Thursday, 4 September 2014

0096 3rd Sept - Pana to Guatemala City

After some really heavy rain and thunder last night, this morning (Wed 3rd Sept) turned out to be one of the nicest mornings weather-wise for several days. Clear, cool, and all sorts of things going on around me.

First I spied one of the local fishermen coming over in his little boat to check his lines which they lay through the reeds right in front of my camping spot.  The colour of his boat was such that I was seriously looking for an owl and a pussycat to be in there with him too !!

Then some early morning taxis came into view speeding over from San Pedro La Laguna, the town on the other side of the lake, so for a moment I had the fishermen in their boats, and the taxis, all outlined in the morning sun in front of the San Pedro Volcano.  Just a perfect scene as I cooked up my scrambled eggs I had bought from the little shop yesterday (I think the chickens round here are all free range because the colour of the yolk and their taste is just delicious.  Hmm, I wonder what they eat…..?!)

As I was slowly packing up before heading into Guatemala City to meet Janet’s flight from Australia tomorrow, an old man came down with his machete, dressed in the local outfit of colourful shirt and trousers, with more material wrapped around them like a skirt, ready to start cutting the grass in the campsite.  It was such a peaceful scene as he slowly walked down, sat on the wall under a tree, outlined against the Tolman Volcano, and sharpened his machete ready for a day’s work.  Later on he joined with one of the other gardeners and they pulled chairs into the shade and stopped for a mid morning rest and a drink – Unfortunately a big bottle of Coca Cola !! 

Shortly after that, I filled up my tank with water (filtered and treated chemically, and then I boil it before drinking it, which seems to be working so far, IYKWIM !), and then set off into town to get some diesel. I was only about ¼ of a tank down, but after the recent fun with the filter I wanted to make sure my tanks were full before setting off – You never know what will happen during the day. I normally always refill when I am half empty, so I then have 90 litres in reserve in a worst case situation, which is enough for over 600 kms.  Anyway, I am filling up in the local gas station and a little boy comes over to me and offers to shine my shoes.  I look down, and I am wearing flip flops !  But he persists !!  So instead I gave him a boiled sweet and a few coins, and he seemed more than happy – But made me promise that I would let him shine my “shoes” next time I was there – Might be worth it just to see how he does it !!  Anyway, fill up, and in Guatemala it is measured in gallons (US or Imperial ? Not sure !!) and off I go up the hill out of town.

This hill is steep – even with all my turbocharged horsepower I am in 2nd gear and occasionally first to get up some parts of it.  And the views are stunning as you get glimpses back over the lake to the volcanoes.  Trouble is there is nowhere to stop or pull over, and the road is so twisty that  you just take pics as best you can in order to remember the beauty.  I also passed a waterfall which I had been able to see high on the mountain from my camp site – The water just seemed to disappear into the rock below the road and never appear again !!

Then it was into the narrow streets of Solola, which necessitated a few direction assurance from the locals as I drove past – They had signs saying “Guatemela” for a while, but then they suddenly stopped ! Garmin wasn’t happy all day – It seemed to
imagine there was a big freeway to Guatemala just around the corner, but I never found it !  There was a fascinating road sign all the way through the mountains that I had never seen before – A picture of a car, headlights on low beam, and surrounded by hundreds of tiny dots, like a swarm of mosquitoes.  “Turn lights on when driving through mosquitoes” ?  “Danger, insects ahead” ?   Never was sure – Maybe it was “Used dipped headlights in fog” ?  The mind boggles at the inventiveness of global sign writers sometimes !!

I was back up at 2500 metres for quite a lot of the drive, firstly weaving through mountains with views for miles across the valleys, often with the 3 local volcanoes in sight, as well as a few others to the south – Volcano Acatenango at 3976 m, Fuego at 3763 m, and de Agua at 3766 m. Then there were some flat plains we crossed with lots of small scale agriculture – cabbages, fruit, lots of apples, and lots of other unknown (to me) crops, plus of course always the corn/maize.

