The Longest Day Part I. So, we got to Tapachula near the Guatemalan border early in the morning to find another bus to Guatemala City waiting to take me away, ha ha. So goodbye Mexico, I’ll see you again next week. The journey into Guate City was fairly uneventful, as was the quick change for San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. I got in about 7pm.
After an amazingly scary oh-dear-it’s-dark-I-got-no-map-where-the-hell-is-an-ATM-when-you-need-one walk around the city, I found a bus that was leaving at 3am going all the way through Honduras, Nicaragua and ending up in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It would get me in at 10pm the same day. All good. I threw my bag in the bus station office and headed out to the pub.
It was in the Irish bar (there’s always an Irish bar) that I met Jorge and Rene, a couple of locals who took me under their wing. Beer was downed, jokes told and stories exchanged and before I knew it, I was being whisked off to a Sushi Restaurant (what’s with all the Sushi on this adventure? It’s becoming a recurring theme). There I met Memo, one of Jorge’s mates…and we decided that since it was getting late (almost midnight), it would be best to head to the beach.
We got there in Memo’s car, screaming and raucous – and it was perfect. Everything the beaches in the Caribbean should be (but aren’t) – free to everyone, wooden huts and hammocks (not concrete and walls) music, people dancing, a bar still serving…
At midnight, I placed my hands in the Pacific Ocean. I’m now thirty. Hear that Pacific? I’M THIRTY!!!! The Pacific was overwhelmingly indifferent. I returned to my beer, whom I know loves me. Memo, Jorge and I drank in the cool night air. We could have been in Thailand. I really couldn’t think of a better way to see in the big three-o.
I had a bus to catch, and – damn! – it was leaving very soon. Memo drove like a maniac. But he drove like a maniac to the wrong bus station. San Salvador has no central bus station, every bus company has it’s own garage. Some, annoyingly, have two.
As the seconds ticked away, we drove around and around the city like Jack Bauer with the squits. Hang on – I recognise that poster! The bus station is over… but then…
The police pulled us over.
Memo was outraged. He had to get this Ginger Gringo to his bus. Why are the police pulling him over? I thought he might have been speeding. Not so. After searching us and the car for drugs or bombs or whatever, they continued talking to Memo, who was getting increasingly infuriated with their intransigence – my bus left in less than five minutes and I was yet to buy a ticket.
If I hadn’t been drunk, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but hell, it’s Central America and I’m thirty. Let’s do something I’ve never done before in my life.
Let’s bribe a policeman.
So I did. Will this make you go away? I ask, hoping he doesn’t speak a word of English as I passed over a 20-dollar bill.
An awkward moment. Was I to spend the rest of my birthday in a prison cell in El Salvador for attempting to bribe a policeman? No. Don’t worry – it’s El Salvador. The policeman stuffed the twenty in his pocket and before he could say adios, Memo was tearing down the highway towards the bus station…
Only to get there five minutes late. The bus had gone. But all was not lost. Memo spoke to the people in the bus station and they said there was another company’s bus that does the same route down to Costa Rica, and it leaves at 4am.
Only – my bag was in the station office, and the only guy with a key had gone to bed in the hotel upstairs. Tonight was turning into a 1980s text adventure. North, north, up. A troll blocks your way. Pay troll $20. Troll shuffles off. Knock on door. Awaken keymaster. Keymaster unhappy. Get key. Down, south, south. You can see the office door. Use key with door. East. Get bag. Drop key. West.
So eventually Memo and I made it to the King Quality bus station at 4am, just in time for the bus. After thanking Memo profusely for such an excellent birthday adventure, I plonked myself down on the back seat of the bus next to a cute Argentinean girl called Sophia. Within 5 seconds, I was fast asleep.
I got into Guatemala City about 10am (not much sleep on the bus then) and hopped straight onto a bus for Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast. This was the plan for getting to Belize, but it was a little stuffed up by the fact that I was running four hours late. Now Belize isn’t Belizey-Peasy as it’s name suggests. More affiliated with the Caribbean (down fried chicken!) than Latin America, this once-British enclave of Central America is a little off the beaten path and a little tricky to get to. It involves a five-hour coach journey and a couple of boats.
There’s a boat that leaves Puerto Barrios for Punta Gorda in Belize at 2pm and then comes back at 4pm. I got to Puerto Barrios at 5pm. But luckily, I met Ishmael (as in Call me…). This wonderfully crazy guy from Livingstone in Guatemala was on the bus with me from the capital. Now Livingstone is a little town on the Caribbean coast that is only accessible by boat – it’s halfway to Belize.
Ishmael took me under his wing and we headed over Livingstone. He thought he might be able to help me get a private boat over to Punta Gorda and back before it got dark. But it was not to be, it was just too late in the day. He did however, sort me out with a boat the following morning and offer me somewhere to kip for the night.
Ishmael’s place was pretty basic – no electricity or running water, but it had a hammock and you know I’m a sucker for hammocks. So I dropped off my gear and we headed out to what passes for ‘town’ in Livingston (the main street) and had a few drinks, got something to eat and got to hang out with Ishmael’s mates.
Here’s a video of me freaking out that I’m now thirty years old. IT’S DEAD FUNNY:
The boat that Ishmael had got me on (it had been chartered by a German couple – I was cheekily tagging along for the ride) was doing a trip over to Belize early in the morning, and it meant I got a speedy trip over there, and an hour to kick my heels in Punta Gorda (it was election day) before heading back. Ishmael accompanied me on the boat back to the bus station and by one in the afternoon, I was on the bus back to Guatemala City. I don’t know if in the long run this was the quickest way of doing it, but it all worked out alright – even though I was a bit late getting to Guat City, I got an overnight bus to the Mexican border.
By this stage of my Herculean bus ride, it had been a week since I’d had a hot shower. To say I was beginning to smell a little ripe, would be an understatement! The bus got me to the Mexican border before Mexico had decided to open for the day, so I found myself waiting for a) Mexico to open, and b) the bus to the capital to show up. I had been told that the bus arrived at 10am. But you should know by now not to trust anything anyone says, ever. It came at 1pm.
I was so excited to be back in Mexico – Mexican FOOD!! Woo! Enchiladas, Nachos, Burritos, Fajitas OH YEAH…
I just wanted to stuff my big greedy face, but a nasty side effect of the malaria tablets I’ve been taking (incorrectly – they aren’t joking when they say plenty of water) is that when I eat or drink anything I get a sharp pain in my chest – like when you eat too many cold McCain’s Oven Chips too fast. So I did a great Homer-eating-Pinchy impression over dinner – dinner that we didn’t stop for until midnight.
It was an overnight bus, and it was pretty grotty. I didn’t get to make any new friends, so I just turned on my ipod, looked out of the window at the ever-changing landscape and zoned out.