Having paid the princely sum of 80Q each (£6) for what is billed as a 6 hour bus journey from Rio Dulce to Guatemala City, we're expecting the usual el crappo tourist bus with bags launched and top and lashed to the roof rack with a length of rope. When Chris, our host at the roundhouse points at an actual coach and says "that's probably yours", my first thought is that he's probably been on the beers (very) early this morning.
I'm still dripping wet from the rainy boat ride when we slide our bags into a proper luggage compartment beneath the bus, and again check with the driver that this is correcto ("vamos a Guatemala City, si??"), and clamber on board to our allocated seats. The aircon (what is happening!?) is so good that I have to change out of my wet clothes.
When the coach leaves right on time, we're both shocked. At this point it's hard to tell which country we're in, as for the first time it's allocated seating, air con on max that I'm regretting not grabbing some warm clothes from my bag, footrests, cup holders. After an hour a film is put on, although admittedly it's a pirated DVD (a "Joshys entertainment" original), its badly dubbed into Spanish, and there's no subtitles, but we could be cruising along on a National Express coach on the M25 - except this bus is nicer.
5 and a bit hours later (ahead of time?! and we're rolling into Guatemala City. And it looks grim.
Park up at the bus station, and successfully navigate the throng of taxi drivers all trying to grab your attention, or failing that, just grab you. I go in to get directions to our humble abode for the night CP queues up while the drivers assistant (!) gets the bags out for us. With directions and bags sorted, we set off back thru the taxi drivers. If I've said "no, gracias" to the first 4 taxi drivers, what makes the next guy think that by stepping into my path and shouting "TAXI?" will get a positive response. Clearly the only acceptable method to deal with this is to walk straight through him.
Something about Guatemala City makes you feel quite uneasy, but we think that's more to do with the fact that everyone tells you in advance that it's dodgy, not to be out after dark, etc, that puts you on edge. We didn't see anything to make us feel threatened, but we did walk at quite a pace for the 3 blocks to our hostel. The Guats all seem to stare at us, but we figure that as long as you smile and look like you know where you're going then really they're just curious as to why a couple of gringos are frogmarching their way through the city.
Safely checked in, and we brave the mean streets of GC again to go to the supermarket, as for the first time so far we've managed to pick a place with a usable kitchen. Pasta, veggies, salami and a chicken burger (spontaneous decision) made for a great dinner.
Sleeping is a different story - as we have a taxi booked for 4:30am, we figure there is no need for the "expensive" private room, just go for the dorm rooms and roll out of bed when the alarm goes. The beds are fine, my pillow feels like 2 phonebooks stuffed into a potato sack but it will do, and we're soon asleep. At 1am we're awoken by what at first sounds like a walrus mating call, but is quickly identified as a snorer. After 10 minutes the entire dorm is awake and whispering (why?) about what to do - what is the etiquette here. After half an hour, CP and another guy are stood over the snorer and I have to laugh when they manage to wake him to say "Micheal! You're snoring mate!". His grunted response was not distinguishable as words but he stops snoring for all of 30 seconds.
By now I have one ear pressed tightly into my two phonebooks, with the bedsheet held against the other ear. But rather than using the occasional few seconds gap between snores, I find myself listening out to see if he is still snoring. Next thing we know, the guy that had helped wake him earlier is also asleep, and apparently responding to the walrus mating calls. In the Tikal blog entry we explained how the howler monkeys had provided the voices for the T-Rex is Jurassic Park - we have to assume that this pairing were on standby in case the howler monkeys got sick.
By 2am, we've had enough, I'm ready to go sleep in the main reception area but CP finds another dorm with big double beds and no noise. Bliss, until some revellers return at 3am and the guy spends 5 minutes trying to convince the girl to sleep with him - give it up mate, it's late / early / both. At this point I realise that at the tender age of 32, I'm too old to be pissing about with communal dorm rooms to save £4 on a nights accommodation.
4:15am, and after some very sketchy sleep the alarm goes off and I tip toe my way out of the room. I've barely got my shit together when there's s knock at the main door and I have to figure out how to open up the hostel to greet a little Guat man wearing a binbag - apparently it's bee raining. In my best Spanish I tell him we'll be out in a couple of minutes and go back to find CP. Instead I found this painted on the wall which brought a smile despite the hour:
Uneventful taxi and checkin at the airport, although I'm disappointed not to be directed to the business class lounge that our expensive tickets demand. Standard completion of the Guatemala exit forms, but then I'm even more disappointed at security when our sporks which are tucked away in my hand luggage are deemed to be a weapon and so not allowed through. I'd checked this beforehand and they've been cleared by TSA in the US, so I'm prepared to argue my case. I ask for the supervisor, and then the supervisors supervisor. Apparently it's a "new rule" and although we point out that airlines will give out cutlery on board they won't back down, so I'm forced to go back through immigration to the checkin desks and explain myself, then once the sporks are safely checked in, I'm back skipping queues at immigration and security, now suitably raged so throwing my shoes at an unsuspecting official.
We decide that a coffee is the best way to relax, so after spending our last Quetzalas on a cappuccino and 2 of the smallest sandwiches known to man we make our way to the gate. Travelling business class as they were the only tickets left, we're allowed to board the plane first and then get comfortable before the jokers in economy have have time to sully the plane. CP is reasonably happy with the seats but I am revelling in it, stretched out, wrapped up in the executive class blanket, waiting for my champagne.
Sadly the first delivery is the THREE forms required to enter Nicaragua - wtf?
Halfway through completing those and the hostess has pulled across the curtain protecting us top class travellers from the shitmunchers back in economy - the reason for this is so they can't see the breakfasts that will be cooked to order and delivered to us shortly.
Oh - and of course breakfast is served with a full set of metal cutlery, rending the security guys spork issues redundant.
Ok, so I'm denied the champagne, but it's not even 7am yet so I guess that would have been excessive. We notice that one of the other passengers opts for no breakfast or juice, and I feel like shouting across to her - "lady, you have paid $300 for that seat, why on earth are you refusing the breakfast?!".
The other perk of travelling as we are is that we're first off, and breeze through immigration with no queues, get our bags and swiftly jump in a taxi to the bus station which will then take us to Leon. The brief taxi ($15) is a shafting in comparison to the 1.5 hour bus ($2 each), but we get there, and then jump in a waiting bicycle wagon (€2 total) to our hostel - and we've arrived at La Tortuga Booluda (the lazy turtle!) by 11am, a mere 6 hours of travelling that went taxi, plane, taxi, bus, bike thingo!