Guatemala - Saturday 27 November 1999
Once again, an early start; we leave at 6:30 am. Today is "chicken bus day," a whole day on the bus. Although the name is mainly based on the long ride with a local bus in Guatemala, instead, we're hiring our own minibus. The advantage of that is that we can make stops along the way.
Until the border, we travel by public transport, but the buses in Mexico are quite luxurious.
At the border, it's a hustle and bustle. People trying to sell things, buses, taxis, and especially many travelers. At the Mexican side of the border, we get a new form: this way, we don't have to pay again when returning to Mexico. We also receive an extra stamp.
Between the Mexican border post and the one in Guatemala is a few kilometers of no man's land. Old ramshackle cars drive back and forth.
In Guatemala, it's even busier. Everyone is trying to sell something: the road at the border is one large market with fruit, chickens, hats, and all kinds of clothing.
Even though we have a private minibus, progress is slow. The roads here are full of potholes, some sections of several meters are completely unpaved. We often have to wait for other traffic. Overtaking here is playing with your life. But everything goes well.
The first town we arrive at is Huehuetenango. Nearby is a Maya ruin, but according to the guides, it's been 'restored' in a very clumsy way, and there's nothing left. I'll only believe that when I see it, but we're not going there anyway.
The town is quite dull. We stroll around and try to get Guatemalan money. The currency here is the quetzal. But for now, no quetzals; the banks close here on Saturdays at 1:00 pm.
There are some ATMs, but they only work with Visa cards. I've learned from last year that I should have a Visa card, but I've been so stupid as to leave my PIN at home. I can borrow 100 quetzals from Liz.
The landscape here is even more beautiful than in Mexico. Lots of high mountains, with beautiful clouds surrounding them.
We play games on the bus. First (again) naming pop groups in alphabetical order. The Q is a problem; we only know Queen.
Later, we switch to "I'm going on vacation, and I'm bringing" but with Mexican food and drinks. We make a good list:
We arrive from the hills, passing by Lake Atitlán. A beautiful lake, especially as the sun sets.
With a view of the lake, we descend to the town of Panajachel. It's a madhouse there, almost like Benidorm! A buzzing mass of tourists moving between an endless row of souvenir stalls.
The hotel where we should be staying, on the north side of town, turns out to be full. The same owner has another hotel, in the south, adjacent to the lake. Still a nice hotel, but the one in the north definitely had more atmosphere and culture. However, we do have a beautiful view.
At six o'clock, we agree that we'll go out to eat in half an hour. We're quite hungry. Twenty minutes later, they suddenly start calling out asking where we are. Wolfgang isn't ready yet. I find it a bit strange and say they should wait; half-past six is half-past six. Nonetheless, Gail asks Wolfgang in a whiny way "what took him so long."
Since we arrived, Gail has been shouting about a nice restaurant by the lake. I think it's just an annoying tourist place. I also say I prefer not to eat there. We decide to walk around a bit more.
Gail now says she knows another "nice" restaurant on the main street. It's certainly cozy, but almost all the items on the menu are Asian dishes. Wolfgang now firmly says he's not in the mood for that; he didn't come to Guatemala for that. I agree with him. The rest just wants to eat quickly without any fuss. So Wolfgang and I go to find something else. We notice that Gail is rather annoyed, but we don't think it's fair. Can't you eat without the whole group once?
We eat at a restaurant with live music and great local dishes. Fancy place, but delicious and cozy. We talk about the group, social skills, and relationships. We get along well. When we return to the hotel, the rest is already fast asleep.