Immediately after an early breakfast, I shot off to the Tikal school. Last night, Pedro had promised me a present – a copy of a National Graphic magazine devoted to the Mayas. I’d admired his copy of it – I don’t know whether this was that or he’d managed to get hold of another copy. Either way, a terrific gift. After this, we bought some more silks for more bracelets – they’re very cheap here – then caught the bus in to Guatemala City.
We had to buy some dollars – fairly easy, tho’ they only let us have 50 each – visit the Tourist Office – we got some coffee, leaflets, + a nice poster of Tikal from them – + finally extend our visas. This was the biggest bugbear. First the place was hard to find. Then the section was hard to find. Then we submitted our visas + were told to come back at 3 (it was then 10.) When we arrived again at 3 they still weren’t ready, + we had to wait another 20 mins. And finally Val was given 2 more weeks in the country than me. Crazy. Finally tho’, our tasks complete, we shot round to the bus station – tho’ Val was hobbling, the mountain trip having wrecked her feet – only to discover there were no more buses to Panajachel tonight.
Rather than stay in the city, we decided to catch a bus to Quemeltenango, + arriving there, were told a bus to Panajachel was just coming. It was getting late, but we decided to give it a whirl. The bus was crowded, so we stood, all the way to the army checkpoint. This was the worst yet. It must have taken 2 hours, + for most of that time I was stood out in the cold… along with quite a few others, I might add. Little worrying things, like the way the officer stepped back out of the line of fire when another vehicle approached. And a friendly soldier informed us our bus didn’t go to Panajachel – we would have to get out at Los Encuentros + take a taxi. However, we decided it would be best to go on, to a town called San Cristobal, where there was a hotel. And when the bus pulled away there were plenty of seats, since the military had detained about 12 guys – Salvadorenos, I think.
The hotel was fortunately fairly nice, + we were – I was – able to get a pretty revolting meal in a nearby shack/café. Val didn’t fancy it, but I didn’t care – I was starving.
Bureaucracy is always a nightmare; it seems to take forever, even when one has found the right place.
As for our encounter with the military… well, it had come to be part of the course. This was indeed the period of Guatemala’s history when very unpleasant things were happening. Not generally speaking to travellers – or so we reassured ourselves – but we could get caught up in such things, even in a relatively minor way, such as standing out in the cold for a couple of hours. I hope I was not being naive about the fate of the men who were taken off the bus… but I might well have been.