Hola peeps, so I'm in Antigua in Guatemala, I arrived here yesterday. Its been quite a hectic week or so but all good. A lot of nutty bus rides. I left Mexico on Monday. I really enjoyed 3 weeks there and am glad I went. Its a really big and varied country and I find it really manageable in ter,ms of gettin g about and doing what you need to. I loved my 10 days on the beach, fantastic, super deep relaxtion. Could have stayed longer happily. From there I travelled up to San Cristobal de las Casas which is in Western Mexico bordering Guatemala. V civilised town, prosperous and busy, quite touristy but had good few days there. Went horseriding and did a really long day trip up to Palenque which is where there are ruins in the jungle. That was stunning and v atmosperic. Met up with a good Spanish chap and went to a heavy metal bar full of young, v friendly Mexican headbangers. Also checked out a Mexican nightclub which was fun, some half decent music.
From San Cristobal I headed to the Guatemalan border which I was quite excited about as first border crossing! The travelling became a bit more ad hoc and chaotic at that point, due to various practicalities had to get a couple of different buses and mini buses, rushing round trying to find stations etc. I liked the border crossing at La Mesilla, fitted the picture I had of chaotic, ramshackle, higgledy piggledy place, hot and humid. Nothing is really signed so you have to find the Mexican border post and get a stamp and then do the same for Guatemala, there is no border marked its just the main street. So I am in Messila and its now 6 pm and getting dark and I've heard that the last bus to where I need to go leaves about then so rush around with my heavy bag being laughed at by dogs. I ask a local lady the way to the bus station / terminal autobus / she can't undersatand me. Eventually she gets and repeats the words bus they sound completely different, the way she says 'terminal' is sharp, you could cut a fish with it. Even if you have the words if you don't have the accent comprehension is tricky. The nice lady gets her husband to give me a lift to the bus station in the back of their pick up. This is pretty typical. so far touch wood I haven't met anyone who has been anything other than perfectly straight\forward and helpful. The main thing is nerves and lack of confidence that comes from being somewhere new and v alien, ie if its v local and no gringos. Bus station is overstating it, Mexico seems height of efficiancy now, there were proper bus stations in Mexico but in Guatemala in the main towns there will be a big yard where the buses leave from which is a maelstrom of people buses honking, hooting reversing, huge piles of produce, sacks of lemons, oranges, bags of corn, seems like everyone is rushing around shouting, with the dogs always joining in. The buses are announced by the drivers and ticket collectors shouting shorthand the destinations so Hehuetenango is 'Wayway' and Guatemala City is 'Wati Wati Wati', when you can't even pronounce the name it adds to the fun of finding the right bus. The buses both here and Mexico do work though, I haven't had any difficulties getting around. They are v fequent and cheap, I travelled for 3 or 4 hours yesterday on 4 diferent buses and it cost perhaps $5 US.
The travelling is harder work in Guatemala, not necessarily stressful but physically tiring. The buses are generally full to bursting. In Mexico you would get your own seat but not in Guatemala. The buses are old, v old, US school buses. Some are still the classic orange but most are repainted vivid two tone colours with add chrome which is kept highly polished and music constantly played at high volume through large speakers screwed into the overhead lugge racks. The inside is usually pimped as well with various stickers and pictures of Jesus smiling , Jesus nailed and bleeding, Super Mario, Tweetie Pie etc..The buses are driven at high speed, the roads are pretty bad with big pot holes and lots of speed humps for enhanced journey experience, there are not many straight roads, manly hairpin bends so travelling 50k as bird flies can easily take 2 or 3 hours. Yesterday was fairly typical, on the vfirst leg I foolishly sit over the wheel arch so there is no where to put my legs, the seats are for 2 but v soon there are 3 and the aisle is full. I'm sqeezed v hard up against the window with no where to put my legs so I'm in an an excuciating yoga position for perhaps 45 minutes almost entirely unable to move my legs, by the end my legs have gone numb. I also skinned my crucial parts of my arse trotting against my will in on the horse in Mexico, I've never got the hang of trotting which is worse than my Spanish, and this isn't adding to my comfort either. On the next bus I'm the third person on the outside thinking this is not too bad then the Guatemalan giant haystacks comes and sits on the outside of the other set of seats crushing hard up against me, in the theory there is an aisle between us and lots of people are sqeezing between us which they can only do if me and giant haystacks get up and clamber up pretty much into the luggage racks. Then the tortilla lady gets on to sell everyone lunch with a wicker basket the size of a car tyre. Basically its like the Northern Line. It is fun though, but quite tiring,
