As we made our way from Belize, across the border to Guatemala on May 15th, this crossing seemed to be the easiest yet. We cancelled the Belizean driving insurance, went through yet another mystery fumigation with the car, and continued on to get the proper paper work. The rough timeline we had been working with revolved around making it to San Pedro de la Laguna on Lake Atitlan by Monday, May 18th to begin our three weeks of Spanish classes. This gave us two days to explore Northern Guatemala and our first stop was Tikal.
When we arrived to the park, the ranger said that if we waited 2 hours until 4 PM we could use the ticket tonight and the next day. We said we only had a few hours, and clearly insulted him, as he responded that it was impossible to see Tikal even in one whole day. Eric and I sighed, paid, and took the judgement. We like ruins but don’t love them. They are incredibly impressive and the fact that you know so much of the civilization still remains uncovered is overwhelming. Still, we do not need an entire day or more to explore. It happened to be pouring rain when we arrived so we b-lined to Temple IV, one of the tallest temples at Tikal. They were restoring its façade so it did not appear as beautiful as the other steep temples as you approach it. There is, however, a separate staircase around the side of the temple that takes you to the top platform. Once on top, you find yourself looking out above the tree canopy and in the distance you can see three other temples sitting above the tree tops. Tikal was beautiful not just for the towering structures, but also for the fact that we had to wander around dense jungle paths to get to each separate place. That evening we stayed on the island of Flores on Lake Petén. The little island barely had room for Pedro to squeeze through the streets, but we found a place with a lake view and surprisingly a friend, Teresa, whom we had met in Belize.
The next day our goal was to make it as far as we could, roads permitting, to Lake Atitlan. Let’s just say it took longer than expected. Even though we were continuously falling behind the map’s timeline, the drive was absolutely beautiful. Eric and I agreed that Guatemala has the most stunning scenery so far. The roads we were on followed ridges of the high country, took us through dense jungle valleys and made Pedro climb the steepest roads yet through small mountain villages. The route we were on also took us aboard a barge, powered by the smallest motor imaginable. We of course take heed to the rule to never drive at night, and unfortunately the rule of never say never took precedent over other said rule. While we were not in total darkness that evening, it was definitely dusk. It was an unfortunate situation to find ourselves suck in, between two towns on a dirt road that ended up taking three times the amount of drive time we expected. We hadn’t messed up that badly yet on the mapping, but we were lucky and felt incredibly safe as we made our way along the windy road. Eric ended up finding us a wonderful spot to safely park the truck and sleep, which turned out to be closer and considerably better than the one we were attempting to find from the iOverlander app. We parked the car, grabbed some much needed sustenance of carne asada tacos and beer, and called it a day after 10 hours of driving.
We got an early start the next morning as it was already the Sunday we were supposed to be arriving in San Pedro. The drive wasn’t as bad as the previous day and we easily made our way through the small cities, all while avoiding getting run over by the giant chicken buses. Also, as bad as it sounds, we have discovered that the fried chicken in Guatemala is delicious. We had heard from other travelers that the route into San Pedro was terrible and almost impassable. We stopped at the turn off to talk to a few locals about it and they explained that the route around the lake was even worse, so on we went. As we descended onto the road we had heard horror stories about, Eric’s mountain driving skills kicked into high gear, Pedro shifted into first, and we drove slowly but surely into the beautiful base of Lake Atitlan. The road truly didn’t live up to its terrible reputation and really, we just have to praise our home on wheels for being such a badass vehicle.
Corazon Maya Spanish School will be our home for three weeks. We have rented a small studio on the same property where they hold our classes. Eric and I can see the lake from the front door and Volcano San Pedro from the balcony. We are looking forward to unpacking just a bit, exploring the surrounding towns and soaking up San Pedro. As Bob Szymanski would say, “Hola, Paco. Que Tal?....” Here’s to gaining more Spanish skills!