What a beautiful colonial town, tomorrow we plan to hike up to a volcano, Pacaya. It is an active volcano, it last really erupted five years ago, and it’s most recent small eruption was in March. I was excited to hike and to visit a volcano. Everyone from the hostel was going to a giant party outside of town Mateo and I were not interested but we were excited about having the hostel to ourselves. We sat and chatted with Luis one of the employees at Jungel party. Nate, Mateo’s brother had made friends with him just a couple weeks before when he was visiting Guatemala. He is a funny character and very entertaining, he invited us to the party so we joined him when he was finished with the hostel. The party was horrible, just really bad and it was out side, the night was cold. Mateo and I gave it a shot but we were not feeling it and just as we began to leave, Volcano Fuego began erupting, you could see blasts of lava coming out the top clear as day. The volcano erupting made our trip out to a horrible party all worth it. In the morning we tried to catch a tour at 8 but we would have needed to sign up the day before so we went looking about for breakfast and ran in to Luis and Phil I invited them to joins us and instead we joined them in the cooking of breakfast back at the hostel. We were not allowed technically to use the the kitchen being guests but they were staff so us joining them was no problem. We had an awesome Guatemalan breakfast with our friends and we convinced Phil to join us on the 2 o’clock volcano tour. We walked around until it was time to leave around an awesome historic sight of a church that had full collapsed in the 1976 earth quake. The sight was completely open for climbing all over the rubble and exploring. It wasn’t like Europe where every tourist was closely watched to make sure no finger prints were left behind.
It was a blast. The bus ride out to the hike was about an hour and a half south. The clouds were out and I wasn’t sure if we would have a view. The hike was nearly straight up, took the wind out of me at first. I miss the bike but at the same time it has been so nice to get as much exercise as we have been getting. There were amazing views as we reached the top, we had views of all three volcanos. hiking through the lava field you could feel the heat from the geothermal layers of the volcano. I even roasted a marshmallow from just a hole in the ground.
The taxi driver asked if we are going to Guatemala City, he flashes his lights and the bus stops! A quick transfer out of the taxi and onto the bus. This bus is a 1970 charter bus, no air conditioning and no reading lights. Now we have a 6 to 8 hour drive to Guatemala City. Our German girl friend needs to get off at another city, and we need to get to Guatemala City to transfer and head to Antigua where we have booked a hostel for the night and are seemingly still on schedule to make it. When we get onto the bus there is maybe 5 people after several stops we are finally full. I feel like I’m on a midnight train being smuggled into Guatemala. We are the only Americans, I like this feeling of transporting the way Guatemalans do it, not paying more, still getting there and just testing the local waters. Both Mateo and I are just going with it, we are both aware that we need to be in Guatemala City, and the German girl gave us a lonely planet travel book, full of helpful information. The bus stops after 8 sweaty hours, the only people not getting off are sleeping people and then us. They start asking us questions, I guess this is our stop, we are in Guatemala City. The bus station is packed, it reminded me of being in New York’s central station, it was so busy, the time was about 9:30 am. Neither Mateo or I are feeling good, sleep deprived and sketchy food with little water consumed in the last 24 hours, we head towards open air and sunlight at the south end of the station to re group. After finding a man in neon green and asking for directions. We head to the upper level to find a bus that is heading to Antigua. There is a mass of people stuffing them selfs on to buses that are showing up frequently, we ask again about getting to Antigua, and get told a stop and head towards the crowd. We shimmy on to the second bus that arrives, we don’t fit on the first one, the buses are patrolled by cops, I assume they make sure not to many people get on the buses but also just help to maintain general security. Five stops later we squeeze our way out of the packed bus. I felt like I was being slowly pushed out of the birth canal, Mateo was even assisted by a man out side of the bus and pulled off. We were in Guatemala!!! How awesome, it is hard to describe the ways it feels different but it is not Mexico, I notice first how Guatemalans look different, it could be because we are in the city but not everyone says good morning when passing by you. Inquiring for directions from the first cop we see he sends us in a direction towards a small cheese market, also many stands were providing breakfast, I was tempted but we really just wanted to get this over with, turns out we were heading the wrong way and need to cross back over the Main Street. After being pointed in the right direction we boarded a school bus with a fancy paint job saying Antigua. This was our first “chicken bus” the most popular form of transportation around Guatemala City and the surrounding areas. Chicken busses are old school busses from the United States. Luckily this chicken bus ride should only take us about and hour and a half, and at the whopping cost of 1.20$ US. It was full quickly and had some interesting revolving characters. There were people stepping in to the bus to sell whatever they could, chocolates, suckers, and most strange for me, diplomas for best mother, all at a cost. Antigua is a old colonial town, it feels like Europe, with cobble stones, pleasant night life and many Spanish ruins. We stayed at the same Hostel Mateo’s brother Nate stayed at only a couple weeks prior. We enjoyed a nice walk to the hostel and rested a good part of our day.
