Archive for the ‘Guatemala’ Category

Cerro Verde, El Salvador – Crossing the border to El Salvador

Donnerstag, August 18th, 2011

El Salvador is calling us. Central America’s smallest country is highly populated (7.3 mill) and has one of the world’s highest crime rates. The rebels of the 12 years long cruel civil war from 1980 on are mostly unemployed, but still possess one million illegal weapons that they are willing to use. Why are we here in this country? Is it really so dreadful? We will report.

We spent the last days in Guatemala with Bill and Beatriz to update our website. Today, we are heading to the border crossing Valle Nuevo – Las Chinamas at CA 8. For the first time self-proclaimed border helpers bellow who offer to carry out the formalities for a fee. What seems a bit ridiculous in the face of the simple departure procedure: Take out the vehicle, get a stamp in the passport, and it doesn’t cost anything. There are no helpers on Salvadorian side after the river bridge. Even so we need only an hour to get everything over and done with. It might have been way faster, but I take long to fill the form with all the unfamiliar technical Spanish expressions. The details from the form are superficially verified, but again nobody is interested in our cabin’s content. There is even no drug control. We are sent to the Aduana where the vehicle import paper is stamped and to the Migracion where we our passports are registered. There is no new stamp in the passport; the Guatemalan departure stamp is valid. The residence permit is valid for 90 days, but the vehicle permit only 60 days and may not be exceeded under any circumstances. There is not one Centavo to pay – the first complimentary border crossing.

The Guatemalans were very friendly, but the Salvadorians fall over themselves to be helpful. We are greeted with a handshake not only at the border crossing but by completely strange people on the street whom we ask a question. It seems that they have to welcome personally every single precious tourist.

We arrive a quarter of an hour too late in Cerro Verde National Park. The administration left at 5 p.m., but the gates are left open since there are still visitors. It doesn’t take long and we are crowded around by policemen who watch the park. First they don’t want to let us camp here. There is so more administration and no superior to be asked. Further down on the road there was a campground. But we ask them to consider (puppy dog eyes provided) that the path could be too narrow for our vehicle. One of the visitors asked for help phones another police officer and suddenly we receive the permit to stay. Up here on the volcano Cerro Verde in 2000 m / 6000 ft elevation it is chilly, foggy, and rainy – unlike wide areas of El Salvador. On clear days it shall be possible to see the Pacific Ocean. (National Park Cerro Verde: N 13°49’36.5’’ W 89°37’27.5’’)

Quiriguá, Guatemala – Stele between banana

Samstag, August 13th, 2011

Quiriguá is another famous Maya place. Not too much because of the few excavated buildings but more because of the highest stone stele in this cultural environment that were ornately sculpted – without metal tools. The Maya knew neither metals nor the wheel.

Yesterday afternoon we started from Tikal via the fully developed CA 13 to the Caribbean coast. There is no wait at Rio Dulce thanks to a bridge. The river flows into the narrow lake Itzabal that pours in the Caribbean Sea close to Livingston. Since we made good progress we continued to Quiriguá at CA 9. Although the gates to the ruins were already closed one hour after opening hours the watchmen are always here. Our wish to visit the archaeological find the next morning and to camp on the secured ground seemed to be very understandable. The gate opened for us, and we didn’t have to pay anything. Just the opposite: The men offered us to use their bathroom and showers. After inspection we relinquish. But it was a nice gesture anyway (N 15°16’25.6’’ W 89°02’31.9’’).

For 80 Quetzals entrance fee we visit the stele today. The rectangular stone monuments show the prevailing ruler on two opposite sides and the date specification of the Mayan calendar on the two other faces. Hieroglyphic texts tell about the relation of the sovereign to the gods and about important historic events. For example like ruler Thunder Sky captured Eighteen Rabbits, the ruler of Copán in today’s Honduras, in the year 738, and sacrificed him the next day. However, another stele in Copán reports on Eighteen Rabbits who heroically fell fighting against Thunder Sky. The truth remains a secret. The largest stele is more than 10 m high and weighs 65 tons. In later years objects of zoomorphism were erected. The three to four metres long stone ashlars were brought into the shape of mystical animals (like a tortoise) and are also covered with symbols and characters that tell stories.

