Random thoughts/ month 11

4 Apr

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Sorry this post is so belated. I was heading to NY when this should have been up and got sidetracked. Half this month was full of gorgeous green scenery and natural water formations. The other half was spent dealing with a set of truck issues that I’ve avoiding documenting (until now) and been dreading to acknowledge. This month we:

+ left the beach and traveled through the jungle state of Chiapas. We spent 13 days traveling there and could have easily spent 13 more. The region was just so incredibly lush and rich with culture and beauty.

+ visited an orphanage. Hogar Infantil boasts free parking for RVers, which draws a bunch of travelers to the grounds in Ocozocoautla. They school and house not only orphans but also Chiapan kids who live in rural areas and wouldn’t receive schooling otherwise. There is a farm, animals and gardens on the property. We walked the dogs around one day and the boys from one house swarmed us! Everyone wanted to either throw a stick for Olivia or hold Shae’s leash and treat her like a doll. The kids were beyond sweet, calling us Tia and Tio, and I seriously wanted to take them with us. They operate on donations. If you’d like to donate, visit: www.hogarinfantil.org

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+ threw up for this first time on this trip, a major milestone for me, as I get motion sick a lot. But this wasn’t motion sickness. I caught the plague in San Cristobal de las Casas and I have no idea what caused it. Felt nauseous one moment and was hanging out the back door the next. And I couldn’t stop. It was awful.

+ drove Mex 199 between San Cristobal and Palenque. We’ve heard rumors of roadblocks and “tolls” along this stretch and to proceed with caution. Some travelers we know avoided this road because of the warnings. But we decided to go for it. We locked everything up, carried a small amount of money and didn’t so much come across a single person on this entire road. Hani was disappointed.

+ skipped the Yucatan and Belize. We debated about where we were going after Palenque, Mexico for a while and opted against going to the touristy Yucatan and pricey Belize. We heard that boondocking isn’t easy in the Yucatan and we weren’t crazy about seeing a hundred more ruins. As for Belize, I would have loved to learn to dive (Hani is already certified) but that would have forced us to commit to one week in a hotel on an island where the diving is best. $2,000+ for one week just isn’t in the cards right now.

+ said goodbye to Mexico and crossed into Guatemala on March 12.
Last tacos in Mexico: delish! Probably the best we had during our time in Mexico.

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That was an interesting border experience. As I wrote before, leaving Mexico was a snap. The building was new, everything was clearly marked and stamp–we were on our way. Entering Guatemala…welllll, let’s just say we learned what not to do at the border: DON’T call the fees “shit” even if you think they are. DON’T start a shoving match with locals. And DON’T move cones away from the front of your vehicle and start your engine after the “officials” tell you to stay. I’m surprised we were let into the country. In our defense, no one wore uniforms so it was hard to tell the officials from the official idiots sitting around asking for “border fees,” the “bank” didn’t have cash and I had to exchange pesos for quetzales from a tuktuk driver, and was sent a ways to make copies. The buildings, if you can even call them that, consisted of a two trailers, what looked like a old food truck and a palapa. No flag, no “customs is here” sign. Nada. Because, I mean really, no one crosses at El Ciebo. It’s not even on our maps.

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+ are in love with Guatemala. It’s very much like Chiapas, Mexico–green and mountainous with great traditional food and clothing. The women are dressed to the 9s in traditional skirts and lacy or woven tops, cinched at the waist. They carry bundles of food or wood on their heads. And some do this barefoot. Bad. Ass. The people are incredibly friendly too. Everyone wishes you a good day with a smile. And every view is breathtaking, even as you are driving the crappiest road ever.
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And the country-wide ice cream brand…
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I mean, come on! These people know me!

+ explored Tikal, the impressive jungle ruins in northern Guatemala. We’ve seen our share of ruins at this point but the experience here was so different from the ones in Mexico. We parked outside Tikal (no dogs are allowed in the park) and moto-ed the 17ish miles at 5:30 am. Yes, you read that correctly. 5:30 AM! First time we’ve used the alarm this entire trip! Everyone said the park gets insanely hot once the sun is up so it’s best to go early. So we did. Turns out, it was a very overcast chilly day and even rained a bit (which was nice!) so it didn’t really matter what time we arrived. Go figure. But the park was pretty amazing. The ruins are tucked into the jungle even more so than at Palenque and you can climb up the majority of them. The views were spectacular from above watching the jungle below awake. We heard and saw a ton of shrieking howler monkeys. The rain kept most tourists away which made the park was pretty peaceful.

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view from the bottom

view from the bottom

view from the top

view from the top

 

+ headed to Rio Dulce and enjoyed a cool marine town. Hani marveled at all the sailboats while I lounged around and had a gigantic piña colada. We parked on a open lot with our back doors open to the river. From 2 to 6 daily, the wind picked up and rushed through Skyhorse. Best air conditioning yet!

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+ took a very expensive, but gorgeous, boat ride to see the very poor town of Livingston, where the Rio Dulce meets the Atlantic Ocean. We passed communities tucked into the mangroves that reminded me of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Lily pads, thermal waters, a cave and then Livingston, a town divided. Less than half the inhabitants are Guatemalans. They run the boats, the restaurants and majority of hostels and hotels. The majority on the island are Garifuna, descendants of African slaves and Carib Indians, brought to the area in times of slavery and since remained. They have their own culture, language, separate community and delicious cuisine. We met one of the Garifuna community heads while we were walking around and he gave us a tour of the area. It was eye opening to see how poor the people are (their school blew away a few years ago in a hurricane and have no money nor government assistance to rebuild) yet how happy and giving they can be. We had a scrumptious meal of tapado (seafood/banana soup with a coconuty broth), coconut bread and coconut black beans and rice. A-ma-zing!