On our way to Guatemala
The empanadas we baked last night was the only thing that drew me out of bed this morning. Mateo and I need to pack our bags, sift through all of our things and decide what needs to come with us. This will be the fist real departure from a location with out our motorcycle, I’m sad, about leaving Laura, Lander and Inada. We won’t be on our bike any more. What will we complain about now, we will no longer have sore butts, or drives through thunder storms in winding roads. At least we have had 11 days to get use to the lack of motorcycle, I can imagine how much more difficult getting our motorbike to the boarder of Guat and ditching it would of been, luckily Lander did purchase this VW bus and now we are pleasantly enrout to export the bike and have if in safe storage with Lander until who knows what.
Maybe we will return with a new engine and install then head south once again on a new adventure. Maybe I will be confident on a motor cycle by then and we each will have our own to tour South America! For now the bike will sit quietly at Landers until Mateo is in the right place to make decision on it. I’m happy it is not becoming scrap metal or some more debree on this side of Mexican-Guatemala boarder. We left around 10:30 from San Cristobel and raced to the boarder, 5 days ago while we were having our jungle adventure Lander purchased a VW bus. Laura and Lander needed more mobility than they currently have with public transit. Mateo and Lander had took off the front tire on the bike and put it into the be bus the night before.
We arrived to the Cudade just prior to the boarder and processed our papers to export, we were ready for our Guatemalan adventure to start! Ladner did all the talking and translating for us, it made things to easy for us. We soon found out the boarder was closed from the Mexican military out side the export office. As far as they knew only vehicles were not allowed through and pedestrians were able to pass. We found a safe place for the Vw to park and all three of us board a taxi for the border. When I think of a border crossing I think of what I saw when passing from the United States into Mexico, tons of broader patrol, giant speared fences, and large gaps between one side an the other so people can be shot if trying to cross with out permission. Yeah not here, yes the boarder was open for people on foot but the offices were all closed, no immigration workers in sight. It hadn’t been open for a couple days now and won’t be for many to come. Well here we are standing in Guatemala, at a crossing that is entirely open to any thing that can fit under the gate but no immigration office. If we continue on with out a stamp in our passport, only trouble can lay a head if we wanted to leave Guatemala. We get back in the Taxi and return to Ciudad Cuauhtémoc. Lander finds out from the taxi driver that the surrounding area over the boarder has not been receiving electricity and they are protesting by blocking the roads and the boarder. Sounds reasonable to me, I would be irritable if my power was shut off. Mateo and I weigh our options, stay a night, try and get in tomorrow, or take a bus south to Tapachula, to cross the boarder there. The bus option is what it will be, the bus is of course four hours behind schedule but at least it’s an option. From there we will catch another bus to Guatemala City. The bus is running late by four hours so departure has been pushed back to 9, it is a 4 hour trip to the other boarder crossing. That will get us to the boarder at 1am. We made sure it was a 24 hour, border crossing. At the bus station we met a girl from Germany who had been traveling around Guatemala for a couple weeks, she also received the awesome surprise of the closed boarder. It was nice to take a charter bus with air conditioning and reclining seats! The bus station in Tapachula is desolate with a couple security guards and people getting off our bus. I know it is 1:30 in the morning, not many things are open at 1:30 out side only the bars/night clubs. One thing we do know is that there is a bus that goes into Guatemala City that leaves from the other side of the boarder at 4 am. The three of us, German girl and Mateo get into a cab that drives us to the boarder. This border looks like what I think to be a border crossing would look like, with out the security guards. We get our Mexico stamps for the second time in a day and cross the border. The three of us are met but some Guatemalan guy and his son, I didn’t like his from the start, any one willing to help you out speaks English and speaks like he knows everything I become werrey of immanently. Too helpful yes, we walk on over the border Guat guy showing us where the immigration office is. It looks closed, really closed. Guat guy is tapping on the window and asking for the person on the other side to