Roads, Rain and Mud

Lets see, my last post was in our lovely little “loft” in Lanquin. It’s only been three days, but how time can fly. We left Lanquin and gave a ride a young Israeli woman on a 6-month walkabout after her military service. She was on her way to Flores, as were we. She spoke no Spanish, but decent English, French and Hebrew, so we had some nice chats along the way. An interesting way to learn about other folks experiences.

Our Guatemala road map shows most of the roads, but the relationship between the level of road – primary, secondary or tertiary – and the quality of the road is totally arbitrary. For example, the road from Coban to the turnoff to Lanquin is a good paved road (Guatemala Highway 5 – a primary road.)

Highway 5.  The road was pretty good here.  Just twisty.

Highway 5. The road was pretty good here. Just twisty.

The same Highway 5 from the turnoff continuing on to Fray Bartolomé is dirt, and not just dirt, in some places almost single track, in other places, very rugged and almost (I say almost because our SUV did not have 4WD) impassible without 4WD. But, we made it because we had high clearence. It took 2 ½ hours to drive the 30 miles. Who would have thought. The map showed the road to be of the same quality as the former part…. From there, the road on to Flores was mostly top quality although 2-lane. Hardly any 4-lane in Guatemala. We are learning to ask about the roads before going. Not that we won’t take the roads if dirt, it is just nicer to know what to expect. At least at the slower speeds you have more opportunity – at least I do – to enjoy the scenery and observe the small villages. Seeing the difference in the villages where there is pavement and not gets me to thinking how the improved access changes peoples lives – a two hour trip now in 30 minutes. It is also amazing to see the lives people have created up very rugged and isolated roads.

The impact of the rains.  Looking from the dock at our B&B on lake Peten Itza.  Note the gardens underwater as well as the palapas.

The impact of the rains. Looking from the dock at our B&B on Lake Peten Itza. Note the gardens underwater as well as the palapas.

We stayed at a very lovely B&B on the north side of Lago Petén Itza for 2 nights. I had asked about the road from Flores to San Jose and was told it was good. And, it was. At San Jose, the road turned to dirt and our B&B was about 5K beyond that. We had been hoping to get a bit closer to Tikal by staying on the north side of the lake, but with the dirt another 45 minutes beyond that, no time savings. There has been tons of rain in Departmento Petén over the past few months and thus the dirt roads that are usually pretty good we are told are a mess – big mud holes. Would have not been concerned, but as I mentioned, our SUV did not have 4WD. Jim’s expert driving though kept us out of trouble!

One of the more fun mud holes on the way to our B&B

One of the more fun mud holes on the way to our B&B

Rain.  Northern Guatemala has been getting rain. Everyone says it is normally over by the end of December, but it just keeps coming. And lots of it. Lake Petén Itza is 2 – 3 feet higher than it has ever been and is swallowing folks docks, parks and yards, and a few houses. And the rain keeps coming. (We are farther south now, but it is raining hard as I write)

My, an impressive place - Tikal.  Busy on New Years Day.

My, an impressive place – Tikal. Busy on New Years Day.

Tikal. Wow. Copan Ruinas in Honduras was quite lovely and intimate relative to Tikal which is massive. The map showing the park has notes on each trail – 20 minutes walk to this ruin, 15 along this trail, 30 minutes on this one with primarily jungle between each. We got a peek at most of it, but you could spend days if you were really into ruins. We moved up to Tikal for one night so we could do some early birding at the park which is also a wildlife reserve. Best birding we’ve had in Guatemala and nice to stay in the park.

Hoping to head out of the rain and into new territory – a move towards northwestern Guatemala and into the mountains. More hitch hikers – a couple of young kids living in Guatemala for 1 ½ years writing and photographing about the situation of the Government/private businesses building/trying to build hydro dams on Mayan lands without their consent and sending the power to Mexico. Brought to light in a different way the stark divide between those with money and power and those without. It has also not occurred to me until talking with these two, the separation in towns between ladinos and Mayan peoples. Guatemala seems to have a long way to go in uniting it’s country.

Interesting 12 - 14 car ferry. Powered by 4 "can" tubs with attached motors.  The cans/motors rotate freely to rive the ferry.  Each has a cute palapa cover. This is a major highway ferry.

Interesting 12 – 14 car ferry. Powered by 4 “can” tubs with attached motors. The cans/motors rotate freely to rive the ferry. Each has a cute palapa cover. This is a major highway ferry.

More good roads with a tiny car ferry with the most amazing round “boat float” motors – again on a major highway. Basic accommodations along the way with the most amazing pool including tree trunk slides and dinosaurs. Very out of place in the community. Someones dream in the making.

A view of a dino with Jim at the hotel.This dino has stairs and a slide inside.

A view of a dino with Jim at the hotel.This dino has stairs and a slide inside.

Down to Coban (again) today and then, the plan was to drive the 2 hours of dirt through the high mountains to the west and on the Quiche. That crappy rental car. It has had this problem since we picked it up of being fine and then having no power. Get the gas pedal to the floor and nothing happens and all of the sudden it would “catch” and we would we would lurch down the road. Then dead for a moment, then lurch. It would do this for awhile, then be fine, then do it again. Finally by the time we got back to Coban, it was getting worse and the check engine light had come on. Time to call and get a new car. We moved back into perhaps our favorite hotel in Guatemala – Hotel Gaia. It has all the right amenities and gardens, Coban has great restaurants and in general we like the town. The mechanic arrived with our “new” car (the same car we rented the first time out on this trip). Great car except for the super dark tent on the windows. Tomorrow, off on our new dirt route and headed west.

 

On the road - A very smartly dressed young woman on her scooter passing a garbage truck.  Note the red handbag on her shoulder and wedge heals.  Scooters and small cycles are a major method of transport throughout the country.

On the road – A very smartly dressed young woman on her scooter passing a garbage truck. Note the red handbag on her shoulder and wedge heals. Scooters and small cycles are a major method of transport throughout the country.

Some closing thoughts. When I started this journal, I was documenting our life in Ecuador. We had a very routine day and thus I was able to focus on differences in what I had known and what I was then living. Then the next big thing was the Cannonball. Folks wanted to know what happened each day and how we were surviving. With this trip, I don’t always have internet access (even via my Tigo phone broadband) and often by the time I’m able to write something that has interested me it seems like old news – I’ve internalized it. Hum…. Something to think about.

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