Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The only mean person in Guatemala.
So far everyone we’d met in Guatemala was super nice. I was afraid to mention it to Adrian for fear that we’d jinx it. Especially today which was a big travel day. We had to get from Tikal way up in the north to Rio Dulce out in the west. Looking at the map, there appeared to be a big ol’ lake/river in the way which required us to go east before we could go west and south. It also required us to take a couple of forms of transportation. But first our free breakfast made and served by the super nice woman at the Hermano Pedro. It included coffee, juice, fruit and pancakes. Just what we needed as we headed out. We grabbed our bags and headed to the road for leg one of our journey - a collectivo heading to Flores/Santa Elena. We stood there for about 20 minutes and watched five go in the opposite direction. That’s good, I told myself, eventually they’ll have to come back this way, right? But before I could get antsy, a mini van pulled up. It was Humberto!
He asked us where we were going and when I told him Flores, he told us to hop in. He and his family were going there for the day and he’d charge us the same as the collectivo. But unlike the collectivo he didn’t pick anyone else up. So it was just Humberto, his wife, (2?3? year old) daughter and us for most of the way. Wow, the people in Guatemala really are super nice.
The ride was fast and uneventful except for the moment when we got to Santa Elena and Humberto’s daughter saw the sign for Pizza Hut. Dad had told her they were going there but forgot to let her know that first he had to drop us off. So as we zipped past the sign she burst into tears and was almost unconsolable – just like kids back home (Andrea, I’m thinking of you and McDonald’s all those years ago). He tried to explain to her but she was too young to understand. All she knew was she had been promised Pizza Hut and we had just driven past it. Thankfully, the bus station was just down the street so we jumped out paid Humberto and let him and his wife fullfil their promise to their little girl.
Humberto had told us there were two bus lines going to Rio Dulce and still trying to recover from the Belizean dent in our budget, we opted for the cheaper one. As we approached the Fuente Del Norte office, a nice man in the bus company uniform let us know that one was leaving in 20 minutes and that it cost 70Q. We got on the bus carrying our luggage and although it still wasn’t a chicken bus it was a grubby non-ac coach.
As we pulled out of the station, the nice man starts collecting fares. Another man approaches us and asks for the fare without smiling. I don’t have 140 just 200. With an unhappy look he took it and turned away without saying anything. The next thing I know he’s off the bus. I’m confused and started wondering if maybe the mean second guy was just a stranger asking me for money. I call after him politely, with only a slight hint of panic, and run up the aisle wishing I’d taken more Spanish lessons. When I got to the front, the nice man stopped me and told me that the mean guy is with the bus company and something else I don’t catch as he motioned me back to my seat. It’s only then that I noticed the mean guy is helping an old lady get her luggage from underneath the bus.
As I waited for the mean guy to return with my change, I began to feel stupid for overreacting. But as more people get on and pay, my suspicion returns. I still don’t have my change. Before charging up the aisle again, I decided to wait for our first pit stop. However, we pulled away from the stop and nothing. At this time I also noticed that everyone else received a ticket when they paid but we hadn’t – so we didn’t even have proof payment if the mean guy decided to be really mean. After 2 hours we arrived at fairly large town for another, longer pit stop in front of a bus office. I decided to make my move – after using the disgusting bathroom (tip: if you ever need toilet paper, small 5Q notes can come in quite handy). Bladder empty I approached the two bus guys and nicely asked them for my change. The mean man looked at the nice man and said something. The nice man replied by motioning him to give me the money. It seemed like an eternity before he pulled out the money and pealed off 40Q in change. However, I needed 60Q back and I think the mean guy was hoping my math was as bad as my Spanish. But I waited with my hand outstretched and a big super polite smile until he reluctantly pealed off another 20Q. Well at least I’d gotten my change. Sitting on the bus I couldn’t shake the feeling that the bus was really expensive but without a ticket receipt I still don’t know what the price really was.
Unfortunately, the nice man didn’t get back on the bus and now was just the evil man. He kept coming back and eyeing Adrian and I – particularly sleeping Adrian and his bag which made me even more nervous and I just want to get off the bus as soon as possible. It appears I have met the one shifty, unsmiling guy in all of Guatemala. I guess just thinking how nice everyone was, was enough to jinx it.
Another 3 hours and we finally get dumped in Rio Dulce. Of course the guide book says ask the bus to let you off on the other side of the 1km bridge to get to the hostel but I just wanted to get off and away from evil man. So we hopped in a cab. Good thing it would have been a long walk in the sun and I don’t think we would have found the hostel since there was no map in our guide book.
We picked the Backpackers Hostel because it was cheap and it looked its price – a ramshackle boathouse on the edge of the water. The private room was only $10 but you get what you pay for so I pulled out the silk sleep sheets once again to avoid any unwanted guests. But it was decent enough for one night. It also had a great deck restaurant. As we had some lupper (too late for lunch and too early for supper), we could hear music coming from other side of bridge and what looked like some sort of festival. So we decided to hike over the bridge to find out what was going on.
The bridge was indeed huge and offered great views of the lake and river but it also feels dodgy and dangerous with slim sidewalk and speeding trucks zooming by a foot from our heads so we didn’t stop for pictures. And once we got to the other side, the music has stopped but there’s a giant fair with lots of stalls selling treats, appliances(?!) and tempting us to try our hands at carny games as well as a few crappy rides near the stage under the bridge. The stage was still set up for a band so we decided to hang out and wait for the next act. It gave us a chance to check out the surroundings. The local beauty queens were lined up on one side and when the music they danced in a roped off area in front of stage that’s off limits to the rest of us. I couldn’t figure out why until about 40 guys in weird Viking costumes slowly danced in. They were wearing women’s wigs and mannequin face masks and it was creepy but the locals seemed to love it. Although the band was good the dancers were rather distracting. I tried to figure out what this was in honour of - the banner above the stage said something about sweet name of Jesus but couldn’t figure out what the beauty queens and dancing Vikings had to do with the sweet name of Jesus. It all ended with a local politician doing a 20-minute speech or rather, ode of thanks to everyone who performed which signaled our turn to leave.
We’d traveled across the country but thanks to a mean bus ayudante and dancing Vikings it felt like we’d traveled to another universe.