South by West- camping from Alaska to Nicaragua

Travel time: January 2003 - January 2008  |  by Jerry Bazant

14- Guatemala ain't tourist paradise

Lost again; Spanish school; police escort; Good Samaritan thief;campground security; thermal pool; Do not get lost!  Museum thief; Bigamist guard;
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We were completely lost, driving on a steep, curvy highway, heading for Antigua. Many intersections didn't have road signs and town's names were not posted. After passing through several nameless towns and villages we came to a bigger town. At an intersection I took a left turn and few blocks farther the cobblestone street was blocked with two posts to prevent trucks driving through.
Damn it, there were cars behind us, I could not turn around. I managed to squeeze between the posts with a hair clearance on each side of the camper. Then we came to a town square with a beautiful yellow church. I saw the picture yesterday in the "Lonely Planet". It was the La Merced church in Antigua, we made it!

...Senora de La Merced church was completed in 1717, destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt three times since...

...Senora de La Merced church was completed in 1717, destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt three times since...

One man was siting on a bench and I asked him about a hotel that was supposed to have a campground. He gave me directions and then said in English:
"You should improve your Spanish. There is a Spanish language school around the corner. It is a good school, I am teaching there. You should go there"

..."you should improve your Spanish, the language school is around the corner"...

..."you should improve your Spanish, the language school is around the corner"...

Well, first we had to find the hotel. It was not that easy because some streets didn't have name signs. I parked the truck and went searching on foot. When I came back a police pick up truck with four cops armed with shotguns was beside our truck. What happened? "No parking here!" the policeman told me. Oh shit! I hadn't noticed that the sidewalk curb was painted yellow, which means "No parking zone".
"Estoy perdido- I am lost". I excused myself and told the cop that we were looking for the hotel. "Estas perdido? Follow me" he said. They got into the truck and turned on the flashing lights and the siren. We went through a red light, wrong way in a one way street, like an escorted VIP, all the way to the hotel with the campground. Wow, I was ready to pay a mordida - bribe and instead were treated like a royalty!

...We had a VIP police escort through this Arco de Santa Catarina...

...We had a VIP police escort through this Arco de Santa Catarina...

Next day I went to the Spanish language school and got a deal: One week of Spanish, one on one, for $ 50. But first we had to find a better campground, last night turned out to be a hotel parking lot.
Somebody told us that there is one in San Antonio Aqua Caliente, near Antigua. Big mistake. We went there and got stuck downtown in a crowded street market. As I was trying to back out, an old man showed up in front of our truck, yelling at people to get out of my way and helping me to turn around.

No, there was no campground here, but he knew a big house with a fenced yard where we could stay. So he got into the cab and directed me to the house. No luck, we couldn't stay there, the owners were in the States, said the maid. We were taking this Good Samaritan back to town when he started to ask, quite aggressively, for money. Sue gave him 5 quetzals, about a dollar, and we dropped him off. Later she was looking for the cell phone. It was gone! The Good Samaritan fished it out from the door pocket!

...Parque Central street jam - too many street sellers and not enough tourists...

...Parque Central street jam - too many street sellers and not enough tourists...

We found a campground in Amatitlan, about 50 km from Antigua. We took the camper off the truck and next morning were going to Antigua for my Spanish lessons. Somehow we missed the turnoff and judging by increasing traffic were heading to Guatemala City. Then I saw a police car parked by the road. Good time to practice Spanish.
"Estoy perdido" I told the policeman. "Estas Perdido? Muy peligroso" answered the cop, pointing the index finger to his head and pulling the trigger with the middle finger. I got it, it is very dangerous to get lost here. They were going to escort us to Antigua but 15 km later they turned on flashing lights and pulled us over. The police car was low on gas. "Follow this road and don't get lost" joked the cop, pointing the finger to his head and pulling the trigger.

...traffic jam near Antigua. Don't get lost on the highway...

...traffic jam near Antigua. Don't get lost on the highway...

Carmen, my teacher, told me that my Spanish was good, that I just needed more practice. After grammar in the morning we just talked and I got some insight about life in Guatemala. She was an unemployed teacher with two young kids and they were all living with her parents because the husband left her for a younger woman.
The only income they had was what she made in the school which was not much. They were living from week to week scratching money for food and rent. I had a cassette recorder so I offered her $50 if she could make me a talking book. She taped at nights Robinson Crusoe book. Listening to the tape I could hear dogs barking, people singing and arguing, kids laughing, it was like she was telling me the story on a noisy street.

...Carmen, my Spanish teacher...

...Carmen, my Spanish teacher...

Going back to Amatitlan was easy, mostly downhill. We didn't have to worry about getting stuck behind overloaded, smoke belching, crawling trucks on curvy road. In fact I got quite good at passing them, Mexican style, taking chances that no car will come out from a curve. Unfortunately my passenger did not appreciate my Mexican driving skills and would be squirming in her seat.

...getting stuck in a long line of trucks is annoying...

...getting stuck in a long line of trucks is annoying...

...especially behind overloaded, smoke belching, crawling truck...

...especially behind overloaded, smoke belching, crawling truck...