open, I lose hope after a minute of so of this tapping and asking. We could just sleep at the border, then we saw signs of life. Finally the cardboard gets removed from the small round window and we see a guy who looks like he was still in the process of waking up. It will cost us 10 quetzales, legally there is no charge to get a visa in Guatemala. We where not going to contest the fee. The Guat guy soon had four people with him, 2 young boys and another guy wanting to exchange some money with us 7 quetzales for one US dollar, not a bad exchange rate. Mateo made a deal with him, Mateo is a Math nerd thank goodness because the money exchanger was quickly trying to rip us off, unsuccessful he was. The Guat guy goes running off, he was a chubby guy not the runner type, he returned quickly in a cab. He was trying to convince us that since it is 2:30 in the morning that can cost more and validate safety by pointing out that the police were in our presence. I don’t trust the police, ever since we ran into a guy who told us about the local cops of Mexico being scummy. After a good 15 minutes we are out of there sitting in the taxi for 100 quetzales. Thank goodness, I don’t want to find talked my self negotiating taxi fare with a driver at 2 am at any boarder ever again.
Laura and I got out of the house and went in search of a Mexican blanket, I want to send one home for my bus, along with a few things for my roommates. Reflecting on our time in Mexico brings me to thoughts of awesome cacti, bright colors, amazing food, and generous people. We have been so blessed to have come so far and experience so much. I have probably seen more of Mexico than most Mexicans and maybe even more than I have seen of my own country. The generous people is what gets me the most, I saw a lady while walking though the market with Laura the other day carring a sack she strolled around searching the markets floors for produce that had been dropped on the ground by the market workers or by people purchasing produce. I made eyes with her and gave a big smile, in return she gave me a smile. That smile broke my heart a little, that is how she has learned to provide food for herself. To me it was a beautiful thing, nothing wasted nothing taken for granted. Laura informed me that there is no minimum wage here an that most jobs pay by the day, 50 pesos per day, about 4.50$ USD. It is a strange thing to think of with news of Seattle’s wage going up to 15$ and hour just yesterday. Sometimes I yern for the simpler life, and then my western thought kicks in, what about when I’m older, career, providing for children, improving my education. It baffles me, can there be a happy medium, where I cross simple Mexico life with a complexed American life? And this, this is why I travel to be reminded that my way isn’t the only way, and that there is no wrong or right way. I like that my life as of right now considers a baño with running water, a toilet seat, and a mirror as fancy in my mind. I still need coffee and chocolate in my life, even the poorest community’s we can find both, it’s looking more like my “basic” needs are still universal.
Here are a few photos that I missed in blogs past from our time in San Cristobal
San Cristobal da las casas is an amazing beautiful little town with the right mix of it all. Tailoring to locals and tourist alike. When we arrived back from Laguna Miramar Lander and Laura not only rented a new place but also replaced their VW bus with a new one. Mateo had been helping Lander get their new place ready to move into, with little building projects and some electrical work. I know Mateo enjoyed gettin dirty, hanging with Lander and doing some work. I have spent a lot of time with Laura roming the markets and cooking food. Laura has tought me how to make awesome Mexican salsa, empanadas, Costa Rican dish gallo pinto and cooked plantains, and also lentil burgers. All of which I plan to cook when I get home! I tought her to bake awesome bread and to make crepes. The state of Chipas has treated us well, I as to see it all go, but I’m really excited to move on.
Today we all loaded up into the bus and went to the river about an hour drive away. It was kids day at the small village that controls part of the river and we went and watch little kid whack away at pinyatas. It was interesting to see a bunch of kids just having a ton of fun and right next to fully armed military police men. All of the federal cops here that we have came across have been really nice, maybe they are not such a hard group as I had thought. It was a great feeling to be back in a VW I really miss mine. The river felt so good to jump into, Laguna Miramar was refreshing but it was really warm water, due to the hot springs that fed it. The coldness of the river reminded me of home, I always like being reminded of home by small nostalgic things.