Quiriguá is located in the middle of a small remaining piece of rain forest. For miles around all trees and most animals fell victim to monoculture plantations. Their only task is to satisfy our hunger: our hunger for banana.

Tikal, Guatemala – About wildlife and pyramids

Freitag, August 12th, 2011

The big mighty Tikal influenced during its long eventful history the entire Maya world. Farmers already settled 600 BC; first buildings date from 200 BC. Tikal’s sovereign Big Paw won an important military victory in the year 292 AD with spear carriers that were used for the first time and dominated the region for the following 180 years as the only Great Power in these days. 300,000 to 500,000 people lived in the kingdom and fostered economical relations up to Teotihuacán in Mexico. A military defeat stagnated Tikal’s progress, but in 682 the empire experienced a renaissance. Most of the buildings that can be seen today date from this time. The last date display belongs to 879. What lead to the decline of the entire Mayan world is shrouded in mystery. In the meantime there are clues that a 200-years dry spell forced the inhabitants of the big cities to the exodus.

Tikal’s appeal today comes from the impressively high pyramids that tower above the primeval forest – some of them can be climbed on wood stairs – and from the numerous partially excavated small and large buildings as well as from the enormous size of the installation. Especially attractive is that the antique city is located in a tropical jungle that hasn’t been cleared. Instead paths were made through the rain forest that connects the building groups and where there is a chance to watch wildlife. Tikal belongs to the UNESCO world cultural heritage and is embedded into a national park that protects the still intact flora and fauna.

The most peculiar plant is the Ceiba tree that was sacred to the Maya. Characteristic for the hardwood is its high stem with the firm branches that split off horizontally just in the treetop and that are carriers for a lot of orchids, bromeliads, moss, and lichen. In the trees and the hanging liana howling and spider monkeys dash along. Light-blue wild turkeys stalk around, a grey fox rushes into the ruins. Little parrots and different toucan species quarrel in the treetops. King vultures hover above everything. Mosquitoes cover an interesting size spectrum and don’t find DEET 30 (the strongest repellent) to much abhorrent.

The archaeological finding is best to visit in the early morning. Then fog covers the area, there are not too many tourists yet and it is not too hot, since a couple of hours are necessary for the visit. There are beautiful views from the high temples over the endless seeming rain forest and the few buildings that tower the treetops. It is well worth to visit the Maya city, even though it is not inexpensive with 150 Quetzals per person. Camping is possible on a grassy field for 50 GTQ pp, and there are bathrooms and cold showers (N 17°13’29.4’’ W 89°36’40.2’’).

Lanquin, Guatemala – Miracles of nature: River tunnel with spa and bat cave

Mittwoch, August 10th, 2011

The biggest chance for a Quetzal sighting is between 5 and 6 in the morning. That’s what we were told and so our clock rings at 4:30 am. But even the early morning hike doesn’t change our “Quetzallessness”. The bird remains secret. I open my wallet, and look there is a Quetzal.

Via Cobán we head to Lanquin. The road changes on the last 20 km from a curvy mountain road to an unexpectedly narrow gravel road. The following 10 km to Semuc Champey aren’t much worse, only even narrower. There are two concrete strips at especially steep parts. The suspension bridge with somewhat rotten appearing wood planks is sturdier than discernible at a first glance and completely Unimog-suitable.

