Day 43: Antigua, Guatemala
Traveling around Guatemala is easy with smooth roads and many divided highways.
Traveling from city to city has been simple thanks to the tourist shuttles.
But it was all a little too easy. I had met some great people on the shuttles but I felt like I was missing out on an important part of travel – the frustration of figuring out how to get somewhere.
The truth is that I thrive on this aspect of travel. It’s like figuring out a puzzle when you don’t know how many pieces there will be.
I don’t mind a long day of travel, which is good because it appeared as though that was what it was going to be to get to Lanquin.
8:30AM: I leave the hostel and head torward the chicken bus terminal figuring on a 12 hour trip.
Best case would be that I arrive in daylight but that’s unlikely as Guatemala does not participate in daylight savings time and it gets dark quite early.
8:45AM: In my pre-schooler Spanish I tell a guy standing by a bus that I want to go to Coban, which I know is the last stop before Lanquin.
He says I need to go to Guatemala City, which I had heard before from other travelers so I agree to get on the bus.
9:00AM: I’m on the bus and my seatmate, Helen, introduces herself. She speaks no English. I tell her I’m going to Guatemala City and she looks confused as this bus is going to the beach.
My heart skips a beat but I figure if I get lost the best place to be lost would be at the beach.
Helen looks like she’s in her early 20s and is a student. She shows me a photo of her 1 1/2 year old son Javier and is surprised I have no children.
9:30AM: The dude who told me that this was the right bus indicates it’s my stop. We pull over to the side of some random road in the hills.
Fortunately the bus driver flagged down another chicken bus, which says Guatemala City as its destination.
They carry my backpack from one bus to another as I scurry across the highway.
9:45AM: The guy next to me on the bus decides he wants to stand up and give a passionate sermon about Christ.
As this is an old school bus and all the windows are open it’s quite loud so he shouts over the noise about our salvation as he reads from the Bible. I’m surprised that I actually understand a lot of it.
10:45AM: I arrive in Guatemala City. I hadn’t planned to come herey as people said it was as bad as Belize City. There’s lots of crime and gang-related deaths.
I find out that I have to go upstairs to take public transit from this bus station to one across town.
Once upstairs several people approach me to help me get where I need to go and explain that I have to wait 5 stops before getting off.
11:00AM: I’m blown away by the public bus system. It works like an above ground subway with specific stops and a dedicated bus lane.
The buses are new and so much nice than those in Canada. However, the shine fades as I see a sign that says no guns on the bus and I see the policeman at the front of the bus.
I decide to stand next to him.
11:15AM: I watch Guatemala City go by from the safety of the bus and decide that it’s nicer than Belize City.
Sure it’s dangerous but at least it looks like a city whereas Belize City looked like a war zone ghetto. As I’m one stop away from my exit a guy asks if I speak English.
When I respond he introduces himself as Eric and tells me that he was on the chicken bus with me and the bus driver told him I was going to Coban.
Apparently the bus station is in a shady part of town and the driver wanted to make sure I would be okay so Eric offers to take me there as he is headed home.
11:20AM: Eric and I decide to take the cheapest and fastest way to Coban, which is a mini-bus shuttle. We set off with other locals and I find out that Eric works on a beach resort that specializes in sport fishing and caters to Americans.
He is on vacation as sport fishing season is over. He taught himself English by watching movies with subtitles. First he would watch in Spanish with English subtitles and then in English with Spanish subtitles.
I’m amazed by his perseverance. He is 24 and has had a girlfriend for a few months, they are getting married in December when his girlfriend finishes her secretarial program.
They’ll move to Coban and he’ll take over the family farm.
1:00PM: The minibus stops off at the side of the road to eat lunch. I have amazing chicken with beans, rice and tortillas for $2.
Free juice is always available at these stands and Eric pours me some strawberry kiwi drink. I asked him if it was okay to drink it and he said yes.
I don’t think he knew I was asking if the water was purified so I just drink it and hope for the best.
2:00PM: My stomach feels okay. The water must have been purified.
I’m sleepy but I stay awake as Eric is telling me about the history of the mountains and lakes. Apparently we just passed over the only curved bridge in Central America.
3:45PM: Eric points out the mountain his farm is on and tells me he has to go. I forget to take a photo until he’s far down the road to his grandmother’s house.
4:00PM: I arrive in Coban. The driver tells me to walk down the road, turn right and I can get a shuttle to Lanquin.
4:10PM: I find the area where buses stop on their way to Lanquin. I try to confirm this with the man who runs the food stand outside the stop and he tells me that there are no more shuttles for the day.
I ask if there’s any other way. He says no I should come back tomorrow at 6am.
I feel a millisecond of sulking but then come to my senses as I know in Guatemala there are many ways to get many places and the right hand never knows what the left is doing.
I ask 5 other people how to get to Lanquin and a girl overhears me and tells me that there is a shuttle terminal two blocks up the hill.
4:30PM: I find the terminal, which only goes from Coban to Lanquin and the driver tells me to sit in the front as there will be more room.
His name is Juan Carlos and he seems like a nice man.
Little does he know that we’re about to pack 25 people into a 14 seater minivan with 5 people in the front when there is room for 3.
The clown car sets off for Lanquin, which is only 50km away but takes 2 tours to get to because the road is so windy we’re driving at 40km/hour.
6:30PM: I arrive at El Retiro, a jungle lodge in time for dinner and some drinks. It’s been a good day.
traveling by bus can be one of the most exhilarating experiences while on the road. and i agree, sometimes those easy tourist bus rides with comfy chairs that lean back and give you bedding (like the ones here in taiwan) just don’t cut it. i mean they’re beautiful and i appreciate the chance to ride them, but there’s always a feeling like youre missing out on some huge part of the adventure. thanks for sharing this post and your experience! JR@
So, what was the smell like on that clown car? Did everyone remember to wear their speed stick?
Love this post! I know exactly what you mean. After spending 3 1/2 months overlanding through Africa (which is chaotic!) I landed in Southeast Asia and was greeted by tourist buses. The convenience was great for a while but I missed the rough, local transport in Africa where you had to climb over bags of maize to get on the bus and your seat buddy might be holding a chicken in his lap. Glad you made it to your destination- sounds like it was a fun trip 🙂
funny — I was just editing an older blog of mine on bus rides today — you and me thinks alikes 🙂
Well I know who to ask about the buses when I get the Guatemala. We’re hoping to take some Spanish classes while there. 😛
Wow, people were so great to you! I love it!
Yeah I didn’t spend a lot of time in Guatemala but that day left a great impression on me.
Long day indeed. And I agree: Belize city looks war torn- I was there with a couple of female friends and on the way to the bus station, in a particularly shady area of the city this big guy comes over and asks me if he can borrow my friends. ??? I pretended to think he was joking and laughed away, he insisted he was serious but didn’t take it further. Phew.
I think every bus I have ever traveled on has someone who feels the need to give a passionate sermon about Christ 🙂
What a mission! Always a story though. Glad you got there ok.
I would be very grumpy.
thanks for the post. Any idea of the difference in cost between public and tourist shuttle?
Loved your post!
It made me travel back in time and relive the time I used a “chicken bus” from Guatemala city to Panajachel, they drive like craazy but lots of good memories!
I recently did a 10 hour journey from Panajachel to Coban as I was near Lake Atitlan and didnt want to backtrack to Antigua Guatemala and then to Guatemala to take the bus from there. THe road from Uspantan to Coban is the most beautiful I`ve seen in Guatemala (despite being unpaved) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rztdFZuM_Y
When I was in Guatemala I tried to take chicken buses as often as possible. All the different colours and designs were just mesmorising ?
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