Crossing the border into Guatemala has been the easiest yet. After “checking out” of Belize, we had our first experiment with a border money exchanger. I found a man who was more than happy to have my business- a few clicks of the calculator and I had a wad of quetzales in my hand!
We continued on past Belize customs and into Guatemala. After passing through the ginormous fumigation station, we were flagged over to the side of the road where we parked the truck to go figure out all of the paperwork. No truck insurance or documentation for the dog needed. All we did was pay for fumigation and the vehicle import permit and less than an hour later, we were on our way to Tikal!
We stopped for some fruits, veggies and other odds and ends that we would need for the next couple of days. Isabel was making us a traditional Honduran meal for dinner that night and we needed a few special ingredients!
When we pulled into the Tikal Park, we parked the cars and went up to the booth to pay for our tickets. The man told us that if we waited until 3:30 we would be able to use that ticket to visit the ruins tomorrow as well. Rather than paying twice (it was $19 to get in per person!!) we decided to wait the 45 minutes. There just happened to be a booth that sold beer by the bottle right at the entrance. What better way to wait it out than to drink a beer in the parking lot while looking at the map?!
Once 3:30 hit, we were on our way. There is a campground right at the entrance of the ruins so we set up shop. It was a bit rainy that day so Mat and Isabel pitched their tent under a canopy and we backed the truck right up to it. Home sweet home!
After eating our delicious dinner, we headed to bed pretty early. The game plan was to wake up at 5:30 so we could get to the park right when it opens and be the only people there! Mission accomplished! We walked in bright and early ready to explore. The first sight you see is a ginormous ceiba tree. Not quite as large as the sequoias we saw in California, but interesting nonetheless. It shot straight up into the air with it’s white trunk and these odd little sprouts of branches that laid flat out on the top.
We spent the majority of the morning walking around from ruin to ruin, getting lost in the surreal jungle listening to howler monkey’s claim their territory. We still had a bit of a drive that day so we packed up and hit the road, headed for Coban. We knew that it was a bit of a stretch to attempt a drive almost halfway down Guatemala in one day but when you are traveling with other people, it is easy to get a bit overconfident and take on tasks that you otherwise wouldn’t have done alone.
Our GPS was giving us a bit of trouble when trying to calculate how long it would take to get from Tikal to Coban. It said that it would take nine hours or so and Mat’s google map said it would take about four. We obviously ignored our GPS and later found out the reason why was because there was a ferry that had to take us across a river in Sayaxche!
It took us about a total of 6 or 7 hours to get to Coban. We had coordinates for a campground in the city and felt pretty confident. It was past dark when we pulled up to the gate only to find that it was locked. We peered in between the bars, our weary eyes trying to see if this was in fact a campground and how the hell we were going to get in. It had been too long since any of us had eaten. Mat and Isabel had bought a couple of tamales on the side of the road a little ways back so we all chowed down sitting on the curbside trying to figure out what we were going to do. I had written down several coordinates for camping places but none of them were close to where we were. We looked in Mat’s Church’s book- no luck. We looked in our Lonely Planet book- no camping. As we were exhausting all of our resources and watching men stumble out of the nearby bar, we quickly decided to ask some people how to get into town to find a hotel. Driving around a city on a Saturday night in the dark is not our idea of fun but we needed to find a place to stay. We pulled over and sent Nate and Isabel to find us a hotel with secure parking while Mat and I kept guard of the vehicles. Nate and Isabel came back about ten minutes later and had found us a beautiful hotel that had secure parking and would allow dogs! Perfect!
The next day was Mat’s birthday and Nate and I wanted to do something special for him. There is an ongoing joke about how Mat could introduce himself to other’s… We made him a personalized hat that had his name on it. It was one of the classiest presents we have ever given someone and Mat was damn proud to wear it
The drive from Coban to Antigua was interesting to say the least. Having driven our fair share of dirt roads thus far on the trip, we were not surprised when the road suddenly went from nice pavement to dirt. The road was littered with obstacles such as potholes, branches and cows! The cows are stubborn, too. Even though the farmer is chasing after them, yelling and whipping them to get out of the road, they continue to mosey along down the center of the road. Once they are on the side, you still cannot trust them. They will naively turn hard to the left or right and jet out directly in front of your vehicle without a care in the world!
As with almost every dirt road that we have traveled on, the views make it worth the slow, dusty travel. We can cruise along at about 50 or 60 miles an hour on these roads but for Mat and Isabel, it is a different story. This is where we “win” when traveling with them! Most of the time they can blow us out of the water doing 90 mph on the paved roads but on the dirt ones they have to go much slower as they don’t have as much clearance as we do.
Yet again, we pulled into Antigua in the dark. Having the coordinates for the Tourist Police station, where we planned to camp for free the next couple of nights, was extremely helpful. We pulled up on the side of the road and Isabel and I checked it out. We made our way through the dimly lit streets to the entrance. The Tourist Police station is nestled in the remains of an old hospital that was ruined in an earthquake years back. We went back to get the boys to show them where to park and set up camp.
The next two days we toured around Antigua and got a good feel for the city. Nate’s mom is coming to town in a few weeks so we will be able to show her around and do some more exploring as this is a very large city and there is so much to do and see! Although not the same street structure, Antigua’s colorful buildings and historical landmarks reminded me very much of Guanajuato. Antigua is much easier to drive and walk around though because the streets are all parallel with each other, there are no tunnels and you won’t find houses and buildings stuck into the side of hills and mountains here. What you will find is excellent food, beautiful textiles and lots of students attending spanish school.
The last day in Anitgua we parted ways with Mat and Isabel and planned on meeting them in San Pedro La Laguna for one last hoorah! Nate and I took off towards the town where we would attend spanish classes for the next month. It was a mere 4 hour drive and we were ready to settle down and get our ‘learn’ on! The road down to the lake is one of the most steep, switch backy roads we have ever driven on. It was like Truck was now a rollercoaster dodging the potholes, making almost impossible turns and flying nearly straight down the mountain. When plummeting down the road, all you can picture is a large chicken bus coming straight at you and shoving you off the side of the mountain into the depths below.
Once we pulled into town, we attempted to find our school. Multiple u-turns and just a few times around the congested market streets and we found it! We were greeted by a couple of very nice people who worked at the school and got a tour. After telling them all about our trip, we were given a test to let them know what level we were at. We both haven’t been in school for almost five years now, so this should be interesting! Well, here goes nothing!
Author: The Long Way South
Nate and Sarah were born and raised in the small town Saco, Maine, USA. We attended college in Boston, MA where we caught the traveling bug and have been addicted ever since. After our brief stint with the corporate world we decided, never again! The Long Way South is our website for our Pan-American journey, and the porthole for a life full of travel.