Guatemala: Is it dark, or is it light?

Guatemala?

I’ve driven through New Mexico twice, both times at night. I don’t think it would be reasonable to claim that the big problem with New Mexico is that’s it’s always dark.

Based on the same reasoning, I’m fairly sure it isn’t fair to say that Guatemala is a hell hole of garbage dumps, junk yards, incomprehensible crumbling infrastructure and pathetic poverty. But, like New Mexico, the dark is all I have yet to experience.

Leaving Mexico to enter Guatemala, I entered through a less busy border; a last second decision. The border itself was quiet, the people helpful. Consistent with 99.9 % of this ride, I was the only English speaking white dude. Leaving Mexico was painless; stamp ya here, stamp ya there.

Entering Guatemala was the usual third world maze of pin-ball bureaucracy. For now, let’s cut the dramatics and say – with a little $$$ here and a little $$$ there – I ran the gauntlet relatively unscathed. Aside from Belize and Panama, the passport is good to go for the other countries in Central America. It’s the bike, for each country, that’s a paper jungle and big cost challenge. The reasoning behind applying torturous disincentives so people won’t use their own vehicle to visit these countries baffles me. Sort of like millions of speed bumps. But, who am I to say? New Mexico in my mind being always dark.

Then the test of all things broken awaited. Road signs? Luxury. Pavement that’s actually smoother than pointy rocks and gravel? None of that. Traffic that actually moves? Ha! Without any exaggeration, there were hundreds of trucks waiting to cross the border; at least seven kilometers worth of slammed shut traffic and exhausted looking drivers. Between the heated confusion, the whole thing was apocalyptic. After struggling to find a way out of the mess, I headed to the first open road. Didn’t care where it went, just wanted out.

Ten minutes later, I was back in. Okay, Mexico has topes (killer speed bumps). Guatemala doesn’t need them. They have wheel eating pot holes and an infinite number of shanty towns. No need for speed bumps if there’s no way to gain speed. Someday, I may rewrite this and identify the routes; be it Hummer, MoPed, motorcycle, by foot or wheelchair, nobody in their right mind wants to use this road. The best part of today’s ride? Two things: first, as usual, the people.

Nope, I can’t think of a second thing.

But the people have been incredibly helpful and friendly. From the police who politely inform me I’m going the wrong way down a one-way street to the gas station attendants who always use so, so, so, so many words to say, “straight ahead.”

The event of the day was perfectly simple. You see, there are hundreds of thousands of children working dirty and sometimes toxic little road-stands selling water, produce, Coke products, fuel and local food. Today, I found myself in one of those stands. I sat down with a little girl and her mother and nurtured a bottle of water and three bananas. I stayed for about an hour. No talk, just musing. Use your imagination; the smell of smoke from an open fire pit, rancid truck fumes and the constant roar of the relentless pounding traffic. Little children on the edge of the blistering hot pavement trying to snag a quick sale for a few cents, pleading for survival but smiling and coping with every rejection with their fellow survivors. I just sat there, in the shade. I was only there for an hour. I am humbled.

How dare I complain about pavement and why my motorcycle isn’t moving smoothly and fast? My challenge is finding a bank so I can make a withdrawal, booking a room that has air conditioning and maybe not so much road noise, making sure the beer is cold enough and the shower hot. Really, what makes it even possible to complain?


Tomorrow, I head towards El Salvador.


PS. As I write this I’m bunkered down in a little road side joint. No wifi, so sorry Glenda – no communication from me today. You’re not here, but you’re always in my thoughts; couldn’t do this without you.

 

 

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