22 Mar Playa del Carmen to Antigua, Guatemala. The drive!
So we made it. We drove about 900 miles in the end, touched 3 countries and crossed 2 borders, and things went almost perfectly well. I say almost perfectly because any time you cross borders it can be a little frustrating, and despite having our car for about 8 months and never having trouble with it, we had car trouble!
The borders I have to say were surprisingly easy, and I will write up a separate post about crossing them for all you future road trippers out there. The Mexico to Belize border we had done before, yet it ended up being the most annoying one.
As you can imagine we have a fair bit more stuff now than when we got to Mexico, aside from the obvious inclusion of a Paramotor and it’s associated bits and pieces taking up a fair whack of the car. We also seem to have accumulated essentials like blankets, pillows, cutlery, a bucket and a blender. You know, the sort of things you have to have on a continental road trip.
This isn’t really an issue because we have the car, it only became and issue when the less than friendly porter at the Belize border told us we have to unpack everything or they won’t let us through, “I am the porter, so I know,” he replied to my statement that I hadn’t had to do that last time. So we took all we could carry in with us and I pleaded a car full of “essentials” with the customs people, who actually said “OK you can leave it in the car.” !
Also I had my paramotor wrapped up like a backpack (the harness straps look like that of a backpack) so they didn’t charge me import fees! I couldn’t believe it but I got away with this at both borders. Belize – 0, Team Tyrhone – 1.
The Border on the Guatemalan side
The Guatemalan border was even easier, the people a lot friendlier, and the whole process way less stressful. I followed the procedures I read about on drive the americas, and aside from a few little differences I will talk about in another post, it made the whole thing really quite easy.
The drive from the border to Santa Elena (Flores) is beautiful with good roads, and we found a great hotel with indoor parking for cheap cheap just off the main drag which meant we didn’t have to unpack everything again. The following day we did Tikal early in the morning and wandered around the ruins and the park it lies in, the park playing an equal part in how stunning these ruins are.
Definitely go see them if you pass by.
Tikal, it is better than a photo can show, that’s why I’m doing a video…
That evening we hit the little island of Flores and watched the sun go down before heading back to our hotel for an early night.
Sun setting over Flores, Guatemala
Then the drive from Santa Elena to Antigua. Where do I begin?!
The first part of the drive was amazing, truly beautiful scenery, lovely people and really good roads (especially compared to Mexico). We were flying along admiring the scenery, occasionally screeching to a slowdown for a hidden speed bump, constantly stating our admiration for Guatemala, until we reached about half way. The road was still great, and the scenery was still beautiful, but there was a stretch of windy mountainous road where the locals drive like maniacs and trucks and buses seem to make up fifty percent of the traffic.
For about 100 miles, trucks, buses and cars alike are trying like crazy to overtake each other on sharp blind bends, often having to screech back in to place to avoid a head on collision with an equally over zealous vehicle from the opposite direction. In this 100 mile stretch we saw three accidents which had just happened, cars flipped over, a mini bus rolled off the road, and the last one, a huge fuel truck tipped and slid blocking the entire road. This last one caused a massive queue of cars to form, which once past the tipped truck, proceeded to drive even worse than before.
I tend to drive fast, but I drive safely, I drive within my control and measure any risks before I take them, if there is no chance of backing out of a risky choice, I won’t take it. This is not the case on this stretch of road for most of the cars abusing it. Fortunately you can mitigate your own risks by driving defensively and sensibly, and so we came out unscathed. Well, almost…
I mentioned before that we had car trouble. I know very little about cars so still don’t know what happened, but at some point the car stopped responding properly to my accelerating. I would push the accelerator and it would either react with a delay, wouldn’t react at all for a few seconds, or would react perfectly. This had the effect that I couldn’t be sure what would happen when I pushed the accelerator. It got worse as we progressed on the journey, so much so that at certain points I would accelerate, the rev meter would do nothing, and I would actually slow down!
As you can imagine this was a little disconcerting, especially when we found ourselves skirting Guatemala city in afternoon traffic on a Friday (we got in later than wanted because of the multiple traffic jams on the crazy road). Lane upon lane, smokey yuck yuck vehicle upon smokey yuck yuck vehicle, hooting and trying frantically to jump ahead of every other car on the road, passed us as our car sped up for a few seconds, then slowed down for a few, then sped up and so on and so on. All of this while trying to navigate an almost exclusively lacking in appropriate signage main road system.
Lets just say it was a little hairy. But rather than freak out too much, we decided to keep going until we at least left the dodginess that is Guatemala city behind, and we almost made it. On a road which was definitely leading out of the city, the revs stopped revving, the dashboard lit up, and the steering wheel lost power. With a bit of brute force I managed to steer the car off the road and shut it down. We sat there for about ten minutes and weighed up our options and thought about what could be wrong. The oils was fine, coolant was fine, it didn’t feel hot, battery was new and full. So what the fuck?!
We eventually decided that it had started after our last fuel refill, and that maybe we got dirty gasoline, any mechanics out there can let us know if that sounds right. We decided to try again and see if we could get to a petrol station. We turned on the car, and slowly made our way up the road, things seemed OK so maybe cooling down had something to do with it as well. About 5 minutes later we pulled into a gas station, filled up with fuel, and…
It worked again! The car started moving like normal, and we slowly drove out of the city and 20 minutes later were pulling into Antigua.
It was a bit hairy there for awhile, but we didn’t panic, we still had daylight, and everything worked out.
We hadn’t booked anything in Antigua, and didn’t really even look much for places to stay, but after circling for about half an hour, we started asking locals. One place said no, another said too much money, and then as we were wandering down a random road, a dude selling butane gas got our attention, said something in Spanish which I deciphered to mean “What are you looking for?” Sarah said something in Spanish which I think meant “Accommodation”.
Within 2 shakes of a lambs tail we were at a door 10 meters away, chatting to a lovely local woman and being shown a great room and indoor parking for about $25 a night, 10 minutes walk from the center. It just goes to show you should never come prepared.
Our new temporary home, with an impressive Volcano as its backdrop…
All in all the journey was fantastic. Beautiful scenery, friendly interactions, amazing sites, and even a few blood pumping, hair raising moments to make you go “Phew, we really are lucky”.
Lets see what happens next! 🙂
P.S. We have LOADS of video which I need to sort, that’s coming soon you lucky lucky people…
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