Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Few Pics from Jucanya

Jucanya (who-can-YAH) is the name of the town that is across the river from Panajachel. You can get there by simply walking over the yellow bridge (Friendship Bridge or Puente de la Amistad) from Pana towards Santa Catarina. When I first arrived  here, I didn't realize Jucanya has its own name. I thought it was all Panajachel, both sides of the bridge!

NJP's place is in Jucanya, the north part, so I've taken a few pics to show you what it's like. The fancy new place we're moving into on Sunday is also in Jucanya, but more south, so you'll be seeing more pictures of the area over the next while. :)
Doggies doggies everywhere.
Looking up the river road in Jucanya.
Looking down the river road in Jucanya, towards the yellow bridge and the lake.
The volcanoes are usually visible but it was hazy and cloudy.
A tuk-tuk driver told me the word is bruma.
Firewood vendor, plus they sell tortillas and other snacks at night.
If you're thinking that everything looks grey and dusty, that's cuz it is! We're at the tail end of dry season so everything is dessicated. (Word of the day!) It was also freaking HOT the day I took these pictures.

Old trucks in a mechanic's yard.
Colourful little tienda.
Remains of an old bridge that got washed away.
Bit bent but still readable.
River between Pana and Jucanya. The preceding photos were taken as I walked down the road on the right side of this picture.
Do you remember Flaca? She is still here, still skinny, and still so cute!
Speaking of skinny, I'm not going to be skinny if NJP keeps making yummy lunches like this!
This isn't Jucanya, but Pana, on the main road.
A clever cotton candy salesman was peddling his wares outside a school during recess. :D
I wish I could take a picture of the night times here. There are fireflies dancing in the trees every night. It's beautiful. One even landed on my arm.

Moving on Sunday. Wish us luck!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pictures of Guatemala I Wish I Had Taken

I have a handy point-and-click camera that my parents got me for Xmas a while back, a Fujifilm Finepix XP10, and almost all the photos on my blog are taken by me.
But, gosh darn it, the colours and wonders of Guatemala cannot be adequately captured by my little camera! Every day, every single day STILL after a year, my eyes are feasting on the sights of this awesome country. And the people! The Mayans wear such amazing colourful clothes. But I never feel comfortable taking photos of them because I imagine it to be quite rude to go up to a stranger and ask to take their picture.
Well, today I found a professional photographer -- from Toronto, no less -- who is taking the photos I wish I could take! I am sharing his Flicker page with you, dear readers, so you can get a glimpse of what a wonderful rainbow-hued life I live here in Guatemala. Click the picture below and enjoy!

Mayan Highlands of Guatemala

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Quick Temporary Move

Best thing you can do when moving to a new country? Make good friends!
I am super grateful for NJP, who helped us when we had to move suddenly this past Friday. He got his construction workers to help, found a pickup truck for our stuff, and is letting us stay in his spare room for a week until we can get into our new apartment. THANKS, dude!! You rock. :D
It wouldn't be a moving day without a kitty in a box!
We've got a bit more stuff than last time, but still pretty manageable.
Jiraffa! NJP's dog, and Calvin's kinda big brother.
Hauling boxes down the path to NJP's. That's Flaca in the foreground. :)
I missed getting a picture of the pickup. He drove it right down the dirt road and across the little stream to get it as close as possible to the path. Then the guys unloaded all our stuff into the dust.See Bert working so hard on the left there? Ha!
The construction dudes used wheelbarrows to make quick and easy work of moving our stuff.
The narrow walkway into NJP's place.
NJP's place! We are staying in the middle room. Super nice.
Willow making herself at home. She is such a sweet kitty. She doesn't care where we live as long as we're together.
Calvin sleeping by the bedroom door. Look how fat he's gotten!
Nothing refreshes your thirst like a Coca-Cola light. Light?? Ha ha!
So we're staying here for a week, enjoying getting to spend more time hanging out with NJP, and then we're moving into the fancy new place next Sunday. Such adventures!  :)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Simple Days in Panajachel

Not too much going on right now. Getting over being sick. I had pneumonia! Who woulda thought? But a nice course of antibiotics wiped that right outta me! Yay, science. :)

Just a few pictures from walks around town. It's lovely and warm here, unlike back home where my family is sending me pictures of April snow! I do miss snow, but not in April. It's time for spring!

Here in Guatemala there are always lots of flowers and birds and butterflies and now a few fireflies at dusk. It's still very dry though. The hills are brown. It will be nice when the rains come.
Soccer game! Kicking up dust.
Such a huge field. They must be so fit!
Bert and Calvin walking thru an alley we like to take for a shortcut.
One of my favourite flowers. It's a climbing vine. I want to figure out how to transplant or propagate some so I can have some in my garden!
A kitty stalking a bug on the stairs. 
Oranges! They were too high to reach, plus they were growing in someone's yard and the branches were just overhanging the alleyway, so they probably wouldn't want me stealing them anyway!
Some weird thing painted on the wall in the alley near our house. No clue. 
Lovely flowers blooming under the lemon tree.
Our newest food obsession -- Mexican tortas -- hot meat sandwiches.
We recently discovered that these little carts sell sandwiches for only Q10 and they're sooo good! They fry up meat and onions on a flat grill and then melt cheese on top and put it all in a bun with a slice of ham plus ketchup and mayonnaise. YUMMY.
Mexican torta, all nicely browned and stuffed with goodies.
Bert is back to work this week painting at NJP's house. The masons used white and yellow sand to make cool patterns on the ceilings! Bert is painting the white to make it more white. (I don't get it. Looks fine to me!)
This is my favourite ceiling at NJP's place. I love the swirly tree thingies. 
Another ceiling in a smaller room.
Last but not least, my kitty, Willow. She's sick and frail and skinny and has such bad diarrhea every day but she still cuddles with me and purrs like nothin' doin'! Love her so much. :)
Willow sitting on my mousepad when I'm trying to work.
Hope you're all well and enjoying spring wherever you are. Hasta pronto, amigos.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Visa Run from Panajachel to Tapachula

