Friday, December 17, 2010

Our trip into Guatemala was akin to an episode of The Amazing Race - according to Maya and I anyway!!

Despite a slow start due to our delayed bus departure, we made up some time with a relatively quick and easy border crossing. That said, the border was a bit of a joke - we got a cab from the bus stop to the border, which seemed like a big street market?! Not what we were expecting. We then literally just walked across the Mexico-Guatemala border, with no restriction or monitoring whatsover?!  We could have just continued right through yo Guatemala w no hassles - but being honest folk, we went into the small immigration office to get our new stamp! By this stage it was 4pm, and we had a 'little walk' up to the bus stop...the little walk, turned into 'another 200m' and 'another 300m' and so it went on...we had been hiking for about 20 minutes and were getting nervous we would miss the last bus out of this seedy little border town, but thankfully we yelled and screamed at a  yellow American school bus pulling out of an old parking lot and a man jumped off the roof to put our bags up...we had no idea where it was heading but our German friend Hannah (who had been to Guatemala before and spoke fluent Spanish) assured us it was in the right direction...and since it was the last bus - we had no choice anyway...

And so begins our first 'chicken bus' ride...that is what the public busses are called in Guatemala - and they really are an experience!! They are mostly old american school busses - some are still yellow, and have American county names written on the side - but most have been completely jazzed up and repainted in the most outrageous designs complete with all kinds of bells and whistles!! They also cram an insane number of people into every bus (three to every seat which should only seat two!) as well as all sorts of luggage on top - from bags, to sacks of vegetables,  crates of drinks for stores and furniture too!

After three hours on our initial bus, the sun had gone down and we still really had no idea where we were.  But our new buddy Hannah told us that if we were lucky we might get the last bus out of a small town nearby and onto a better, bigger town called xela (pronounced 'chella'), otherwise we would have to overnight in the small town which didn't have the best safety record according to a concerned amiga on our bus!

In true 'Amazing Race' style, the bus suddenly pulled up at a bend in the road (apparently a bus stop) and our bus driver and his assistant begun shouting across the road to another bus pulling away in the opposite direction (apparently this was the last bus to xela!!) - the xela bus thankfully stopped, as our bus assistant jumped onto the roof and threw our bags onto the road - we were directed to run across the dark road where the other bus assistant grabbed our bags and hauled them onto the xela bus! Maya and I jumped on board, thanking our life saver Hannah who was explaining to us what the hell was going on!!

Another two hours in the xela chicken bus, and we finally made it! I must admit tho - I had a few more grey hairs after that xela bus ride! The only way to describe it, is to say that it was like being on a roller coaster in the dark, without ANY of the safety provisions (like seatbelts!) and with NO assurance of actually getting off the ride safely in one piece! It was insane - flying down mountainous roads in the dark and overtaking trucks on blind corners!!!

Totally Amazing Race as you can imagine!!

Continuing on - the bus drivers kindly hailed us a cab (literally shouting at a passing cab, which then followed us to the terminal where we swapped vehicles, again!)...Hannah had lived/volunteered in xela for 6 months previously, so we tagged along with her to one of the very few hostels in xela (it turned out to be a pretty small town!)...requested a dormitory only to find ourselves in a huge old loft that had 18 single beds in it!! Slumber party!

Were taken in by some gringos studying Spanish in xela (one particularly colourful character was this American guy who liked to tell us how profitable and easy it was to smuggle marijuana from the westcoast of the US to the eastcoasr via greyhound bus!!) - they kindly took us out to a restaurant/bar that seemed way too cool for tiny xela, then out to a local party which was fun - but we didn't last long as again we found ourselves unexpectedly very high up in the mountains and consequently freezing cold!!!

Either way, it must be concluded that indeed Maya and Lizzie were the mighty victors of that stage in the Amazing Race!! Yay go us! 


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