We were to depart on a bus to Comitan at 1am, to miss the heat we plan to pack up at 5pm and spend the day swimming. There was a couple we were envious of who had rode their mountain bikes in and with some of the long stretches of of grassy pasture that looked awesome. It was about mid day and our pilot friends had already left, with the promise to do a fly by! It is hard not speaking fluent Spanish because most of the people I want to chat with are Mexican with little to no English. The mountain biker couple looked really nice, and I thought I needed to seize the opportunity to see if we had some friends back on the bus to Comitain, and I needed to find out if they had rode all the way out here or if they had put their bikes on a truck like ours. I need to grow and start chatting with people. After unearthing many details about the couple with our broken langues I called Mateo over to help, they soon offered us a ride to San Cristobal in their truck, this is where they were currently living. It was an eight hour drive. Our tent was packed up so fast and were ready to catch a ride back and skip over the treacherous ride at 1 am!! The hike back to the tourist center was exhausting, I felt a million times better than during the hike in. It was much hotter since the time was one in the afternoon, our reward would be a jump in the river at the end of the trail. Right as we were leaving Mateo said, I guess we won’t see the plane fly by. Two seconds later we hear a plane, finding the camera as quickly as we could they fly over us and down the lake, making a big loop, it made me so excited to see they plane double back. I started jumping up and down on the shore as they swooped by us very close to the tree line!
My day was made between catching a ride and the airplane fly by! We arrived back into San Cris by 11pm, it was a great ride back full of conversation, the couple Sarah and Axieal both worked for a non government nutrition program. Working with the surrounding communitys in Chiapas, Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico. We stopped in many towns along the way to transport people and for them to say hi!
We set up camp in an area that was close to the water surrounded by trees. One of the guys came and made sure we wanted to sleep in this area, to us reasons unknown. We didn’t understand him. Our camp site stayed, because there were many families when we arrived and camping spaces were few and we like to be not so close to everyone. As the sun set and and dusk came upon us, the toads came out, they had ear piercing kroakers. The sound would keep me up most of the night! I still had a couple more things to do out side the tent, without a head lamp I ventured out to toss the mango remains, a toad jumped onto my foot, Mateo said it sounded like I was dying. It scared me, bahh silly toad.
I didn’t get much sleep that night, new place, frogs, monkeys, crickets, crazy birds, and heat.
Our tour was at 8 am to avoid the heat of the sun. We went on to the boat with a young man who rowed the whole way, we tried to help but he would not let us. Our plan was to see mayan ruines, we had talked with our guide about it prior to departure. The Laguna was so beautiful, I felt like Tarzan exploring a new frontier, we saw many limestone rocks and then the greatest thing, monkeys swinging from tree to tree, a whole group of five of them. How awesome, monkeys we found monkeys doing monkey things not in a zoo! Our tour went into a dark cave where we were supposed to see turtles, our guide didn’t tell us to bring any kind of head lamps, and we didn’t see any Mayan ruins. I was thankful for the beautiful scenery, and disappointed with the miscommunication. Our little boat ride was difficult for Mateo and I we are not the sit back and be taken some where type, more of the give us a boat and paddle and point us in the right direction. It was good to be challenged to sit and enjoy.
Much of our time was spent enjoying the hammock, swimming and playing frisbee in the water. People were departing from the camp and we decided to not be tormented by toads the whole night and move into one of the tent spots along the beach that became available. Then the next round of people showed up, less than the day before. Some came by horse back, when we were hiking in we had the option of having our stuff carried for us. My thoughts of that was some little child would carry my bag for me, the thought scared me, if I knew it was a horse it may have changed my mind a bit, maybe… We went and met some of the new arrivals, instantly we were offered food and tequila. Awesome, two of the five people spoke English, the guy was a pilot and had flown everyone out from Comitan. By truck that would of been six hours of horrible roads and by plane thirty minutes. That night there was another a storm, no rain just a lot of wind. We were scheduling ourselfs to depart at 5 pm the next day to catch a late bus to Comitain. And back to San Cristobal.
