Our time in Panajachel came to a pause now. When we originally rented the house we have been living at, we only booked it for 1 month, hoping to give ourselves some flexibility to continue on to other parts of Central America for the rest of our 3-month sojourn. But we are enjoying our Pana groove so much that we decided to cancel our preliminary plan to drive down to Costa Rica and instead stay in Pana for as long as we can. Unfortunately, our house is already rented out for a few weeks in March to other travelers. So, after practicing some travel-planning yoga, bending our calendar of desired trips and destinations into multiple poses and contortions, we’ve settled comfortably into our Guatemala/El Salvador/Honduras/Belize Sun Salutation pose, and decided to travel during the weeks that the house is already rented and return on the weeks it’s available.
Click below right to read more . . .
In overly simplified terms (and subject to change):
March week 1: road trip to northern Guatemala and Belize to see ancient Mayan ruins, ritual caves, and to SCUBA dive offshore reefs
March week 2: back in our original Airbnb house for our Pana homeschooling schedule and Xela temple trip and water park.
March week 3 -4: road trip to Central Guatemala, for Antigua and the erupting Volcano de Fuego and the Guatemala City LDS temple, then to Honduras for the Copan ruins, and down to El Salvador to see the LDS temple.
April week 1-2: back in Pana in our original Airbnb for a final two weeks of Pana paradise.
April week 3: Drive back through Mexico to Dallas, hitting the Mayan ruins at Palenque, and three more Mexican LDS temples (Villa Hermosa, Veracruz, Tampico).
On March 4th, we began our road trip, starting our 7-hour drive immediately after church. I had the choice to take the larger highway through the Capital, or the road less travelled which was about 1/3 shorter by distance, but the same 7-hour duration. The shorter route also took us through Chichicastenango, which is famed throughout the region for its colorful Sunday marketplace. So, since it was Sunday, I thought I would choose the road less travelled (thanks Robert Frost) to catch the market bustle, and that certainly made all the difference in raising my anxiety levels to the highest they’ve been on the whole trip.
Firstly, Google Maps is a wonderful tool, that I’ve come to rely on, sometimes to my detriment. It has a distinct lack of knowledge of what one-way streets are in Guatemala, so my route through small towns inevitably leads down the narrowest one-way streets, routinely in the wrong direction. Thankfully, Guatemalans themselves don’t care much about direction, so I’m rarely chastised, but the discomfort is still there.
Secondly, local town markets notoriously miss the google map coordination meetings, so my route normally takes me straight through the center of town, which happens to also be the center of market, choked with stalls, pedestrians and zero opportunity for cars to pass.
Lastly, and most importantly, choosing a route based on Google suggestions leaves me with zero information about the condition of the road. Even knowing that I chose to drive on the National Highway 7, left me with zero understanding of what the roads were actually like. It was only by driving the road itself did I come to realize that a large part of National Highway 7 cuts through the Guatemalan jungle as a single lane dirt road, unpaved, unimproved, hugging tightly to the side of steep mountains like an icicle clinging to a rain gutter. Sections of the road have potholes that would swallow a beach ball, other sections are clogged with uncleared landslides from years ago, or yesterday. At one point in my driving, about halfway through the seemingly endless 30 kilometers of what in America we would call prohibited mining roads, I looked out over the edge of the embankment, down into the steaming jungle valley and up into the darkest green tree-covered peaks, and it hit me that I was driving in my Texas-plated Honda Odyssey, on a dirt road in the remotest reaches of Central Guatemala, with no civilization in sight ahead of me or behind me, with no other cars on the road, presumably for miles, with no knowledge of the name of the 10-adobe brick home village I had passed about 5 kilometers ago, and no idea when we might see houses again, and no actual knowledge that the flat sand and rock path notched into the side of the mountain that I was inching along was actually the right road at all, and I had my wife and six children in the car with me, all trusting that I knew what I was doing, and I that I knew where I was going. It was a sobering feeling. What if the van broke down right here? What would I do? Who would I call? It was the first time in the past month, when I thought to myself . . . “What am I doing here?!” The feeling was diminished somewhat when Emily called from the back, “Hey! Jonathan just found my location with ‘Find my Friends’, and he says that once we hit the main road, the town we’ll come to is the same town where his family volunteers in a medical clinic each summer!” Talk about a jarring juxtaposition. I’m feeling like a singular speck in the front seat, lost and remote, and in the back seat, Emily is chatting with her boyfriend as he follows our blue dot on his screen, knowing exactly where we are, because he has been there many times before. Plus, Tera had already decided that if we broke down, we could just join the many locals walking to and fro along the roadside, any of whom she was sure would be more than willing to help us, and then chock it up to another exciting and cultural part of our adventure. I, of course, realize that my fleeting feeling of discomfort was a first-world problem of the highest order, one of many which I speak of and complain about. In the end, we saw parts of Guatemala that very few people see. Even our local Guatemalan hostel hosts in Coban have never driven on that road, locally famed as the “road from Chichi” – always opting for public or hired transportation. But notwithstanding the novelty, I’ve decided that I’ll go with the local preference, and I’ll be driving back to Pana on the paved road through the Capital.
Plan? What plan?
Our first Gap Year was a fabulous "2017-2018 School Year" of travel: from the Netherlands to Jordan to Texas to Hawaii to Mexico to Central America to London and back to the Netherlands. Our "2018 Summer Vacation" took us all around Western Europe, back to the USA on a transatlantic cruise, a road trip through New York and into Canada, and ending up in Utah. We have now kicked off the "2018-2019 School year" with a trip to Asia. Follow along with us on our visits to new places, as well as revisiting some of our favorite places from our time living there. It's going to be great!!