We’re having a great trip. Seriously, every day represents something new and amazing. We never forget how lucky we are to be doing what we’re doing. Still, when in the dreaming and planning stages, we constructed certain expectations of what everyday life would be like. As a whole, these expectations were built from reading the blogs and experiences of those who had gone before us.
We figured on meeting countless other overlanders, telling stories around campfires and creating deep, long lasting friendships in only hours. We positively knew we would have ridiculously surreal, once-in-a-lifetime experiences on a daily basis. We expected chaotic borders with slow, disinterested officials. We planned to camp in village squares and on municipal soccer fields, good naturedly teasing the kids who came by to gawk at us and becoming “temporary locals” walking from our truck to the local outdoor market to buy fresh produce. We steeled ourselves to drive steep mountain passes and squeeze the truck through narrow city streets shared with buses, pedestrians, and farm animals.
While many of our other overlanding expectations were met: beautiful remote campsites, friendly locals, and awesome cheap food, many of these other core preconceptions failed to make an appearance. Although we made some lifelong friends on our trip South through Mexico and Belize, they were certainly few and far between. We had tons of great experiences, but none that felt absolutely extraordinary. The borders we crossed were well staffed and professionally efficient. We mostly camped in remote places far from civilization, or in designated parking lots of hotels, campgrounds, hostels, and restaurants. We crashed the streets of Mazatlan and San Cristobol for a while, but never were able to relax the way we wanted to. Even the roads have been remarkably good so far.
All this held until the day we crossed through the Belize side of the Belize-Guatemala border. While the border wasn’t particularly difficult to deal with on the Guatemalan side, it was definitely the least organized we’ve seen so far. If I hadn’t read up on it earlier, I probably would have missed the immigration building altogether and been sent back.
Shortly after entering Guatemala, we found ourselves doing some impromptu truck repairs (something else we’ve been lacking so far..) beside the highway, while a small family of hogs happily grunted in the ditches and two local boys fixed their bicycle next to us. From there it was straight to the Yaxha ruins for our very first truly surreal experience with our new friend Guillermo and his “Eat with the locals then see lightening from the top of an ancient pyramid” night tour..
While camping at Yaxha, we met our first overland couple in Guatemala, Paulis and Ghazy in their Mexican VW Kombi van. After sharing a breakfast and good conversation, we pulled out of our camp spot in Yaxha, leaving them to explore the site on their own. Not to worry, they'd turn up again...
Our second camp spot in Guatemala was on the shores of Lago Peten Itza, where we setup camp for a couple days in a gravel lot near the public swimming dock. Every day we worked on blog entries while locals came down to swim and wash clothes in the lake. Taylor would flip flop the short way to the market, where she’d buy fresh vegetables off a tarp from a 10 year old boy. We gained a puppy, who would visit us every day about the same time, I’m assuming when the shade had left his yard. We even handed out a few cold beers to the local fisherman, at 7:30 am.
We spent time in the yard of a hostel across the lake from the island of Flores, taking small wooden boats across the water to eat tacos or “comida tipica”, eggs, beans, and handmade corn tortillas. The island itself looked almost like some sort of ultra-realistic trainset (minus any actual trains) and we were entertained for hours watching the boats shuttle to and fro, as the traffic made an orderly ring along the island’s main thoroughfare.
Guatemala has provided us with the driving experience we expected as well. Our trip from Flores to San Marcos Del Lago was a tad over 300 miles and took two pretty solid days of driving. While no one spot was particularly bad, the roads were steep, rocky, and routed through tiny mountain villages. We shared “highway” 7W with chicken buses, overloaded trucks, and all manner of motorcycles and foot traffic, as well as firewood laden donkeys and riders on horseback.
Views of mountain life from the road kept us ever interested in the passing scenery; women in traditional dress with smartphones tucked into their belts smiled and waved as we passed by, children and men flagged us down; asking for food or cash in exchange for filling holes in particularly rough parts of the road with rock and earth. The scale of the mountains we climbed left us feeling as though we ourselves were part of a grand model set, inching along the road scratched into verdant, cloud shrouded, cliffs.
After a particularly steep descent and inching our way through a local street fair, we finally made it to our current (long held) location at Chez Pierre, Pasjacap Guatemala. As we pulled into camp, exhausted from our hours on the road, we were welcomed by four other overlanding couples, including Paulis and Ghazy whose classic VW stood in stark relief against the backdrop of Lake Atitilan and her three volcano sentinals. Before even getting our top popped, we were invited to the nightly camp “happy hour” a tradition started years ago and simply handed down as campers come and go. We immediately suspected our plans to spend two weeks at the lake might grow to more.
Since that first night, we’ve spent countless hours with amazing people from all over the world, all drawn to the beauty (and cool weather) of the lake and Pierre’s tranquil piece of it. We’ve spent our time taking Spanish in the mornings, studying in the afternoons, then hosting and attending dinner parties, potlucks, movie nights, and the ever present “happy hour” that often extends well past the implied hour. We even managed to climb a volcano and find an all you-can-eat American style barbeque on Sundays, complete with hound dogs, and a Guatemalan band playing rocking renditions of 90’s grunge. Oh, and we all baked pizza and crashed Pierre’s personal pool for Paulis’ big 33rd!
As this comes out, we’ll be pushing into week five of putting exactly zero new miles on the truck. I have to start it every few days, just to keep the main battery from going dead. As the season has moved on so have our new friends. We’ve gone from the newcomers to the only truck left parked on a once bustling field. Two weeks ago each morning was a Disney song of “good morning”, “Buenos dias”, and “Guten morgen”. Now we make our coffee and walk to class with only the mountains as our constant company.
We too are feeling the pull of the road. This will be our last week at lake Atitlan and we’ll be in Costa Rica just a handful of days after that. We’ll certainly miss our place, both physical and social, here at Chez Pierre but there is still plenty of adventure to be had out there. We haven’t even gotten to the vast open spaces, towering mountains, and majestic glacial lakes of South America yet.
Here’s a list of a bunch of other cool overlanders we met in camp. Every one of these people is a part of our family now, and watching each pull out of camp left us happy to see them on their way to new adventures, but also left us feeling empty and alone without them.
The Vanabundos, Gabby and Sandro (Lichtenstein & Switzerland) and- VW Syncro high top
Minimalist Vagabonds, Josh and Chantelle (US and Canada)- Mercedes Sprinter
Thomas and Matilde (France)- GMC Yukon
Jean-Louis and Caren (Belgian <with more years in the US than me> and US)- Supercharged Toyota Tacoma & roof top tent
Dom and Bonnie (Australia)- Full-size Dodge van
Travels With PB&J, Pete and Becky (US)- Lexus GX with a fancy new solar panel 😊
Viva-Panamericana, Sergio and Nadine (Switzerland)- Beautiful Land Rover Defender “Rhino” Yep, these guys again. :)
We shared our time with plenty of non-overlanders as well. Zerrin, Lisa, Magna, Arthur, and of course Eva (who flew all the way from Oregon just to visit us on the road)- thank’s for putting up with the lot of us car-living, rarely-showering, hippies.
And, last but not least- Pierre, for being such a gracious host and for selling us so much wine at a very fair price..