Our last day in Mexico was spent driving from Tuxtla Guttierrez to the Mexican/Guatemala “Frontera” or border. We had long since left behind the nice 4-lane highways of northern and central Mexico, and we were now cutting through the mountains on regional 2-lane highways. They were still nicely paved, but very narrow, and very windy up and down through the beautiful mountain scenery. We crossed the border at La Mesilla, Guatemala, and drove through to Huehuetanango to spend the evening. The following day, we awoke and made our final push, driving about 5 hours to finally arrive at our home away from home in Panajachel. (. . . . . . . .for more, click below right)
#1 – Border crossing into Guatemala
#2 – Kids still thriving in the car on final days of driving
#3 – Hotel Premier in Huehue with guarded parking lot
#4 - First views of Lake Atitlan
#5 – Lovely home to stay in for a month
#6 – Friends to welcome us and show us the ropes in Pana
#7 – Section of road from Huehue to Quetzaltenango turnoff with a low trailer hitch
#8 – Odiferousness in a car full of kids
#9 – Google Maps directions
#1 – Border crossing into Guatemala – It was so relieving to finally come to the Guatemalan border after 10 days of driving. We felt like this first part our journey was so close to being completed. The border itself was a hustle and bustle of activity, with a small two-lane road chock full of vendors and shops and kiosks on either side of the border, stretching for hundreds of meters. There was an open gate there, and some guards, but it was a pretty porous place with people walking, biking, driving back and forth with seemingly little to stop them. We crossed into Guatemala and stopped at the border office to stamp in and get our car permit. Unfortunately, we had missed the Mexican office to stamp out. So we had to get back into the car, drive 4 kilometers back to turn in our Mexican Visas and get our passports stamped out of the Mexico, and then turn back around to come into Guatemala again. It was a fairly painless process, to get Guatemalan visas, and a car permit, which took about an hour of standing at three different windows while Tera and the kids picked up some things from the many vendors. While there, we met a few different expat families, coming and going through the border, and chatted with them about their experiences. Then we got all our paperwork back, and continued along.
#2 – Kids still thriving in the car on final days of driving – I don’t think I’ve given the kids enough credit for their absolutely stellar performance and longsuffering in the car. They all had very, very little leg room, due to our backpacks and other stuff that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. But there was very little complaining or arguing, or fighting. We did a lot of listening to books (Work and the Glory by Gerald Lund) and watching movies (War Room, and Coco, and Thor) and talking and sleeping, and reading. They have been troopers, and have made me fear future road trips less and less. (We’re already thinking about some next road trips to plan, with the kids insistence: a possible 35-day road trip through Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and another possible one in June/July through Eastern Europe – Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belorussia, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey. We'll see what formulates.)
#3 – Hotel Premier in Huehue with guarded parking lot – Once we drove into the covered, gated, guarded parking lot at the Hotel Premier in Huehuetenango, we all agreed to bring in only our toothbrushes & backpacks and sleep in our clothes so that we could leave the car fully packed. To avoid the most cumbersome activity of the trip thus far (packing and unpacking the car every night) was a relief. The car rested peacefully, and so did we, in our uncluttered bedrooms. We did pull out some food to eat. As we’ve been travelling, we’ve tried to save time and money by bringing some food along. This has allowed us to venture out for street food when we want to and have the time, and to eat in the room when we don't. We brought our instant pot, and the electricity here is the same as the US, so we’ve made oatmeal or rice or spaghetti or soup for most evening meals and breakfasts.
#4 - First views of Lake Atitlan – after a frustrating driving day from our 1st overnight spot in Guatemala, we drove to the Solola area, and the first views of the lake were everything we would have wanted. Beautiful blue water, surrounded by high steep mountains, and three conical volcanoes, incredibly green, and incredibly beautiful. Plus, the weather is year-round delightful. Pleasant shorts and t-shirts weather, low humidity, lake breezes, few bugs and little rain. Our first experience here was a great one.