Near the Spanish school was a Museum of Textile and one day Sue decided to go there. She had to leave her knapsack at the cashier. After the visit she picked up her knapsack and on the way out checked the pockets. The two-way radio was missing! She went back to the cashier and demanded the radio. The cashier denied taking it.
"When I gave you the knapsack the radio was in it, I want it back!" demanded Sue in Spanish, language she could manage thanks to her early French background. After five minutes of arguing Sue got mad and stamped out. Instead of turning right, she turned left and promptly got lost in Antigua.

...Palacio de los Capitanes. UNESCO declared Antigua a World Heritage Site

...Palacio de los Capitanes. UNESCO declared Antigua a World Heritage Site

I kept calling her from the school and there was no answer. "Maybe she found a boyfriend" my teacher was joking. But after being late for more then an hour, it was not a joke anymore. Should we call the police? Then Sue showed up fuming.

"Stealing like this is very bad for us" said the school owner "We all depend on tourists. Let's go to the museum to sort it out" So the owner, my teacher, Sue and I were walking to the museum. A police car driving by, was flagged down and all of us were going to confront the culprit. But at the cashier was a man, the thief had gone home. After some fast conversation the policeman turned to Sue and asked for the Cashier ticket. She threw it out when she left the museum!

"Sorry, we can't help you. You should make a complain with the Tourist Police at the Information Centre". Forget it, we are not going to spend hours chasing thirty dollar radio.

...Ornamental Palacio de Auntamientos built in 1743 is Antigua's Town Hall and museum...

...Ornamental Palacio de Auntamientos built in 1743 is Antigua's Town Hall and museum...

One evening we were playing Scrabble in the camper. It was very windy and suddenly the camper started to shake and sway for maybe 30 seconds. First I thought we were hit by a tornado, shaking was so violent. There was a rumble sound, like a train going by. Shit! It was an earthquake!!  And later another one.  Next day the newspaper reported 5.7 Richter scale earthquake.

Would you like to feel 5.7 earthquake? Here is the recipe:  Find a big old rickety table [if you cannot borrow a camper], get a 3 liter pot, fill it with water up to a 3" from the top. Sit on the table and ask few friends to shake it hard for 30 seconds. If the water spills out, you had 5.7 scale earthquake.  

...the bald spot on the hill is Cerro de la Cruz, a viewpoint famous for mugging tourists. Foreground is cathedral destroyed by another earthquake...

...the bald spot on the hill is Cerro de la Cruz, a viewpoint famous for mugging tourists. Foreground is cathedral destroyed by another earthquake...

The campground we were staying in had a big swimming pool filled with thermal water, canteen, big picnic area and children playground. Security guards in uniforms, armed with shotguns patrolled the grounds round the clock. There were four people working full time. There was only one camper - us!

Early every morning the pool was filled with thermal water. Then they brought a fire pump and started to water the grounds from the pool. When we came back from Antigua late in the afternoon, the pool was half empty. I complained to the guard but he shrugged his shoulder. Then he said "In the mountains where I live is a very nice thermal pool. I could take you there on the weekend and show you around."

...he is bad, very bad man, he has two wives...

...he is bad, very bad man, he has two wives...

Why not? His bus stop was near our school so I asked him to see my teacher. She talked with him and told me that he was OK. We arranged that I will pick him up on Saturday morning near the Spanish school. I told the security guard on the next shift about our trip and he shook his head. "That man, Parisio is bad, very bad. He got two wives". "Is he dangerous?"I asked. "Yes, he is, he got two wives" the guard replied gravely. Well, bigamist is not an axe murderer. We will take the chance.

...Parisio's hot spring that gave us such a scare...

...Parisio's hot spring that gave us such a scare...

As agreed, Parisio was waiting for us with a very pretty woman. No, it was not his wife, it was his sister going to the market. We took the highway out of Antigua, then a dirt road heading up into the mountains and then Parisio directed me into a narrow, dusty, one truck wide road. There was no sign of any traffic or habitation. Hot spring way up in the mountain in middle of nowhere? I was starting to get worried. Parisio said the trip would take half an hour and that was long time ago.

"I don't like it" I told Sue."If there is a place to turn, I will go back". We were all quiet and there was tension in the cab. I watched Parisio in the rear-view mirror and didn't like the way he was looking around. Suddenly the road stopped climbing and around the corner was a spot wide enough to turn around. As I started to turn, I saw few buildings and parked cars. Son of a gun, it was the hot spring! Sorry Parisio.
Water in the pool was hot but we were too wound up to go for a dip.

...Parisio with a wife [mine]...

...Parisio with a wife [mine]...

...crossing the road or waiting for bus could be detrimental to your life...

...crossing the road or waiting for bus could be detrimental to your life...

...women carry the wood and men carry machetes...

...women carry the wood and men carry machetes...

© Jerry Bazant, 2009
You are here : Overview The Americas Guatemala 14- Guatemala ain't tourist paradise
The trip
 
Description:
This journey in our pick up truck camper took us West from Ontario to British Columbia and Alaska, then South to Nicaragua. Later we trailered a sailboat and cruised the coast of BC, Alaska and Sea of Cortez in Mexico.
Details:
Start of journey: January 2003
Duration: 5 years
End of journey: January 2008
Travelled countries: United States
Mexico
Guatemala
Belize
The Author
 
Jerry Bazant is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 12 years.
Picture of author