Semuc Champey is a very special miracle of nature and one of the best ones in the country. The mighty river Rio Cahabón squeezes with enormous speed through a natural limestone bridge, from where it dashes forward 300 m later. A small tributary partially pours down onto the bridge. Crystal-clear water flows in little waterfalls over lush green rocks in turquoise-coloured pools at the right temperature. They receive their colour from calcium carbonate that’s washed out from the limestone. Walking trails, partially wood stairs, lead to the beginning and end of the water tunnel, to the magnificent pools and to a viewpoint above the site. Access costs 10 GTQ per car and 50 per person. For another 50 Quetzals pp, we would be allowed to camp, but we have different plans today.

One mile in front of Lanquin coming from Cobán a sign points to Grutas de Lanquin. Another tributary of Rio Cahabón shoots out of the cave system, which shall be 100 km long. It is possible to swim in the river. Some hundred meters of the cave can be visited. The high stone steps are covered with a soft soap-like layer and can be basically called dangerous. There might be more interesting and better developed caves in the world. The few light bulbs only sparsely illuminate the scenery. But there are huge cavities as well as big stalactites and stalagmites. Actually they aren’t the reason for visiting; it’s the cave-dwelling animals.

Every evening hundreds of thousands of bats fly from the narrow entrance hole to search for food. At around 5 pm the first animals leave the cave, the main stream starts between 6:30 and 7 pm. It is possible to watch the spectacle from outside of the cave, but the guards leave the light on until 7 o’clock today so that we can watch the mass departure from the inside. The bats are real flying artists. Their flight style has nothing to do with the lethargic movements of birds. They zoom past us by a hair’s breadth, piloted by their radar system dead on target. As the guard switches off the light the generator noise dies down as well. Here we get rid of another 10 GTQ for the vehicle and 30 pp. The guards offered us camping without being asked and it doesn’t cost extra.

Grutas de Lanquin: N 15°34’44.8’’ W 89°59’23.8’’
Semuc Champey: N 15°32’11.0’’ W 89°57’16.4’’ (there are two hotels with small parking lots in front of the bridge where camping might be possible)
In Lanquin at the end of town heading to Cahabón camping is possible at El Retiro Lodge, 25 GTQ pp, shuttle service to Semuc Champey available: N 15°34’52.4’’ W 89°58’32.1’’

Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera, Guatemala – The invisible Quetzal

Dienstag, August 9th, 2011

The Quetzal is a story for itself. Mayan feather trimming, Guatemalan heraldic animal and domestic currency at the same time – the exceptionally beautiful bird has to fulfil many tasks. The timid animal inhabits the cloud forests from Mexican Chiapas down to Panama, but in Guatemala it became national symbol. The rare threatened species owns a resplendent outward appearance: metallic blue-green plumage with green headwear, blood-red chest mark and green tail feathers that can grow up to one metre long. The bird loves the cool and humid altitudes, which are highly threatened by deforestation and the resulting climate change. At least as adult the animal exclusively feeds on a vegetarian diet from avocadoes and other fruits.

In the cloud forest nature reserve in the district of Baja Verapaz a Quetzal sanctuary called Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera was established. The extravagant representative of the Trogon family is said to live here, but it is difficult to observe it. There are two hiking trails in the park. The short one is 2 km. On the long one we have to walk many – very many – steps. Within 4 km we hike from 1600 to 1900 m of elevation and down again, we have to add another half kilometre for a little spectacular viewpoint. Generally we have to say that there are excellently developed hiking trails in all climatic zones of Guatemala. We have missed this a bit in Mexico.

A Costa Rican guide explained me some years ago the difference between rain and cloud forest. In the rain forest it rains. In the cloud forest it rains as well. If not, there are clouds. I can only confirm that. Dense clouds enter the forest and darken it even more. Then it starts to pour down. It is very difficult to see anything between the Guaruma and avocado trees, bamboo perennials, the tree ferns, bromeliads and orchids. Finally it is the same to us than to most Guatemalans, even to most people in the world: We have never seen a Quetzal. That doesn’t change after the hike.

