Surviving the Wacky End of the World

Published: November 6th 2016
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Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Guatemala to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, Dec 2012

...and somewhere in between for a night's stay

I kept getting conflicting information regarding the departure time for the last afternoon bus. 2pm. 2:30pm. 3pm. Depending with whom I spoke, it would take either 1, 2 or 3 hours to get to my destination for the night. Different people also told me the bus was green. It’s blue. It’s yellow. Everyone seemed to be quite certain of his/her color and time choice, but it was becoming quite clear I was just going to have to figure it all out on my own. The important thing, at least, is that I knew where to wait for the transport. At least I hoped I did.

Regardless of the color, the time and any other conflicting detail of said bus, by midmorning the following day I should be on my way to the border, sadly saying farewell to Guatemala after 10 weeks, as I head back to Mexico once again.

During lunch, I talked for 15 minutes with the proprietor of the eatery, all in Spanish, as he had approached me full of questions. I was, naturally, quite surprised I understood most of the conversation. The owner told me he studied and worked in the states for 8, 9, or 12 years – he kept confusing me – although he said he only knows numbers, colors, animals. “Little things,” he said. These were the only two words he spoke in English during our entire conversation.

After lunch I grabbed my backpack and sat in the hot sun on the steps of a tienda on the side of the road where the bus was supposed to stop. The lady running the shop told me the bus should arrive (or was that depart?) at 2pm. At 2:45 I was still there, still waiting, when a local guy came up and sat near me on the steps. “You American?” he asked me in English. I nodded, shocked. “You speak English?” he tried again. Wow, uh, I…I think so. I had to find my voice, as it had already been a week since I had even heard that much English being spoken. I seemed to have forgotten how to speak my mother tongue.

The bus arrived exactly at 3pm, exactly one hour late, and exactly eight minutes later we departed. It apparently takes FOUR people to run one bus route: the driver, the horn puller (yup, there was one guy who’s sole job was to pull the chain to sound the horn), the luggage and door guy, and the money collector. The road was dusty and gravely, the views down the valley strikingly beautiful. There were three people to every seat and a number of people on the overloaded chicken bus were standing in the aisles.

A couple hours later I needed to change buses. I snagged the front seat of the minibus and because I was the only foreigner around, a guy named Antonio, sitting in the back seat, struck up a conversation with me in English. He said he had been to San Francisco “for 20 days.” Since his English was passable, I asked about hospedajes in the next town only to have him say I can stay “if you trust me” at the house where he boards, a family’s home where he had been staying and working for the past two months. The man who owns the house runs a bakery and Antonio works there making bread. I took him up on his offer of staying without so much as a second thought. He understood the need for me to save money, especially since it was my last night in the country.

The kid in the micro (the one who collects the fare from the passengers) said 2-3 weeks before there had been another female foreigner traveling solo that had come through town and ridden in this very bus. As I figured, there sure aren’t many foreigners passing through this way, at least not independently and taking local transport.

A 5-minute uphill walk from where the bus dropped us off and we were at Panaderia Diana, the bakery with the wood fire bread oven, the place where my new friend Antonio works, and where I would be staying the night.

My accommodation gratis turned out to be in the kitchen of a mud adobe brick building, located behind the bakery. I would be sleeping on the hard-packed dirt floor directly underneath hundreds of hanging ears of drying corn. A wood burning stove was in the far corner and at least the room was partially closed to the elements and fairly warm. Upon coming back from dinner with Antonio, a reed mat and blanket had been put down along with a doubly thick warm blanket to sleep under. It was perfect and far more than I ever thought possible or could have asked for under the circumstances.

When Antonio and I had gone for food he showed me where I could get the microbus in the morning. I offered to buy him dinner for all his kindness but he said he would rather have a beer. He was happy with a 5Q bottled beer from a nearby shop, about 60 cents.

Antonio and I walked back up the hilly streets to the bakery where he and his buddy then ate dinner while I drank coffee, real coffee, grown on the grounds amongst the jungle of trees and other plants in the front “yard.” The house sat back from the dirt road behind this tangle of greenery and lush vegetation. I spoke with the two bread makers, the owner and the wife of the other bread maker. I was glad to have met this kind and generous family. I had a good, if unpredictable, last full day in Guatemala, a decent last supper and even met three people in one day who spoke English.

