Off to Guatemala (again)
There's a reason it seems, why we don’t make plans on this trip. I remember how our old vacations used to emerge. Me doing hours of research, outlining the best options to jen, us choosing a destination and timeline together (usually 10 days) and then me booking every day’s itinerary, complete with downtime. The unfortunate downside of being a seasoned business traveller, always have a plan to avoid the unpleasant event of the unknown.
These days things are different, much different. We are painfully aware that we don’t have control and therefore rarely make decisions more than a day ahead of time. Usually we wake up and discuss whether to stay or go from whatever place we’ve nested into for the night. Several days ago we had decided a day early to head for Guatemala and the bus (or the universe at large depending on your stance) decided we needed more time along the beach in Hopkins. Since we were there we kept looking into a trip to the cayes, picturing endless days of sun and snorkeling on the reef just offshore. We contacted every resort/hotel/hostel with properties on the cayes and finally had arrangements to take the dog.
Sunday departure seemed to align perfectly with the completion of our mechanical work but the storms that had been at most a daily occurrence of building wind gusts and downpours were now happening throughout each day. Sometimes every hour these storms are now clamoring overhead and instead of the clearing skies unveiling blue and sunshine they now barely lighten the shade of grey before the next. At night we sleep until the thick stuffiness of the still night air is too much for us (or when karmas panting inches over our face tells us its time) and open up the cargo doors and safaris windows for ventilation. Good sleep at last. But several times throughout the night we bolt awake as the gusts blow our screen inside the van and the torrential downpour dumps buckets of rain onto the bus. We scramble over each other, eyes still trying to focus to our surrounding to see if we can shut the openings before the water pours inside. We towel off, try to lower our heartrate from the rude awakening and return to sleep until the panting returns... not our best nights’ sleep.
Each night the storms get worse, and last night (while watching some more garifuna drumming/dancing and then sitting in a restaurant/living room of a local eating from the pot she’s already prepared and watching a lifetime movie network drama with the family) our brains slowly realize that these passing storms must be both more common and more powerful 30miles out to sea. We have decided to give up on our current plan/dream of making it to the cayes. Even if we are willing to pay the money to hunker down in a cabin and grab snorkels in between storms, chances are that the waters surrounding the caye are so disturbed that we would have bad visibility for our troubles. No thank you. Just like years ago on our honeymoon the storms have won again. The cayes remain an elusive destination for us...but we will be back again to try and outsmart nature. For now our plans are changed for us and we drive away from Hopkins as soon as there's a break in the wall of rain.
Belize’s hummingbird highway was beautiful as it had been described, but we only got to see the hilly rainforest surrounding us in between breaks in the rain. Likely one of the drives where things are easier with windsheild wipers, but we continue to be the world’s biggest fans of rain-x and are more concerned about sopping up the water running in through the safaris than anything else. As we reach Belmopan our level of tired is only outweighed by our level of hunger. We pull into the public market to get a takeaway meal and are pleasantly surprised as we devour the rice, beans and stew pork. One of our best meals in Belize and by far one of the cheapest. The border crossing is smooth but painfully slow and we pull up to the Tikal park gate after sunset. We don’t have a ton of interest in the ruins but understand that a few rally teams we haven’t seen since the closing ceremonies will be there and its as good a place to sleep as any. Sadly, as the guard tells us to look out for jaguars on the road he also points to the sign stating “no mascotas”. Pets, it seems, aren’t allowed in the park...and we now also know that includes really well behaved dogs that promise to stay in the vehicle overnight. “No exceptions”.
Another slight change in plans, we pull a u-turn and drive back to the last spot that might have had sleeping options. The roads are well paved and even have reflectors marking well the center and edges but what they don’t highlight is the groups of locals, horses, dogs and pigs that all choose to walk down the center of the highway en route to wherever they are going. I hover over the steering wheel with eyes pressed almost to the glass trying to make it as quickly as possible to a spot for dinner/sleep but able to focus only on not taking out the next animal woman or child appearing last second in our (admittedly) weak headlights.
As we pull into town and are looking for hostel/camping signs and debating simply pulling to the side of the road, we hear a loud whistle and see Gaila running out of a restaurant. We pull over laughing at the luck, join them for dinner and then get back to the work of foraging for sleeping quarters. Its odd knowing other travelers on this type of journey. Awesome having others to bump into and share a meal over stories and updates, and it seems you are almost certain to see them every few days as long as you maintain similar courses...a good thing we actually like the others we’ve met so far. It’s also somehow almost disarming or unnatural. Odd to pull into a foreign country you’ve never been before, and a small town well off the highway only to hear your name called as you drive through. Recently this seems to happen a lot and catches us by surprise each time.
We pull off a side street and find one of many hostel/campgrounds that have opened to accommodate the busloads of tourists that pour across the borders to visit the park and are asleep as quickly as we can setup camp.