Published: May 23rd 2012May 19th 2012
So. This week couldn´t be much different from last. I ended last week sat on a derserted tropical island with some of my favourite people, sipping drinks in the shallows and snorkelling in the sea. I ended this one sat in my rain mac and my prettiest dress in an internet cafe sheltering from the tremendous thunderstorm illuminating the mountains that surround Xela. I was supposed to be going out with my fellow students from El Nahual language school, but the thunderstorm and rain got the better of them and they bailed.
My journey here was pretty tough. Hannah and I left Utila on Tuesday.We´d made plans with a camp Brazillian cigar salesman called Alejandro (no, really) to travel with him as far as Copan Ruinas and stay overnight at his place, but that all went down the pan when our ´1 goodbye drink' turned into ´staying out til 3am´. That happened a lot on Utila. So we never made the 6.20am morning ferry, and missed Alejandro, as well as Alice´s goodbyes.
We hung around til 2pm, packing, saying some more goodbyes and eating lunch at one of the few places we hadn´t yet been to. We snoozed our way through the ferry to the mainland, before taking a taxi to a hostel in La Ceiba. It was rainy there, and felt a world away from sunny, humid Utila, full of friendly faces and only a few miles across the sea. Once we were checked into our hostel, we went off in search of the air-conditioned Mall we´d read about in the Big Green Bible. A few hours later, with our tummies full, toiletry stocks replenished and shopping apetites sated, we headed back to the hostel. A taxi was booked for us at 4.30am the following morning to take us to the first class bus terminal for our bus for Antigua. I showered and began to get ready for bed whilst Hannah did the same. It seemed she´d been doing some heavy thinking since leaving Utila, because when she got out the shower she broke it to me that she wanted to go back, and that she wouldn´t be joining me on my journey to Guatemala. I couldn´t blame her - there was a lot of travel involved in getting to Xela, and what for? So she could sit around in the rain whilst I studied Spanish? I told her that I´d be fine, and that our plans were bound to differ eventually. But the prospect of a 2 day journey alone with my level of Spanish was still a little indimidating.
On arrival at the terminal the next morning, I was disappointed to learn that my bus to Antigua was in fact 4 buses, and that the 7 or so hours I assumed it would take would actually be 15. But I climbed aboard and got on with it, sleeping, enjoying the mountain roads and waiting in various terminals with only half an idea of what was going on. Last-but-one stop from Antigua was Guatemala City. The BGB describes it as a city of contrasts, where slums lie in the shadow of skyscrapers, but to me, it seemed a fairly hospitable place. Arriving in the dark meant its most noticable sights were huge WalMart and Taco Bell ads, but I also clocked restaurants offering Sushi, Italian and Mexican food (including one promising ´Nachos as big as your head!´) and a lot of snazzy interior decor shops. I imagined myself working for an NGO here and living a cosmopolitan lifestyle.
After a short wait, myself and two others took our final connection (an AC Minibus) to Antigua. It took only minutes for the multi-laned highways, sliproads and roundabouts to disappear and for the single-lane mountain road to reappear. Despite arriving in the dark and rain, Antigua was still enchanting. Brightly coloured, traditionally-built colonial houses lined cobbled streets which stood in the shadows of tree covered volcanic mountains. However, I had a problem. I´d spent the last of my cash at the brorder crossing, and the big bus terminal with an ATM and taxi rank I was expecting in Antigua never materialised. Instead, I was dropped outside a random (but very, very nice) hotel. I had no choice but to stay there and pay by card. The price seemed incredibly cheap, and I was half way through check in before I realised it was in Dollars not Quetzals. 55 pounds for the night was steep, but I decided to stay put and enjoy my historic surroundings, hot shower and Cable TV.
In the morning, following a restorative sleep and much needed re-pack, I set out to find the cashpoint and the chicken bus terminal. I took my time, taking photos and enjoying my morning. But I soon wished I hadn´t, when it emerged my 12ish departure meant I´d missed all the direct buses to Panajachel, from where I could catch a bus to Xela. On further investigation in the BGB, it turned out that my journey would (once again) take longer than planned. I got off chicken bus #1 in Chimaltenango, and together with a pair of Canadians, we found our way on to bus #2, bound for Panajachel. Chicken bus #2 tore along a narrow mountain highway, the steep drops unfortunately on my side of the bus. It sped through rain that must have reduced visibility by at least half. It was quite exhilarating - my ears popped as we ascended and descended, and mountains and whole towns disappeared and reappeared between clouds. 3 hours later we arrived in Panajachel - too late for the last connecting bus to Quetzaltenango (Xela). I was worried that I would have to stay overnight there, which I expect would go down like a sack of... well it wouldn´t please my hosts, but luckily I found a shuttle that would take me to my host familys door for just US$20.