20 - GUATEMALA
Panajachel to Chiquimula - 28/01/04 - 27/02/04
Nice dining room eh?
Rich and Sylvia were just wonderful to us. Made us feel at home straight away. We were whirled in to their life and friends and met some truly amazing people.
We were invited out to dinner several times and even hosted a little dinner party ourselves.
Rich & Sylvia have a beautiful house, they designed themselves and they built all the furniture in it too. It is built right on the side of the mountain and has the steepest garden ever. The view across the lake to the volcanoes is quite breathtaking from every room in the house.
They have a gorgeous Alsatian called Atos. He's kind of a guard dog so we weren't supposed to love him too much. This of course we found incredibly difficult being what Rich calls "severe animal lovers".
Whilst we were there Sylvia was working with a group of Canadian doctors who come and run clinics for the local indigenous population. She and several of her friends were working incredibly hard keeping them fed and helping translate. One of their friends, Dr Lyle started the foundation. He works mostly in Canada but one month in four in Guatemala. It's a wonderful thing they're doing. The people are so very poor and have no access to even the most basic of medicines. www.projectgift2003.org
One morning we all took a boat trip round the edge of the lake. There are some spectacular properties on the shore, a lot of holiday homes. The mix of rich and poor there is quite jarring.
Unfortunately Sylvia caught the flu, as did a few others working at the clinic. Rich then got it, then me and then R. We all ended up taking it in turns to look after each other. We were all pretty bad with temperatures of 103 and feeling really weak for days.
One evening when Rich and Sylvia were really bad there was a fire up the mountain behind the house. The wind was really strong and gusting, sometimes it looked like it was going to get really close. Everywhere we've been on this trip we seem to have been followed by fires.
Patricia, Paul, R & I, Sylvia, Rich & Andrea.
Rich couldn't really get out of bed but had had a few phone calls from friends checking the fire wasn't too close. He suggested that Richard assess the fire and if necessary move their van and the bikes further down the hill. Assess the fire, we're from London!! We spent most of the evening standing outside, trying not to panic and wondering whether we should be packing.
As is our luck with these things it died down and by morning you could see nothing.
Leif and Amara, who we met in Tikal turned up in Pana too. It was great to see them and we spent a few evenings with them. One was quite bizarre as we had to drink beer from coffee mugs. It was Sunday and the licensing laws seem to be quite strict. The police did actually come in and check the place out. Pretty weird as most other laws seem to be ignored.
Having said that Lief & Amara had got themselves in to a pile of trouble by staying in the country too long with the bike. They were still trying to sort it out when we left, making several trips to Guat City and sitting in offices all day. Haven't heard what happened in the end.
Paul & Patricia were another cool couple we met in Pana. They were Canadian too, but Patricia being originally from El Salvador was translating for the doctors. Paul and Rich kept everyone amused for hours with tales of their travels, especially in the sixties.
We sat fascinated when Paul told us all about how he ended up in an Ashram with the Beatles in 1968. He was a broken hearted 23 year old traveling in India and decided he had to learn to meditate. Just through persistence he was let in. Meditated, chatted, took some pictures which he then forgot about for thirty years! We thought we may see Paul & Patricia in Peru as they were going on there. As usual though they have been and gone before we have arrived. They come to London quite often though so we hope we'll see them again soon. www.thebeatlesinindia.com
We loved Panajachel it's a great place to lurk, and we made some good friends there. Yet another place to return if we're lucky. If not Rich & Sylvia are true wanderers, we're sure to bump in to them somewhere else in the world. Thanks guys for showing us such a good time.
We left Pana on a gorgeously sunny morning and headed to Antigua. We took the southern route round the lake, with spectacular views and then down to the Pan-American.
As we turned on to it we got stuck in a huge traffic jam. It was baking hot and there was a long line of gigantic lorries carrying sugar cane. The road climbed up a long hill and buses and lorries were turning it in to three lanes very unsuccessfully. We scooted up the inside for a bit and then came across a sugar cane lorry broken down on a steep bit of hill. After that it was clear.
We then got a bit lost looking for the road to Antigua that Rich had recommended. We found our way in the end and were going along a quite main road when we saw a sign for Antigua. We turned off and were on cobble stones almost immediately, suddenly there we were in Antigua and straight in to the centre. It is much smaller than I expected.
This is the old capital of Guatemala, but as with many Central American Cities the capital was moved because of a series of earth quakes.
We spent the afternoon mooching round the city centre. It is shopping heaven and obviously still a very wealthy part of Guatemala. There are so many bars and restaurants there, you'd have to stay at least a month to get round them.
Next morning we headed back to Guatemala City and managed to get through a lot better second time round.
We stopped at an Office World to replace a charger for one of R's gadgets. I had a car park guy, security man with big gun and a lovely lorry driver looking at our map and showing me the best way through, they were really sweet. When R came back, Francisco, the lorry driver took me for a little walk to show me exactly how to get back on to the Perrifico.
We stopped the night in a funny little motel in a small town called Chiquimula just before the border to Honduras.
We were a little worried about this border as we had heard a few nightmare stories. The couple we met in Belize, Paul & Sarah had been asked for $1500 to take the bike in to Honduras and ended up going through El Salvador instead. We were at a different border though so were keeping our fingers crossed.
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