Wide eyed we entered the Aduana check point via our feet figuring it should be enough that our bus was parked directly across the street! But no no the bus must come with us! So I went back fired her up waited the alotted 10 minute warm up time neccesary to ensure Alibi is ready to roll and proceeded to reverse. The best part about the whole situation is that I was reversing directly towards the small square where the christmas tree stood, it having been blessed by the “Mayor” only last night! Oh Lordie! After several honks and some excellent help from Alicia we missed the tree and made it into the tight Aduana checkpoint and presented our selves like proper citizens of planet earth. It should be noted the night before we went to get our exit papers and two of us (me being one of them) were missing our piece of paper. Now this paper stated that we had paid our $30 or so dollar tax upon entering the country, and judging by the tone of the Aduana agent we were not permitted to leave! For some reason he didnt like us but long story short I found mine and Trina used her amazing Spanish skills to make everything groovy! After all the talk of what horrible fate awaited us when we enetered Mexico well… I dunno about the girls but for me it was quite a beautiful experience from Pechocho in Topolobampo, to our early morning swim in Santa Maria del Oro, dragging a motorcycle behind the bus around Guadalajara, actually that one sucked! But Hierve la agua in Oaxaca was unforgettable so I guess what I’m saying is don’t always believe the news.
I parked on the side of the narrow road that was just on the other side of the border line, it was pretty early maybe 8 or 9 and there wasn’t much traffic passing through yet, just one guy we met from LA named Cody who was driving around Mexico and Central America for no real reason, which I dug! After proper paper work and again Trina saving the day with her skills we moved on ward… at this point I can see retrospectivly I should of realized the imediate change in the roads. We could see a whole street full of vendors and clothes and awning hanging out over the street I’m not exagerating because I clipped one of the awnings we were a tight fit through this market! But we skinnied up and made it through, in fact a large dump truck stopped to let us through and when we drove past them in english they said “we got you!” haha yess yes! Perfect timing too because there was no where else to go! So on we went into the jungle we drove all day along a tight two lane road with absolutly no shoulder that wrapped us through the jungle along a beautiful river bank, steadily we pressed forward. Then the bus began to shudder and spout and gasp like it was struggling to breathe and just has we began to rise up another slope out she went! I got her close to the side but this was a tight road and we were sitting ducks in between two blind turns, oh Lordie! The girls manned the turns and like every where we went on this trip people stopped to help us, this generosity in my humble opinion defines the culture of Mexico and Central America. We graciously thanked our good Samaritans and continued to our destination for that days trip, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. A place Aldous Huxley praised in his writings and a place I would not of known about if it wasn’t for the girls, who had been told to visit it when they were living in Antigua, Guatemala.
We reached the turn off for Lake Atitlan around 5p.m., we could see from our map the road was full of switchback something we had encountered before and did not want to relive that experience! It was also nearing dusk and we knew there was a solid hour of good light and maybe twenty minutes of managable light before total darkness. The small town we were driving through was perched just off the tight road we’d been driving on for the whole day and we found a truck full of police officers parked a hundred feet from what I’ll now call switchback pass. We stopped to speak with the officers who at this point had wide eyes and open mouths trying to decide whether we were breaking any laws just by driving! Our question was simple… “Can we make it down the pass?” Haha they didn’t blink an eye and said “of course!” In retrospect I wish I didn’t listen but we took that as a groovy and off we went into the fading Guatemala sunlight to our next conquest!
It got scary real quick! The view was amazing and I mean absolutely amazing volcanoes surrounding a huge Lake with the evening sun shining off its fresh water surface, oh lordie! But the road was absolute hell! It was dirt and had large cliffs on each side has it switched back and forth down the steep slope! There were 12 switchbacks and every time we got to one I would drive the nose of Alibi right to the edge of the cliff stop, holding the brake and clutch at the same time shift into reverse and give it all the gas I could without over heating while I slowly let off the clutch and break sending us moving backwards instead of over the cliff to a certain death! Whew I had practice in Mexico so the first two were okay but they they got tighter and I got one side of the bus stuck on a boulder just behind my gas tank. Trina and Lauren got off and it was now total darkness, I couldn’t believe it but it took us nearly one hour to get three switchbacks in! Alicia stayed with me on the bus and the girls started walking, at this point gas was pouring out the side of the bus and I was relatively certain I had punctured my gas tank, Alicia got the fire extinguisher and clenched the back of the drivers seat while I basically lost my mind! I was on a rant about how I couldn’t do this anymore, we were going to get the bus stuck on the side of this pass. But Alicia kept me going she told me there was no way we were leaving Alibi here! After each switchback I would ask in my shattered voice “how many left now?” I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that was the longest day of my life and I’m only half way through the story! After more side damage I got my rear differential stuck on a big boulder I thought well that’s it nothing more can be done here, Alibi made it to switchback pass and that’s that! I got out took a look and saw it was only under one side so I turned hard right and broke free maybe another 5 switchbacks more and we entered the first small town next to San Pedro! Haha we drove past a church I don’t know what day it was but it was maybe 7 or 8 p.m. at that point, the church had huge wooden windows that were open on the cool evening. I will never forget the faces of the 100 or so churchgoers who saw this beat up, gas leaking, door open school bus drive past their congregation. We were alive, thats all I cared about at that moment.
Maybe 5 minutes later we pulled into a gas station to observe the damage and find a way to get back up the pass to find Trina and Lauren!!! Alicia took a Tuk Tuk back up while I got under neath Alibi, good news… Gas tank groovy, septic more or less groovy, rear diff groovy I dunno how but groovy! Only real damage was to the frame and it was warped hard on the passengers side and you could see the scar from the boulder on the right. I was coming out from under the bus when I saw Trina and Lauren coming down in a Tuk Tuk! Apparently they hitched a ride with a newly wed couple from San Francisco!! haha of all the places but I guess the newlyweds didn’t appreciate two distraught girls ruining their romantic trip down switchback pass!! Alicia followed in a Tuk Tuk and we were reunited at the bottom and looking back up I really couldn’t believe we made it, there was certainly people up above looking out for us in Guatemala on that December night. Its all easy from here on out… right?
We decided that we had made it this far and San Pedro was the next town over why not make the fifteen minute drive into the town and find a place to park for the night… seemed like a good idea at the time. We got directions from the gas station attendant and it now being 9 p.m. we wearily got back in the bus and headed toward the next town over, the town of San Pedro. Our first turn was up a slight hill into the center of town, there were Tuk Tuk’s all around us (motorcycle’s converted into taxi’s) right after I made the first right we were stuck there was a pick up parked on one side of the road and I hope this gives you an idea of the size of these roads, we couldn’t get around it by a long shot! Luckily someone knew the owner and got them out of their house nearby, truck moved we proceeded, we reached the top of the hill to find a three way street. It was a T and we were facing the horizontal part I attempted the turn but got stuck and in the process of attempting to squeeze Alibi through the tight turn I hit a house and his plumbing near the street. The whole town came out it was night time and the town square with it’s own Christmas Tree probably blessed by the “Mayor” the night before stood directly in front of us. Some people yelled backwards others forward all in Spanish which at the time I spoke very little of so I wedged more and more and got deeper and deeper in to the house until finally I ripped his pipe right out of the ground! The cops came because at this point all traffic in San Pedro had stopped the horns blared behind us from what sounded like a thousand Tuk Tuk’s. They got a local chicken bus driver and with the help of the missing pipe we slid right through and three minutes later we were parked on a mid sized street maybe 100 yards from the Lake.
Once again… We had survived.