Crossing the border into Guatemala required more effort than simply driving into Baja. This being Central America, things work at a different pace. We have come to expect and accept that, arriving early in the day to allow for the guaranteed inefficiencies. No need to bore you with the details, but it eventually got sorted and into Guate we drove.
“Are you finally done with the paperwork? Let’s blow this border!”
The streets are hectic! “Guate”ver seems to go and these tricked out buses rule the roads. Bobbing and weaving around obstacles, stopping on a dime to avoid the donkey pulled cart that has pulled onto the highway, passing deftly around smog spewing flatbed trucks transporting half the towns population… Adam was BORN to drive in Central!
We immediately notice a difference in the landscape, the hills jutting dramatically into the sky, gorges carved deep by heavy water, smiling Mayan faces. The negative differences- there is also much more trash and pollution, terrifying drivers and LOTS of guns. Everywhere we look, there seems to be an armed guard- at the entrance to a steak house, bank or hostel. Shotguns as tall as the men that carry them, the intensity of seeing these weapons everywhere is heavy. When people tell you that armed robberies are common, you believe them and take caution to be aware and in good safety.
First stop was Panajachel on the remarkable Lago de Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. The triad of surrounding volcanic cones rise sharply from the azure waters, the lush hillsides dappled with bright rays.
Guatemala, world renowned for the amazing textiles, did not disappoint. Millenia old techniques in weaving are still implimented, creating gorgeous geometric masterpieces and representational motifs. With so many treasures at every turn, we must remind each other constantly that we are on this journey gathering experiences, not stuff. Bummer, because we could drop some serious cash on all the beautiful hammocks, rugs, and fabric!
Emily, a fashion designer, drooling over the breathtaking assortment of handwoven fabrics. Endless collections could be born from these delights.
At the edge of the water, we hired a lancha- water taxi- to take us for a 4 hour tour- thankfully it wasn’t as ominous at Gilligan’s Island.
At agua caliente, literally meaning hot water, the volcanic steam pushes up through the cracks in the earth, leaving a bubbling steam trail, heating the water on its way up. We dove off the boat into the brisk but not freezing water for a morning adrenaline rush and swam over to the bubbles to feel the hot water swirl in with the cool.
The endorheic lake does not drain to the sea and this year, the water is 8 meters higher than normal, leaving a lost Atlantis of old piers in the water below.
San Antonio is the most famous village in the region for its fine weavers. The women here have their own signature hairstyles that they wrap these tassled narrow belts around their hair. A collectivo features many artisanias from the area, ensuring the talented women are fairly compensated for their labor. They were also totally willing to use the barter system- they would trade us whatever we wanted for Colette. No deal.
Most Mexicans had a difficult time saying “Colette” and would wrinkle their noses trying to pronounce her name. Guatemala has a population that is 46% indigenous, comprised of several peoples of Mayan descent, that speak a variety of languages; the Kaqchikel speakers can perfectly pronounce her name. Colette & Emily got wrapped up in the local style.
Adam found a wood mill to work on some frames for a few commisioned pieces he is completing.
Further down the road, we arrive in Antigua- a city of famed beauty as well as a multitude of language schools. While we don’t like the word “tourist” and aren’t generally huge fans of police, the Tourist Police headquarters has a large, secure lot that is free to camp in and has toilets and showers. No way to pass that up.
Our new road buddies Ben & Pegah ,whom started in Vancouver, BC and are on a similar trip- told us about the tourist police HQ. 12-21-12 was the end of the Mayan calendar and the beginning of a new era. It feels good to be in the heart of Maya land for this change of the tides, as the age of selfishness ends and hopefully the new universal era of goodwill grows. With our friends we shared a homemade meal of truffle risotto, grilled veggies and wine, then headed for festivities in the parque.
