Monday, April 14, 2014

Guatemala outside the ruins

Yes, we found this on the road in Guatemala...
Leaving Tikal is not just packing up the tent and riding away. It involves showing your tickets at several checkpoints to show them you have really paid for everything, while everyone staying on the campground had already been checked the night before by two guards… They really are paranoid here about missing out on 'their' money… Every check point is fully armed too! Scary business.  

Washing the baby is a family affair...
Before we left Mike and Jeanette wanted to have a look at the crocodiles in a lake nearby. I was pretty sure they'd be alligators instead of the real thing anyway. They were. As we rode towards the lake, we were immediately followed by the Guatemalan army checking up on what we were doing… Imagine a pickup truck with fully tooled up soldiers going around in a National Park which contains nothing much more than ruins… and then find them following you to a lake with alligators! Why is it necessary to have an army presence in a National Park? Everyone who works here is already fully armed! If one of them accidentally fires his gun we're going to have World War 3!

After passing all the checkpoints we slowly made our way south. Slowly as the road is a accumulation of potholes and the highest topes we have seen yet. Outside the park we saw normal Guatemalan life, women washing clothes by hand in streams and lakes, people living in flimsy huts made from trees they had most likely chopped down themselves and covered with palm leaves. The simple sheet of glass hasn't been invented here yet, a window is simply a hole in the wall. Some of those huts are shops and a little sturdier built, to close them properly at night there is a collection of sturdy wooden planks that, one by one, slide in a slot to cover the front. No doors, no hinges. It's poverty in its purest form I suppose. The only luxury some of these people have is a little motorcycle, which they use to carry everything. In the bigger towns people go to work on the same machines. Where the 'western' world has car parks full of cars, here there are hundreds of little motorcycles parked outside the factories and shops. People that can't afford a motorcycle get driven to work in little three wheel taxis.

The Guatemalan military, following us all the way to a lake full of alligators and then just standing there for minutes looking at us... while we were wondering why...
El Remate was buzzing with action as all the stalls for the upcoming week of Easter celebrations was coming up. Here again money was tight. A big company selling, what they call 'Super Cola' plastered the town in banners, billboards and stands. 'Super Cola' only provided the sheets they have to use as roofs (with of course 'Super Cola' on it everywhere), they didn't supply the frames where they'd have to be fitted to. These had to be made by the local people, by hand… All they have is a machete and thus young trees were being cut down to use as a frame. Fixing it all meant making holes in the rocky ground by using a pick and shovel.

Wash day, no washing machine for this woman
Women in traditional dress walked the streets carrying their wares in big baskets on their heads, selling what they can. Beautiful dresses and all hand made. It made me suddenly realise how different we were to them. Having just bought my cheap cargo pants at WalMart, while they have to work for about a month to make a dress by hand. 
The little motorcycles make overtime and carry impossible loads like 2 persons plus a big wooden crate full of tomatoes, or 4 people plus a collection of bags hanging from every hand. We met the tourist information guy again too. He asked how we liked Tikal, when Jeanette told him the prices were much higher than he had said and that she wasn't impressed that foreigners have to pay 5 times what Guatemalans have to pay, he said 'you foreigners have plenty of money anyway…' (!)

We had lunch at this traditional Guatemalan restaurant
Mexico has quite a few old vehicles, vehicles that would not be allowed on the road in the US. In Guatemala there are vehicles that wouldn't be allowed on the road in Mexico… Battered old heaps of junk without lights, doors closed with fencing wire, no glass, parts of the bodywork missing, bend an buckled in every direction and doors that have half rusted away. It's hard to imagine how much of a car can be missing, broken and bend before it actually stops! On the other end of the scale are the few that are rich and have modern and quite expensive cars. The so called gap between rich and poor here is more like a crater than a gap.

We visited Isla de Flores, which is quite nice and has a few lovely buildings and old style streets. It's a bit like Campeche but on an island and a lot smaller. Having had a traditional Guatemalan meal the day before, we thought it was time for a Burger King. It tasted better than traditional Guatemalan food... We had been warned about the poor quality of food in Guatemala and I'm sorry to say that so far the 'warners' were right! 
Riding south we were slowly getting more and more into mountainous landscapes covered with dense tropical forests. The roads were slowly getting more and more winding as well. Things were looking up! Even the grim faces made way for the occasional smiling Guatemalan…
The day ended with a good campground as well… good by international standards even. Finca Ixobel, just outside Poptun, has cabins and a good shady campground. The restrooms have doors that lock, toilet paper and showers that produce warmish water. There is a covered area with electricity and light and a good restaurant with wifi. 

Repelling mosquitos, Guatemalan style… seconds later the tent in front disappeared in the haze too...
We are now clearly in the tropics and well into the Dengue fever and Malaria zones. In the afternoon they sprayed several buildings against mosquitos as they are the carriers of the virus. Every building was filled with toxic gas under high pressure, see photos. Bizarre. The surrounding trees were not sprayed, as if mosquitos don't live in the trees, but the kitchen of the local restaurant was… we had planned to look for something to eat there but backed out of that plan after I had seen the whole kitchen literally going up in smoke!