Archive for February, 2013
From Tilapa I get going quickly driving past countless sugar cane fields and one giant refinery, which is billowing smoke and smells of caramel, as I head away from the coast towards a village which has been recommended by a few people in the mountains.
On the way I see a delightful scene of four guys hacking to bits with machetes a cow which has been hit and killed by something on the road, followed imediately by a lad who can only have been about 10 years old trying to run down the road with one of its legs over his shoulders. No chance of any horse meat in that then!
I even manage to bump us across a landslide which has part blocked the road without incident.
Thankfully (and somewhat miraculously given the behaviour of other road users!) I arrive at Panajachel well before sunset and get settled into a cheap place very close to the Lake. I make use of my mosquito net for the first time because I am sure this place will be rife with them after dark and then go into town to check out this popular stop on the traveller circuit.
We get chatting after I explain my sister is currently working in Finland and I spend the rest of the evening getting the lowdown on things to do in the area and Guatemala in general because Taru has been here a few weeks already.
It isn’t a late night because I feel like I have been running on empty for a few days so head back to my room and the sanctuary of my mosquito net.
First lets talk about the roads. I never thought I would say this but Mexico seems like paradse in comparison. The concession to road safety here is to paint the trees that encroach the road white so you might see them in the dark.
The drivers are absolutely crazy, After one day of driving I have lost count of how many chicken runs I have had already as a result of lorries overtaking on blind bends! I had to drive in the dark upon arrival, but never again.
The tallest person I have seen can be 5’7″ at best. I really am a giant here in comparison.
However everybody seeems friendly enough and most people I interact with are keen to warn me about possible problems, thieves, etc. You still get bled for a bit more money than the locals on most things but by western standards that is still dirt cheap.
After my Mexican experience I was keen to get in the water as soon as possible upon crossing the border so the first thing I did this morning was drive to Tilapa on the Pacific coast passing loads of plantations on my way to the coastal fishing town.
My boat captain got me to the beach quickly and promised to pick me up again in a couple of hours. He drops me off pointing at a path to the shore, and I hold back payment to make sure he comes back.
In under five feet of walking on the sand which is like molten lava I run back to my stuff to stand on my board bag. I have actually burnt the underside of my feet! Great. I have to use my board bag as a sort of plank across stepping stones. Continually walking to one end and then spinning it around so I can walk further like something out of the Crystal Maze to get close to the damp sand..
I manage to get there and paddle out. I did have the Go Pro but was trying it facing fowards instead of towards me and didnt get anything worth publishing, so cant really show you what it was like. However what I thought was tiny turns out to be a four foot wave breaking really heavily and closing out all along the shore when it does. To spice things up further there is a powerful undertow dragging your legs out from under you towards the breaking waves. I battle through this nasty inside section and have a go.
I only manage three attempts at waves before being chased out by the sea which gave me a spanking. All of which entailed taking a very fast and vertical drop, then trying to turn (making only one!), the nose of the board jamming in the water, then getting absolutely hammered by the following wave. The undertow makes it really difficult to get back to your feet and I get rolled far more than is comfortable by the ocean. I ate quite a lot of sand during this process.
I did surf it though and am happy to have got off the mark early in Guatemala, so after more Crystal Maze manouevres back to the lagoon I meet my boat and am feeling quite pleased with myself for the journey back to the car.
The day started well in Mexico. I woke up early to find this bloke cleaning my car. He was clearly after a few pesos, but I didn’t mind paying him because he did such a good job and the L.G.S.M. really needed it.
However it went downhill from there. Getting to the border was hard enough.
After driving into one town I get completely lost there and the next town along too. It is boiling hot and my own temperature is rising by the minute as I scrape across each new bump. In the end I paid a taxi driver to drive to where I need to get to to get out, with me following him.
Eventually I get to the border and drive straight up to it because I was told at the USA/Mexico border that my temporary importation license of the car would be automatically refunded to my credit card upon leaving. However I am told that if I want the £1000 deposit I paid back, I must go back to the customs office which is not down the road or anything so sensible, but 30km away on the far side of the city I just got completely lost in! I reverse back over the security checkpoint and in the process of turning the car round wind blows through the car taking all my important car and visa documents out the open passenger window. There are then 20 locals and myself all running around like a Benny Hill sketch trying to catch everything in the wind. If it wasn’t so painful in the heat it would have been really funny.
I drive the 30km back thankfully without getting lost again, but by now I am so hot and bothered that I am steps away from ranting like a rabid man, so couldn’t care less when I get to the customs queue you see here and push right in at the front.
Safe to say that manouevre didnt go down very well with everybody else who had been queueing for an hour or more in the ridiculous heat, but I stood my ground with lots of ‘No Entiende’ and ‘I’m very sorry but I am from Her Britanic Majesty Quen Elizabeth II’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and I have no intention of queueing today because I need to cross the border.’ None of which was understood but helped give me the front to do it. I’m not popular but get my forms sorted out and then drive back to the border which was a bridge at a place called Talisman, stopping briefly to unload all my pesos in a shop a few kilometres beforehand.
I drive straight up to the border where the same official who sent me back previously thankfully waves me through, but only as far as emigration where I discover I needed the 300 pesos I just spent on water and some munch to get a stamp on some form or other! I dont have it so he waves me on wishing me luck with a smile. I cross the bridge into Guatemala where they want to see the emigration stamp which I couldn’t buy and they also want more cash to sort out imigration for me and a temporary importation permit for the car. They wont let me or the car in without it so I reverse back over the border for a second time to try and sort that out with the smug twat who is still smiling at me.