The Quetzal reserve is close to the town of Cobán. They took 50 GTQ entrance fee and 20 GTQ for camping pp. There are nice sites for tents, but we don’t even fit in the parking lot since the entrance is too low. Flexible and helpful as the Guatemalans are they open the gate to the staff entrance where we can park in the backyard. Not the prettiest spot, but safely locked and trailhead at the same time. There are many different animals like insects and snakes, so long sleeves and pants plus sturdy shoes are recommended. Some mosquitoes and all horseflies are unimpressed by mosquito repellent. (Quetzal sanctuary Mario Dary Rivera: N 15°12’50.4’’ W 90°13’04.4’’)

Ciudád de Guatemala, Guatemala – Rest

Samstag, August 6th, 2011

Friends are everywhere. On our second day in Guatemala we’ve met a couple that invited us to their home close to Guatemala City. We are glad to be here, to get some glimpses of Guatemala City, of Guatemalan family life and food thanks to Beatriz and Bill.

Volcán Pacaya, Guatemala – Hot volcano

Freitag, August 5th, 2011

After saying good-bye to Petra and Klaus – they return for another six months to Mexico, while we keep on going south – we visit the Tourist Police to receive information about volcano Pacaya. In the last years repeated robberies happened to tourists, but these incidents seem to belong to the past since a guarded national park has been established and the Tourist Police is permanently present. But the helpful officers astonish us while warning us to take the direct route to Pacaya via Santa Maria de Jesús. The road wasn’t safe, armed assaults even to busses happened time and again.

So we take the route through Guatemala City that’s twice as long as the short one. The two-million-capital (including metro) isn’t a tourist magnet but an important traffic junction. In a side road close to the village San Vicente de Pacaya 40 km south of Guatemala City we are stopped at a box office. Foreigners have to pay 50 GTQ entrance fee and we learn that we can’t hike the volcano without guide. The guide takes another 150 Quetzals regardless the size of the group and we have to take him the last 5.5 km narrow dirt road with us in the truck. He shall probably make sure that we don’t hike up too far onto the smoking peak or that we don’t fall in one of the hot crevices. But we can overnight at the trailhead without additional charge.

The guide who must have an official identity card estimates three hours for the hike, but he goes faster if admitted. It is each 3 km and 400 m of elevation for going up and down. Volcano Pacaya, one of the most active ones in Central America, is easy and safe to climb. Eruptions are registered since 1565, recently yearly. The almost reliable wind direction offers protection most of the time. We have to stop at 2,250 m, the last 300 m of elevation to the peak are not accessible. Steam escapes from many holes, the rock are partially hot. The liquid lava is in lower areas around 15 m below surface, in higher elevation only 10 m. A several metres deep crevice gets even closer to the embers. The temperature here is around 900° F / 500° C and our guide is roasting some marshmallows on a stick. Some of the “sauna caves” are accessible as well, and if you didn’t sweat until now you definitely will. (N 14°23’58.1’’ W 90°36’54.9’’)

Antigua, Guatemala – Guatemala’s former capital

Donnerstag, August 4th, 2011

La Antigua Guatemala, „the old Guatemala“ was founded in 1443 and has been the country’s capital for 230 years. It withstood pest epidemics, earthquakes, and ash fall. In the middle of the 18th century 50,000 people lived here. But the devasting earthquake of 1773 completely destroyed the city and the capital was moved to where Guatemala City is still located today. However, Antigua was never abandoned completely and 100 years later the well-directed rebuilding was started, but unfortunately destroyed again by another earthquake in 1976.

Antigua is Guatemala’s neat colonial model town, second large tourist centre besides Lago Atitlán, but not all buildings have been reconstructed. The cathedral was only partially, other churches not rebuilt at all. Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is already aglow with new shine. From here the entire Central America was ruled for 200 years. The Palacio del Noble Ayuntamiento on the opposite side of the green plaza remained mainly undamaged due to its solid method of building. The city where today again 50,000 people live has a manageable size; the surrounding three volcanoes give pretty expression to it. The touristic infrastructure with hotels, shops, cafés, and language and dance schools is perfect.

