It snakes in front of us, curving and winding, its brown contrasting vividly with the lush green around it. We catch the glint of sunshine on metal high above us out of the corner of our eyes. As we watch the glimmer barrels down towards us at a rapid pace becoming obscured by the billowing cloud of dust that envelopes it. Glancing at each other we swallow nervously and prepare ourselves. Ken grips the steering wheel with two hands, knuckles white, brow furrowed in concentration. I quickly scan ahead of us looking for any minute widening in the road. As we creep along at 10 mph with an inch of the tires hanging off a sheer drop off, the roar of the truck approaching us reaches our ears. Around the corner at 40 mph, barrels a Nissan pick-up rattling, noisy, decrepit. Crammed in the bed without an inch of room to spare 25 Guatemalans sway with the pounding of the tires against the rough road. In unison, they turn to stare with incredulous eyes at the gringoes braving their Guatemalan road. We were making our way from Poptun, Guatemala to Lanquin and the famed Semuc Champey pools. Overlanding blogs abound with tales of the punishing road to Lanquin, purportedly the worst road in Central America. Having done our research and read every scrap of information we could find online, we had decided to forgo the Poptun to Fray Bartolome cutoff and instead headed south towards Rio Dulce on (according to the thick red line on our map) a carretera principal. After a 20 miles of smooth blacktop the road turned into a manageable gravel road then into a construction zone. A game of dodge the construction equipment ensued. The construction zone had no flaggers, no pilot cars, no neon flashing lights pointing hapless drivers in the correct direction. Instead, we were left to fend for ourselves, dodging and weaving between excavators, steam-rollers, bulldozers, and molten stretches of fresh asphalt. Suzie – 1, construction zone – 0, and we triumphed unscathed. As we left Fray in our rear-view mirror, we scoffed at those who had gone before us. This road was a piece of cake, there aren’t even any topes on it! Little did we know that the Guatemalan road still had a lesson or two to teach us. Soon our freshly paved, wide road disintegrated into a narrow, pot-hole ridden, dirt beast, winding up the steep side of the mountain between us and Lanquin. Suzie’s transmission got a work-out climbing the 40 % grade, navigating around the tight switchbacks. Although acclimated to mountains having lived in in Montana and Alaska, the lush, green Guatemala mountains made my jaw drop. Coupled with the children frantically waving at us and screaming “gringo, gringo!” at the top of their lungs and despite the treacherous road, we were patting ourselves on the back for choosing this spectacular route. That is until we reached the small town of Sebol. Weaving our way through the market we noticed an inordinate amount of trash and stumbling drunk men flies wide open, cowboy hats cocked to the side which diverted our attention from the very important sign stating the hours of passage through the upcoming construction zone. It was 3:00 and we were confident that we were going to make it to Lanquin within the next 45 minutes, it was only 11 miles away. Pulling up behind the orange cones in the middle of the road, we were amazed that this construction zone actually had someone directing traffic, but confident that our wait would not exceed 30 minutes. The road had a different plans for us. We would not be allowed through until 6 pm. Deciding to make the best of the three hour wait we set up our table and chairs, cracked open a few Gallos and began playing a round of Hearts. Soon a crowd of children, curious villagers, and drunk men congregated around us, gawking, touching, laughing. The great gringo spectacle of Sebol lasted for four and a half hours. Finally, at 7:30 and in the pitch black with no pilot car, in the thick fog, we broke our number one rule of overlanding and drove at night. Not only were we driving at night, we were on a one lane rough dirt road with potential unseen hazards all around us on the purported worst road in Guatemala. Finally we arrived in Lanquin and headed straight for a few well-deserved cuba libres. The next morning, after a sound night sleep, we put Suzie’s four-wheel drive capabilities to the test, and headed to Semuc Champey. No more 40% grade here, we crawled up and down 45 degree slopes, bumping from one rock to another. Luckily Ken had spent the previous week in San Ignacio re-mounting the camper to the truck frame and despite the crack in the truck bed, Suzie survived in one piece. The pools of Semuc where breathtaking, and we spent a few hours jumping from pool to pool, sliding down the limestone chutes and stretched our legs climbing up the mirador (lookout). As we headed back to Lanquin from Semuc, we were confident that we had showed those nasty Guatemalan roads who was boss. Up next we head to the remote Parque Nacional Laguna Lachua in northern Guatemala.
Hi Ken, Great driving skills . Love Mom.
You have a real knack for writing, Anaka. I find myself drawn into your world on the road. Such clear pictures with your words!