Almost 2 years into our journey.
Pen has just celebrated her 67th birthday.
I mentioned in our last Blog episode the road to Aguacarte, Belize as being the worst we have experienced. I take that back. Guatemala and Honduras roads you’ll read about later in this missive are horrific. Truly horrendous!
In both countries the local form of Transport is in the back of what we call a ute, or a small truck. Everyone piles on, hangs on, and off they go at the speed of light. You may come across them either broken down or changing a tyre, with all the passengers patiently waiting beside the vehicle.
We have never seen so many semi trailers totalled by the side of the road in the mountains. Lack of brakes and poor maintainence is probably the cause of these horrific crashes.
Yasmin our Swiss friend is still travelling with us. She is brave!
After crossing the Belize/Guatemala border we headed for Tikal, an amazing Mayan World Heritage archeological site. This Mayan city was home to some 150,000 inhabitants at it’s height.
The towering temples each took some 300 years to build. Rich fertile country side was farmed to feed the the large community. Something really catastrophic must have happened in the Americas during the 11th century. Mesa Verde in Arizona, home to cliff side dwellers was abandoned and all of the Mayan culture and people in Central America vanished during that time. Famine? Disease?
We spent 2 days at Tikal walking around the beautiful ruins. Howler monkeys hidden in the tree tops added to our experience. They sound like lions roaring, and are really a small baboon.
South to Flores and a campsite overlooking the lake and city, which is an island approachable by water or one bridge. Very old and attractive. Water taxis ferried us across to the city for a bit of shopping and to explore.
It was at this campsite we first met a convoy of 3 British cars who are travelling the World. “GlobalConvoy.com”. These guys bought cars in the UK,(aka bombs. 100 British pounds each ) and started travelling the world some time ago!
They offer via their website an incredible experience for anyone who wants to join them on a leg of their world journey. Pay your own expenses, fit in and do a share of the work (which also means getting out of the cars and help push these bombs up hills). They have extraordinary tales and funny videos on YouTube. Check them out! We keep in contact. The last we heard 2 cars brakes and shock absorbers totally failed. They are taking ad hoc work to get the Bombs running again. Quite an incredible intrepid balmy group. An inspiration!
People we meet say we are an inspiration. Because we are of a vintage?
Anything is possible even the seemingly impossible( he gulps for air).
From Flores we headed south to Lanquin and Semec Champey high up in the fabulous Guatemalan Mountains (truly magnificent). This is where we encounter our horrific roads, read tracks. Boulders, rocks, washouts. Wiggy in 4×4 we bounced and lurched along for hours. Reversed to let oncoming vehicles pass where narrow tracks won’t allow passing. These tracks are the major routes in these parts. Pretty high elevation, mist and drizzle (known locally as Chipy Chipy, which happens Feb/March each year) made tracks greasy and slippery. 10hrs of exhausting driving we finally made it to our camp. We all 3 would have loved a hot shower. Not in these parts buddy! Perched on a grassy terrace above a beautiful river we slept.
Woke next morning to find GlobalConvoy.com right beside us! WTF! Truly amazing how those guys made it. We were camped with this “motley” crew for 2 days. The road into camp had a very steep wet and slippery descending hill. We offered to winch them out using Wiggys rear winch as they thought they would never make the climb out!
Pen, being the mother of all breathing, cooked one pot meals for two nights to feed some of them. No leftovers for breakfast! No dishes to clean as our motley group dug in and all woke to a tidy camp. They loved it!.
Semec Champey has a fierce flowing river that has cut its way through limestone and runs some 300 mtrs underground and appears again as a magnificent waterfall. Above are superb swimming pools. We did a guided hike up to a lookout, 500 mtrs climb of vertical rock “steps” and ladders. At the lookout chippi chippi mist and drizzle made our view impossible. We were in thick cloud and visibility was down to about 10 mtrs so we missed the magnificent view. Descending by a 700mtr different route we were back at the swimming holes. Returned to camp and Global Convoy were no where to be seen! So they obviously found a way out. Clever them.
Coban was our next stop, a night here before the beautiful city of Antigua flanked by the Volcano de Agua. Cobbled streets here are typical. Antigua is to Guatemala what San Miguel de Allende is to Mexico. Rich in heritage. Behind doors and gates lie courtyards fringed with artsitan shops and restaurants. A lot of Antiguan tourists fly in or are coached in from cruise ships docked on the Guatemalan Pacific coast.
