We step out of the van in the pouring rain. There is no way we are going to stay dry. We find ourselves having to walk through a market. We are the gringos walking through a Guatemalan market hoping we are headed in the right direction; there is no excuse for people to stare at us as we slosh through wet and muddy, with our packs on our front sides. There is a woman selling fruit, families selling clothes, men pulling large carts up the narrow pathway (which ended up knocking into our group-mate, Charlotte, and nearly knocking her over) and we are walking through water that who knows what has in it. By the time we reach our bus we’ll have stood in a down pour for five minutes or so, walked through six inches of water to get to our bus, and be wondering how much wetter we could possibly get. Oh yeah, this is just the start to our vacation weekend, and the 2.5 hour trip to Lago Atitlán.
In my head, I am providing NASCAR commentary for the bus driver as he speeds along the twisting mountain roads… you’ve got the inside, clear on the outside, feel free to open it up on the straight away; box truck on the inside, stay with him, OK, let him by; bus on the outside, you’ve got him, you’ve got him—good pass… All the while, you are being thrown from side to side, possibly squished up against the wall, or between people, depending on how many people are in your seat (quite possibly up to four or five). I find myself up against the window, with a small Guatemalan women who has 3 aluminum buckets she has purchased at the market that was first stop the bus made after we got on, and the young boy who offers to put everyone’s bags in the overhead area, on the outside.
After two more bus changes, and witnessing men hang off the back of the buses to get items in and out/on and off, we found ourselves at our destination in the city of Panajachel, on the shore of Lago Atitlán. A nice walk in the pouring rain was the only thing that stood between us and our surprisingly clean and well-kept, Japanese-owned, eight-person hotel room.
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The transportation system in Guatemala is a curious thing. I have already posted about the walking situation, and touched upon the public bus situation just above, but transportation is still an intriguing part of Guatemalan culture. If you do not choose to take public buses (which many people do, and probably more people than those in the United States), you either walk, ride a motorcycle, or drive a car. Here is a quick profile of the two latter options:
Often without a helmet, and quite possibly with your entire family on the bike. It could be a dirt bike, an actual motorcycle, or a motor scooter. You are able to weave in and out of traffic, which proves beneficial on the busier streets. However, as with in the United States, rain is the largest downfall, yet most Guatemalans throw their shoulder to the wind, and deal with it. Whether you are an adolescent, a businesswoman or man, or a delivery guy for a fast-food place, the motorcylce is a common form of transportation.
I see all sorts of cars: new, old, high-end, low-end, large, small, and everything in between. Car culture here in Guatemala is much like that of car culture in other developing nations—chaotic, fast paced, and laws are usually optional. There are many instances of honking. There are many people that drive much too fast on cobble stone and narrow roads. Not to mention, most of the vehicles here would most likely never pass any sort of inspection in the United States. Also, there’s always a nice plume of black diesel exhaust that is emitted from the majority of the vehicles; great for the cardio system for sure.