Antigua, Guatemala – Camping in Antigua

Mittwoch, August 3rd, 2011

Just arrived it’s time to say goodbye to Tessa. In Antigua we re-meet Petra and Klaus who left a day earlier on the parking lot on the opposite side of the bus station. Despite the city’s proximity we are well away from the street and in the middle of green spaces. The guarded and fenced lot costs 50 GTQ each per night and day, this makes 100 GTQ for 24 hours. Contrary to reports of other travellers we found even Parque Ecológico Florencia 10 km outside of Antigua open where camping for 30 GTQ pp is possible. The car park at the tourist police on the other hand isn’t available to camping any more. The guided walks to the hilltop Cerro de la Cruz and to the cemetery accompanied by the police also don’t take part any more, but these routes are regarded as safe. Those who really don’t want to go alone can hire a guide at the tourist information at Parque Central.
Parqueo opposite the bus station, N 14°33’34.7’’ W 90°44’32.0’’

Panajachel, Guatemala – Obtrusive vendors

Freitag, Juli 29th, 2011

Panajachel is a busy tourist town thanks to its location at Lago Atitlán. Visitors shove in the narrow roads, mainly hippies of modern times who might have daddy’s cheque in their pocket. Nothing’s cheap here. Boat trips, excursions, guided hiking tours are offered for steep fares mainly by Ladinos. Indígenas are cheap workers or offer craftwork. Especially in the main shopping road Calle Santander not a minute passes by without being offered to buy something. Either you quickly leave town or get used to be permanently pressurized to purchasing. It might bug a bit, but the lively, cheerful, pulsating Guatemala fascinates.

In the afternoon we meet Patti who runs a guesthouse with apartments in town’s best location ( Patti is a friend of Tessa when she still lived in Guatemala. We have met Tessa in Mexican Pátzcuaro and visited her in San Miguel de Allende. We expect her here in a few days. Besides, Patti committed herself to a project that she has founded some years ago: supports education, health and nutrition of the Indigene population, but for pets and street dogs as well.

Panajachel, Guatemala – Road block

Donnerstag, Juli 28th, 2011

We make our way down the steep volcano hill without damage. Via the big city Quetzaltenango we’ve got to get to Salcajá to the large roundabout at the town’s end from where the important junction Cuatros Caminos and the Pan Americana can be reached. But not a chance! Here road chaos is prevalent. The street is blocked with parking vehicles, car drivers try to turn round in-between. Fast food stalls already settled to offer snacks and drinks. Roadblocks were erected around the circle and people gather. What’s going on here?

We park on a piece of fallow land and are cleared up. People demonstrate for higher salaries and the blockade shall last for another seven hours. That’s not exactly what we’ve planned for today. Frustrated we have to understand that the complete crossroad area was cordoned off and that there is no loophole. 40 minutes pass by until drivers from the other side seem to discover a sideway and draw closer to where we are. We start immediately towards them. After minutes only we meet halfway and drive soon via a clumsy field path.

Finally we can continue on CA 1 to Alaska. This is how the cold and draughty plateau is called that makes up the highest point of Pan Americana in Guatemala with 3060 m. Eventually we turn off to Sololá, a mountain village at 2100 m that represent an important trade centre between highland and pacific plain. Thoroughfare is difficult for large rigs, even when following the sparse signs for heavy goods traffic. No problem for our two compact campers. Tuesday and Friday are market days where it might be difficult to get through, but it is possible to spaciously drive around town. Soon the road continues down with stunning views to Lago Atitlán. The lake at about 1500 m elevation is surrounded by volcanoes and is regarded as the country’s most beautiful mountain lake. It forms Guatemala’s touristic centre with Panajachel as main town.

