My first day took me from Ciudad Tecum Uman on the border with Mexico to a town called Coatepeque. I got up early and jogged against the tide of people flooding into the town centre for their day at work or at school. Everyone had big smiles on their face and were very welcoming to a mad looking bearded adventurer. When I got to the main road I was greeted by a long line of trucks queued up on the side of the road waiting to get across the border. This line went on for about 10km with the lorry drivers relaxing in or near their trunks. Every time the line started to move there was a mad rush as people got their trucks started and moved forward. If a truck delayed then the trucks behind had no problem with overtaking and taking their place. When I saw this happening I thought there might be some aminosity but apparently no, it must just be an accepted practise.
After I got passed the trucks the road opened up a little and snaked through valleys and hills while passing through little villages. I had done a little research on Guatemala before I arrived and when I found out Guatemala was 116 on the list of countries by GDP per capita (thanks Wiki) I thought things were was going to be very different. By the way Mexico is 66 and the UK is 28 based on 2013 data. There were differences to Mexico but no how I had imagined. For starters there were more “nice” cars on the road, shops seemed to be a little more established and the advertising seemed a lot more aspiring. Each of the towns I passed through was bustling with people going about their business.
When I arrived in Coatepeque first impressions were that it was like a more active version of a Mexican town. While looking for a hotel I needed to do some exploring and came across long streets of people with stalls set up on the side of the road. Here it was clear that there were a lot of people with very little and the occaisions of people asking for money were more than I had been used to. The centre of the town was pretty in its own little way. The main square has trees that had been beautifully manicured, a fountain and benches dotted around. Around the perimeter of the square were shoe cleaning chairs and stands selling hot dogs and burritos. Some of the shops were made out of panneled wood and painted in bright colours and looked like something from a time gone by.
While looking for hotels it became apparent that standards are a lot higher here. In Mexico there would be a couple of options and they would be much of a muchness. Here the range was far wider. I settled on the Hotel Europe just off the main square. I then went on search for food and stumbled upon an amazing restaurant where I pigged out on steak. I had been warned that in Guatemala I would be able to buy beans and rice… err whoever told me that was lying!! It was while I was looking for the restaurant that I realised that the difference here is that there seems to be two worlds coexisting – the rich and the poor. I think this divide was less obvious in Mexico or the wealth just wasn’t where I was passing through.
The next day I left Coatepeque and ran to a town called San Sebastien. The roads today were awesome and it seemed that most of the 40km highway was being renovated and upgraded to dual carriageway. In Mexico there were lots of road works but not much work going on. Here the highway was being built and efficiently. It was also nice to see that it wasn’t just men working and some of the engineers were actually woman – something you didn’t see in Mexico. The towns I passed were all much of a muchness (but not at all recognised by my mapping device). When I finally arrived in San Sebastian I found that the fast food culture was here as a Burger King stood proudly on a corner. The hotels here were all resort style and very much out of my budget. I tried three or four places only to be disappointed on each occasion. I noticed the clouds turning black as spits of rain started appearing on my stroller. I found one hotel that didn’t seem very good value and made the decision to push on. As I arrived at an Eco Resort the heavens opened. Now there is rain then there is Guatemalan rain and with this stuff it was as if one drop would be enough to soak through your clothes and completely drentch you. Luckily the hotel was actually quite reasonable and comfortable. Would recommend it and will add to my hotel guide for Guatemala when I have finished here!
Today I was excited to get back onto the beautiful new roads only to find everything had changed. The road narrowed and the scenery deteriorated as did the smell… This part of the routs seemed to be a little more industrial with a huge factory spewing huge amounts of smoke into the sky. The rain from the night before meant everything was dirty and this wasn’t helped by the huge trucks steaming by loaded to the brim with what looked like bamboo or cane. I then arrived in Mazatenango. This place is manic and has everything you need apart from a nice coffee house or pub! The centre of the town in taken up by a huge market that sells everything you could imagine and if you lose concentration for a couple of minutes then you might well get lost. The streets are full of motor taxis, mini buses and motorbikes who dart around without any care for the humble pedestrian. Luckily my time in Vietnam has equipped me with the skills needed to tackle such obstacles….
That brings us up to date. I am now in a small hotel sheltering from the madness outside. I have caved in to the red wine urge and treated myself to a carton of red wine and even bought a very fetching pink plastic cup to drink it from… My stroller wheels are getting a service and everything seems to be as it should be. Tonight includes a nice stretching session and a nice (I hope) glass of Cab Sav!