San Pedro to Antigua 9,200miles 26th March 2001
Not much cycling in this bit!
Still in San Pedro, but after two weeks no longer at the Spanish school. We both found it very hard going to learn Spanish and Joan decided to quit after one week. David found that although he could understand and keep up with the lesson, despite hours of revision, most was forgotten by the next morning. After four hours of lesson each morning, his mind was not up to even more hard study. At one point, David had a list of 35 verbs and their conjugations to learn. Still, we both now know more than we did and David now has an understanding of the use of verbs and grammar. We can take lessons again at many places on our journey.
If anyone is considering a similar trip to ours, there is one skill that is worth studying beforehand - plumbing! Almost invariably, the toilet and shower systems in hotels are in bad need of attention and most leak, don't flush or have a non-stop flush. David had lost count of the number of times he has repaired valves, washers and leaking pipes. He now carries a roll of PTFE tape for this purpose.
Yes, we have heard about the earthquakes in El Salvador. There have been three major quakes in three weeks, all in the same area, and many thousands have been made homeless and hundreds have died. Next time you feel sorry for yourself, think of the people of El Salvador who have endured many years of civil war, then as it ended along came hurricane Mitch and three major earthquakes. Our original plans were to travel through El Salvador, but now we are not sure. We are not worried for our own safety, the risk of another quake is very low, but it does not seem right for tourists to be around when they have so many problems. If we could be of any real assistance, it would be different, but they certainly do not need labour to move rocks and debris and we have no special skills or equipment.
Some further words about giving assistance to underdeveloped and poor countries. There are organisations here that arrange for volunteers to help the poor. In the streets in San Pedro we saw a strange sight. About twenty gringo youngsters, all wearing identical T-shirts with a fancy logo were busy with pickaxes and spades digging a trench along the road. Meanwhile, about the same number of Guatemalan labourers were leaning on their spades drinking beer, chatting and watching the helpers. If the volunteers had volunteered to be labourers in their home country and sent their wages to Guatemala they would have done much more good.
We have heard that volunteers in children's homes and hospitals are not welcomed by the resident staff and are seen as encouraging cheap labour, as they work for nothing while the real workers get paid less than two dollars a day. There is one thing that underdeveloped countries are not short of - unskilled labour. If unskilled people really want to help, there is one thing that they can do. That is to give money to buy imported goods.
Two new arrivals at our hotel in San Pedro were two English girls from London who updated us on the local British news like more train crashes, bad weather, foot and mouth disease and the coming May election.
While sitting outside one sunny afternoon, we were aware of a voice asking the hotel owners if two English cyclists were staying here. Moments later we were greeted by James a cyclist from New Zealand who we had last seen in Oregon last October. He had read our website and knew we were in Guatemala but did not know where. While in Antigua he met some people that had met us. They told him that we were somewhere around Lake Atitlan and his search finally narrowed down to our hotel in San Pedro. There are 20 million people in Guatemala.... how many of them know us?
We made arrangements to meet in Antigua two weeks later and to travel together for a while as he was going the same way. He told us that he had been traveling with Christine, from Quebec who was doing the same trip as us but for charity. She had broken her collarbone in Alaska aand cycled in pain all the way to Guatemala where a diagnosis showed that it had not joined and she must have surgery to correct it. He had left her with plans to return to Mexico city for treatment before carrying on with the trip.
A trip across the lake to Panajachel and a visit to an optician to for David to order new sunglasses replace those lost in the sea in Mexico seemed straightforward enough. But, on collecting them a week later, he could not see through them. One lens was completely wrong and the other had such a small area for reading that reading was impossible. He left his other glasses with them with instructions to produce an identical pair but in dark glass. One week later we again visited Panajachel, but this time it was to be on the way back to Chichicastenango to see Max and Mary and to pick up our parcel which on a 48 hour delivery was eventually delivered 3 weeks late. In Panajachel, the glasses were again useless and the optician blamed us for specifying multifocal when they should have been varifocal. Does anyone other than an optician know the difference? Again, we were asked to return a few days later for yet another pair!
At Max and Mary's house, our parcel had arrived. We had to pay extra for delivery from the capital. The contents were as specified, but unfortunately the bracket was that holds the altimeter broken and it could not be used. A couple of days later, a parcel from MSR arrived. It contained the vital spares for our cooking stove that we had asked for by email three weeks earlier. There was no invoice and we presume the spares were free. An email from Cateye, a reply to our query about the broken old one, said that they would replace it free, but we had no address to send it to as we were soon to move on.
Max and Mary kindly allowed us to stay a few more days in order to pick up the sunglasses, even though they would be away for two days in Guatemala City. Max and Joan shared the cooking again. The evening meals were delicious and would be remembered for a long time.
Another coincidence! While sitting in a cafe in Chichi, Joan spotted a female touring cyclist passing outside. David leapt to his feet and chased after her. It was Christine from Quebec who James from New Zealand had left weeks earlier. She was invited back to Max and Mary's for an evening meal and we met her the next day for a chat over a cafe meal. We finally left her to cycle back to Mexico City for surgery on her collarbone. We wish her the best of luck and hope that it heals well so that she can continue her journey.
The saga of the sunglasses continues. In order to avoid problems with language, we arranged for a Guatemalan to call the optician to see if the glasses were ready. He was told that they would be ready at 3pm on Wednesday. Three buses and 35 miles later we were back at Panajachel only to be told that they were not there and to return on Saturday. This was now almost 3 weeks waiting. Back at Max and Mary's, they very kindly offered to put us up even longer and to take us back by car. Max, in his fluent Spanish, arranged that they would be ready for collection on Friday. He even called before we left to make sure they were ready. At the opticians, David reluctantly accepted the glasses as he could at least see through them, but they were not up to western standards by any means. I hope we have learned a lesson not to expect western standards in Central or South America.
On Saturday morning we finally and reluctantly said our goodbyes to Max and Mary. They have been a lifeline to us, enabling us to receive parcels and have a relaxing'? rest. We have made lifelong friends and look forward very much to returning their hospitality when they visit England.
Arrived at the old colonial town of Antigua on Saturday afternoon. We now have to try to find James from New Zealand. An email from him said that he left Antigua on Friday and intends to spend at least a week in San Pedro where we spent 3 weeks! We decide not to wait any longer and to carry on with another change of plan and go through San Salvador after all.
Joan continues to feel very homesick and we are seriously considering going home from Costa Rica or thereabouts. Has anybody any advice, cures or suggestions? It will be a pity if we had to abandon our journey, but we must if Joan feels so homesick all the time.