Out of three camping options we choose the most likeable one at the end of town, but only a mile away from the centre. The access road, a mud path, is completely grown over and the gate is stale. Mike, the American owner, obviously didn’t have camping guests for a long time. He is old and impoverished and would like to sell the ground. He acknowledges that we would be in better keeping with the other campgrounds but is happy when we decide to stay. Since years camping fee is 35 GTQ pp. Since there is neither electricity nor water Mike grants us to stay here for half price. That’s more than fair; the site is locked, safe and quiet, and constantly guarded by Mike and his dogs.

Campana Camping, Panajachel, N 14°44’16.6’’ W 91°08’56.9’’

Volcán Chicabal, Guatemala – The holy crater lake

Mittwoch, Juli 27th, 2011

The earth quivered again last night. All of us woke up, the owner of the parking lot ran out of his house. It wasn’t as strong as the last one in Mexico, but well perceptible. The usually harmless Volcán Chicabal owns a beautiful crater lake, surrounded by dense vegetation and mystic atmosphere thanks to the gathering fog. The climb to the 2900 m peak is simple but exhausting due to the steep path. After reaching the park administration’s box office over the greasy trail we have to pay 15 Quetzals. Then we go further uphill where the peak hides in dense forest. A sign brings us to a viewpoint from where stairs lead to the crater lake 200 m deeper. We circumnavigate the lake that measures half a kilometre in diameter and is 300 m deep.

Swimming is not allowed here (too cold anyway), because the lake is sacred to the Maya. There are places of ritual worship everywhere, it could be a cross or just a tree stump, but there are no ceremonies right now. We take a second path from the lake uphill without stairs, and then we head back down to our campers. Parking is possible in front of the box office as well, but this is better in dry season.

San Martín Sacatepéquez, Guatemala – Road changes

Dienstag, Juli 26th, 2011

Once again we jump in the hot water and under the icy shower. A 15-minute walk away following the eco trail there are two more and completely lonesome pools. The whole facility with rampant ferns, callas and other big-leafed plants along the slopes in an actually chilly cloud forest climate is pretty charming. Not less engaging is Volcán Chicabal. In San Martín a small road climbs the volcano, but suddenly the concrete path turns into a very steep field path from clay. No fun when it rains (we are in rainy season), especially when going downhill with an eight tons truck. Heaven sends a parking lot at the side of the road where we can overnight for 10 GTQ.

Parking lot at access road to Volcán Chicabal, N 14°48’29.2’’ W 91°38’53.0’’

Zunil, Guatemala – Well cooked

Montag, Juli 25th, 2011

We leave a farewell letter at the church’s door, and then we return to Huehuetenango. In the supermarket situated in a modern mall we realize that everything is available, but slightly more expensive than in Mexico. After just 80 km we leave the Pan Americana again in San Cristóbal Totonicapán to get to San Andres Xequl. The inconspicuous village owns Guatemala’s most colourful church front what can only be seen when standing on the plaza. There are no signs at all. At the entrance to the village we meet Kim from the United States who is volunteering in developing eco-tourism. She offers to show us the village. The 16th century church with the gaudy yellow background is decorated with three-dimensional angel figures, vine branches and other coloured ornamentations that origin in Mayan culture. The chapel up on the hill is painted as well and offers a good view over the town.

Kim brings us to Maximón whom we perhaps didn’t find on our own. He is a kind of saint who doesn’t have the best character and has to be placated with offerings. Maximón is a life-size mannequin that changes its host every year and is offered to give up a separate room. Most people contribute cigars or schnapps. In case he grants the petitioner’s prayers, and the keenest wish for a trip to the USA to earn money for some years there comes true, the saint receives a gift: a hat, sunglasses, a jeans, or cowboy boots. And so Maximón (or San Simon) looks a little bit like an American gangster from the 60s. In San Andres Xequl there are two of them. At night, both are put to bed, and they spend the day sitting in armchairs. As a tourist we might visit the bay lad for 5 Quetzal per person and take photos as well. There are some other Maximóns in towns close by, but there they are more commercialized and photos are charged separately. Here we may even attend a ceremony in a side room where cigars, lemon, fragrant tree bark and candles are burnt. Where is the border between Catholicism and original Maya religion? There is none. Two religions melted to perfect syncretism.

