Monday, April 27, 2009
Four towns, one very long day.
I have mixed feelings about travel days. On one hand they are exciting – they signify a new destination and new possibilities. But on the other hand, they’re usually long and often full of frustration, especially when they require more than one mode of transportation. Today was going to be one of those days so my only hope was that we’d get to Antigua before dark since the lack of internet over the last four days meant we had no reservations lined up.
We started out at 7am by grabbing breakfast and hiking down to the ferry dock. We got the last two seats up at the front with all the luggage and hoped that the front would mean a smoother drier ride than our trip from Rio Dulce. The trip took us past the Caribbean coast, dotted with large luxury homes, a shock considering the modest farms we’d seen on along the river. Then it was out to the open sea but it was a relatively smooth ride. We rounded a small peninsula into Puerto Barrios (photo above), Guatemala’s largest shipping port which was filled with huge transatlantic tankers from all over the globe.
When we got off the boat I looked at the time and realized that we only had 15 minutes to make our 10am bus to Guatemala City. This meant we were at the mercy of the taxi drivers who were all too aware of the bus schedules and our urgency. I managed to negotiate a bit of money off the price they were initially asking but not enough to feel good. But when we started driving away I realized that the bus station was a lot further than I thought and the price wasn’t that bad after all.
The bus was sitting there fully loaded when we pulled up. I left Adrian to deal with the driver while I ran in to buy our tickets. Or so I thought. I was just about to jump on the bus when the taxi driver came running up to me – apparently Adrian had taken off and hadn’t paid the driver. Grr… where was he? Oh right having a cigarette. I yanked him on the bus that was waiting for us. But instead of the air-conditioned luxury we were greeting by a wall of hot and humid air. The air conditioning was broken so we sweated for the 6-hour ride to Guatemala City, stopping once at a roadside bus station/restaurant for cool drinks.
We pulled into Guatemala City catching small glimpses through the dusty tinted window. It didn’t look as bad as I thought. However, the bus station appeared to be in a sketchy part of town. Now we had a choice: we could either take a taxi to another bus station across town to catch an Antigua chicken bus or wait 2 hours for the luxury coach from our current location. If we waited we’d be getting into Antigua after dark. But if we took the chicken bus there was, um, well, let’s just say a certain amount of danger involved. Recently the news had been full of stories of drivers and ayudantes of local buses being gunned down in the streets of Guatemala City. And it was serious enough that these stories had been picked up internationally. Now, these were probably routes running through bad parts of town but I had no idea if those parts were en route to the other station or part of the Antigua route. You can call us whimps but erring on the side of caution, we decided to stay put. Plus, there was the promise of another comfy bus perhaps, this time with real air conditioning.
Of course when it came time to leave, it wasn’t a bus but a cramped mini van already full of very loud travelers speaking another language (that shall remain nameless) who refused to change their seats so that Adrian and I could sit together. They continued to yell over us for the entire 1.5 hour uncomfortable ride to Antigua. It should have been half as long but rush hour traffic slowed us down.
Just after dark we got into Antigua. I couldn’t see the town but I knew that it was all cobbled streets because my butt felt every one of them. The driver stopped in the main square and told us he’d drive us all to our hostels for another 5Q each. That seemed like a good idea, except we didn’t have a reservation. I consulted Lonely Planet and picked the favourite and hoped that it still existed and had a room for us.
All the other passengers got off before us and when we arrived at the Yellow House hostel, we discovered that one of them had taken Adrian’s pack instead of their own. Adrian went off with the driver to track down his pack while I went in to arrange a place to stay. The hostel only had a three -bed dorm available so I took all the beds in it. Meanwhile one of the loud girls arrived by tuktuk and said you have my bag – notice she didn’t say she’d taken the wrong bag nor did she apologize. And of course, she didn’t bring Adrian’s bag because “it was too heavy”. So not only was she loud she was stupid and rude too. I told her that Adrian had gone with the driver to look for his bag and asked her perhaps she’d like to wait until he returned. She waited silently and I could feel her glaring at me – even though it was her fault. Wow. And when Adrian arrived with his bag, she left without saying thank you or offering extra money to pay the driver who had driver Adrian around in search of her and the bag. I hope there is such a thing as travel karma because it needs to bite her in the ass.
Thankfully the Yellow House was clean and comfy and around the corner from a café where we could get forget about her over dinner and a drink. Then it was time to collapse in bed after 12 hours, 4 towns, 1 boat, 1 taxi, 1 bus, 1 minivan, 1 lost bag and zero air conditioning.