Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vacation: Getting Out

Our whole trip went really smoothly, that is, until we tried to end it.

If you haven't seen the news, Guatemala's rainy season (kicked off this year by Tropical Storm Agatha at the end of May) is the worst the country has experienced in 60 years; nearly 250 people have died since the spring. The devastation has mostly come in the form of mudslides, and although NPH is located high up and out of harm's way, it's another story throughout the rest of the nation.

Last week, heavy rains began falling Wednesday and did not let up until Saturday. Dad and I were scheduled to leave Panajachel Saturday morning, but the only road out of town had been blocked by mudslides since Thursday. Tourists and locals alike spent Saturday trapped in Pana, with internet cut off in the entire town, all bank ATMs down until mid-day, and many businesses closed because employees couldn't make it down the road. We spent the day pretty bored, avoiding the puddles, and growing more and more frustrated at our shuttle company who (in total Guatemalan fashion) kept telling us the road was going to open "in just an hour," "just two more hours," "just later this afternoon."

When the road didn't even come close to opening Saturday, and Dad missed his flight out of Guatemala City, we decided we were fed up. Sunday morning, we'd be walking ourselves out of town.

We woke up early Sunday morning, hitched a ride in a pick-up truck as far out of town as it could take us, and then got out and started walking when the pick-up reached the first mudslide. I think we knew we'd have a story to tell after this, but I don't think we had any idea what adventure was really in store. What followed was 45 minutes of dragging ourselves and our luggage up the incredibly steep road from Panajachel to the next town, Sololá. We slopped through and climbed over mudslides three feet high, 60 yards long, and where you sank down past your knees in sticky mud and had nothing solid to push back off of, and we did it all with luggage thrown over our backs. If some locals making the trek with us hadn't have helped with a few of our bags, I'm not actually sure we would have made it with our bodies and our bags all in one piece.

When we made it through the final mudslide, scratched up, covered in mud, and absolutely exhausted, I gave my best attempt at washing my unrecognizable shoes off in a stream, while Dad called his a lost cause and left them sitting on the side of the road. We hopped in our shuttle and sped off towards the airport.

Sitting in our private shuttle, we laughed about how ridiculous our walk was and how pissed off we'd been while trapped in Pana, but as we made our way onto the Interamericana Highway, it didn't take long to figure out it wasn't exactly a laughing matter anymore. The radio station kept announcing new mudslides and new death tolls. A chicken bus had been hit by a mudslide and run off the road. Rescue workers were covered alive when a mudslide hit while they were trying to save others. An entire town was flattened by mud during the night. Every few miles, outside our shuttle windows, entire pieces of mountain had fallen off and covered three-fourths of this major Central American highway. Driving back, the whole experience was pretty unreal.

So we're only in September, which means there are still two more months until rainy season is set to end. Clean-up is a slow process in this country, and the general fear is that Guatemala's land just won't be able to handle any more of this continued rain.  

Esperamos que sí.

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