Steep roads and car troubles
It has now been 25 days since we crossed into Guatemala. Our Guatemalan experience was full of ups and downs, starting with the very first day. We rolled into Tikal hoping to head to the ruins. When we got to the gate of the park; Phyllis started stumbling and eventually refused to move. We spent a few hours trying to locate the source of the problem, including changing the fuel filter, draining the tank and trying new gas, and everything else we could possibly think of. Nothing worked. The next morning we got a man in a pickup truck to tow us to a mechanic where we spent most of the morning getting our fuel pump changed. (Luckily we had a spare on board). This whole operation cost us 150 quetzals, equivalent to less than 20 US dollars. That’s good value.
While we were already in the town of Santa Elena, we decided to get a few other of Phyllis’ quirks looked at. We ended up meeting a very nice mechanic, and hooked up a deal to add an extra leaf spring in the rear to compensate for the heavy load. We were quoted two hours of work. After 6 hours of three men working busily on our car, in a ditch on the side of the road, it started to rain hard. Paul broke out the headlamps once the sun set, hooked up a rudimentary tarp shelter, and the men continued to work with questionable concern for detail. We drove away that night glad no one got hurt, and that our truck seemed better. We did in fact make it to the ruins the next day.
In addition to cheap mechanics and ruins, Guatemala has incredibly rough secondary roads. Some of them were more akin to single lane goat tracks than roads. We were always amazed to see busses tackling some of the toughest routes. One of the roads we took had recently been displaced by a large landslide. Another “road” included several kilometers of very large, loose cobble rocks which were incredibly steep in places. A by-product of the roughness is that our exhaust broke off. When we rolled into the town of San Pedro de la Laguna, locals covered their ears as we rambled up the steep cobblestone streets. As a courtesy, we got it fixed poorly but cheaply.
We traveled some on the main highways as well, where we were passed by almost everyone. The public busses (known as chicken busses) haul ass on the highway. They don’t look fast, being painted up school buses, but we learned very quickly not to pass one as it slows (not stops) to pick up or drop off passengers. Apparently these busses are bought in the States and imported to Guatemala where the engine is swapped for a huge twin turbo diesel. Competition between busses is stiff so the drivers race one another to pick up passengers first, making more money the faster they go. People jump on and off while the bus is moving and there is often a man riding on top of the bus sorting peoples' luggage while it whips along at dangerous highway speeds.
We spent a bit of time in San Pedro, where we caught up with some friends we had met in Belize. We explored around Lago Atitlan, taking boats around to some other communities, but had to take it pretty easy once Paul came down with a nasty cold. While Paul was recovering, Susie hiked up the San Pedro Volcano. It was a tough climb, but worth it for the view.
Our last days in Guatemala were spent heading north toward the Carribean. We crossed the border in El Florido and made our way up to the coast. Here are some photos from along the way.