Highways and Burritos

Trip Start Nov 05, 2007
Trip End Nov 29, 2007

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

             I write this in the car, on the way to Quetzaltanango (affectionately known by the populace as Xela, though I for one haven't yet seen the connection). Apparently we're quite close, though when we'll actually arrive is anyone's guess - we've been exactly this close for the past two and a half hours, without making any progress. The highway's under construction, you see, so only one lane is open up ahead. Normally this would mean that traffic moving in different directions would take turns going through. Apparently, though, there's been some sort of gridlock. I saw this almost happen the last time we were stuck at such a junction - some drivers seem to think they can go ahead of the cars that are waiting, so they go into the left lane. I guess every so often this works for them - I watched a bus driver hand some money to the young traffic controller (armed with a machine gun) and be let past the barrier. Of course, most of the time, this sort of thing just gets everyone stuck. So here we are, stuck. I'm just grateful I'm not in one of the chicken busses (so named because of the cargo that sometimes accompanies the human passengers), squeezed into a seat or standing in the aisle.

              Actually, we saw a few things today that didn't quite work. The roads are the most obvious; much of the highway was covered with dirt, drivers passed each other with little thought of visibility ahead, and I had to be ever-alert for the speed bumps which appeared haphazardly in the middle of the road. Funnier were our visits to a couple of horse farms this morning. Nelson was able to get a couple more days off, and we spent yesterday and today by Lake Atitlan, a wonderfully beautiful lake surrounded by tall mountains and volcanoes. Yesterday we took a private speedboat to the village of San Pedro, where we were told about various horseback-riding possibilities. This morning we decided to try our luck. At the first farm we were told that sure, we could ride horses. Great, we thought! A few minutes later, a few horses trotted towards us. Yet it was a good 30 minutes more before anyone made any move towards saddling them up. The guide was in the mountains, we were told, but was on his way. We waited a few minutes more as three young men prepared one of the horses, who stood patiently as each took turns trying to attach the bridle. "Let's go," laughed Nelson. "They've been trying to put that thing on for ten minutes. If they don't know how to bridle the horse, how do we know it won't fall off while we're riding?"

             The next farm appeared a bit more professional. Sure, we could rent horses, they said. A few minutes later, the men reappeared with two saddled animals, a horse and ... a donkey? No, a mule, but it looked like a donkey to me. Well, at least they had bridles! But where was the guide's mount? We didn't need a guide, we were told. One of the men described the path we could take, which involved crossing a river and winding through the mountains a bit. Sure, we could do that. Nelson mounted the horse while I took the little donkey. (The Spanish word for donkey is "burro," and to make the diminutive form of a word, you can add -ito; so I like to say I was riding the "burrito.") They were gentle enough animals, and I figured they'd know the way. Yet when we reached the river, we couldn't figure out how to cross. My burrito was no help at all, insisting instead that we turn around and head for the stables. The horse was no better - once back they let me ride him so I could canter a bit, but the ornery fellow just danced around and then plunked himself (and me) right in front of a sprinkler!

             Experiences like these, I suppose, are some of the joys of renting a car, which lets you get away from the companies who are used to dealing with tourists. Worth it? I should say so -- after all, how interesting would it be if everything happened just as we expected it to?

P.S. You may have noticed a new button labeled "Support My Travels," or something like that. No, I'm not soliciting money from my hard-working friends to support my macadamia nut facials! Nelson is working with an organization that delivers toys to village kids for Christmas. So, if anyone does feel so inspired as to click that link, your donation will go towards this worthy cause. (And for those of you who are still confused as to who Nelson is, remember, his name isn't really Nelson -- see Entry #1 for details!)

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