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+ went to a hot waterfall and gorgeous canyon on Lago de Izabal. Hot water flowed off cliffs into cool limestone pools. Standing under the falls felt like a shower. Fab. At the canyon, we took a kayak until the rocks prevented a further ride then walked/swam even more down the river. Looking up was unbelievable.

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Then things got shitty…

+ took what looked on the map to be a short road from the waterfalls/canyon to Semuc Champey. Only this road–all 46 miles of it–is uphill, one lane with massive potholes and rocks and just horrible all around. It was by FAR the worst road we’ve been on to date. We drove literally 10 miles every hour. And at 6:00, we found a small clearing off the road and parked for the night with 30 miles left to our destination of Semuc Champey.

bumpy and blurry and concentrating like crazy

bumpy and blurry and concentrating like crazy

+ busted the transmission hose. The next morning we were up and ready to go and Hani noticed we were dripping a red oil, transmission oil. I guess the hose had been rubbing against some part under there and sprung a leak. And of course it’s a special kind of hose, the ONE kind that we don’t have as spare. Hani appoxyed the hole. Wait a few hours. Then a different appoxy. Wait a few more hours. No go. Now it’s 4:00 and we’re literally in the middle of nowhere and can’t leave. But hang on–there’s a construction site right up the road! I walked with Olivia, the scaredy-beagle, as security to the site looking for a mechanic. After a few moments, two guys came to our rescue. This pair swiftly cut off the bad part of the hose and said they’d return the next day with a way to reconnect everything. AN HOUR LATER, they were back, having welded some connection together to secure the existing good parts of the hose! They put everything back together and we were up and running. They even recommended a place in the nearest city (4 hours away) where we could buy a new hose. And then they didn’t want anything in exchange for all their assistance!! I was blown away! I mean, we are completely at their mercy with no way to get moving, they fix us using their manpower and machines and don’t want money–crazy! We stuffed some bills in their hands and they even came back the next morning to make sure we were all set.

+ continued on to Semuc Champey, a series of natural limestone aqua pools high in the mountains surrounded by lush jungle. To get to the park, you drive 6 horrifyingly disastrous miles from the town of Lanquin and then across a rickety bridge that has concrete barriers on either side and low (for us) hanging cables, all of which greatly reduced our turning radius onto the bridge. We just couldn’t get on the bridge. But kept trying. And I’m the world’s worst navigator. I started the nightmare by making Hani crash the passenger front bumper into one of the concrete barriers which cracked right next to the headlight and broke the hood latch in half. As if that wasn’t enough, I had him back up into the cables that tore off one solar panel completely and shattered another. I was a wreck. Hani was livid. The locals watching were silent. Needless to say, we didn’t attempt to cross the bridge again.

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+ fixed the truck. We spent the entire next day on the roof of Skyhorse parked next to the offending bridge reattaching the solar panel that had come completely off and taped up the panel that had shattered (thanks Kuypers). During this time, we were accosted by locals, yelling up to us on the roof, to buy chocolates and beer. The next morning we fiberglassed the front bumper inside and out and finally went into Semuc Champey while it dried. After all we had gone through the past few days, we barely enjoyed ourselves and kept saying that even though the pools were cool, we had seen more spectacular ones and the horrific travel/damage coming to this stupid site wasn’t worth it.

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the uncrossable bridge

the uncrossable bridge

+ replaced the transmission hose and did some random maintenance on the truck in Coban. We got new front break pads and a new fuel primer for the fuel filter over the course of 2 days.

+ bought 2 new (used) tires. The road from hell tore up our tires and 10s are hard to come by. Luckily, we got them for a good price because no one uses them.

+ parted ways for a long weekend. Hani dropped me at the airport in Guatemala City as I flew to NY for a friend’s bachelorette party and he continued on to Lago Atitlan. He claims he missed me, but after the heinous preceding week and a half, I think he was needing a break from my stupidity. It was weird being apart. After all, we’ve been attached at the hip for the past 11 months. As I was  having culture shock being in an insanely huge city, Hani hung out at a spot on the lake in Panajachel.

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2 Responses to “Random thoughts/ month 11”

  1. heathermariematthews April 5, 2014 at 1:24 am #

    Hey, I can’t resist commenting and letting you know that our experience getting to Semuc Champey was pretty rough too. We definitely were on the verge of a divorce! 🙂 We only drove to Lanquin and Scott was insanely stressed about how the road was “destroying” the truck. We ended up riding or bikes to/from Semuc Champay from Lanquin to avoid any more problems. I really, really enjoyed Semuc Champey, but to this day, Scott will say almost all of Guatemala wasn’t worth it because the bad roads stressed him out too much. Keep on doing what you’re doing and maybe we will see you in South America? -Heather

    • Sarah April 5, 2014 at 4:57 am #

      heather, i love you. and if scott needs to borrow a murse, i think hani would be willing to part with his for a while.

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