The other Guatemala: 26-28 Octomber
Flores got us puzzled. Nature and its proximity to the impressive Mayan ruins made it a wonderful place but it’s hard to relax when you are welcomed and treated in the most touristy possible way. We could give many examples, unfortunately, but there is no use to mention them here. It’s enough to say that you need some time to get used to the fact that to many of the people there you are just a walking dollar. And once you realize this you can either get annoyed and start looking for “justice” that might be really hard to find anyway or enjoy the most you can under the given circumstances. I admit that I had a lot of “fun” all the time when at the same neighbourhood store and the same vendor, products had totally different price every time I stopped by. It’s a shame I couldn’t film the dialogues we had every time. The good part is that if you don’t get angry and are always relaxed when approaching them about it, the local “slicks” get pretty confused. It’s a shame that the location is so beautiful, a coquette island on an of lake that mirrors the jungle and sunsets…
And still, Guatemala cannot be only this. There must be something more beyond the “touristy places”. We feel we have to leave Flores and discover the Other Guatemala, one that gives us back a name and identity different than Benjamin Franklin. Therefore we plot a route that will take us South of the country, towards Course de Guatemala, Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Gunnar barely starts rolling and I sense us feeling better. After 3 days of sitting in one place, we missed being back in the saddle. On the side of the road the people are out working. Some cut the grass with their machetes…
… some do their laundry.
We reach Sayakche, where we have to take a “ferry” to cross the river. I think this is our second river crossing on this trip, after more the 30.000 km and 4 months into the trip
Luckily we get a spot on the first one, next to other local motorcycles. We have a few moments to relax and watch the way people live on both sides of the river.
It’s also interesting where they put the engines of our “ferry”: they are in 4 barrels strapped on the corners of the ferry. This way the engine can spin freely 180 degrees. Simple and ingenous.
On the other side we are greeted by the mountains and a lot of green. What a beautiful day!
Guatemala is called “The country of eternal spring” and it’s not hard to figure out why. Everything around us is bright green! We notice something else: there are very few cars on this road, one of the main ones in Guatemala. And the few cars we meet are functional ones. Trucks and buses. No small vehicles. Here’s an example, “Rapido del Norte” speeding in the opposite direction.
We pass small cities and they are all the same: noisy, agitated and full of life. People going from one place to another.
You can find and you can buy everything on the side of the road. I feel like I landed in an oriental bazar.
Everything calms down once we are out of the small cities. We meet fewer people, travellung by bus or by… foot.
People, especially women, wear their traditional clothes. And they do it every day not just during the holidays. Statistics say that more than 40% of the population of Guatemala is Mayan, living in the hills and mountainous area and belonging to more tribes (over 15), each having their own dialect, costumes and traditions. A fascinating world. And somehow it doesn’t feel weird to see the beautiful girls carrying things on their heads, the way they do it for hundreds of years.
We stop on the side of the road to buy some oranges and we don’t feel the “mercantile pressure” anymore. Things seem to be normal here. We get our oranges that we pay with a few coins (probably the price for locals not for foreigners) and we get smiles also. It hard to tell though what’s behind those smiles. People here have been through a terrible civil war that ended not long ago. The war started in 1960 and ended in 1996 with a peace armistice that many considered a wonder. All this horrible war took place in these mountains that now seem so serene.
One of the reasons it started was due to big differences between the richness of the elite and the poor majority of the population, forced to work the lands that were no longer theirs but owned by the big corporations from other countries. The fight was tough and many innocent civilians were involved. Many of them are still trying to rebuild their life.
Just recently more information was reveled on the genocide committed by the government army troops (apparently more than 200 000 Mayans and peasants were killed) and on the involvement of foreign agencies (US) that were defending the interests of the corporations owning profitable businesses in Guatemala. For example, United Fruit Company- from US, of course- owned 42% of the Guatemalan land, that’s right, the fertile one, without paying any kind of tax for this thanks to the “settlement” made with the country’s “democratic” leaders. No wonder US was trying to keep unchanged the status quo of the matter opposing what they called a “communist” movement.
Things are not that simple, of course, there is never only black and white and what I wrote here are just a few pieces found out while travelling in Guatemala. But for sure many of the things that happened made no sense and should not have taken place. 36 years of blind fight, years of hardship for most of the population, forced to live in a country trapped between an ugly past and a never coming future. If you have some time it is worth to learn more about these events. They are unfortunately more actual that we would like. Just change some of the actors and… but I digress!
I would like to have the same approach as some of the people I’ve talked to on this topic. I noticed not only the reluctance to talk about what happened but also optimism and pride about what will happen from now on. They might be coming from a dark place but more important is that it’s all clear now. Now they can rest peacefully looking towards a future where they hope the sun will rise.
This seemed to me a healthy attitude. Maybe more spread among the older ones while the young ones have a “hot blood”. But I think sometimes is better to channel your energy on what you cn do from now on.
We were glad the ugly times seem to have came to past and today two Romanian travellers can freely discover Guatemala.
And children are now busy handling kites instead of guns.
As for us, we enjoyed discovering Guatemala day by day, “the other Guatemala” where it is easier to interact with the locals based on honesty and not on a currency. Whether it is dollar or something else.
We spent lazy afternoons in old Antigua,
eating chocolate in the same room it has been produced.
Then we went to San Pedro la Laguna, a village set between Lake Atitlan and San Pedro volcano, “racing” (and losing) with the famous “Chicken buses” (old American school buses, now transformed into commuting buses).
And to get to San Pedro we left behind the 4 lanes intercontinental road for more narrow roads that lost their pavement at a certain point but not the traffic, heavy one, from the opposite direction…
Or… coming the same way as us…
hmm should we try to pass? Luckily we are on a motorcycle and we can squeeze through!
But its worth it to pass the big bus. The landscape just opens up and we have a great view on Lake Atitlan, guarded by a fortress of volcanoes. Wonderful!
In San Pedro we found a place to stay towards the end of the village where we decided to spend a week. Our own bungalow with a hammock, view of the volcano and beautiful garden. Yeah, it is time to spend more time in one place.
It was end of October and we found out that the first available boat to cross the Darien Gap
was only on the 8th of December. Late… very late but we couldn’t find a spot for Gunnar earlier. We book the 8th of December.
This means we will have a whole month, November, to explore Central America.
But this also means that we will have less time to reach the South of Argentina, in Ushuaia, if we want to get there before winter.
And this also means that our plan to get back home on the 4th of February is no longer feasable. With God’s help, our trip will take more than 7 months.
And a new thought starts to take shape. What if Ushuaia is not our last stop? Can’t we just go further? Hmmmm…
Here’s the route map for this post:
View Larger Map
Next time we meet old friends and try to solve a very “serious” issue: where to find a quiet place by the ocean to spend a few days out of the remaining ones until the 8th of December? Stay stunned!