Saturday, March 31, 2007

Driving in Guatemala

We arrived in Guatemala yesterday. It is everything I remember. The people are wonderful and warm until they get behind the wheel. Then they are absolutely terrifying.

Crossing the border was very exciting. It turns out we hit the border on market day when hundreds of people from surrounding villages swarm into town and set up stalls to sell their goods. The stalls were of course set up right in the middle of the Pan American Highway so we had to drive right through the middle of a crowded street market to get out of town. The crowd was so thick we could only see a few meters ahead of us. Our only option was to keep inching slowly forward as people scrambled to pull tables and goods out of our way.

The highway from La Mesilla to Huehuetenango is in excellent shape but it is narrow and windy so it is very difficult to pass slow moving vehicles. The buses have a solution to this, which is to make the sign of a cross and then go for it whether they can see or not. This means that at any time you could turn a corner and be faced with an oncoming bus passing a double semi in your lane.

“The bus drivers are all escaped mental patients”, warned Lara. Needless to say I was very careful, but sometimes you have no choice but to take a chance. For example, when there is a vehicle parked in your lane, eventually you have to go around it whether you can see or not.

We had no problems, but Herb had a very close call. He came upon a vehicle broken down on the right. As he passed it an oncoming bus veered into his lane. The gap was so narrow that he lost one of his side mirrors. “It happens all the time”, said a mechanic I talked to.

Matt says that being a passenger in the bus is sometimes no better. “We were in the left hand side of the bus a few rows behind the driver” he describes. “Every few minutes we would feel the bus pull left, and then moments later it would pull violently to the right as something came whooshing past the windows at high speed.”

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