Moving Day

We arrived in San Pedro on December 19th, a mere two days before the end of the world (aka the end of the 13th baktun of the Mayan calendar) and only five days before Christmas.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

We rolled out of bed the next morning with one simple goal in mind, to find a house with secure parking large enough for two trucks.  Our plan was to rent a home in San Pedro for the next month with our faithful travel companies, Patagoniaorbust, and settle down for some serious language lessons and truck maintenance.  After five hours of trudging the streets, the task seemed more daunting.

San Pedro "street"

San Pedro “street”

Despite asking every travel agent, hotel, hostel, posada, and guesthouse we could find, we still did not even have the slimmest lead.  Everyone shook their head, “no, no su posible causa de 21 de Diciembre, Navidad, Año Nuevo, San Pedro se llena de turistas.  As we wandered around aimlessly hoping to stumble upon a magnificent mansion, a scruffy Mayan clad in filthy jeans, a once white t-shirt, and sandals came running towards us babbling about a house on the hill that was for rent.  Out of desperation, Ken and the Mayan hopped in Suzie and headed up the hill to check out this house, leaving us wondering if we would ever see him again.  An hour later he was back, limbs and truck intact.

View from our casa over San Pedro and Lake Atitlan

View from our casa over San Pedro and Lake Atitlan

The house was perfect and brand new; unfortunately he did not remember the Mayan’s name nor how to contact him.  Through a serious of random and strange events, that we have come to accept as an everyday part of overlanding, we were able to track down our Mayan, Clementine, who hooked us up with the owner of the home, Byron, and by the next day we were ready to move in.

New casa

New casa

Driving through the tight, vertical streets of San Pedro to our new home, I was seriously questioning the ability of our truck and camper to fit through the gate into the secure yard in front of the house.  Confident as always, Ken had no doubts.  An hour and half later, Suzie was stuck.

Stuck

Stuck

It turns out a 6 ½ foot wide camper, does not fit very well through a 6 ½ foot wide gate, especially when said gate is abutted by concrete pillars and off a typical narrow, steep Guatemalan road with no maneuvering room.  Over the next hour and half, despite numerous though miniscule attempts to turn and squeeze her through, she was still stuck.

Stuck, stuck

Stuck, stuck

Byron had called for Guatemalan reinforcements, and was planning on demolishing the existing gate in order to get the truck in.  The prospect of possibly inebriated (it was 12/21, a grande fiesta in San Pedro) Guatemalan’s swinging sledgehammers around Suzie was not acceptable. With some muscle power, a bit of rocking, and the sound of screeching metal, ‘POP’ she was in.  A quick assessment of the damage revealed torn tin on the back right corner of the camper and a broken roof clip.

Oops

Oops

The rest of our afternoon was spent unloading the truck while being serenaded by the sound of sledgehammers against concrete and tin.

Out with the old...

Out with the old…

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We were amazed and gratified that not only was Byron destroying part of his new home to accommodate a few gringoes with too big of a truck, his friends were gladly abandoning whatever festivities that they had planned for the rest of the day and quickly rebuilt a wider gate to accommodate us.

...in with the new

…in with the new

Over the next few days we took full advantage of our new home and large kitchen, whipping up a Christmas feast and taking in the Christmas and New Year fireworks from our roof.

Christmas feast

Christmas feast

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The aftermath of Christmas dinner….maybe waiting for Santa?

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The 65.5%

Although we are two months post-election and one year post the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’m assuming that a majority of those that read our blog are familiar with the percentages sweeping the United States these past few years: the 1% versus the 99%, the 47% versus the 53%.  While in Guatemala, we have been introduced to a different percentage, the 65.5% versus the 34.5%.   Again, I shall assume that most of our readers have never driven in Guatemala, for those that have, you might have an idea of what I am referring to.  According to nationmasters.com (a very reputable source, I know), only 34.5% of Guatemala’s roads are paved, leaving an astounding 65.5% of unpaved roads and making Guatemala 98th out of the random 172 countries listed, superseded by such world powers as Azerbaijan and the Republic of Macedonia.  In the three days after we left Lanquin, we drove approximately 150 miles of the 65.5% of unpaved roads.  One hundred and fifty miles doesn’t sound like much.  Let me assure you, it is at 10 mph.  One hundred and fifty miles of the most stunning, remote scenery that we have seen since Alaska.  One hundred and fifty miles driving over the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America, the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes.  One hundred and fifty miles of truck rattling, bone shaking, dirt roads.

