Thursday, January 10, 2013

Day Nine - Border Crossing

(pictures coming soon, and editing!)

Right before I fell asleep last night, I noticed a small ant on the floor. Then I looked closely. There were hundreds of them. I pulled the bed out from the wall, checked the sheets (none) and climbed in for the night. I slept like a rock and had a few bites this morning, but not bad. I walked down the street looking for breakfast and most places were still closed at 7, but I eventually found a nice spot with great coffee and wifi. I had a bowl of oatmeal, took a freshly squeezed orange juice to go, and hired a tuk tuk to take me to the site of the Mayan ruins, a little under a mile away from town, for about a dollar.

I was one of the first people there and had the place to myself. An amazing expanse of piles of rubble, some reconstructed pyramids and many intricate stone carvings and hieroglyphs. What struck me were the enormous trees growing on top of the pyramids. They really let the place go over the past couple hundred years! I was reminded of an old Earth First! bumper sticker a friend had that reads "nature bats last." It's a baseball reference, meaning that whatever score our team (humans) has, nature gets to go last. And while my worldview has people as part of nature, not separate, it's a great reminder that nature has a way of recovering from anything we throw at it.

I decide not to hire a tour guide and instead wander the ruins by myself. I've had the great privilege of visiting at least five other ancient Mayan communities, so I'm familiar with many of the structures and the overall layout. The gruesome ball court where they would play a game to their death. Pyramids built on pyramids to honor their leaders. Stelae telling stories. I wander, dreaming, feeling lonely, imagining history, and observing wildlife. They have started a project here to re-establish the scarlet Macaw, and their grand voices and incredible plumage draw me to their feeding area. I catch a few tapir with my camera, too. It looks like Honduras does have a chance at recovering it's wildlife.

There aren't any tuk tuks waiting in the parking lot when I'm done, so I walk back to town along the road. My bag packed, I leave the hotel and head to the centro to gather some souvenirs. Some bracelets, a Honduran flag and soccer shirt and a small sack of peanuts for the road. I had a ticket for a microbus to take me over the border to Antigua, and it left shortly after noon. It was filled to capacity, plus one, with people from all over Central America, Belgium, Canada, France and a few from the US like me. Conversations flowed in Spanish and English on a wide range of topics. The van was nice, my favorite, a diesel Toyota HiAce.

The border was only a few minutes from Copan, and we all got off and were immediately approached by a pack of money changers to help us with the transition over the border. They had huge wads of cash in Limpiras, Quintales and US dollars and calculators to make the transactions smooth. I got in line at the Honduran Border behind a fully dressed clown. Makeup, wig, ridiculous shoes and a colorful outfit. After he went through without incident, I felt pretty confident that I would too. I always have a very intense nervous feeling at the border. It has something to do with my history with the FBI and some false accusations of terrorism, but I'm slowly learning to relax and understand that "they" aren't out to get me anymore.

I then followed the clown down the cobblestone road a few meters to the Guatemalan border. Again, I watched the clown present his passport to the agent and they passed him right through.

Back in the van, now in Guatemala, we set forth on the rough road through desolate mountainous terrain. I rested, borrowed a guide book, and had a few nice conversations. We stopped for fuel, got some snacks, and kept plugging away. Soon enough the traffic thickened and we entered Guatemala City. As we entered the urban zone, the air got dark and my eyes started to burn. A few people had some nasty coughing fits. The air was dirty. It was just after four, and most of the shops were closing up. The McDonalds had two armed guards with shotguns. In fact, there was at least one armed guard on every block, typically leaning on the wall outside of an open storefront.

My most distinct memory of Guatemala City, though, were the buses. In most cities I've been in, the buses appear to all be owned and operated by the drivers. I say this because each of the buses has a unique paintjob, stickers, signs, lights and routes. In addition to these crazy buses, it looked as though there was a municipal bus system here as well. A fleet of blue and white buses that were relatively new also went down the streets. What amazed me, though, were the sheer number of people on these buses. They were packed like sardines, and there was bus after bus after bus. And every bus stop was packed with people as well, in addition to an armed guard at each stop. The big city buses looked similar to ones that I drove for the City of Eau Claire. except they were all manual transmission.

We crawled through the city without incident and eventually made it to the turnoff to Antigua, seven and a half hours after we left. A few seconds after I got out of the van, I was in the back of a tuk tuk on my way to my hotel. Zack, another traveler with Farmer to Farmer, was at the door as I arrived, gave me a hug and I felt at home again. Relieved to make it across the border, and across much of Guatemala, and connected with a new group of friends in a new city. We promptly set out for dinner at an amazing restaurant called Epicure. A great meal in my belly, I collapsed in bed and fell asleep in this quiet city.

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