Post by kerouac2 on Jun 1, 2018 13:01:23 GMT
As I’m sure everybody knows, unplanned incidents are excellent for making a trip both more interesting and more complicated. Personally, I didn’t have any unplanned incidents on my recent trip, because I planned absolutely nothing, so things just happened.
Everything started out fine. I was picked up by friends at the airport in the evening, and we left the following morning. The car was a Mazda CX-9 SUV whose size I found rather alarming. My friend who is currently living in Guatemala is not a fan of such cars either. However, when he was transferred to Guatemala, he had the option of buying both of his predecessor’s cars – an SUV and an ordinary small Kia. He bought only the Kia and learned to regret it during his first year when it proved to be no match for the Guatemalan country roads and finally broke down on a trip to Belize, where it was stranded for a month awaiting repair.
So the Mazda (a used model from 2009) was bought and is apparently necessary. I suspect that the friend who usually drives it is responsible for much of the wear and tear, but it would be unkind of me to say that I think he drives like a maniac, so I won’t. My friend avoids driving himself as much as possible since he has actually had a license for only two years and got it just before leaving Brazil after multiple failures. He’ll exchange it for a French license when he returns to France for a couple of months this summer.
We left like bats out of hell for Chichicastenango which meant 1) morning Guatemala City commuter traffic jam, 2) 150 kilometres on pot-holed and earthquake damaged roads, 3) twisty mountain roads. One can hope to accomplish the distance in just under 3 hours with a bit of optimism. Having taken 8 hours to cover a comparable distance in Cambodia once, I didn’t really worry about this. The continuous yellow line down the middle of the road in curvy or hilly areas which means “no passing” in most countries just means “pass as fast as you can” in Guatemala. It must be admitted that it would take forever if one really stayed behind all of the tuktuks and yellow American school buses all the time. On the other hand, one thing that is taken very seriously are all of the speed bumps in every village and town along the way. Most of these were improvised by the local population, so they are of varying thickness and height, and they almost never have stripes or white paint on them to make them visible. All of the vehicles creep across them as slowly as possible.
Contrary to what one might think, I did not see any donkey carts or things like that on the road. This was just as well, because the pedestrians were enough to worry about. They don’t understand the basics of crossing a busy road and jump out unexpectedly at any time, even on expressways. Or else they are testing the reflexes of the drivers on purpose. Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Guatemala has a “dog problem” but it sure has a shitload of dogs, and they have clearly learned to cross the road from the humans. I saw quite a few dead ones. I think they pick up the dead people but not the dead dogs.
Chichicastenango was a driver’s nightmare, except that they do have some police directing traffic on market day. There are plenty of one way streets where “one way” is clearly just a mild suggestion, plus lots of red octagonal “Alto” signs where are just for decoration. Since it had been decided (without really consulting me) that I would be doing the driving after the first couple days since the driving friend had other things on his agenda, I asked if all of the destinations would be as nightmarish as Chichcastenango. I was told that, no, one of the reasons that we came here this first day was because it was the most difficult drive. Everything else would be a snap. Sure.
The car already experienced a few minor difficulties on that day. A couple of times the automatic transmission got stuck in the wrong gear, and the only solution that had been found was to pull over, stop the car and then start it again. Very reassuring.
Anyway, after visiting the market, we drove to our next destination, Antigua. We hit a number of traffic nightmares, which allowed me to notice that absolutely huge number of garages and tow services everywhere, clearly a major part of the economy. Antigua, on the other hand, did not bother me at all – the streets were a perfectly laid out flat grid, and the Alto signs were taken into consideration by most drivers. However, the special historical paving was so incredibly rough that there was no chance of any car speeding.
I only got nervous when we parked the car in the hotel lot. The side view mirrors had to be folded in and we only just squeezed through the entrance. I would be the person purportedly squeezing out two days later. Yikes.