So it's been the busiest month ever that I haven't had a chance to update the blog, and I am writing this the night before I leave to come home.
Every weekend seems to be an adventure in Tapachula. Last weekend a few of my friends and I decided to take a trip to Guatemala. We took a bus called Los Galgos from Tapachula and within 15 minutes we arrived at the border in Talisman (which sounds like it should be in the Middle East and not in Mexico). I believe I've mentioned before how nervous I get around migration officials (sir:"where are you from?" me: "seat 10!") so I figured crossing the border would be interesting. We pull up to this tiny town on the river and are directed into the migration center. After you pass through Mexican migration you have to walk over this bridge as 25 men with wads of cash practically assault you in order to get you to exchange money with them. Meanwhile, the bus has disappeared so we have no idea where to go, and end up choosing to walk under another sketchy bridge to look for it. Turns out everything was fine, we end up finding the bus eventually, but it further confirmed my dislike of migration centers. Sometimes I think it might just be easier to cross as most people do, on rafts further down the river in Ciudad Hidalgo. Don't have to worry about officials or filling out forms there.
Chicken Bus only a quarter of the way full
The bus ride is about 5 or 6 hours to Guatemala City and the view the whole way is of volcanoes and greenery. As soon as we got to Guatemala City we took a chicken bus to the colonial town of Antigua. This was the first of many chicken buses the following day (I believe we climbed, no squished into at least 7 of them to get to the Lago Atitlan). Jumping off of the bus when you get to your destination is also an adventure-I kind of just threw my bags out and hoped someone might catch me. Although this was probably one of the more uncomfortable experiences I've ever had, being squished 3 to a seat with someone's butt in my face and another's armpit on my head, we met so many nice people who were willing to show us the way and help us out.
I was also surprised to see campaign posters plastered to every surface and every billboard and tree and lampost. Right now Guatemala is in the middle of campaigns and elections for president and other offices so there is a lot of tension and political violence. One candidate had two of his opponents killed and then faked an assassination attempt on his own life. Another candidate is the former first lady (Sandra) who divorced the current president in order to "marry the pueblo." Not sure I'm falling for that one Sandra.
We arrived in Antigua and it reminded me a lot of San Cristobal in Chiapas, a colonial city with tons of tourists. The architecture and view of the mountains is very pretty, but I almost feel like most of it is catered to make the experience feel more authentic, which actually makes it feel a little less authentic. We ended up staying in a hostel called the Black Cat (thanks for the strange bug bites the next morning also) which was full of travelling backpackers but was pretty grungy. All part of the experience. We toured the markets and walked around the city before going to the Lago Atitlan the next day. After climbing into 4 buses in 4 hours, we finally arrived at the lake in the town of Panajachel, which had a beautiful view of a volcano. We took a quick boat ride, got a little seasick, and then ran to jump on another chicken bus to head back to Guatemala City (this one was more like a van, but don't worry, we took full advantage of the 5 seats by filling it with about 25 people).
Julia, Raquel and I on the boat in Lago Atitlan
Panajachel at Lago Atitlan
Guatemala City was different than I thought it would be. The hostel we stayed at was located in a very chic part of the city with malls and fancy restaurants. We met up with some friends and had a great time hanging out. It was great to just sit and chat with a group of kids my age from Guatemala and Mexico and Washington, DC, the world seemed a little bit smaller then (I know, pretty deep). I didn't feel unsafe like everyone had said it was, until I read the local newspaper on the busride home. Nope, maybe it was until our cellphones were stolen as we sat in traffic a block away from the bus station.
In the Center of Guatemala City at the Plaza
Although this may have been the craziest, most exhausting, and most adventurous trip I've ever taken, I am so glad that I had the experience. I think sometimes the things that are more challenging are a little more exciting too.