Tzolk’in- the 260 day Mayan calendar- is also called the midwives calendar because this amount of time is from when the heart of a fetus starts to beat until birth! Mayan mandalas of incense, rose petals, pine needles and candles adorned the cobblestone streets.In the streets of Antigua we traversed the orderly grid finding secret garden cafes and cathedral ruins that have survived the many earthquakes.
More than any previous location, Antigua is a city of motorcycles, mopeds and scooters. Colette excitedly shouts “Motor-google, motor-google!!” as they buzz by.
The van has been plagued with a hot-start issue since Cabo San Lucas, having tried several possible issues, we still had no fix and needless to say we were over it! The local police led us to their friends shop, who referred us to another shop, that referred us to another shop, that we finally located. Senor Soto graciously spent an hour+ talking to Adam thru Emily, and turns out Subarus are not very popular in Guatemala. The heat temperature sensor we needed was not available anywhere in the country, when asked if we could find it in El Salvador, and he quickly replied YES!
The next morning we crossed the border into El Salvador at Chinamas/ Valle Nuevo which was a very mellow border crossing, of course it took hours anyhow. Adam immediately commented on the better quality of both the roads and drivers. Armed guards were still at gas stations, but overall the country feels much safer and less aggressive than Guatemala, surprising but very welcome. Into San Salvador for the wild goose chase to 10+ auto parts stores, and FINALLY success- we found the part. HOORAY!
Just before sundown we arrived to El Zonte, just west of La Libertad on the beautiful coast. Adam slipped in the water for the glass off just as the sun hit the sea.
We landed at Surf Camp Horizonte to camp just steps from the mocha colored sand and surf, with beautiful grounds including a swimming pool, beautiful parrot and a huge resident orange and black iguana, that is actually a “green iguana”.
We unpacked the van setting up camp for a few days. Colette, of course has made many new friends. The US Dollar is the official currency, making it quite easy to tell how much things cost.
It was an easy decision to stay thru Christmas, as we were greatly enjoying the friendly environment, beautiful location and cranking waves. We really missed our families, but enjoyed a mellow Christmas together, swimming in the ocean and pool, surfing and running thru sprinklers.A surf contest was going on directly in front, providing some lively energy to the otherwise sleepy cove.
The mocha colored sand, glistened with ore and mixing with the sun’s rays, created a remarkable kaleidoscope effect. The simple thatched structures backlit on the point by the magnificent sunsets.
Adam has been making art along the way, and has been especially productuive when we set up for multiple days.
December 26 was departure day and we had lofty goals- to depart El Salvador, enter Honduras, depart Honduras, and enter Nicaragua. We had to get to Costa Rica on the 30th to meet family. So we woke at 5:30, packed up camp and hit the well paved trail. A slight left turn- when we should have made a right- put an extra hour on the clock. Also headed to surf spot Playa Cuco, but arriving just before noon, the winds were already onshore, so we pushed onward.
Mexico has topes (speedbumps)
Guatemala has crazy drivers
El Salvador has slow drivers
Honduras has potholes.
Some so large a boulder was popping out the center with a huge moat surrounding it. Our GPS map may swerve like a drunk driver, but I assure you it was just Honduras’ way of making driving exciting again!
Finally into Nicaragua after seemingly endless border fiascos. P.S- We aren’t sure why Japan has sponsored the ‘Welcome to Nicaragua’ sign, do you know?
We don’t usually drive at night, and after seeing a horse just hit and killed by a car, it reaffirmed why. Time and time again, we have remarked to each other “How did we ever see anything before these new headlights?!” This SouthAfrican kit is the single best safety improvement we have made. The stock lights on the Westy are dangerously pathetic, so do yourself a favor if you have a Westy and get these.
Arriving late in Leon, got pulled over for entering a one way street, that had just been a two-way and had no warning. Adam handed them Colette’s passport when they asked for his, and Emily quickly thanked them and asked for their help finding this and that. The cops had the perfect opportunity to screw us, but gratefully did not. We camped near some club that was blasting Madonna, and when Emily sang “La Isla Bonita” to Adam in the morning, he just rolled his eyes. We three strolled around, but decided it was another town, and we would rather be at the beach, so off we headed.Arriving in Puerto Sandino in late morning, the winds were miraculously blowing off shore and continued to do so all day long! The winds from the inland lakes cross the land and blow the waves into hollowed arches, ruffling across the points.
