South by West- camping from Alaska to Nicaragua

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

15- Land of robbers

Guatemala City; Banana republic; Billboards and Traffic gridlock; Hydro pole crash; New Campground ; Tree house robbery; Highway robbery; Scared police; RV circus
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First impressions of driving through Guatemala City were traffic gridlock and chaotic, shabby streets, saturated with billboards. There were so many billboards that it was sometimes difficult to see traffic lights. McDonald and Pepsi Cola signs were the biggest and highest, always rising above the others. The city had a US flavor. No wonder, the country was the Banana Republic of the United Fruit Co. that controlled, corrupted and exploited it.

...This is Guatemala City, not a street in the US...

...This is Guatemala City, not a street in the US...

There was no bypass of the city and we got lost, driving through downtown teeming with people, old cars, buses and street stands. Stores had storefronts enclosed with steel bars and goods were sold through a small wicket. Bus drivers completely ignored street lights or stop signs, driving through red lights and blocking intersections with the traffic cops looking on.

...Traffic grid in Guatemala City: buses blocking the intersection...

...Traffic grid in Guatemala City: buses blocking the intersection...

Following confusing street signs I was suddenly driving on an empty street. But it was a short-lived relieve, I was in one way street heading the wrong way. Fortunately I didn't go too far and decided to back out. My passenger was having a fit but if bus drivers can run red lights, I could back out few hundred feet. Then there was a crash and we came to a dead stop. I backed into a concrete hydro pole! It made quite a bit of noise because people came out of houses to see what happen. The post was still standing with some scratches on it so I took evasive actions and retreated.

The weather was not very pleasant, it was hot and humid with continuous showers. We decided to skip a side trip to Honduras to see Copán pyramids and go to Tikal. Campgrounds are scarce in Guatemala and we followed a tip from a Quebec camper to go to Mariscos on the Lago de Izabal.

We found the village but the campground required some imagination. Three empty house lots on the beach with an outhouse would describe it. "Si, we have electricidad" said Señor Gouge, the owner, pointing at two bare wires strung up from his house to a palm tree, with a bulb hanging in the middle. There were no sockets or outlets.

...Senor Gouge's campground after heavy rain...

...Senor Gouge's campground after heavy rain...

It rained heavily and we stayed for three days. We were running out of supplies and there was just a small store in the village. Señor Gouge sold us fish, eggs and few other items gouging us with prices higher than in Canada.

However the next campground at Finca Ixobel near Poptun made up for it. It was a sort of hostel / campground / cabins / tree houses / hammocks stopping place on the way to Tikal. We met people from over the world, one could go horseback riding, caving, water rafting or bird watching. They also served meals and beer, you marked what you consumed in the logbook on honor system and paid when you left.

...Hammock house in Finca Ixobel...

...Hammock house in Finca Ixobel...

This area was also known for highway robberies of tourist buses heading to Tikal. But don't worry, it was a thing of the past, it does not happen any more, we were told.
It does not happen eh? I was sitting beside our camper in the evening and there was a sound of broken glass, somewhere close, like emptying a pail of beer bottles on the ground. I was going to see who is dumping bottles, but it was close to supper time and Sue was waiting for me in the mess so luckily I didn't bother.

...you don't need an umbrella when it rains in Ixobel, just grab a leaf...

...you don't need an umbrella when it rains in Ixobel, just grab a leaf...

Next morning we found out that somebody broke into a tree house where Mike, the birdwatcher from Toronto, was staying. The robbers were brazen and clumsy. They broke a small window, climbed inside and pushed their loot out through the same window. They could have unlocked the door from inside, and walk out instead of climbing out of the window again and getting cut by the glass. The loot was poor. A duffel bag mostly filled with dirty laundry, medicine pills and bird watching books. They missed expensive binoculars and few other things. There was blood on the stairs. As the robbers were running away, they were checking the bag and discarding dirty laundry. It was possible to follow their trail way out into the jungle.

...I was in the hammock beside our camper when robbers were breaking into Mike's tree house...

...I was in the hammock beside our camper when robbers were breaking into Mike's tree house...

It was a simple case of B&E and the local police was called in. Simple case? The police zoomed on filling papers and gave Mike hard time because he couldn't recall mother's maiden name. It was quite possible they knew who the robbers were but it was too dangerous for the local police to get involved.
Since the victim was a turista, the crime police from the Capital Flores was called in to investigate. Unfortunately there was a murder in Flores and the police could not come right away. Mike could not wait, his plane was due, and so the crime went unsolved. Birdwatching could be a dangerous hobby! At least the campground was safe now, patrolled by a man with shotgun.

But not all robberies end up like that. Take the case of a Spanish student last week. He was standing at the bus stop on the highway when a man popped out from the jungle. He was holding a machete in his hand and demanded money. The student got the wallet out of his back pocket and handed it over. The bandito took the money, then passed his hand over the other pocket and felt something inside .

...this horse has only two gears: slow  and fast forward...

...this horse has only two gears: slow and fast forward...

He stretched out his hand. "Give it to me!" he demanded. So the student gave him his hotel key and a bag of marijuana. The bandito grabbed it and started to walk away. The student regained his composure and yelled at him.
"The key is for my hotel, can I have it back?" The bandito threw him the key.

Seizing the opportunity, the student then asked for the bag. "It is only marijuana, can I have it back? It is hard to get". The bandito opened the bag, took half of the pot out, threw the bag to the student, never bothering about the expensive camera or rucksack. Then he disappeared in the jungle. Now where would you find a robber sharing the loot with the victim?

...the RV circus arrived to Finca Ixobel...

...the RV circus arrived to Finca Ixobel...

Next morning's tranquility was shattered by the sound of many vehicles. The RV circus, pardon me, the RV caravan arrived. I put on my Molson "I am Canadian" T-shirt and went to investigate. They blocked the road, parked on the grass, some walking their dogs, some heading for coffee, some for the Internet. Suddenly a woman came to me, all excited. "You are from Canada! We are from Saskatchewan and there is another camper from Ontario!"

I gave her a cold shoulder. Meeting another Canadian while traveling with a US caravan in Guatemala is exciting? "There are many Canadians here and one was even robbed yesterday," I told her. That cool her down a bit. They were not staying anyway, they had a tight schedule. So few hours later engines roared again and the caravan was departing. The "tail gunner" was the camper from Ontario. The woman waved at me. I was still cheesed off by their unannounced arrival and disruption of tranquility. So I lifted my hand and gave her Trudeau finger for good bye. The tranquility then returned to Finca Ixobel.

...Balancing act with a full pitcher over a rough ground-women walk...

...Balancing act with a full pitcher over a rough ground-women walk...

...but men ride bicycles...

...but men ride bicycles...

© Jerry Bazant, 2009
You are here : Overview The Americas Guatemala 15- Land of robbers
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.
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