Wiggy had a service with Gunter the wonder mechanic found on iOverlander site, and all filters replaced as well as much needed greasing. $150! We had Wiggys tyres rotated for the equivalent of $6 just down the road at the side of the street. Our roof rack had been busted on some welds from the horrific roads. Couldn’t find an aluminium welder in Antigua so rack is now held together by Ratchet strap and 20 cable ties.
We stayed in a hotel in Antigua for 2 nights for much wanted hot shower and desperate laundry needs. We do have a shower in Wiggy and hot water, but keeping our general water to a level is paramount for us. We can bucket wash, “top & tail” as it were or have copious amount of cold showers (yikes) at most of the campsites we stay at. But there is nothing like a hot shower with a bit of room to “dance” around in. Dance in Wiggys shower you cannot.
From Antigua we drove on paved roads although with some huge holes and cracks from earthquakes. Was a heavenly drive in comparison to the last big push.
4 hrs west to Panajachel on the shores of Lago Atitlan. If it’s not the most beautiful lake on this planet it certainly comes close. The lake boasts magnificent views of 3 Guatamalen Volcanoes Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman. Villages nestle around this lake and plenty of water taxis to take to each, San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago. At the rear of Santiago is a mass graveyard when in 1992(?) A Hurricane Killed all inhabitants. While at our camping spot we met 2 Irish Girls who were cycling through Central America, a really gutsy effort as Guatamala is so mountainous. Wow, people you meet!
Yasmin left us in Antigua, to do an overnight hike to the top of a volcano and to make her way to the Honduran Caribbean Islands to get her PADI (dive) licence. Utila and Roatan are considered the dive Mecca of the Northern Hemisphere. We are headed that way so we may catch up once more.
Heading towards our Guatemala/Honduras border crossing we stayed at a superb little campsite outside of Chiquimala, which as a bonus had a superb swimming pool. Camping was free, use of pool was 25 quetzals each ($4) 24 hr security. We had 4 glorious 4 nights here.
Had a security “gate” made and fitted by Marvin, the wonder welder between cab and living space, ready for our RORO shipping to Cartagena, Colombia. RORO means roll on roll off, and you have to leave the keys to your vehicle with the ships Capt. (or someone), so if there is access to personal space and items, one stands a very good chance of being totally denuded of everything! Quite common.
A little side journey South from here to the town of Esquipula which receives 1 million visitors many who queue for hours to see Christ Negro, a black Christ who appeared and cured a dying Spanish Priest in the 15th Century. The queue when we were their was snaking 1 km, in temperatures close to 90 F.
Crossed the border into Honduras, which we had heard could be problematic. Well prepared for this. Gulp! We had six colour copies made of all documents pertaining to Wiggy and us. Had them “Plasticoed’ and cut to look very similar to our originals. Never, ever hand over original documents!!! Too much hassle and “Admin. Costs” to get them returned. No problem at this Frontera for the Wiggie team!
First Honduran night was in Copan Ruinas, a quaint gated little city. The Mayan ruins here are the most southerly of the Mayan civilisation. The city road was fine driving in, but to get out all gates had ‘roofs’ were too low for us to get through. Had to stop traffic, reverse and attempt another exit. Thwarted twice more before we eventually “escaped”. Hoots and Holas from locals. Just gorgeous.
We use Maps.me for navigation. It’s an offline maps App which to the most part, here in Central America has been pretty jolly good. Our TomTom is useless here. But twice Maps.me has got us into some extremely difficult positions. The app always advising the shortest route which can mean the crow can fly this way and so can you. Not!
We had read that to complete the Honduran driving experience the route across the Mountains through coffee plantations was well rewarded. We agree. the Mountains and plantations were simply stunning. The aroma of harvested and cleaned coffee is not as you would imagine. The beans have a pungent smell a bit like fermented barley, as they are cleaned and then dried in the sun on huge tarps. Men continuously rake the beans and they change colour in the really hot climate.
When you next have your morning “Heart Starter”, give a thought to these very hardworking Hondurans. They endure so much hardship.
