Tuesday, May 14, 2013

One Thing After Another

Monday was an interesting day for us. We got up early to find our laundry still wet. And, then I changed our travel plans to skip the manatee sanctuary in Río Dulce as I wasn’t sure of a reasonable way to see the manatees. And, remember that water leak that showed up Saturday night? Well, it still hadn’t been fixed yet, so I had a wet drawer again after brushing our teeth. So while I pulled out everything to dry on the floor, Jonathan applied some silicone around the faucet. He also tightened the door handle, hopefully that will fix the inability to lock and unlock the door from outside. All that done, we left.

I found what I believe to Tillandsia Xerographica growing on the tree there. I have one of these.

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Initially, we missed our turn that would take us to Semuc Champey. This was a good thing, as it allowed us to fill up with gas. We turned back the way we came and found this direction better-signed. However, the road didn’t look promising, it was narrow, crowded, and had a line of semis coming through. We took it anyway and found it to be under road construction for 16 km. Here, they don’t use flagmen to stop traffic to utilize one side of the road. They just let you travel forward on your own discretion in most places. It was a madhouse (well as much as a road can be one). In one of our attempts to avoid oncoming traffic and keep out the road crew’s way, we swerved into next lane which had about 6 more inches of gravel than the other lane. As we crossed the “line”, we heard a pop.

Jonathan says, “What was that?”

I reply, “I don’t know, I hope it was vehicle behind us.”

Then I look back in the mirror and see a very flat tire on our right rear.  I inform Jonathan of the sad news of what the noise actually was. We had apparently ran over one of the stakes that they use to mark the middle of the road. Its position had been masked by the fresh pile of gravel. As there were no shoulders, we pulled over behind a parked steam roller. Jonathan got out and immediately started swapping out tires. I got out and helped to direct traffic around him. When he wasn’t bent over the tire, I went to talk to the nearby supervisor. If we had to deal with this type of road the entire way, I might need to reconsider our options. He assured me it was only about 14 km more. Jonathan got the tire on, topped it off with air and got us rolling. (I helped put away the old tire and drop the van back down.) On the plus side, it was a scenic view where we changed our tire.

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Fortunately, after that we were rewarded with nice, newly-paved roads from there on out. Or so we thought… When we hit about Finca Semococh, there was a “detour” that pointed to the right. But our GPS told us to go to the left. So we did. The nicely-paved road continued, but soon began to weave through the mountains. Before we knew it, we had lost the pavement and were on gravel and then soon just straight-up rock, switchbacking through the Guatemalan mountains. They were steep, long, winding, unpaved, and, to top it off, narrow. You couldn’t fit two vehicles most times, and were praying around every corner that no one was coming. Jonathan ranks it as one of the worse mountain passes on which he has driven. So Jonathan would drive and watch for potholes or rocks that might want to take out a tire, and I would scope out the road ahead to watch for oncoming traffic. It was a scenic area, if you could afford to take your eyes off the road for a look. And, the local children loved to see us drive through. They would always shout “Gringo! Gringo!” as we drove on by. I think we made their day. Apparently we are one of the rare gringos ignorant enough to come this way. About halfway through, the van started to lose power. We actually had to stop in the middle of the road. I had Jonathan coast backwards to get off of the road a bit. This has happened before (when we had hitchhikers), and Jonathan just jiggled some wires and it started working again. Same story this time and we were scaling mountain passes again. This lasted for 40-ish km, and the GPS told us of a turn up ahead, which we hoped would bring us more reasonable roads. The turn brought false hope, as it showed pavement (it was an intersection of a road that went to Cobán) as we approached and then immediately returned to the same type of road that we were on. The only good news being that there were only 18 km left.

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In a few kilometers, we came into the town of Lanquín. After this point is what other visitors have claimed is terrifying and difficult. I will admit that there were some steep spots. I think going back is going to be interesting. As we bumped along, we started hearing clunking. Sounded a lot like when we broke our sway bar link in Alaska. You would think I would learn to not take us to remote places like this. Seems like something always breaks when I do this. After crossing a scary-looking bridge, we finally arrived.

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It was 3:30pm, (we had left at 9am and driven 217km) and we only had until 5pm before the park closed (we weren’t sure of the time it closed though). We talked about it and decided we try to visit today, camp, and leave in the morning. We paid our dues and parked. Then, in a hurry, we strung up a few lines and hung the still-damp laundry. We hadn’t stopped for lunch in the mountain pass, so I threw a pasta packet on to cook, while Jonathan started fixing the sink again, which was still leaking all over my drawers. And, because we had driven on dusty gravel roads for hours, all of the contents of the drawer that I had thrown on the floor were now dirty. So while the pasta was cooking, I started cleaning up.

Finally, at about 4:30pm, we were ready to go into the park. As we walked along the path, a few park workers came down and asked us about our ticket. I had been prepared for this, and started searching through the backpack for it. The only paper in there was some other receipt. Apparently, I had grabbed the wrong one. I explained to the guys that we had left it in the vehicle. Then they said that it was 4:30 and we only had 30 more minutes that we could be in the park. They asked what time we paid for our tickets, and I explained. They looked at each other and pulled out a walkie-talkie. I don’t think their summons went through, so they shrugged and said that it was alright and we could go explore. For the moment, we were the only ones left in the park.

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The view was spectacular and the water was clear and refreshing. Fed by natural springs, the water was so clear that you could literally “snorkel” above water by walking very slowly and looking down. There were several yellowish fish that were quite friendly. The problem with clear water and friendly fish is that they can see my moles and think they are fish food. I got bit at least once. It was really enjoyable in the pools, though.

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Then, we decided we continue down the path and see what we could see in 30 minutes or until they kicked us out. As we got out, we saw some native boys come down the rocks and slide down the cascades. Apparently, afterhours are when the parks’ workers and families get to enjoy the park. We walked around and found the “Sumidero” where the river goes under ground. It is an impressive display.

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Wandering back, I decided to get back into the pools to cool off. Deciding like the improvised water slide of rocks looked like fun, I swam to one and went down. Apparently in doing so, I put me in a pool that we hadn’t really seen before and we were on another path that would take us down to where the river comes out from the ground. On the last step, I slipped and nearly fell in front of some native kids. The girls were very much entertained. We all laughed. One of them was caring a bundled balanced on her head. I told her she was very talented (well as much as I could) and that I couldn’t do that. They asked our names and we theirs. They were very friendly and cheerful. Eventually the left and we admired the view. The river came calmly out of large caves while from above the water from the pools created gorgeous waterfalls. And, as I mentioned before, the late afternoon is when the natives get to enjoy the park. There were several men there fishing from the rocks.

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All in all, an effective hour spent and a beautiful park.

We returned to the mess we had in the van and proceeded to fix and clean the remaining items.

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