Our numbers continued to dwindle until there was three bins of dead chicken and only a couple people in the back of the truck. There has only been a couple times in my life I wished I was dead due to the agony that I felt, my butt hurt, my back hurt, the choice not to eat breakfast (only a mango and some bread), and I was tired from the heat and dust inhalation. I avoided drinking water because I didn’t want to know what going to the bathroom would be like, pulling over on the side of the cliff to pee, no thank you. We were in San Quintín, the driver asked where we were heading, Laguna Miramar. He stopped right at the edge of town where we were to find the tourist location to receive our permits for the hike to the Laguna. My body ached from the truck ride and it was hot not like San Cristobal high in the temperate mountains, on went my pack and with one foot in front of the other we dragged our selves through town asking for directions to the tourist location. We found it relatively easy with only a kilometer walk. We purchased our permits with a small bonus of a canoe tour to some Mayan ruins. The hike in was 6 kilometers, it was around 5:30 when we started. After purchasing our permits a guy that works at the tourist check in area took us to a lady’s house to get something to eat before we took off to Laguna Miramar. Chorizo and eggs, hand made tortillas and refried beans, a classically safe dish. When things are looking shifty at an eating area this is normally an ok thing to order. I try to avoid chicken I if I can, it freaks me out at home not to mention at this place. We then head back to the check in spot. The people of Emiliano Zapata hold this place sacred, it is a beautiful place. Zapatista villages don’t sell thing or trade with the outside world, so this tourism is one way they make money.
The guide takes us about a kilometer and points us in the right direction, just go straight from here, the heat is present and killing me. Maybe I ate too much at our meal, or it was the lack of water all day, I was feeling horrible. I stopped and dropped my bag and sat on the side of the trail. I either needed to put on my big girl pants and walk the other 4 kilometers that were left or turn around and sleep at the tourist center and leave the next morning. It was a bit of a race against the sun. When I hike I really just like being slow and steady, not stopping much and just go. My mouth was starting to water after hiking some more and my belly ached, then I hunch over and tossed my churzio and eggs, I hoped nothing was going to come and eat that.
I felt better. In hind sight I most likely had some heat exhaustion, dehydration and chorizo and eggs wasn’t a good choice after not eating all day. We hiked on through cow pastures, over little creeks, and all kinds of jungle. Mateo was super encouraging, even though I was slow, sweating, and wanted to pass out. I finally saw a mans silhouette against water! Yeah yeah we finally arrived. We checked in and found a camping spot then quickly jumped in the water!
We are on the bus to Ocosingo, this is the first time since the beginning of the trip I’m not sitting behind Mateo in my helmet and riding gear. It is strange to be able to point out scenery or fall asleep on his arm. There has been, in many ways, a burden lifted. No more checking on the bike, or dawning heavy riding gear, or bike mantanice. In the hostel in Tuxtla Gutierrez I was admiring how the couple sharing a room with us just got up in the morning tossed on their bags and left. A couple things Mateo and I had spoke of with frustration was a lack of communication when in route to places, how heavy our riding gear was and how sore our bums were when riding. So now our entire trip has changed. We have thought of all the ways we could get places, Vw bug, Vw bus, hitch hiking, bicycle, busses. Re-building the bike will cost too much, buying a used engine will cost too much as well, getting a lower power Mexican engine doesn’t seem worth it, and all these repair options will take at least three weeks and that’s if we get the perfectly correct parts. If ordering parts is anything like ordering dinner our chances are slim, and considering availability in Mexico, we will be importing all the parts. We could be in Panama in three weeks or Costa Rica. So we will decrease the size of our stuff, readjust our hiking bags and head out on bus and foot. Adventures wouldn’t be adventurous if we knew what was going to happen!
Oh wait one thing, the bike still needs to have the temporary import permit redeemed, there is a $200 draw on Mateo’s credit card and if we don’t bring his bike to the vehicle export office at the Mexico-Guatemalan boarder than he will have to pay $200 and will never in his life be able to temporally import another vehicle into Mexico. That’s never a good idea if you consider Mexico as a good place to live. We arrived in Ocosingo around 5pm, it was a painless ride. I managed to sleep most of the rickety combi ride, it was really warm but Mateo and I sat in the very back row and had 4 seats all to ourselves to relax and stretch out.
With the motorcycle breaking down we have had a lot of waiting time, and stress, maybe I shouldn’t call it stress because before I even left Washington I told myself if the bike breaks down to no return that I will be ok with backpacking Central and South America, we did prepare well and our backpacking packs were what we brought for good reason.