So any way, on Monday I caught the bus up to Todos Santos of which my trusty South American Handbook says 'set high in the Cuchumatan mountains the Mam speaking Todos Santoseros maintain a traditional way of life with their striking, bright traditional dress and their adherance to their 260 day Tzolkin calendar. The town is hemmed in by 3,600 m high mountains either side. The horse racing festival of Todos Santosis one of the most spectacular in South America. It is also a frenzied day that usually degenerates into a drunken mess. Quite simply the riders race between 2 points having a drink at each turn until they fall off'. Obviously I had to go an investigate. The festival begins the week before the race, which is next week. It was a v bizarre sight up in this little town of houses clinging to the side of a mountain, half of which is covered by cloud as we are at cloud level and everyone is wearing traditional dress, which apparently the always do. For the men this is red trousers with a thick white pin stripe, and smart woven black jackets. The women wear v finely emroidered skirts and tops. They are beautifully brightly coloured woven clothes. I thought there would be a few other visitors or gringos but I didn't see anyone except locals in the 24 hours I was there. The places to eat were people's houses that might have a couple of tables and chairs and the family would sort you out with a meal if you asked. I had a v bizarre lunch where one of the family was a 23 yr old chap who seemed v glad to see me and tell me his life story which included being a cowboy in Mexico, and how he got a big scar above his eye. It soon bacame apparent he was fairly wasted on something or other becoming more and more animated and friendly eventually as I was making my excuses he rushed off 'un moment, un momento' and then coming back with a banana which he peeled in front of me with a leer and put on my plate saying 'you like', and asking where I was staying and if I was leaving solo or together. With granny, mother and sister next door. It was quite bizarre I have to say sitting on a wonky balcony with this brutal mountain backdrop. I like the strange and bizarre but I had to go and have lie down, lock my door and listen to the calming voice of a Melvyn Bragg In Our Time podcast, the universal panacea for any fleeting feelings of isolation I find. I blame the cashmere jumper I was wearing, it can send the wrong message..
I was going to stay for 2 days in Todos Santos but I ran for the bus the next morning and retreated to the reassuring chaotic bustle of Huehue and got on a bus to Panajachel which is on the shore of Lake Atilan. This was stunning . quite touristy but that was fine as it had been 2 weeks since I had met a native English speaker so I had a couple of nights of a nice bed and and food. There are various villages and small towns around the shore of the lake most of which are only accessible by boat and there are little launches that travel round the lake. I had arrived in the evening so hadn't really seen the lake but woke up early the next morning excited to have a look and after my breakfast of delicious fresh local fruit salad, big round glass of freshly squeezed OJ and Guatemalan coffee I headed down to the little dock. As I turn into the street that the jetty was on all framed perfectly at the end of the street was the lake and a massive volcano on the other side of the lake. I haven't ever seen a volcano before in the flash and it was brilliant, like a cartoon comedy volcano. I really enjoyed the hour or so journey around the lake stopping at 4 or 5 villages. The scenery is stunning with gorgeous isolated wooden houses on stilts or built into the ring of mountains that rise from the lake. The last town was San Pedro which has a reputation as a hippy hangout and refuge for dissolute gringos and so it was. What a super place, higllepiggledy maze of paths and little streets srung up the hill around the lake. Rampant tropical plants and flowers all over the place. I spent afternoon in a bar run by an northern English chap which filled up with various delinquent characters, mainly English and Amercian. They were showing the UK European games. Liverpool and Newcastle and there was a respectable drinking pace at 2 pm on a Thursday, no smoking sign behind the bar everyone smoking. Beer a dollar a pack of fags two dollars, a nice plate of food 3 dollars. Snatches of conversation overhead 'I need to settle my tab from last night, and don't forget that bottle of Vodka I took home with me' and from a chap on the phone 'there's a guy who comes and knocks on my door every Friday and asks me if I want any mushrooms, do you want me to get any'. I was reluctant to leave, my potential for getting in a pickle detector was on overload, and was going to come back for a couple of days to sample a friday and Saturday night but in the end didn't just as was bit popped. I caught the boat back to Panajachel late that afternoon and it was a non stop 45 min trip, flying fast over the lake which on the way had been calm with a clear blue sky but which now was choppy with big dark clouds casting dark shadows over the hills and volcanos, landing hard as we bounced across the wa ves. Really stunning, none of the half dozen pasengers said a word for the whole trip mesmerised by the panorama.
From Panajachel I came to Antigua yesterday, which is an old Colonial town that has been destroyed numerous times by earthquakes, and planning to be here for a few days. Lots of travellers here. From here I'm planning to get an hour bus to Guatemala City and leave straight way for San Salvador, whichg is 5 hours. I'm going to go for the luxury $17 ticket for that one. Hope everyone well. X