5/25/2008 10:20:00 pm

Dinosaurs and Falling Rocks

Posted by Unknown |

I’m sitting on my bed in an “eco-lodge” in Rio Dulce in the North-east of Guatemala. I’m trying to keep all my limbs within my mosquito net because there’s malaria here, and I’m scared of getting malaria even if it does sound impressive to tell girls that you’ve had it. I’m convinced that’s why Ryan has had more girlfriends than me.

This “eco-lodge” is full of eco looking wooden buildings with hammocks and thatched roofs. We’ve got ourselves a bungalow which with an open-air kitchen and eating area and an upstairs sleeping area. It’s all quite swish, and very Jurassic Park. When we arrived here there was a big gate wooden gate with a thatched roof (because you can tell you're in the jungle when your gate has a roof, and a thatched one at that) at the end of a long, potholed drive way. There was a kid guarding it to make sure none of the dinosaurs got out and the bad people didn’t get in. We continued driving down the road some more, through darkness, past creepy hand made signs, lighting flashing across the sky, our senses prickling, our minds alert, aware that we were in prime horror movie territory.

In the end we found a large car park with two cars in it, who knows how long they had been there, and complete darkness. We parked the car. My family decided to set off in search of the hotel (which was no where to be seen) while I went off to do a wee, as I hadn’t gone to the toilet for about 6 hours, which was a whole 270kms, large Coke and bottle of water earlier. Boy it was a good wee. Just me, standing in the jungle, alone with my urine, the fireflies and the coming storm. It took me so long I had to move to higher ground as I was worried my feet might get soaked with the localised flash flooding.

But when I got back to the car the family had found a rope bridge through the jungle that headed off into the darkness, just as we were about to set out, we were set upon by a friendly hotel man who had come to find us and fight off the circling veloceraptors. He told us to get our bags because it was a long way to the hotel. And indeed it was. The hotel man did insist on carrying the bags of my parents and Jo for them, but didn’t manage to carry mine as well, lazy bugger. So while he strained under the weight of three people’s baggage we set off along the eternal rope bridge in search of our lodgings. The bridge weaved its way through the jungle, over streams, jungle floor and malaria breeding ponds, till 500 metres later it dropped us off into a lush resort of little bungalows and wooden garden furniture, beside a river with a jetty and some boats and more thatched roofs. At least that’s what I can tell in the dark. We could be in the middle of an industrial wasteland, with a few palm fronds stuck in the ground to hide the toxic chemical dumps.

I’ll enjoy exploring tomorrow.

Of course while the place here feels rather adventurous it’s only the fitting conclusion to today's journey to get here.

We left our swish apartment only 20 minutes later than we’d planned, but in true French family style we all arrived at church just in time for the sermon. We may not be kids anymore but we’re still the same family we were when Jo and I were 9 and 7.

After church we headed off for our drive to Rio Dulce. We’d been warned not to drive in the afternoon because it’s more dangerous with all the trucks on the road then. So we left at 1pm, just because we like to live life on the edge.

First stop was lunch. We found, in the north of Guatemala City there is a hill which is like the secret kingdom of fast food. It’s got every fast food joint you can think of, and about 30 more types you never knew existed, and it’s all situated at the top a a hill overlooking the city, and only accessible by seemingly hidden mountain paths.

We only found it after circumnavigating the hill a few times, but when we got up there, it was like reaching Mecca if Mecca were built by American multi-nationals. It was wonderful.

Jo and Mum decided to go get some boring girl food from a chain cafe, and Dad and I headed off through the monsoonal rain with undersized rain coats to find McDonald’s. We arrived to find a building full of warm, happy Guatemalan families, enjoying Sunday lunch with Ronald and the happy, helpful McDonald’s staff. If there is anything I have heard about McDonald’s here it’s is that it has excellent customer service, which seems incongruous with the image McDonald’s seems to have tried so hard to create in other parts of the world, that of a cheap meal, served to you by underpaid, unhappy, unhygienic adolescents. (All you people who I know who work in McDonald’s, I don’t mean you, you’re very clean.) And this McDonald’s was no exception. If anything it was overstaffed and everyone seemed to be as helpful as the staff of a swanky hotel. There were two people working every register, one to get the meal, one to take the order and smile at you. There was another person who opened the door for you and showed you which was the best line to be in (I assume you need a degree for that, picking good lines is always such a tough job). There was even a girl whose only job it was was to take your tiny little cups they put on your tray and fill them with tomato sauce. Amazing!

So, in the light of this wonderful customer service, Dad and I did our best to baffle them with our less than wonderful grasp of Spanish. Dad was in charge of ordering, as I have a terrible fear of speaking Spanish in high pressure situations such as any inter-human interaction. So Dad stepped forward and managed to confuse them so much that in the end there were 5 people all gathered around our counter staring at us with puzzled looks on their faces as Dad said “McTasty y enslada y jugo. Jugo? Jogo? Jugo.” While I stood behind him grinning and giving thumbs up, nodding and saying “Si, Coca-Cola! Si, Coca-Cola!”.

Eventually they figured us out and we got almost everything we wanted, we headed off to meet the girls at the car, for our quick getaway to miss the evil trucks, but realised our food was on a tray, and neither of us could figure out how to ask for a bag. When we tried the Tomato Sauce Girl showed us a nice clean table we could sit at. We were forced to eat in.

Eventually we made it out of Fast Food Nirvana, and headed off across the Guatemalan country side. The road wound it’s way down, through the mountains, the rain kept falling and everyone went to sleep or read, while Dad drove.

I was torn away from my book by a massive bang underneath the car. It turned out we had just driven over a rather large rock that had been in the middle of the highway.

As I tried to figure out how a rock could have gotten into the middle of the road, I noticed that there were a few rocks on the road. As we drove there seemed to be more and more. Dad would have to slow down aDulcend work harder at maneuvering the car around these rocks, some small some large, some as big as the tires on the car.

It turned out that the rain was causing the side of the mountain the road was cut out of, to slip and for rocks to fall on to the road. When you see those falling rocks signs on the side of the road, this is what they’re talking about. As we drove we could actually see rocks falling down the side off the hill and onto the road. In some places the whole road was covered in rocks and both directions of traffic were forced into the same space, maneuvering around all the fallen rocks of various sizes. As the rain kept falling the tension built, as you we wondered if the next rock was going to be a big one that smashed into the side of the car, or if the whole side of the hill would slip, and take us with it.

The desire was to pull over, and wait till the rain stopped but to stop would only put us in danger of getting stoned where we were, and the road was only going to get worse, so we pushed on, and we made it out alive with a car with it’s under carriage and wheels still in functioning order.

From there it was a rather normal drive to Rio Dulce. Big trucks to contend with, and people doing the usual crazy driving. Dad and Jo did wonderful jobs.

By the time we made it to Rio Dulce it was dark. We had no idea where to find our place of lodging, and it was only after three phone calls, many conversations with locals, two wrong turns into a car scrap yard and a seedy looking auto hotel called “Lover’s Nest” (which had automatic gates that tried to lock us in, probably so the zombies could feed on us) that we eventually found the large thatched roofed gate to this “eco-lodge” at the end of the rather long, rather bumpy and degraded road.

And now here I am, safe in my malaria net, about to fall asleep to the sound of jungle rain on thatched roofs. What more could I want?