It was pouring down rain when we stepped out of the combi, combi meaning a bus (van) with many rows of seats in it and typically as many people as possible. We stowed away under the awning, and prepared our selves for the torrential downpour. Mateo put on his giant blue poncho over his head and also his bag, this is when I became completely unhelpful and started laughing hysterically at him. Did I say unhelpful yes, sometimes I find myself laughing when I should not be laughing, and then becoming offended when Mateo is laughing at me. Double standard I think so.
On foot we went into the city center, the thunder and lighting had started to join the rain. It was raining more than we normally get in Seattle, our shoes were quickly soaked in water. Turning down a street we were stopped by a couple they stood safely in their door way, inquired where we were going and turned us around to the opposite way. The Esmeralda hotel was only a couple blocks away, we found it quickly and hid under the cover. Only 250 pesos! For both of us, and the hotel man was super nice and gave us information about the colectivo that left at 8 am to Emiliano Zapata. It’s a Zapatista community that borders the Landandon Jungle. From there it is a 5km hike to Luguna Miramar. A couple blogs said the transit was something to write home about and it surely is.
Right before the bike had broken down I was sitting back there thinking to myself, I want to find my self on one of those sometime. Now here I am 730 am, stepping in to the back of a small pickup truck caged in by steel, hoping this thing doesn’t get into an accident. This is the most I have ever felt like cattle. We departed 2 hours later than expected because like most transport here in Mexico, the load must be full or no one makes any money, so we wait and wait and wait. Departing Ocosingo with about 11 people and six bins of dead chickens and we were off. Ok Emily this isn’t so bad hot yes, but horrible no. There were about 7 guys riding on top of the cage, I decided to lay down and get comfy for the ride on my 6 inch bench and Mateo’s lap. I mange to sleep an hour, some of the corners nearly swayed me off that little bentch but Mateo tried to counter act the corners. I was surprised to have slept at all between the rickety truck, loud crickets passing by, and corners. The night before I had the worse sleep, it was in my favor for the truck ride to sleep, we still had five more awesome hours of feeling like pigs in the back of a truck being shipped somewhere. I was pleasantly surprised at first when there was only five people in the truck, the rest were up on top of the cage. Then the truck stopped, and it stopped again. This was the most rural bus I had been on, the truck raced along the dirt road picking up as many people as possible, with the pleasantly sheer cliffs on one side of the “road” and intentional brush fires on the other. The fullest our truck was twenty five people, six bins of dead chicken, one live chicken and everyones’ personal luggage. I found myself sitting atop the bins and resting on a big bag of cookies, just inches from some ones butt right above my head. I think I’m going to have brown boogers for the next couple days from the dirt inhalation. I thought I packed my hankerchife at the top of my bag, I guess I only thought about it.
San Cris is a charming place, with a strong mix of indigenous people, Mexicans, and travelers. It feel like a Mexican Portland, many people selling their awesome crafts and a strong food culture. One day we even ate falafel, best falafel and hummus I have had. Since we were visiting during a popular season at night the streets were packed full of people and special events going on, Paintings were being displayed and tons of live music. Mateo and I spent many nights bussing into town and just exploring the city. Laura took us to a special market about 20 minutes north of San Cris, this market is special because it is less touristy and only Indigenous people are selling things there. We also visited a famous church, it is famous because it was kicked out of the Catholic world and no longer deemed Catholic due to its spiritual rituals and extra saints. Mateo and I visited Landers farm area, I really liked helping out on the farm and so did Mateo, we helped watch the baby, really we just took her on little walks to pick up eggs, and entertained her so Laura and Lander could get stuff done.
We heard back on the bike as well. during the first break down the engine over heated and caused expansion of everything inside, and broke a part, the guy just did a fixer upper weld, the bike actually needed much more fixing than a patch. Well when we were heading up the hill to Landers the guys quick fix broke and ended up taking out the rest of the engine. So now we are faced with the choice of a full rebuild or put a Mexican engine in it, both options will be expensive and take minimum of three weeks if every thing goes smoothly.
Ugg not a good answer. lander has told us of an awesome lagoon to go to, so we decided to go out to the lagoon for a couple days to think on our options and let the dust settle from the break down.