Justin and Silver Al

Guatemala
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Al in San Pedro

Jan. 8(?), 2008.  Just a quickie for now, then I'll try to update in more detail soon.  Yesterday we made it to Guatemala. 
 
Our last night in Mexico was great.  We stayed in Puerto Aristas, in Chiapas.  It was a sleepy little beach town that all but closed down at sundown, but once again our timing was spot on and we rolled in about 25 minutes before sunset.  We grabbed a cabana at Jose's cabanas and jogged down to the beach to take a look around before the sun was gone.  At the beach there was a group of people gathered by the beach, so we headed over to investigate.  It was a baby sea-turtle release.  Just as we got there, a four wheeler with a big bin roared up and we were instructed to stand on a line drawn in the sand.  Then we were each handed a tiny little turtle and on the count of three, we all let them go crawling off toward the ocean.  (mine took second place...easily!)  Next we strolled down the beach and grabbed some ceviche and some beers and watched the sun set.  After that we had some more beers on the main drag and a couple tacos, which led us to decide that this, our last night in Mexico, would be a good night for a fire on the beach.  Half an hour later we had a six pack and a fire roaring.  Down the beach we saw another fire and what might have been some coed drunken naked wrestling going on...but we opted out of joining in.
 
The crossing in Guatemala was a confusing mess.  I'm not sure how much we paid, I'm not sure how long it took...All I know is that: 1. We drove to the border where our car was assaulted by three young men. 2. We realized we had to drive a half hour back into Mexico to get our temp. auto cert. cancelled. 3. We drove back into the border crossing mess where we 'felt compelled' to hire the assistance of a gaggle of young men to help us through the process. 4. We handed away our passports, my license and the car title, along with a handful of cash. 5. We parked until a police told us to move. 6. We moved to a parking area that looked more like a junk yard. 7. We waited in the filthy, sweaty junkyard while beggars washed our windows and tired to 'change our Pesos to Quetlezes'. 8. Bret and Eli got their passports back.  9. We waited way longer until I was sure the kids just screwed with all my papers.  10. They returned needing more money and then left again.  11. I was again sure that they were long gone on their way to treat the whole town to mucho tacos .  12. They came back and instructed us to drive through the border.  13. I signed some papers, they sprayed our car with chemicals, they stuck a sticker on our windshield, we gave them some cash for their work...and we were on the road.  No official ever looked at us, spoke to us...nada.  We could have been anyone crossing that border with anyone else's passports.
 
We spent last night in the town of San Pedro, in a nice little three bed room right along side the main drag.  It was loud.  Very loud.  For dinner we caught a cab to a highly recommended (by our hotel propietor) restaurant which turned out to be particularly far away.  It was fine dining by San Pedro standards, with table cloths and candles.  They even had a sort-of salad bar with some boiled vegetables on little plates. (Boiled vegetable salad bars are common in Latin America due to concerns over food-borne illness.)  After dinner we decided to walk back to our 'place' and we had a lot of fun telling all the jokes we could possibly remember along the way.  I am bad at remembering jokes.  Bret is better and Eli is a virtual joke encyclopedia.
     Back in the room Eli clicked through the few channels that we got on the antique television and I fell right to sleep.  In the morning I woke up first and snuck off to find coffee which was no easy task.  Eventually I ended up in the central plaza many blocks from our room.  There was an open air market going on and I managed to wedge myself onto a bench between curious locals and order a cup of coffee.  The coffee, ladled from a huge tin pot,  was sweetend and the coffee woman added milk before I could stop her.  The next cup was sans milk, but the sweetening was built-in to the product, and non-negotiable.  I asked for two more cups to go, which dripped on me and burnt my fingers through their thin flimsy plastic cups as I made my way all the way back to the room.  Bret and Eli couldn't have been happier...until they tasted it.
 