As we pulled up to the beautifully curling waves, a troupe of 6 kids ran up to investigate our adventure mobile, then 2 of their mothers did… and they did not leave. As we unstrapped Colette and took the surfboard off the roof of the van, they stood at the edge of the sliding door, mouths agape at our strange processes. I said to Adam “maybe we should go somewhere else where we can have a little more privacy.” Without skipping a beat he replied “ We didn’t come on this trip to live behind walls.”
Adam gave them a skateboard and they took turns pushing each other down the cobble stone road.
It is easy to slip into your comfort zone, wherever you are. It takes only a moment to snap out of it, and see the 16 curious eyes at your doorstep. Colette was stoked to have such a rowdy bunch of amigos to play with. We hung out at the van for a bit, dumping her toys on the dusty pavement for them to explore.
Adam made it to the water, and we eventually joined him too, finding some lovely pools carved into the natural rocks, in which to swim and our “mee-goes” ready to build a sandcastle.
We rinsed off and prepared dinner- with 16 eyes watching. 2 avocados, a few bananas & 4 oranges were quickly gobbled as appetizers. Emily prepared fried plantains and wild rice with curried butternut squash. We hadn’t visited the grocery in a while, and if we had more to make, it would have been eaten. One of the mothers brought some of their dinner to try- a hot dog bun with mayonaise-like sauce on it. The third sister was in town selling 12 fried pig heads at market. The kids were clean and happy, but very poor and undernourished. In moments like these, we are reminded of the very many blessings we have in our lives.
The cousins all began chanting “Colette, Colette, Colette” on the blanket as she bounced around like a whirling dervish, encanting the spirits with her joyful screeches, the full moon illuminating their gleaming eyes and teeth.
At Volcan Masaya, Nicaragua’s first national park, we loaded up on sunscreen, hats and water for the mid-day hike. It is getting hot and humid up in these parts!
Believing the caldera was the entrance to hell, the Spanish erected a huge cross overlooking it to keep Satan at bay.
Gale force winds whipped off the lake, up the grassy slopes and over the ridge we hiked upon, nearly taking our hats several times.
Colette is as determined and independent as ever. She would exhault “Coco, hiking!” and march ahead, handling the challenging terrain with a confidence surely inherited from her nimble cousins Ava & Lea.
She took alternating trips hiking and riding, finally succumbing to a well-earned slumber on her Papa’s back.
Playa Maderas near San Juan del Sur is quite a scene with most people being trucked in for the daytime hours from town. The day was spent lounging in hammocks, surfing the most crowded wave in Nicaragua (not even close to a Tuesday morning in LA, but filled with novices which proved dangerous for one gent whose head got a gash from another surfers board) and relaxing with friends.
We found a pet spider monkey at the edge of Lago de Nicaragua. We sliced up a banana and let Colette hand him pieces; she was so proud of herself for sharing “Coco feed the mono ‘nana!” Our little love is such a joy to be with!
The “black water” for which the country is named at Lago de Nicaragua.
On the streets of Granada there were, clustered together, rows of cobblers repairing shoes.
San Juan del Sur is on the southern Pacific of Nicaragua. Taxi trucks make their way through the winding jungle road from town to the beautiful cove of Playa Maderas. As the day heated up, the beach volleyball courts got packed with tan bodies searching for a little play as bumping R&B hits blared from the restaurants selling iced cocktails heavily laden with the local flor de cana rum. Here you find the most crowded wave in Nicaragua (not even close to a Tuesday morning in LA, but filled with novices which proved dangerous for one gent whose head got a gash from another surfers board). Adam waited until the last truck back to town had left, then paddles out with only a handful of others.