The next day would be Dec 21, 2012, Baktun trece (13 Baktun), THE big Mayan day. This day signifies the end of the last cycle of the Mayan calendar that some westerners have misinterpreted, proclaiming it signifies “the end of the world.” I could only hope, at least, this information was mistaken. Sadly, it actually didn’t seem to be a major celebration of a day, at least not in the region of Guatemala where I currently had been staying. I had just wanted to be near some Maya descendents in Mayan country on the day of the changing of the Mayan calendar but realized I was in the wrong part of the country for that.

It was 8pm when everyone dispersed and I was left alone in the kitchen.

With nothing left to do, I turned off my head torch within the hour.

12/21/12 Friday, Baktun trece

No question, it was difficult to sleep, given the incessantly barking dogs, crowing roosters, rats chewing all night on the corn kernels by my head and fireworks going off at random hours of the night, not to mention the old man in the next room who fell asleep with his light on and didn’t turn it off until after 3:30 in the morning. There was no door between the kitchen and his room so the light streamed directly into my face. But, despite all this, I was just grateful for the free floor space and the ultra-thick comfy blanket, certainly by far the coziest and warmest I had slept under in this country.

There was no toilet paper in the bathroom so the sink without a drainpipe was filled with newspapers and a concrete bowl acting as a trash receptacle had much evidence of the newspapers being used to wipe.

Once awake, and with some time to spare I went outside to help with the coffee bean sorting. In the sunshine, the old man had laid out the beans to dry on the concrete slabs. Unfortunately, I helped only five minutes picking out some bad coffee beans, as well as separating those with the skins still on, when I was invited inside (“pronto!”) for fresh coffee and one of the tasty sweet breads the family makes.

I thanked my host and was soon walking through the front yard of the owner’s house, a jungle of banana palms, beans hanging from the vines, coffee and citrus trees, until I reached the maze of streets leading me away from the bakery and on towards the bus stand. As it turned out, there were no direct buses at that hour so it took three different micros to get to the border. The journey took two hours in total.

I crossed the Guatemala border on foot and just out from the small border town, a small car stopped across from where I was walking and the driver asked if I needed a lift. The driver was a nice man and took me directly to the Mexican immigration office without charging me for the ride.

Once out of the immigration office, I continued my quest, heading north in the direction of San Cristobal and hoping for a ride. When a Toyota extra cab stopped and a nice older couple offered me a lift, I jumped in. They were going as far as Comitan; from there, thankfully, I knew how to get a colectivo the rest of the way. It wasn’t long before conversation came to an abrupt halt when they realized the person they had picked up had limited knowledge of the Spanish language. This didn’t, however, deter them from sharing with me little bags of candied nuts and occasionally turning around giving me the thumbs up sign to make sure all was okay in the back seat.

The nice couple dropped me off on the outskirts of Comitan, wished me Merry Christmas and waved goodbye. Soon I was on my way back to San Cristobal, as if I had never left.

I spent a total of 8.25 hours on the road and US $7.00 for the six transports I took today.

Shortly before arriving to San Cristobal, I marveled at a bright rainbow out the front window. It was close and low; I could see both ends and its full low arc. Even the driver seemed impressed.

I was shown to a private room when I arrived back to the same hospedaje in which I had stayed two and a half months prior. I stayed there for two weeks.

After six months in Mexico and 10 weeks in Guatemala I was back again and ready for some R&R.

The year ended with me finding a cell phone and 5000 Mexican Pesos stuffed in the case. I tried for over a week to find the owner, to no avail. In the end, the few people I mentioned it to all told me to keep it, it was my luck and just enjoy. So I did. I spent six weeks in the Yucatan and not once had to dig into my own savings account.

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Table MatesTable Mates
Table Mates

Adorable kitty and puppy belonging to my guesthouse
My new roomMy new room
My new room

in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

24th December 2016

Mountains, rats and corn
Hi Suzi..........another sojourn with you is much fun! No one can resist your electric personality!.....2016, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Fondly, Dolores
25th December 2016

And back atcha!
Thank you, Dolores, and a Merry Christmas to you as well. Have a safe and wonderful holiday season. More stories coming in the new year - brace yourself! :-)

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