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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Guatemala Part 1

    Friday, September 1, 2017
    Leon, Nicaragua to Antigua, Guatemala

    Entering Honduras at the immigration office in El Gausale.
    Entering Honduras at the immigration office in El Gausale.

    Around midnight–12:45 am to be precise–my alarm went off after just two hours of sleep, signaling me to wake the heck up and finish packing a couple of last things into my backpack to get ready for my 16-hour shuttle van ride from Leon, Nicaragua to Antigua, Guatemala. As soon as I turned on the light and started to get ready, a French girl in the next bed over asked if she could turn off the light. Seriously? I told her I was leaving and that I needed the light on in order to accomplish that. A minute later, I looked behind me and some French guy was sitting on his bed 10 feet away giving me the death glare. What is up with these people? They should know that travelers in hostels come and go at all hours of the day and night, and if they don’t like it, they should either pay for a private room or stay home.

    The outfit I bought the shuttle van ticket from, Quetzaltrekkers, told me my van from Gekko Explorers would pick me up sometime between 1:00 and 1:30 am. Just before 2:00 am, a driver finally showed up with two surfers–one of whom I recognized from Luna’s Hostel in Panama City–to take me a few blocks over to the van. For some reason, it was not a Gekko Explorers van, but some other company. When I climbed into the van, I was dismayed to see that the only seats unoccupied were in the middle. Argh! Plus, I had to sit next to an aisle with absolutely no leg room and no arm rest, which surely meant I would wobble around wildly like a Weeble at every slight turn.

    A short while later, with the van all packed up, we set out on the long road ahead. Sitting in the window seat to my left was a really thin British girl in her twenties who continually balled herself up into different positions with her knees up around her face. I never once saw her sit like a regular human being. She looked like a contortionist. She transformed herself into such a tiny ball that sometimes, when she covered up to avoid the ice cold air conditioning, it looked like there was no one sitting next to me–just a blanket sitting there in a little pile. It looked so crazy! But, no, rest assured there was a living, breathing girl in there somewhere. The rest of the passengers were the usual mix of French, German, British and Australians.

    Entering El Salvador at the immigration office in El Amatillo.
    Entering El Salvador at the immigration office in El Amatillo.

    Around 4:00 am, we arrived at a dilapidated immigration building at El Gausale, the border crossing between Nicaragua and Honduras. Just for the record, the Honduras immigration official stamped our passports, photographed and fingerprinted us. Then the country rewarded us for the latter indignity with the bumpiest, most pothole-filled roads this side of Myanmar. As the daylight grew brighter, I slept all the way through the 80-mile-wide sliver of Honduras, occasionally cracking open my eyes for a second to witness some dirty little dilapidated scene. After slaloming wildly around potholes and getting our spines and teeth rattled for two hours, we entered El Amatillo, the border crossing between Honduras and El Salvador. There, all we had to do was show our passports–no photos or fingerprints required. Hell, yeah! El Salvador is keeping it old school!

    Out in the middle of nowhere, maybe in La Union, we pulled off the side of the road and the driver and co-driver put all of our luggage from the back of the van into a rack up on the roof. Then they lowered a bench seat from the side to allow two more surfers onboard, who had just got dropped off by a taxi cab. Our next stop was a really beautiful and scenic little beach town called El Tunco, just south of San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador. (Note: I didn’t take any photos from the van because I was sitting in the middle, and the windows were really dirty anyway.)

    Although El Tunco was just a little more than 100 miles away, it seemed like it took hours and hours to get there. We passed through a bunch of beautiful volcano-dotted, verdant green countryside along the way. This aspect of El Salvador is drop dead gorgeous! It’s such a shame that some of the gnarliest gangs on Earth mar some parts of this country. At El Tunco, we dropped off the surfers and replaced them with two couples from England and Germany. (The latter ended up talking non-stop for the next four hours, which was really irritating. Even ear plugs and ear muffs could not completely eradicate their annoying voices.)

    Entering Guatemala at the immigration office in Aduanas Frontera.
    Entering Guatemala at the immigration office in Aduanas Frontera.

    A couple of hours after we left El Tunco, we reached the border crossing at Aduanas Frontera, Guatemala, where, similar to El Salvador, we got our passports stamped, but did not get get photographed or fingerprinted. Yay! Then as daylight waned, we headed up into the mountains of southern Guatemala. We were due to arrive in Antigua around 6:00 pm, but we ended up getting snagged in a gnarly traffic jam on a narrow two-lane road (one lane in each direction) for around three hours. At one point, we remained in one spot without moving an inch for an hour-and-a-half! Oddly enough, the driver kept the engine running and the lights on the whole time. Some other drivers got so impatient, they drove on the opposite side of the road!

    My butt was so sore from sitting for over 18 hours, I actually stood up inside the van for a while a couple of different times. I was so extremely exhausted and bleary, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. By 8:30 pm, I wast wondering what the hell was going on with the stopped traffic, how far away Antigua was, and if we were ever going to make it there. Most hostels close up their front desk and doors around 9:00 to 10:00 pm, so I was afraid I might not be able to find a bed anywhere. Also, I really don’t like walking around late at night in an unfamiliar town, as that’s the prime time to get mugged.

    Back in the stopped traffic jam, one guy in the van had the same idea as me, and swung open the side door to stretch his legs outside. But, literally within seconds, traffic finally started moving again, forcing the guy to quickly jump back in the van and slam the door shut. The mystery of the stopped traffic was solved a short while later as we passed a bunch of construction workers and their heavy equipment. So, that’s who was blocking the road! Finally, around 9:30 pm, we entered a seemingly never-ending maze of rough cobblestone streets, finally pulling up in front of the Big Foot Hostel in Antigua, where we all got out.

    Arriving in Antigua, Guatemala.
    Arriving in Antigua, Guatemala.

    I asked a really friendly guy at the front desk if they had dorm beds available, but they were full. So, I asked him if he knew where the Yellow House was. He then gave me a map of Antigua and, with a smile, pointed the way. I trudged a half mile north in the refreshingly cool mountain air to the Yellow House. The whole front was closed up, but I knocked and luckily enough, a super friendly night watchman opened the door and showed me the way to a nice, soft bed in the dorm room. After going out to buy a sandwich, I returned to the Yellow House and went straight to bed, where, needless to say after that hellacious 20-hour shuttle van ride, I instantly fell into a deep sleep.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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