65.5%

65.5%

Leaving Lanquin, we followed the advice of the Swiss owner of the Zephyr Hostel and pointed north, the completely wrong direction, but towards the reported beautiful Laguna Lachua National Park.  IMG_1304Laguna Lachua is nestled close to the Mexican border, a crater lake formed by a meteor and surrounded by pristine jungle.  After a night of show and tell with the local family whose field we were camped in and an enjoyable hike to the lake, we were ready to hit the road. IMG_1288 Instead of backtracking to Coban to get to Lake Atitlan, we collectively decided to head due west towards Playa Grande and Barrillas, arriving in San Pedro de la Laguna through Huehuetenango.  Our host had consulted various amigos and assured us that it was a mere five hours to Barrillas and from there only seven hours to Huehue.  We were also told that the calle (road) was malo (bad) at times, but also bueno (good) at times.  Regardless, we were ready for an adventure.  As we crawled through Barrillas seven hours later, we felt defeated by the 65.5%.  The Guatemalan road had again given us a lesson in humility.  For seven hours we had taken a beating as we pounded over rough, narrow, dirt roads. IMG_1314 Evidently in Guatemala there is no gravel, only dirt held together with large, sharp rocks.  Occasionally, on very steep sections, two narrow concrete pads wide enough for the tires had been laid, but those would disappear at the top of the mountain.  IMG_1326But, despite the punishment of the road, we couldn’t wipe the huge grins off of our faces.  Even though we were in an area that according to our maps should be sparsely populated, we drove through small village after small village.  Defying gravity, they clung to the side of the steep mountains.  IMG_1345Logically, one would imagine that such villages would be better off placed in a valley or near the bottom of the mountain.  Each mountain plunged into the next with steep, narrow, uninhabitable valleys.  Along the road trudged tiny Mayan men and women dwarfed by the loads they carried on their backs.  In Guatemala, for the poor indigenous population, nothing is easy.  Corn crops are planted on vertical slopes, planted and tilled with simple hoes.  Corn is husked, by hand, from the cob and laid to dry in the sun.  It is then either ground by hand with mortar and pestle or if the village has one, a simple machine run with a motor.  Once the corn is ground into cornmeal, tortillas are made and baked over an open hearth.  Wood for the hearth is harvested from the vertical slopes of the mountains.  Painstakingly chopped down with machete, bundled up and carried on their back using a forehead strap.  It was not uncommon to see stooped old men and young children, carrying their weight or more in wood.  Exhausted yet ecstatic we settled in for the night in a rock quarry outside of Barrillas, feeling as if this is what overlanding is all about.

Huddled together for protection against banditos.

Huddled together for protection against banditos.

 

As we left Barrillas, Ken heard a new rattling noise coming from the back of the truck.  We pulled over in the first spot in the road wide enough to accommodate two trucks (unfortunately also the town dump), and checked the truck over.  A bolt holding the suspension airbag in place was gone.  If we had ignored the rattling and continued driving, the entire air bag would have been destroyed and we would have been stuck in the middle of no where Guatemala  for weeks waiting for a new one.

Guatamealan roadside maintenance

Guatamealan roadside maintenance

Luckily, Ken was able to use one of the bolts holding the camper to the truck bed and we were able to safely continue.  We kept climbing higher and higher into the mountains and the road did not improve until we topped out in a forest of pine trees and were beyond ecstatic to see smooth, unbroken concrete.  IMG_1356 2After an entire day in low range, cruising at 45 mph felt like light speed.   When we checked the Garmin, we saw that we were at well over 9,000 ft in elevation.  Surrounded by pine trees, we felt as if we were back in Alaska or Montana.  That is until three donkeys trotted by loaded down with wood led by a spry man in shin length white pants, a black vest, black cowboy hat, and sandals: yep, still in Guatemala.  IMG_1354Amazingly we continued to climb up windy, narrow, mountain roads, until we were driving through the Cuchumatanes high mountain desert at 11,200 ft.  A new record for Suzie and both of us!  But, when one goes up, one must go back down and down we plunged towards HueHue.

Sky-high graveyard

Sky-high graveyard

The hotel in HueHue no longer allowed camping in it’s parking lot, so we decided to push on towards San Pedro, only a 2 hours drive according to the waiter at the restaurant.  Lesson number 1,674 of overloading was learned, when asking a local for directions and driving times poll at least three different individuals and add at least 2 hours of driving time to whatever estimate they give you.  We made it to the access road to Lake Atitlan just as the sun was setting and navigated down the extremely steep road arriving in San Pedro four hours later.