#5 – Lovely home to stay in for a month – We finally pulled into our home for the next month in a little gated community in Panajachel called Calle Residenciales. The home is new and lovely, fully furnished and nicely decorated. We found it on Airbnb, and I talked the owner down to a more reasonable price for our 30-day stay. He had a full-time housekeeper, so we will be fortunate to take advantage of Margarita’s services while we are here. There are three bedrooms with three beds in each, so we have a girl’s room, and boy’s rooms, and mom and dad’s room. There is a big couch, and a table that seats eight, so we pulled in and spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking for an extended stay, much to everyone’s happiness.
#6 – Friends to welcome us and show us the ropes in Pana – Tera’s cousins Terry and Trista Bytheway had already driven down from Utah to Pana earlier in the month, so they came over our first evening and told us all about the city and their first two weeks here. It has been nice for this first week to have a family to share woes and triumphs with. We discovered the video-sharing app Marco Polo and have made extensive use of it as our main way to communicate with them. (Check out their blog and twoandafew.com)
#7 – Section of road from Huehue to Quetzaltenango turnoff with a low trailer hitch – The absolute worst section of road we encountered was from Huehuetenango to the turnoff to Quetzaltenango. The section of the Pan-American highway was atrocious, with construction (ongoing for probably years) and dirt sections with sharp rocks, and huge potholes taking up the entire lane, and windy, twisty section, crumbling off down the valley, and our car with a hitch six inches off the ground that grinded on every speed bump. I had essentially given up trying to avoid the grinding, because it was inevitable. We have lost a noticeable thickness of metal from the underside of the trailer, but we just had to motor on, because the roads weren’t getting any better. There were dozens of times when I literally slowed to a crawl to drive through sections of the road, weaving from one side of the road to the other, to avoid holes, crumbles, trash, cars, etc.
#8 – Odiferousness in a car full of kids – the first and last time I’ll delve into potty humor, but in a car full of six kids and two adults, with the windows up to avoid the dust from the construction, there were inevitable times when some wind was passed (one rarely admits who was the culprit) and the windows quickly came down for gulps of fresh air. The kids and I once sat down and composed as many fart couplets as we could, and I’ll share with you two of my favorites: “Your intestinal gaseous tussel, got the best of your flabby bum muscle . . . . . You did the odiferous deed, you planted the flatulant seed. . . . . .“ Enough said.
#9 – Google Maps directions – From the beginning, Google Maps has been a godsend, taking us to places with nary a problem. But once we got to Lake Atitlan, the problems began. Without knowing anything about the area, I tried to follow google, trusting it would keep me on the main roads. But the turnoff to the Lake happened to be a slight shortcut, and we turned down a dirt road that went past farms and fields. With sections so steep that we had to unload the car of people to be able to make it up the steep hairpin curve. Even then, our tires were still spinning in the dust, barely gripping to navigate the curve. It was a little scary actually, to think about being stuck on the road, so close (about 10 km from Pana), yet so far away. The road coming down was so steep, that the thought of turning around and going back up was quickly forgotten. We finally successfully exited the farm path (which I would gather an American plated vehicle had probably never driven on) and then we came to Solola, which was a narrow, steep city with cobblestone roads, huge concrete speed bumps, one-way streets, and again google was taking us to alleys and lanes that couldn’t possibly be right. I finally found handpainted wooden signs on the road to Panajachel, and followed those.
Plan? What plan?
Our 2018 will be filled with family travel, with all 8 suitcases! After going to Hawaii, we are planning on driving through Mexico, to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. We'll spend about a month there, then drive to (tentative) Costa Rica for maybe a month. Then we'll make our way back up to Texas and fly to London! After that, the plan is to drive around Europe, go back and visit Holland, and maybe navigate Eastern Europe, maybe go back to some old haunts, but whatever it is, it'll be great.