04.05.2012 - 04.05.2012
Antigua and her pastel colored stone buildings, cobblestone streets and the Volcano Agua commanding the view to the west. I was destined to stay at least another week in Guatemala and this was the place.
I found a nice private parking lot in the center of the city to house Pale Cheeks for the holiday. Upon working out the weekly rate, I found myself in a little business argument with the clerk and it wasn't go anywhere. Manuel I learned to be a true diplomat, and our first encounter proved no different. He sorted out the confusion, introduced me to the attendant as his friend, and then went on his way. Later that day I got a tip about a cheap papusa stand in the market. I took the tip and there I found the cheap greasy thick fried corn tortillas with cheese and cabbage and thin runny salsa. I describe it exactly like it was and it was good. I took a seat on a crate next to none other than jolly old Manuel from the parking lot. He had an easy time of convincing me to order a Horchata (a milky ground up rice and cinnamon drink) and we sat on the crates, the busy market behind us, chatting over the local drink.
Manuel works for a tour company driving a travel van (which explains his good English), he is 35 and still single. He is trying to slim down a little which is why he only had one Pupusa. We made arrangements the next day to take Cheeks to his town of San Antonio so he could show me around.
antigua and her pastels
The celebrity that was Manuel showed himself upon us walking through his streets - the vegetable ladies with the little stone shed open to the street, the sausage sandwich shop (they were just hotdogs cut down the middle but I didn't burst his bubble), the card players on the corner begging us to stop and play a hand, the hollering of nicknames, passing his cousin, passing another cousin, visiting his sister and her family, and the Posada. Most Central Americans celebrate what they call a Posada that takes place over the 9 days before Christmas. As we strolled the streets into night, the sound of the band became noticeable up on the hill above town. People began throwing buckets of water into the dusty streets outside their homes in areas where it was known the Posada was going to pass. The fireworks were going off everywhere. Guatemalans have no shame with fireworks - all hours of the night, while the mayor is making a speech, during a beautiful christmas hymn. I'd look around for reaction, no one thought it as a distraction (and this in itself is a major defining trait of Central Americans).
The Posada passed with her quaint brass band, her singers, candles, and Mary and Joseph carried on the shoulders of four men. A generator powering a bright light between the Holy couple was pushed by a few ninos 30 feet behind. Manuel said we had to go if we were to catch his favorite late night food stop. It was in another town, "is it alright if we go there now?" Hard corn tortillas with assorted meats followed. For the sake of his diet, Manuel had two.
Thanks to the old wide web I got a message from Daniel and we arranged a meeting in Antigua. Our paths had crossed and now it was just a matter of working out the details. I met Anna, Daniel's lovely tall brunette girlfriend and we discussed a route south and a timeline.
Now I stop here to touch on some of my philosophy. An expedition (by sea or overland) is something that I believe falls into the category (with a few others) of being influenced, to a degree, by luck. The days out in the sticks away from help, the open road and all her potential dangers - there are times when you might need a stroke of it once in a while. So why would I allow a girl to taint any chance at having any luck? I thought I was offsetting the luck with two genuine, fun loving Aussies. And I was right.
old iron work horses off the pacific coast of guatemala
We left Antigua for the seedy but real Guatemala City, then to the Pacific for some fish and sleeping on the beach. The next morning over breakfast the map was telling us we might have to backtrack but further probing revealed to us another option in the form of a 25' by 10' wood barge, a 10 horsepower outboard and an average looking man of 35. I couldn't believe what I saw but sure enough a small pickup truck was pulling up from the other side (though that side was out of sight) in one piece. We agreed to pay the man 11 usd but in reality I had to give him much more. I gave him every ounce of trust my 28 years had managed to stir us - "he does know what he's doing" I made myself think. A little technique - "drive forward, ok now drive back, ok now hold on" got old Cheeks on board and we were on our way through mangroves, past marshlands and the volcanos that were a fade in the distance. Physics told me that as long as the weight of the water that hole that the barge cut in the water didn't weight less than the wood of the barge, cheeks, her gear and ourselves, we wouldn't sink. And then the tires touched dirt and I was less $11 on the other side and we moved on down the road...
pale cheek's private charter
...Down the road to another little hiccup in our route. The national two lane highway ran out of road. There had been a bridge that spanned over a ravine and a river below that must have collapsed - this was understandable - but where were the signs explaining "End Of Road" or "Detour." I had to interrupt a cuddly young couple sitting on a bolder over looking the gorge (without the bridge a nice lookout) to get the story. "There is a rough road a few km back that will lead you down into the river bed and over a small bridge." We backtracked and it was obvious, even without a sign. None of the Guatemalan drivers missed the turn.
?donde esta el puente?
We celebrated New Years in El Salvador. A tip from a guidebook revealed a remote village on a beautiful palm lined beach. Little local ninos mingled around our slice of empty beach and answered some of our questions - "no the ocean water will not come up this far when the tide is high" "yeah you can find wood over there", "I live over there" - "Que Bueno" we would say. Later a father came by camp "I heard you need wood" "Here use this for starting the fire" "Here let me do that" as he starts our fire in seconds. Only good vibes. Later in the night we were startled by the sound of motion close by. A row of cattle marched between us and the sea - the happiest cows I've ever seen.