Our last stops in Guatemala

As we headed into Guatemala City that morning, we were surprised by the lack of traffic, until we remembered that today they were celebrating two hundred years of independence. This was good for the traffic on the roads, but meant that a lot of places were shut. We drove across town to the drone repair workshop first. He wasn’t there so we waited outside till he arrived, his business was run out of the garage. Said garage was lined floor to ceiling with drones of all sizes. We explained that Steve had been swimming and he began to take it apart pointing out to us at various intervals just how corroded it now was. Unfortunately, the gimbal was damaged and this component couldn’t be repaired he told us. He gave it a good clean and stuck it back together, declining to accept any money for his time. That was a shame, but at least he still semi-worked, that would have to do for now. 

We wanted to collect our parts but the shop wasn’t open. We had already thought we would likely need to stay the night to get everything done, and after much fruitless driving we headed to the only ok looking spot in town. As we arrived, we spotted a combi on the street next door. When the hostel appeared to be shut, we drove around the block to say hello. The family were barbecueing on the pavement and we showed off our respective vans. They brought us both a large plate of food and a drink. Pulling chairs out of the garage so we could join them on the pavement. We spent some time chatting before we were also supplied with pudding. In the meantime, Lee messaged the hostel owner who confirmed we could stay outside, so as the light faded we waved goodbye to our very friendly neighbours and drove around the corner. 

We were waved into the hostel and supplied with towels and shampoo while being given a tour. We could use the facilities including the kitchen for free as long as we left a review. It had been a long day, starting with our sunrise hike to Pacaya and so we were grateful to have been fed and have easy accomodation. After a shower which refused to produce hot water and then electrocuted me when I prodded it, we bought a few beers and settled down in the camper. Inside the hostel, tequila was being thrown around as the party for independence day continued in the slightly eclectic kitchen that featured half a beetle as the doorway. Our host supplied us with cold beer brought to our door told us we could buy breakfast in the morning for £3 for both of us. Seeing as it would be another long day of driving, this seemed like a bargain. We attempted to sleep on the rather busy road. 

In the morning after a tasty and huge breakfast, we headed off to pick up our parts. We needed a new headlight, which the part shop insisted on fitting, this took a while as nothing lined up,  and a new steering pin. Finally with the headlight sorted, we went to pick up a replacement diagonal arm. At the garage on the other side of town we were reunited with some of the workers from the shop, as ever the VW world is a close knit community. 

Time was ticking on and we didn’t want to spend another night in the city. We picked up a new hubcap for Ruby, went to the vet for the last of Lizzie’s antibiotic injections and then made a final stop at the supermarket. It was late afternoon now and our drive to the coast would be finishing in the dark. 

We headed south, feeling the temperature rise as we left the mountains. There was some confusion as to where Hanno and Kikki were and where we wanted to be. One road to El Paredon is direct, while the other requires a ferry. After arguing somewhat, we ended up on a dirt road in-between these two possible options. An hour later, we arrived in El Paredon. The first hostel refused to let us park outside, they were too busy getting their party underway. Maybe that was a good thing considering we were very tired and wanted a quiet night. We headed to Mi Casa En La Playa, just the next road along. Here they were happy to welcome us for the night and for the first time in a while, we went to sleep to the noise of the pacific ocean. 

It turns out that Hanno and Kikki were only one road away. There campsite had the advantage of being half the price, but the disadvantage of having a very unfriendly dog. Despite the price of where we were, we opted to stay. 

The idea had been to surf here, but the waves didn’t look appealing. Huge break barrelled on the shoreline and with Lee’s surfboard in need of repair too, we decided against it.  We spent the next day relaxing after what had been a busy for days, before joining Hanno and Kikki in the spot for a rather good pizza. 

El Paredon has a relaxed hippy backpacker vibe and we had got there for the weekend. The small world of iOverlanding meant that we bumped into Bryant, our neighbour from Atitlan who also had a cat. He invited us to his hostel were he would be working for a while for a beer. Late afternoon we headed over. 

As we approached we heard steady beat of trance music and soon we were surrounded by guys with dreadlocks and girls in tiny bikinis posing on palm trees. Perhaps I was just too old to feel comfortable here, or maybe I needed to be full of LSD. Either way, we hung out for a beer or two, before going back. Unfortunately the party followed us and continued directly outside the camper until around 5am. One of the disadvantages of a pop top roof. 

At least as Sunday morning rolled around we enjoyed watching everyone else looking rather worse for wear, while we were simply tired. With our ever shortening visa and the lack of surf, it was time to move on. Our final night was spent in the rooftop bar, with two German girls, two French people and two Israeli guys. It was a little random, but as we sat an enjoyed a few beers we were treated to the most spectacular thunderstorm across the sea. 