Maps.me said turn right at a tiny village to take this mountainous route. Gut instinct, (note to ones self, trust your gut) here said turning right didn’t seem right somehow. We checked with a local, in our very bad Spanish. We pointed and shrugged, he pointed and smiled. So, we turned right.
As you would. OK!
This, dear readers, is where the shit really hit the proverbial fan! The track was steep and continued to narrow until there really wasn’t a road. Hairpin bends over grown with jungle vegetation not allowing the slightest of “round the corner” views. Urban male Hondurans (and Guatemalans) all carry machetes, I suspect because you can almost hear the jungle growing around you. Stop for too long and you become part of the landscape and have to slash your way out.
We had been travelling all day in 4×4 high range. Up ahead the narrow track turned to a single very steep track. Wash outs meant deep gutters (dry thank god). We had no other choice but to attempt it, reverse? Not an option! We had 100 mtrs before the track widened and flattened somewhat, then another corner and steeper incline to negotiate but without washouts. Signs of habitation after walking the track saw double tracks meant other vehicles use the track further on. 1 hour later after backfilling gutters with rock and visualising the finish line was time to “gun” it.
Some local coffee growers appeared and told us all would be fine, we should continue, and walked the track for a little while to check on our progress. They were great.
An aside. these people work so hard, are extremely impoverished, and some of the most generous souls we have met. They hate to say no, so we guess thats why the original guy at the ‘right’ turnoff urged us on. He was very polite.
This was without doubt the worst 4×4 test we have experienced, ever! Crossing the Simpson Desert and driving outback Australia is by comparison a walk in the park. It was a driving nightmare in a really remote mountain range full of people with machetes who looked really scary, but were angels.
This is what Wiggy was made to do, we agreed. Yeah, but what about us!
Slipped Wiggy into low range 1st gear. We crawled uphill, Wiggy bounced and lurched over the rocks from washout to washout. Have no idea what revs we were pulling, just trying to steer. Wiggys engine was screaming!
Or was that me and Pen?
We managed the first bad section, and had a minute or two of quiet reflection, as you would. Humidity pretty high and we were soaked in sweat through both humidity and nervous exhaustion I suspect.
Then to tackle the second and steepest incline. Pen had to walk in front and guide by hand signals where Wiggys wheels needed to be. Screams once again. Might have been me or Wiggy, or both!!!! Wasn’t Pen for sure, as she was out front. Tyres smoking, we reached the summit. We made it!!!
Whooo Hooo! Whoo Hooo f@@king HOOO!!
This 6 tonne Isuzu truck we lovingly call Wiggy is one amazing vehicle.
Wiggy, we have put you over some torturous and horrendous tracks. We will undoubtedly need your guts and power again.
Hopefully these two old dudes will meet YOUR expectations!!
Our little Buddha, given to us in Mexico has had his head knocked of twice during the above journey. We’ve stuck his head back on each time. He now wears a little choker to hide the damage. Poor little chap.
We now off to the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Roatan Island. The dive centre of the Northern Hemisphere. Wiggy is parked in a secure parking lot on the mainland.
At La Ceiba, the mainland port.
In our last blog I mentioned we may be able to cross into Costa Rica and Panama with our right hand drive Wiggy. Is now confirmed we cannot. So from here we head back to Mexico for shipping from Veracruz, Mexico to Cartegena in Colombia.
Globalconvoy.com has a website. Check them out. They are a wonderful group of young people. They have a ‘gofundme’ site which is all about getting their (bombs) around this amazing planet while providing a life experience to others, and donating to a charity for Cancer research in the old dart (UK). Any contribution you may make goes to maintaining their truly awesomely bad vehicles, and providing young people with the adventure of a lifetime.
We are finishing the blog off today sitting by the azure (like it?) Caribbean, watching people, vendors selling clothing, pineapple donuts, bracelets and conch shells, (and fighting about territory!), dive boats going in and out and little water taxis zooming up and down the beach. Lots of tourists, and it is just so beautiful we are not surprised it’s so full of people lying in the sun.
We leave in less than 48 hrs for the mainland of Honduras, will pick up Wiggie and return to the mountains, the Parque Nationale Pico Bonito, and the magnificent river we didn’t get a chance to explore. Eco adventure time!