Today we drove to where I am sitting now...San Pedro de Atitlan.  I have been here once before and it is one of the most beautiful places you'll ever see.  A huge lake surrounded by volcanoes...like seven of them.  The drive today was crazy, but the roads were not all that bad.  I remember them being a lot worse.  There was a lot of construction and slow lumbering buses and trucks.  After waiting a half hour here and a half hour there at road blocks, I decided that when we got through the next one, I was going to get to the front of the line.  Silver Al may have gotten a little beat up as I pinned it like a rally car driver through blinding dust, dodging heavy equipment and honking buses, huge stones, potholes, dogs and ever other hazard you could imagine...but I did make it to the front and because of that we were able to just slip through another half dozen such road blocks.  (When I say road block in this case, I mean when they stop all the traffic moving one direction for a half hour while the other direction passes, then they let your direction go)
 
So...I seriously need to eat something and have a beer...my fingers are still shaking and my throat is dusty and dry.  Most gringos take a boat to the town we are at, but we managed to drive here by winding down the longest, steepest volcano-side decent that one could possibly imagine...driving in first gear to save the brakes and honking around each of 10 thousand corners.  I have a mean mustache, as does Bret, and we are treated with so much respect now, I feel like...like...I don't know but I feel great!
 
Last thing...we got pulled over today for the first time...our fault.  Can't turn right on red in Guatemala!  We bought our way out of it with a few bucks...I have the audio recorded!  They were actually super nice...once again, I'm sure it was the mustaches.
 

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Mexico Guatemala Border

Crossing border (I swear, sorry)

Right on Red, bad move!

Paying the Fine

Keeping ahead of the terrible bus

Rally car teamwork

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Justin and Bret

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Bret and Eli

Jan. 9, 2008.  This is our second day here in San Marcos de Atitlan and we are really reenergizing and getting ready to hit the road again tomorrow.  This place is as chill as they come.  It took a little time to find a place here, a bunch of places were full, but we finally found a bungalow at ‘The Unicorn’.  We checked the town out a little last night, went for a long walk, ate some chips and guacamole and drank beers by the side of the lake with a nice Norwegian fellow that we met named Doug.  A billion dogs barked late into the night, like a symphony of protection from any banditos that might be lurking in the hills and beautiful Mayan songs poured out of the village church.  (Just up until I decided to investigate with my recorder, then the songs ended before I made it to record some for you.  I am hoping that tonight might be a repeat of that…totally beautiful enchanting …almost ghostly melodies).  When the time came, we got a solid night sleep (even if my bed happens to be a box-spring).  They even gave us a bed in a different bungalow, because they never rented it, so we each got our own bed for only the second time since we picked up Eli.  On other nights we do a rotation of who sleeps with who and who gets their own bed.  (I think I’m due for my own bed the next time!)

Singing in San Marcos de Atitlan 1

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Down to Atitlan

Sauna

Singing in San Marcos de Atitlan 2

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Lake Atitlan

      This morning we got up around the same time, had a cup of great Guatemalan coffee, fresh fruit salad, granola, yogurt and fresh squeezed OJ.  We then rented a canoe and paddled around, checking out the volcanoes and the shoreline.  After a good paddle, we found a nice rock cliff to lay out on and jump off of.  We all got pretty well relaxed.

     Now I am finishing up fixing up this site with a mojito in my hand.  My waitress must be 8 years old.  Entering Guatemala, the traditional Mayan culture is very strong.  Most people speak a Mayan dialect instead of Spanish and the women wear beautiful and ornate clothes made of brightly colored fabrics.  Many of the men carry machetes and wear hats much like cowboy hats.  Well, I’m going to find Bret and Eli now and see what’s going on. 

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Our Bungalow in San Marcos

Over 500 hits on the website so far... I'll do my best to keep things interesting for you all! 
 
     One of the greatest lessons that I have learned in life is that the toughest times in life tend to become life's greatest stories.  So, if the going ever does get rough, don't feel sorry for us, we did this to ourselves!

     There is a good chance that you won’t hear much from me for a couple days.  I don’t know if we are going to head straight for El Salvador after we drop Bret off, or if we will spend any more time here in Guatemala, but good internet connections might be lacking for a few days.  I’ll do what I can!  Ouch, the mosquitoes are coming out now.  (I forgot to fill my malaria prescription before I left…ooops.  I think we are safe here…Anyone want to look up Malaria zones/regions and let me know via email?)