The following morning we left for Escuintla. We wanted to get Lizzie spade after she had spent the last few days being stalked by the local white tom cat. Now she was significantly less snotty, the antibiotics finally working but the last thing she needed was to be pregnant. We planned to stop in Escuintla to sort this out, before heading to a stop near the border for a day or two. 

As always, our best laid plans were not meant to be. We got Lizzie sorted, parked up in Macdonalds and went to get copies for the border while we waited for Lizzie. Copies done we decided to get water so we could leave straight away with our doped up cat. As Lee went to reverse the camper, something went wrong. The gearstick moved about an extra foot too far and was definitely not finding any gears. A quick check under the van showed bits of gear linkage on the floor. The new coupler we had install in Campeche was in bits. 

I never expected to write such a positive review about Mcdonalds, but they were incredibly charitable to us. The delivery driver pulled up next to us and handed my his helmet. I hopped on the back of his moped and we set off around town in search of a new part. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t have much luck but we did get a torno shop to agree to make a new bushing. This with a new bolt would do just fine, the only problem was it wouldn’t be ready till morning. McDonalds not only let us stay in the carpark for free but gave us free coffees and told we could eat for free too. We collected our drugged up cat and went to Ruby. 

Lizzie still didn’t look quite right the next morning, having not bounced back as quickly as Aimee had previously. We too, were feeling the after effects of our night in the car park. The chicken buses of the afternoon had been replaced by trucks that drove past us all night, air braking at the traffic lights a matter of feet away from us. We had hoped for a quite spell, maybe between 12-5am, but it was not the case. After literally no sleep, the lovely people of McDonalds gave us free breakfast and much needed coffee before we walked back to the vet to ask about health certificates for El Salvador. It appeared that the process to import your pet here is very straightforward, just pay £20 on the border. To export however, required government approval and is five times more expensive, per cat. The new plan was to hide the cats, something we have an excellent track record in. 

At 11am, we went and collected our new part. Back at the camper it was only a matter of minutes before we were back on the road. A day later than planned, but not too bad. We headed for the final stop in this country, funnily enough it was called La Combi. 

La Combi is kind of an adventure playground. There’s a cafe, a kind of jungle gym and quad biking. The owner, Javier, welcomed us in. We parked far enough away from the road that the trucks could be ignored. He said we could use the wifi and other facilities for free, even the quadbikes and his workshop. This was perfect as we needed to swap that suspension arm we had bought in the city. What better time. 

Hanno and Kikki joined us for the night, but the next morning they headed to the border leaving us to start our repairs. We drove around the the workshop area of the campsite and Javier came to give us a hand as well when we had problems with the most basic thing, removing the wheel.

This was not so straightforward. We had known for a while that the wheel nuts on the back had been overtightened by the last mechanic in Mexico. We had tried to take them off and hadn’t succeeded, one definitely looking worse for wear. After much chiselling and grinding we had nearly got one off.

Then it became clear that two of the other four where not going to come off without a fight either. Javier got his friend to bring and airgun but that didn’t shift them either. The mechanic was unfazed. He put a socket on the nut, the an enormous bar so there was around a five foot long lever. His friend applied some force, at first I thought it was mearly going to round off the nut; we had tried brute force before. Then instead of just pushing the bar, he gave the socket a huge whack with the hammer while his friend leant on the bar. The combination of pressure and shock simultaneously cracked the nut instantly. The other one didn’t stand a chance against his technique either. He set about removing the remnants of the first nut while I added his very handy trick to my mental repertoire. 

It had taken a while to get the wheel off and I then could make a start drilling out our snapped off brake valve, while Lee loosened then arm on the other side. The brake valve didn’t want to play either, but eventually I managed to drill out the old valve without completely ruining the threads of the cylinder. It would have been simple enough to refit it all but the heavens opened and our workspace became a pond in a matter of minutes. Clearly repairs would be ongoing the next day.

Fortunately, we were blessed with better weather. So much so that we refitted the rear brakes and replaced the arm without taking too much time. This meant we had time to fit in quad biking. I had a great time staying relatively clean on the front of the bike while Lee got covered in mud the back as we drove through some very large puddles. 

Happy we had now ticked all the boxes, we were ready for the border. The morning before we left we finally pressure washed Ruby underneath, thanks once again to Javiers ramps and tools. We then said our goodbyes and left him a decent tip for his help. He had been so friendly and accommodating, giving us free food, drinks, help and tools that we couldn’t have left without a contribution. It was a good way to round off Guatemala and so we headed for the border, a short drive away, with the hope of an easy crossing as long as the cats played ball. 

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