Although we have a timeline of when we would like to ship our car across the Darien Gap to Columbia, and an economic one, the privilege of driving your own car across the Americas allows you to change that timeline however you see fit on the go. No booking or changing tickets or finding different hostels, you just wake up in your car and either go one way or another or stay put. Well, we had a rough time estimate for each country, originally extending Guatemala’ s as we were excited for all it had to offer. After playing Mario Cart on the roads avoiding craters people call potholes, dogs, cars, people and anything else our trip route began to change every day.
Striking Out In Xela
On our way to the Mexico-Guatemala border, we passed a guy on his bike we had seen at Lagos de Colon the day before. As we were filling out paperwork in Mexico he rolled up and we offered him a ride to wherever it was in Guatemala he was going. Well after an hour of paperwork at the borders we threw his bike on top, Taylor climbed back and laid on the bed and we took off in the direction of Xela.
Lui helped us order quite an amazing lunch (arguably the best we have had yet) off the side of the road and not long after we dropped him off before heading to McDonald’s parking lot for a free nights sleep in Xela. Pretty rad first night in Guatemala. It didn’t get too much better from there, unfortunately. The following day we tried to find a place to buy a good tent (we have been looking for a month now) but we were unsuccessful so we just decided to hike up the Volcano Santa Maria a day early. Well, it was noon at that time and any smart hiker knows that we are a little late to start. We knew the odds were not in our favour but took a chance anyway. Well, add that hike up to volcano #2 that we didn’t reach the top due to intense cloud cover and weather conditions not allowing us to see the other erupting volcano.
Lake Atitlan was our first real long stop. After a month and a half on the road we were in great need of some downtime and we couldn’t have picked a better place. The road getting there was treacherous. Actually, it was just your average Guatemala road straight downhill with 50% of the road missing. Our breaks were not loving us so much but when we finally knocked on this unassuming metal door our coordinates led us to, a man opened it and we drove into a little paradise. Pierre moved here from France years ago and has started a wonderful RV, house and apartment complex all hidden amongst topical jungle trees and flowers. We had a perfect view of the volcanoes across the lake and we truly felt it was an escape away from reality.
We worked on the car for the first two days then wandered into town on the third. Hidden amongst the little side alleyways and tropical vegetation we discover that San Marcos was hippie central. I have never seen so many yoga shacks, meditation houses of all sorts, spiritual gatherings, natural food stores, Gringos and anything else you can name in one small location. Taylor really loved the vibe and was reluctant to leave after looking at the long list of yoga classes she could go to.
Antigua and Volcano Achentango
Antigua was a lot like San Cristobal de las Cases for us. It had a Central American vibe in terms of decor and exterior infrastructure but when you looked a little harder the American and international flavour was undeniable. There are many Spanish schools here which tourist flock to, for ExPats this city would be a seemingly easier transition as everything and anything is available, we even finally found an outdoors store with a good tent! If you are looking for small town authenticity you might not find it here but it felt safe and inviting which was backed up by the fact that the tourism police provides and gated and guarded lot in the center of town where overlanders cam come and stay in their cars for free, which of course we took advantage of twice.
Being the cheap and outdoors confident people we are we opted to not pay for a guide and hike the volcano ourselves. We started around the same time as many tour groups passing them back and forth on our way up. The path was well worn and a tour guide let us camp on a platform that wasn’t being used by their group that night. We felt so lucky because it had a perfect view of the active volcano Fuego, until two minutes later when the clouds rolled in and decided not to leave for the remainder of that night and the whole following day.
So, all in all, it is a classic beautiful hike many tourists do but from 2pm, when we arrived, until our decent we didn’t see a thing. Volcano #3 we didn’t climb to the top of because the weather was so bad at sunrise and although we waited at camp for 4 hours it never cleared up. The whole night we heard the loud eruptions of Fuego and the rocks falling down its side but not once did we see the lava eruptions or smoke you hear stories of. We also took away a couple of good lessons. Don’t be so confident in always following the bigger path blindly as we missed out turn off causing an unwanted detour. Also if we had our sights set on really touring and trekking the Patagonians, we were going to have to start to take working out a bit more seriously.
Well we had, much to my dismay, cut out the drive to Tikal ruins in the far north because the drive was 11hrs one way. We still had our sights set on Semuc Champany because we had heard nothing but amazing reviews of the lagoons and caves. After experiencing the roads we came to the conclusion that maybe 16 hours de-route was a bit too much. So sadly we didn’t go there. It turns out that there was supposed to be hurricane Selma coming through El Salvador and Guatemala. With local recommendations and witnessing the current road conditions and “workforce” up keeping them we decided it might be smart to outrun the storm to El Salvador and make it to Taylor’s friend’s house instead. So, all in all, we met some great locals and travellers, we saw and experienced some wonderful things in Guatemala and unfortunately missed out on a few as well. But that’s the beauty about travelling by car, your plans are forever changing, for better or for worse, but we wouldn’t do it any other way.