a village or town, where the roads are narrow, old, and often cobbled. So the nice 2 lane highway just stops at the edge of the town, and all the traffic, big trucks (some semis with a second trailer !!) just gets dumped into the town – And the 2 lane highway recommences on the other side of town.  It is up to you to find your way through the town and find the road on the other side.  Even Garmin goes into shut down mode, just taking you in ever decreasing circles !! So I switched it off, and still went round and round in circles !  After over an hour (my photos on my camera show the time they were taken !), I gave up.  Just when you think you are out, you end up in a dead end, or the road has been dug up, and there are no detour signs !  Eventually I grabbed a local taxi, and asked him to lead me back onto the road to Xela – Which he did willingly.  15 minutes later (!!!) he stops and tells me to turn left at the lights and I am on the road.  And he wouldn’t accept a single quetzale – Said it was his pleasure.  What a LOVELY man – I almost wept with relief – And ran over and gave him a little koala bear and a big hug !  Wish I had got his name, but he sure did his good deed for the day. 

After that, whenever I came to a junction in a town, I would slow down, lean out the window, and shout “Xela?” and point – And the locals would laugh at the crazy gringo with his steering wheel on the wrong side and shout “Si. Xela, Xela” and point in the right direction !  Then I got through Zela and couldn’t pronounce the next town, so I was stuffed. But by then my Garmin slowly started to work out where it was, and we also got onto a bigger and faster highway, and suddenly by 5 pm I was in Panajachel, my camp site was almost as I entered town, and I went in, set up, made supper, and went to bed !

What a day.  The photos tell more than words ever could – At those altitudes you see some amazing sights over valleys, but there is NOWHERE to pull over here – They just don’t do laybys or viewing spots.  It is either a gas station or you share your stop beside (ie ON ) the road with 300 locals ! With the photos, I know I am not very good, but I try to let you see what I see along the way. And let me tell you, they may not be good photos, but many of them are VERY hard to get.  Driving on steep windy roads, trucks coming round corners towards you often on the wrong side of the road, cars over taking you on blind corners, and meantime I am trying to read the map, listen to the Garmin, AND look out for topes !! On top of that, I try to take photos !!  So bear with me – Often they are only momentary glimpses that I get, so I have to have the camera at the ready all the time, to try to capture that split second glimpse between the trees. My favourite today is probably the least interesting – One of a big bridge up in the mountains at about 3000 metres that we had just driven across – And I suddenly saw it behind me – And managed to get the shot, in focus, backwards leaning out of the window, while simultaneously careering down a 1 in 3 hill, with a semi trailer over taking me and a tuk tuk coming the other way.  Great photo, IMHO !!!

I am going to sit here and relax on Lake Atitlan for a couple of days, surrounded by 3 big volcanoes – But more about them tomorrow !!

Pics here

1 comment:

  1. Just great Giles!
    Well, you did say that "I'm going on an adventure"!! If the CIA need to track you down they'll be able to follow the ever-increasing trail of Kangaroo Pins across North and South America.
    I'm loving your stories.....keep them coming!