After leaving Orizaba behind we reached the beach 10hours from the Guatamalan Border. Beautiful, empty, no tourists, dollar beers and waves. A local business owner said we are free to camp anywhere on the beach we would like, nobody cares. This is a stark contrast to the States near businesses and homes, where many would take offence. She said her business is normally booming on the weekends, but had gone quiet after the earthquakes so she was just relaxing. Four of her dogs kept us entertained most the time and one wild but very tame dog also.
We planned on staying there a few days. After the second day we realised the insurance had already expired for Mexico so hastily packed up and sped off. The drive to the border was dull. We aimed once again at a green patch on the map, a national forest. It rained the whole way. We were encouraged by signs indicating beaches. When we arrived at the end of the road it was rainforest and mangroves. With a small concrete dock and small wooden boats lined up to ferry people back and forward. We enquired with a local bar owner while enjoying 10 pesos beers and he told us the only way in is boat, and there are houses to rent on the beaches. He offered to look after the car for a few pesos if we decided to go. He also warned us it was not a safe place to camp on the main land around there due to some locals. We accepted his advice and drove for a motel. A shabby place, which offered prices by the hour. But $8 USD per night couldn’t be turned down. The place was empty and quiet. A nice break from a roof tent with space to swing a cat and covered parking with a fabric door to hide the car.
The next day we drove to the border. I started calm and I grew more furious with every local getting in the way and trying to tell us how hard the process of crossing the border is, but for a few pesos can assist. Every step of the way people trying to charge us for an endless list of services, parking, moving forward while parking, fumigation for mosquitoes, security, paying the officers to look after the car, offers of a dollar from guards to get our stamp for Guatamala and skip the Que. Trying to extort 3000 Quetzales (Guatamalan money) for a vehicle permit and saying they can sort the permit if we pass them the money (about 10 times the cost of the actual permit). It sickened me off, constantly telling them to go. The officials didn’t seem to care about the scamming business, but then again, the guards were in on it too. It felt like a descent into madness. Don’t get me started on the money exchange men walking around and at desks trying to offer half the value currency in exchange. Parasites. After getting across the border into the first town things returned to normal.
We drove for a few hours before stopping the night once again in a motel. The next day driving to Lake Atitlan. In San Pedro on the shore of the lake we found ourselves being told there is no camping. But at an advantage of being there in the rainy season, with few tourists and plenty of competition. Its very touristy. Every shop front dedicated to selling tours, coffee, beers or trinkets. Not my kind of place, but we have got hold of a room in the centre for two of us costing a total of £12 for three nights. £2 per person per night. I’ll be honest, the room is not brilliant, but at less than half the cost of the hostel per person for a dorm room; its a win. The hot shower we were sold to get our business is cold, and a shard of glass hangs from the bathroom window ready to either swing in while showering and slice me, or, drop to the street below and decapitate someone.
Today (the 3rd oct) we decided to go to a coffee plantation to see how my favourite thing is made. Seriously my world would end without it. We went to the tourist adventure desks which populate half the town and after getting prices decided we could do better. The two companies we approached quoted 150 and 120 Quetzales respectively. We went around the coffee shops in the town asking and managed to get a horseback ride for about 3-4hours upto a plantation for 150. I consider that a win. I said to Karli she could pick which horse she wanted. One was big, one was small. She jumped to the big one straight away. I was then was stuck with my tiny stead I feared would die on the climb. After all the hiking I have done and hatred towards horses for the muck and foul stench they leave on trails, it was interesting to be on the other end of things. But I still don’t quite get it, it just seems to be a lazier slower way to get in and out of places than walking and leaves you with a sore backside and an extra mouth to feed. I can understand using them as pack animals to haul greater amounts of gear than can be carried, but I just don’t get it. Maybe one day.
The local volcano costs about £10 to climb. A permit for entry. I think that makes this the most expensive national park I have come across. And the entrances are closely guarded by police and national park staff. Also there are small charges per vehicle to each town/ area around the lake (negligible but still have to make sure you carry cash at all times). Not entirely sure what to make of Guatemala yet; but I’m sure there will be free parks and camping elsewhere.