Then I had some the amazing entertainment of a brightly coloured Chicken Bus (the brightly painted and decorated local country buses that go everywhere, piled high with people and produce) that over took me going up a hill. As I watched him pass, the “conductor”, who hangs in the door all the time and collects fares and helps people with their luggage, climbed out of the side door, clambered up on the roof, and made his way some 30 ft, clambering over all the luggage, to the back of the big luggage rack on the roof – All being done while the bus was doing 80 kmh on a twisty road !!  I was stunned. I have seen people sitting on the roofs of buses but not wandering around while the bus is going !   Anyway, he then climbs down the ladder at the back of the vehicle, carrying a big blue package which he had got from the roof, and by the time he got down the ladder, the bus pulled in, the passenger got out to be handed his package as he stepped off the bus, and before the bus even came to a complete standstill, as I passed it, it was off again in a cloud of black diesel smoke, only to career past me again shortly afterwards, leaning over on its springs as it rounded the corner we were negotiating !  I couldn’t believe what I had just seen – How efficient it that ??  Tad dangerous too, but bloody efficient service !!  Imagine if airlines handed you your (correct) luggage the moment you stepped off the plane !!

Then we went through the sizeable town of Chimaltenango – The towns spread along the main roads so seem to go on for ever, but I don’t think they are really that big, just stretched out.  But it is the normal chaos of buses and cars suddenly stopping, or pulling out, so you really have to have your wits about you. The hardest thing here for me is that they indicate left, or alternatively put on their emergency flashers, if they are pulling over to the right. Of course, they also do the same (indicate left) if they are intending to suddenly turn left !!  They never seem to use their right indicator when they are pulling over to the right (Maybe their right indicators are all broken ?).  So my system is if a vehicle in front of me is using any kind of indicator at all, I prepare for him to turn in any direction, or maybe even just stop in the middle of the road !! So far it is working for me !

I then took a wrong turning and almost ended up in Antigua, and there was no Retorno (turn around place) for about 15 kms !  It is so hard to pull over to read the map when you want to !!  Anyway, got that sorted out, and we started to drop into Guatemala City – And suddenly the heavens opened and we were in a torrential downpour for the rest of the way. I had booked a room in the Holiday Inn near the airport so Janet didn’t have to climb off the flight and start camping in a field straight away, and just before I got to the hotel I came to a large roundabout at which Garmin was telling me to “Take the first exit”.  There were also traffic lights at this roundabout (go  figure !!), and it was lucky they turned red jut as I got there because it gave me a few moments to study the traffic flow. Basically, you could go round the roundabout ON EITHER SIDE of it !!  I couldn’t believe it – Cars and trucks were going round this supposed roundabout in all directions !! Might have to try that at home sometime !  Thank goodness I had the opportunity to see how it worked before I crossed it !

Anyway, got to the hotel, got checked in, and  then found that Troopie was about 2 cms too tall to fit in the underground parking !!  (That was a palaver involving about 20 people in itself !!)  So I was eventually invited to park right outside the front doors !  OK – Trouble was they were painting the walls out the front of the hotel, above where Troopie was parked ! With rollers on long poles.  The one’s that spatter
paint everywhere.  So I made a few stern comments in Spanglish (including appropriate finger wagging for emphasis) about not painting my car – And came back down from my room 5 minutes later to find the guy merrily painting right over the top of Troopie, with small dots of white paint starting to be evident on the black surfaces of Troopie (spare tires, window grills etc). Luckily the Holiday Inn in Guatemala is painted in a very similar shade of blanco as Troopie, so not too bad !!  Anyway since then, Troopie has become the local attraction and she has been alternatively covered in plastic, moved, or just generally painted around for the last 24 hours !! The doormen have found Guatemalan stickers for me to add to the side of the car, and generally couldn’t have been more pleasant or helpful.  Big tick for Holiday Inn.

By 7 pm I was starving, and there was a Hard Rock CafĂ© right opposite the hotel, and the idea of a good hamburger and fries after the last few weeks in Mexico was rather very appealing.  Since it was still raining, the proximity of the HRC made it even more inviting, so off I went, had a yummy burger (the largest one they had, with the lot) and a couple of dark beers, before returning to a comfy bed for the night.

The next morning (Thurs 4th) I had a hearty breakfast in the hotel  (I could get used to this instead of camping !!) checked to see what colour Troopie was this morning (still blanco with some dots), sent some sheets and towels off to the hotel laundry so everything would be clean for when Janet arrives (I draw the line at trying to wash bath towels and bed sheets in a small sink in cold water by hand !) and started to sort the car out and make room for Janet’s stuff when she arrives this evening.  I won’t bother to take Troopie to the airport tonight as they have a hotel shuttle, so will just use that.  Then we will either set off tomorrow, or maybe stay one more night here so Janet can get her head straight. Will work that out once she arrives.

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