Our last night in Atitlan was pretty mellow.  In the early evening we had the sauna fired up at the Unicorn and had a really great sweat.  It was a cement structure that barley fit the three of us and we stoked that fire until it glowed bright red.  From time to time we would go out and dump cold water over our heads and stretch.  One time I leaned my head back and saw a bright shooting star streak overhead.  Kind of magical with the Mayan singing echoing from every direction.  After the sauna we ordered up a big dinner but only got a bowl of vegetable soup each.  It was one of those times when you think dinner is coming and wait and wait and finally are told that they are closing.  We went to sleep happy and relaxed, even if the box spring that I had for a bed hurt my ribs.
 
The next day we drove to Antigua, Guatemala.  We left San Marcos around noon and had no problem making it by sunset.  Being Bret's last night, we pretty much spent it at a bar.  It happened to be 'buy one get one free' tequila night and while Antigua is not the cheapest place in Guatemala, it made for a good deal.  So it was a tequila and sangrita and nachos and beer night and we easily ran up the biggest tab of the trip so far.  On the way home we grabbed a couple last beers, which Eli ordered at a store.  I love watching Eli speak 'his' Spanish after having a few.  It is a sing-songy guttural grumble of an Anglo-Spanglo tongue which just rolls out of his mouth so naturally, they are almost embarrassed when they don't understand it and they figure it out right quick!  Always seems to get the job done! There was no naked wrestling to report at bed time, but a pretty good pillow whomp-down session.
 
The drive to Guatemala City the next morning went off like clockwork without too much to report.  We made it to the airport in plenty of time, dropped Bret off and were back on the Pacific coast within an hour.
 
 

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Bret

Saying Good Bye to Bret

WE MISS YOU BRET, YOUR DEPARTURE HAS LEFT A LITTLE VOID IN OUR TEAM, BUT THE CAR DOESN' BOTTOM OUT ON NEARLY AS MANY TOPES!

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And Then There Was Two

Eventually we found the town of Monte Rico.  Monte Rico is a place of extreme tranquility.  The end of a long road of beach towns that runs along the Pacific starting in Puerto San Jose, Guatemala and ending in Hawaii national park  We arrived at the coast without an idea as to what we were going to do, where we were going to stay or what it was going to be like.   When we finally got to the beach side of Puerto San Jose, we were not entirely impressed.  Built up, dirty with a ruthless air, the amount of time that we spent there was directly correlated with the amount of time it took to get out of there.  Signs are not fantastic in many Guatemalan towns.  Our first attempt to get out of San Jose was executed a little too closely to the beach.  We knew that we were looking for a road that ran parallel to the beach, but too close to the beach doesn't get you out of San Jose, instead it turned into a dirt track and brought us to the dirty edge of the town beach, where dejected beach trash wallowed in tire tracked sand and a disproportionately built couple humped frantically on a four wheeler.
 
When we finally did make it out of San Jose things started looking up.  Eventually we made it to Monte Rico, which was at the end of road, and it was a winner.  Our hotel, Eco Hotel Monte Rico, was perfection.  On the beach, warm water and cold cervesas, run by Juan and his father, it was as friendly and relaxing as life gets. Honestly, really great people.  We saw whales swimming down the coast, ate some good fish in town and returned to drink rum with our hosts.  I haven't slept better on his trip than last night in Monte Rico.  Waves crashing, mosquito nets over the beds, the drone of a fan.  Perfect!  I'll go back there any time!
 
This morning we had a really relaxing swim and multiple cups of coffee, before setting off to find the boat that we were going to have to put the car on to go up the river and to the nearest road, besides back tracking.  It was a crazy little 'Lancha' rickety and tough, but we had a nice ride and saw a bunch of beautiful snow white heron like birds some mud-puppies, some water snakes and many other birds of various sizes.  I'll try to put up some pictures.  After we got off the boat we made it to the El Salvador border without a hitch.

One Way Raod

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Monte Rico Eco Hotel

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Eco Hotel Bar Monte Rico (and our very friendly hosts)

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Auto Lancha from Monte Rico

Rickety Lancha

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Fishing

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Cows on board

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