The whole time I am anywhere near either side of the border I am set upon by about a dozen ravenous hawkers eager to bleed whatever they can out of me which is driving me crazy. Eventually with one rather over-agressive reversing manouvre they leave me alone long enough to find a civilised black market money changer who takes $100 of my emergency US currency to supply me with enough to get through both sides and hopefully enough Quetzales for a bed for the night. Of course at a ridiculous rip off rate.
I sorted the Mexican side then spent hours doing the entry paperwork on the Guatemalan side, thankfully managing a few laughs with the official there. However I first got to the border at 2pm epxting to arrive at my intended destination well before dark, but didnt leave the Guatemalan side at the thrid time of asking until gone 8pm, by which time it is pitch black, I am tired, about to have a major sense of humour failure and sweating like a guilty man waiting to be sentenced.
I drive off into the night alomst immediately clattering over a huge unmarked speed bump in the darkness. To say I turned the air blue at this point is probably an understatement akin to saying that the sun is just down the road from earth.
I am really tired and have had enough of today so pull in to the first hotel I see. I haggle a reasonable rate for a room and take my stuff inside only to see it is again overburdened with mirrors and there are instruction on using a condom properly up on the wall. Lovely I have definitely picked another brothel! I had plenty of jabs before leaving the UK so think I am immune to everything, and am too tired to care so go to sleep once the air con and a couple of cold beers have cooled me down.
I have mixed feelings about my time in Mexico, a country which I underestimated in so many ways before arriving
Firstly I have to say the size of it, the long side I have driven down/around is at least twice as long as the Pacific coast of the mainland USA and the roads are nowhere near as good.
How I ever thought I would drive it in a short time period I will never know, but a valuable lesson has been learnt for the rest of the trip too.
Secondly the people who have only been fantastic with me. If I had listened to any of the great many nay-sayers from around the world telling me not to go into Mexico I would not have been rescued by women in pyjamas, been given free meals by several strangers, had an overhaul of my car for £15, or had a fuzzy night with vague recollections of salsa dancing, dry ice, buckets of beer and great company with complete strangers.
To the nay-sayers, don’t knock it until you have tried it, both the UK and the USA have far too many of their own citizens looting, stealing, doing drugs and killing one another to be looking down their noses at their Mexican cousins just because the same issues occur here. (Even if that might actually be the case due to the physical difference in height!) Based on the Mexican people alone I would certainly come back. The only nation that has gone down in my estimation while here, is Australia as a result of the couple leaving me stranded in the desert.
Other pluses have been my oustanding moustache disguise, Lisa’s birthday surf trip, no angry fish, stroking the nose of a newborn baby whale, the best backhand waves I have ever surfed, all the wildlife and having a laugh with so many people, both locals and foreignors.
However as with even the shortest surf trip to your local break it is always about the waves you catch, and in a country which boasts some of the all time legendary righthand point breaks I have distinctly blanked to catch any of them. There are many reasons for this:
- Driver error
- The weather – there really hasn’t been that much swell in the last few weeks, and when there has it has also been extremely windy
- The time of the year – most beaches are epic in the summer due to the storms in the South Pacific
- The pace at which I have been covering this huge country has meant must-see breaks have had to be dropped from the menu, or have just not been seen until it made no sense to turn around.
- I shouldn’t have dithered so much north of the border about crossing it, and allowed myself more time here.
Despite the good surf I have scored I have only added 4 waves to my tally whilst here for nearly three weeks, and have spent far too much time staring at a steering wheel (Lisa might argue otherwise!) with nowhere near enough at the ocean horizon.
Consequently I do feel a little short changed, so when I stop for a while in Guatemala I am going to have a rethink about how I go about things from here because I didn’t hang up my business suit for a year just to drive around the world. With my record with motor vehicles it isn’t a good idea.
I have already lost count of the number of times I have been offered a supply of recreational drugs, which tends to happen about 10 seconds after they relise I am not Mexican.
I am not interested in playing that game on this trip, because I am satisfying my real vice which is surfing, and I think getting in to trouble as a result of using or being in posession of it would be a really rubbish way to ruin a really great adventure.
However some of the interaction which happens around being offered it is very amusing and my favourite episode to date was a waiter at a beach cafe in Zihuatenejo who said (Try to read this in heavily accented Mexican English) “Would you like some snow for the trip to keep you awake?”
I nearly creased up laughing it was so corny.
Whilst in Acapulco I took an entire rucksack of smelly clothes down to the local launderette which I left with them to sort out.
The local lady who I will call Dot Cotton for convenience sake thought that Christmas had come early. I did too though because I got the whole lot washed, dried and ironed for about £6.
Or heading Eastward to be precise. I have done little more than drive all day again today but am past Salina Cruz ending it near the state border with Chiapas, and a few pesos lighter due to the toll roads.
I got completely lost in Purto Angel because a road sign at 45 degrees to the crossroad said all three directions other than the one I had just come from was one road! As a result I rolled into the nearby town unnecessarily with Saturday Night Fever blaring out my stereo, getting no end of strange looks in the process.
Trying to shortcut my way back to the coast road resulted in me driving around ridiculously tight and twisting back streets in the town in the middle of the day, reversing back along many dead ends and getting very hot and bothered in the process. I also nearly got the car stuck on a pointless speed bump on a high and blind corner of a road that was barely wider than my little car. So much so that the car was nearly see-sawing across the top of it at one point!
The two beaches I hoped to surf on my way past were no good at all so I didn’t stay at either for more than about 2 minutes despite taking a round trip of at least half an hour to both to and from the main road.
The only other thing of merit was driving through the largest wind farm I have ever seen. They are not everybody’s cup of tea but I think they are really graceful and to me they didn’t look too out of place where they were situated.
As you can see it is a straight road, but this section of coast is so sheltered from the storms of the North Pacific, which is where the waves are being generated at this time of year, that I think it unlikely I will be getting another Mexican wave.