On a side road we reach Cantel where 17 glassblowers founded the coop COPAVIC years ago. The only use glass for recycling and export to many countries. Their glasses are cheapest here and make nice souvenirs. It’s only a few kilometres to Zunil where a tiny road leads to Fuentes Georginas. The slopes are covered with steaming vegetable fields, since their fruits are irrigated with warm water. High in the mountains at 2400 m elevation the well-known hot springs are situated at the side of the volcano Zunil. The entrance fee is 50 GTQ pp and 10 per vehicle, and if we pay for two days we might stay overnight. The hot water directly rises from the “inactive” volcano and pours into two pools made from natural stones that contain water with little more than body temperature. A third pool is so hot that the entry can be managed only with plucky speed. Even then we can only stay for minutes, otherwise the circulation would collapse. Soon we are red as a lobster and well done. Afterwards we don’t mind too much that the shower water is ice cold. I mean ICE cold. But who wants to smell like sulphur?

Fuentes Georginas, N 14°45’01,3’’ W 91°28’48,5’’

Huehuetenango, Guatemala – Refuge in the village church

Sonntag, Juli 24th, 2011

The last two PEMEX gas stations before reaching the border crossing Ciudad Cuauhtémoc – La Mesilla are tax-exempt and offer diesel and gas for lower prices. We fill up, Guatemala will be more expensive. We get an exit stamp in our passport on the Mexican side and the temporary vehicle import permit is cancelled. La Mesilla on Mexican side is said to be impassable on Thursdays (new) and Fridays due to the market.

The Guatemalan formalities turn out to be simple and friendly. The superficial vehicle disinfection is determined according to the size. For the Unimog we have to pay 47 Guatemalan Quetzals (GTQ), Klaus just pays 39 for the Toyota pick-up. The entry stamp valid three months costs 20 MXN, the temporary vehicle import for the same period 160 GTQ. Currently 10 GTQ equal 1.27 US$ or 0.90 €. Some men who exchange Mexican Peso, US$ and other currencies into GTQ loiter around. The exchange rate is bad, but the bank is closed on Sunday. It is difficult to exchange MXN in the country since most banks don’t accept them. Nobody is interested in our truck or its content; there is no inspection at all.

First we visit Mirador Cuchumatanes that’s also known as Mirador Juan Diéguez Olaverri. This view point at 3100 m elevation offers spectacular sights into the valley and to the surrounding volcanoes. It is difficult to reach with larger rigs since the town of Chiantla is very tight and the following steep winding road no fun when riding something big. On our way down we ask ourselves where to spend the first night in Guatemala. There are no official campgrounds and everybody warns us about free camping in Central America since poverty supports violence and crime. In a tiny village nestled to a mountain we ask for the permit to camp. The place around the church seems to be the only levelled area in town. We wait for the mass to finish. I ask the lay preacher if we could use the church graveyard as a safe place. He weighs the pros and cons and eventually asks me to wait for some minutes. He goes to one side of the church and discusses, then to the other. After some minutes he returns and explains with a dignified expression that we get the permit to stay. Some people start to clap and suddenly the whole parish is applauding.

We shunt our campers into the narrow aisle between church and side building and are suddenly surrounded by rubbernecks. They jump up and down our ladder in packs to visit our camper cabin. They admire the gas stove since this is perfect to make tortillas – what else. The older women embrace and kiss me, and a young lady has to take photos with her modern cell phone form each single person with me in the cabin. The lay preacher gets some pens for the children, and then everybody goes home. A few minutes later one of the men returns with a handwritten piece of paper: the “official” permit to camp, issued by the three councillors and the community. Now nothing can go wrong any more.