Long trip home (4)

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sat 10 Sep 2011 16:46
Our stay in Copan ended on the Wednesday morning. All packed and ready to endure the 4 or 5 hour ride back to Guatemala we sat waiting for our driver to collect us at 1000am. We were still sitting in reception looking longingly at the crystal clear water of the swimming pool and getting warmer by the minute at 1100am. A call was made through to the person that arranged the transport who informed us our driver was stuck on the other side of the border in Guatemala. The next sentence filled us with foreboding - we would need to get public 'collectivos' in order to meet up with him as the road was blocked and he couldn't get the minibus through. But we were to wait for another call to see what the current situation was. We waited and then another call came in from the 'arranger' and simultaneously our driver walked into the reception area at the hotel! However he did not have the minibus outside as he had left that on the other side of the blockage wherever that was. It wasn't getting any better and we're sure each of us would not have objected to one more day in Copan (sitting mainly in the pool).
So the following is an account of the journey back to the Rio Dulce....... 3 Tuk Tuks were called for to carry the (now) seven of us and all our luggage down to the 'Collectivo' station in town where our bags were then heaved onto the roof rack and tied down, with us and some locals crammed into the 12 seats with no air-conditioning (unless open windows count as such). The 'Collectivo' with numerous stops under its belt both in villages and roadside 'flagdowns' finally arrived at the Honduras/Guatemala border but not before a heart-stopping ride down the wrong side of the road, down a steep hill, round blind bends for about a mile to pass a mass of trucks that were waiting to cross the border. They were stuck there just as our driver had been stuck the other side of the blockage somewhere inside Guatemala. Nothing was going anywhere!
                    Us......                                                 & them               (we were amused by the blood-dripping Dracula style lettering emblazoned on the rear windows)
We all piled out, paid our fares (ridiculously cheap) reclaimed our bags and trooped into the immigration building where the same official that stamped us in last Sunday now stamped us out. Carrying or wheeling our bags we walked the 100 yards to the Guatemalan immigration office to repeat the procedure in reverse. It was a relief to obtain a further 90 day visa in the passport. We then had a twenty five minute wait for the larger Litigua minibus to leave which was waiting conveniently by the small shop/cafe by the border barrier. Finally we were allowed to get onto the bus (again no air-con although the curtains did flap next to the open windows) for a journey that we had no idea how far we were to be going, except that unlike our private minibus this regular service left no village out of its route which usually meant deviating off the main highway to achieve its main purpose - to cram as many people onto the bus as possible.
Had to carry our bags across the border this time (no check on luggage) as we then queued at Guatemalan Immigration
       Land of churches, Mayan temples etc & whatever you can find lying around to counterbalance the barrier with!          
We finally arrived at the cause of the delays, for it's election time in Guatemala and these people like to exercise their democratic rights to protest about anything and everything that's politically sensitive. This was the day of the teachers protest and they had blocked an entire small town and other similar locations across the country to make their point. The Litigua minibus stopped at the front line thankfully next to two armed policemen where we all piled out, regained our luggage and walked down a side road parallel with the main highway which itself was completely occupied by trucks at a standstill.
As far as we go on the other side of the blockage - time to walk through the protest to our next ride
Nothing is moving - the boulders are a token gesture - not advisable for anyone to try and move them
Under the massive trailers were the truck drivers usually snoozing in hammocks slung between the axles or any other convenient attachment point and in addition a number of protestors sitting or lying under the trailers themselves. Our driver lead the way through the lines of other protesters that had placed rocks and boulders across the inner road. Not a huge challenge to shift aside if need be but the police on site were doing nothing of the sort as this was currently a peaceful event and they preferred to keep it that way. (Guatemala has a history of political protests turning deadly when some idiot pulls out a gun and starts shooting).
In between all the 'goings on' were ice-cream sellers, fruit sellers, hammock sellers - in fact anything that could be sold to anyone either protesting or just caught up in the protest was being peddled.  We felt very conspicuous as our baggage wheels rattled across the rough tarmac being careful to not push anybody aside but to ease our way through the crowds. 'Skip' just kept smiling at everybody as we walked - a crocodile of Gringos caught up in another country's political issues.
Expecting to glimpse our private minibus somewhere the other side of the crowd we were initially disappointed but then relieved to see the Litigua minibus which would get us on our way again. This already had quite a few people onboard and seats were scarce. 'Skip' ended up in the seat opposite the driver with his bag on his lap with the 'Admiral' perched on the engine box cover which had a hint of padding to indicate that it was able to perform duties as a 'last-ditch' seat. We moved slowly off, passing a long line of trucks all with protesters ensconced beneath.  As we drove further out of town trucks with drivers fast asleep in their hammocks had fewer protesters beneath the trailers until, finally, there was just empty road.  It was obvious that nothing much was on the move towards the border and after a few more village stops and another hour we pulled up at a large garage forecourt. This was our stop but so crowded was the bus we had to pass the bags out of the small window next to where 'Skip' was seated and then clamber over various seats and people to get off the bus itself. We were mightily glad to see our private minibus parked on the hardstand and praised the actions of our driver as we now realized just how much trouble he'd gone to in order to get us back to the Rio.
Town off the beaten track. we by-passed this place in the private minibus on the way there - business looks bad for the barber!
                                                                Never thought we'd see this today!
The remainder of the trip to the Rio Dulce was uneventful and we arrived back at 1730, having taken six hours from hotel to boat. Luckily we had just missed a major thunderstorm that had swept down river and had damaged some dockage at a neighbouring marina. We didn't escape the real corker that hit us later that evening with one lightening strike at the back of the marina which knocked out the main power fuse - too close for comfort, but it was good to be back onboard.