So with Utila, Honduras set as the next location, I woke up at the crack of dawn in Santa Cruz to head back to Xela, meet up with G and make our way down. I hoped to be back in Xela by 9:00am, get my laundry done then convince G to leave for Antigua, Guatemala on the overnight bus but this didn’t work out for various reasons that I will explain shortly.
Getting to Utila:
The ideal and most hustle free way to get anywhere with an airport is to fly, obviously, but Honduras was never planned hence I didn’t have a budget for it so I had to shift money from other places to cover it and thus I was looking to get there as cheap as possible. This meant I had to look into chicken buses, micro buses and all types of other ways to cut comfort and save a bit.
To get there this way meant taking a 4 hour bus south to Antigua then catching a 15 hour bus east to La Ceiba, Honduras then riding a 2 hour ferry north (more like speed boat) to the Bay Islands. The problem with all this is that all the transfers did not sync up so it meant we had to spend the night in Antigua and then La Ceiba. Central America is not the safest place to dive on the highway at night so most bus companies do not offer overnight options of travel. For example, the buses from Xela to Antigua left every hour from 2am – 5pm and there were only two buses from Antigua to La Ceiba daily at 4:30am and 6:30am and lastly, the ferry to Utila left twice a day from La Ceiba at 9:30am and 4:00pm. All these bus schedules not lining up made going to Utila a 4 day event but it was fine because I wanted to check out Antigua anyway and it was a very slow relaxed way to cover a lot of miles without stressing a lot.
Most Cursed Leg:
The easiest leg of the trip, getting back to Xela, ended up being the worst. I caught the first boat at 6:30am as planned for Panajachel then immediately got in a truck heading up the mountain to Solalá with no problems. After arriving in Solalá around 7:30am, I spotted the location of the buses heading up to Los Encuentros/Chucilla with enough ease that I decided (bad idea) to stop in this restaurant and have some breakfast. To be fully honest, on my way down the lake, I popped in to use the toilet at this place and set eyes on this beautiful muñeca working there. I “proudly” wanted to see her again before I left town. The first time around, she showed me where to get the bus down to Panajachel and that was it but this time, I wanted to bless the establishment she worked at with some money in exchange for food and being in her presence ha. I walked in like a boss and with some luck, she working again and I got to order some delicious food from her. I spent 30-45min enjoying my big breakfast then after, starting talking to her a bit to help me find the buses to Chuchilla. This is where shit got real. Miss little lady giggled and told me there were no buses leaving Solalá for anywhere because all the roads had just been blocked for a protest. Not only could I not proceed up hill to Chuchilla but I could also not return to Panajachel until the people opened the roads. Basically, I was stuck until further notice and that was not something I wanted to hear so I walked around talking to bus drivers but none of them allowed me on their buses. I even offered to pay a taxi driver money to take me to Chuchilla on other roads but he refused my money (first time that ever happened).
Just a quick detour; most of these manifestations happening around Guatemala are protests against the corrupt government and its support of foreign companies exploiting lands belonging to the Indigenous (Mayans) people for minerals (especially mining of gold). These companies forcefully take land from the locals by threatening them then pollute water bodies with toxic chemicals while they export all the profits from their operations. These profits are not used to help develop the surrounding towns or provide alternate sources of water/food but instead, a portion is used to bribe the government into instilling fear in the people by militarizing the poor villages that are being stolen from.
So naturally, during a manifestation, tourists feel a bit un-welcomed and have to be cautious just in case things go south. For the record, I support all manifestations and hope that the people get what rightfully belongs to them soon. The result of their manifestation on my chosen day of travel was however very inconvenient as it left me stranded but “muy” bloody determined to make it back to Xela before night fall by any means possible.
Raw Data: Solalá to the main highway (which for simplicity I have been calling Chuchilla) is 10km (6.2miles) and from there to Xela is another 65km (40miles) so in all, I had to cover approximately 46 miles and I did not care how. According to google maps, 46 miles can be walked in about 13 hours. Obviously, I didn’t know this then and I didn’t know how far apart these towns were. I just knew I wanted to be on a bus heading down to Antigua in the morning so after trying to pay drivers failed, I did the next best thing. I began walking up hill.
It was pretty hard carrying all my stuff and going uphill for God knows how long but I imagined that I was hiking up a mountain and thus couldn’t quit. Every couple Km, there was another road block with people facing off with the cops peacefully and cars stuck on either side of it with passengers. Obviously, the bus drivers didn’t really have foresight or want to make money in my opinion. There was a road block every could Km and there were cars on either side so all they had to do was drive passengers until the next road block then have them cross the block by foot to one of the buses on the other side of the roadblock – bam! Engineering mentality at work to solve daily problems of life. Sadly, this proposal never made it pass the round table so I kept walking for what seemed like ages. Close to every manifestation, the locals looked at me and laughed. One guy who spoke English walking the opposite direction took advantage of the situation to welcome me to Guatemala, “welcome to Guatemala friend. Enjoy.” The closer I got to Chuchilla, the harder I felt like people laughed. At one of the stops, one guy yelled at me in Spanish saying, “bienvenidos a Guatemala. Aquí tienes que caminar todas nuestras carreteras.” This translates to “welcome to Guatemala. Here, you have to walk all of our highways.” This and other giggles motivated me to keep walking. Eventually, after 1.5 hours, I flagged down a micro bus heading my direction and it took me the rest of the way to the next road block which thankfully happened to be the highway. This ride was about 5 minutes so by google, I estimate that I had already walked about 4 miles.
While walking, I prayed and hoped that the highway wasn’t blocked as well but this was not the case. The people had blocked it as well and behind the block, there were two buses heading to Xela. Initially, I thought about getting on one but then I didn’t know how long the roads would be blocked so instead, I decided to continue walking. About 10 feet from the road block, I walked to a store to refill my supply of water and ran into another American, Brian, who had just walked up from Solalá as well hoping to get to Xela. We stood for about 10 minutes planning our next move. He wanted to walk up and get on the buses but I wanted to keep walking with hopes that if one of those buses are let through, we could flag them down. He picked my method because at least we were making some progress. We must have only walked about 20 minutes when a micro bus heading to Nahuala drove by. We got on this 20 minute ride and it cut almost 25km (15 miles) or 5 hours of walking from our trip bringing us 45km (28 miles) or a 7 hour walk away from Xela.
By some good twisted stroke of luck, the roads were opened so we literally got off the bus at Nahuala and got on another one heading for Xela. This was one crazy day but looking back at it now, it was some good fun I never want to repeat again.
This brings me 3 days closer to Utila now and it better be worth it once I get there!
Brian is 65 year old ex-marine who moved to Guatemala 6 years ago because it is cheaper to live there on his pension and also because he can afford to live like a king in a nice apartment overlooking the lake with his multiple Guatemalan girl friends who are in their 20’s. It’s kind of gross if you ask me but to each they own. I asked him if he was ever going to move back home and his response to me was, “I’d be crazy to leave all this alone. Tell me where in America I can have a sexy girlfriend in their 20’s with my pension.” The man is kind of right though. He shared some pictures of his girls with me and oh my God, I felt like he had Guatemala’s sexiest on speed dial. This is saying a lot because I only find girls here pretty only 1% of the time. Brian’s got it good man.