Yes, it's that time again. Visa run! *halfhearted cheer*

I was looking forward to this run cuz we were planning on going to a new place -- Tapachula -- but a few days before departure, after I had already booked the hotel and shuttle, I started getting horribly sick. A few friends around town were also sick and had been diagnosed with pneumonia. I thought, "No, I can't have that. That's crazy!" But sure enough, that's what I had and I was too stupid or stubborn or in denial to go to the doctor BEFORE getting in a shuttle to go to Mexico. So wow, did I ever suffer. SUFFER.
Some friends commented that I should stop going to Mexico cuz I always get sick! I wish I could. (Kinda.) I like going on trips and visa runs are a good excuse to travel. But I would have gladly sent my passport off with a service this time if I could have. Unfortunately, I needed to go to Mexico to get some medication I can't find in Guate, plus (like I said) I had already booked and paid for the hotel and shuttle.

Amidst my haze of sickness, I tried to write down a lot of the details of the trip for informational purposes. Not just for me, but also for travelers looking to do the same run. There are plenty of expats who have to do these visa runs and not a ton of information about how to do them.

Here are some useful websites that I used to plan this trip from Panajachel to Tapachula.
This is a shuttle, also called a colectivo (coh-lek-TEE-voh) or combi (COHM-bee)

GETTING THERE: Panajachel, Guatemala, to Tapachula, Mexico
VIA: Shuttle bus
COST: Q300 per person one way
TIME: 5 hours

Due to money constraints, we decided to buy a shuttle for only one way. We figured it would be easier to figure out how to get back home than it would be to figure out how to get to a place we'd never been.
We booked through Tierra Maya Travel on Santander in Pana. Rufino is a great guy, very helpful, and can get you a shuttle to pretty much anywhere! I highly recommend him.

The shuttle arrived on time to pick us up at 7am. (We got picked up at the end of our street, so convenient!) The shuttle was super clean and, surprisingly, empty of passengers. We climbed in and took the best seats, fully expecting that we were going to meet up with another shuttle and have to transfer over. But we just drove out of town. So we waited, expecting to hook up with another bus or shuttle at the Sololá turnoff and have to switch. Nope. Zoomed right past that too. I think it took us a good 45 minutes before we finally started believing that maybe we had the whole darn shuttle to ourselves!! We kept looking at each other in disbelief! Finally, some good luck!

The trip to the border was pretty uneventful. We stopped only once after about an hour and a half at a fancy coffee shop/convenience store called Star Coffee just outside of Xela (Quetzaltenango). They had the most modern bathrooms I've seen since leaving Canada.
Then it was 3 hours of sitting until the border. It gets pretty uncomfortable, even when you have a whole shuttle to yourself!
Of course we had some amazing scenery to look out at. We were astounded at the change of environment. Pana and the hills around Lake Atitlan are rather scrubby and dry. We're in the Highlands here. (I feel like a woman!) As we got past Xela and started heading down south out of the mountain ranges, it got so freaking GREEN! I kept saying, "It's so jungly." :)
Super dry dusty fields.
It makes me sad to see such dry fields. Notice how they've dug out one square. Weird.
Dry dry dry. But still some crops were growing.
Craggy hills and painted rocks.
A big town covering a valley.
Bert asked how many pictures he could take. I said 2,400. He said, "Let's fill this baby up!" :)
I really have no clue which road we took south out of Xela but I know that we wound our way down the twisty, jungly mountain roads until we reached the main highway, CA-2. We never entered Retalhuleu (Reu) but we did see a sign pointing to it. I know we went through Coatepeque.
My poor ears wouldn't pop!! It hurt for a long time. :(

Yup, most of our pictures are out the windows. But look at the greenery!
Sharing the road with chicken buses, motorcycles, trucks, etc.
Old ruins in the field.
It got super hazy and much warmer as we descended to the south.
Mad varieties of plants surround a little town.
People walking on the side of the road with big bundles of sticks on their backs. How much would that suck?
Went through a town that was having a massive clothing sale.
We were getting pretty shifty in our seats after hours on the road and were looking excitedly at the signs that said the frontera (border) of Tecun Uman was coming up. But for some reason, just as we were about to reach the border, the driver turned!! No!! We were soooo ready to get out and stretch our legs! But I guess the driver didn't want to cross at Tecun Uman and instead headed north to the other crossing at El Carmen/Talisman. So it was a bit more uncomfortableness until we finally reached our stop.
Sure, plenty of room to pass. All roads are three lanes, did you know? Painted lines have no meaning here in Guatemala.
Saw this weird field of burned and chopped trees. I think it may have been an old palm plantation that they were clearing out to start over.
Trying to get a photo of the massive palm tree plantations! All the trees planted in lines, so dark and shady underneath the branches. Goes for MILES.
People stood in the middle of the roads selling stuff, like coconuts, water, and selfie sticks. HUH?  Ha ha! No joke.
Also notice how we're on the wrong side of the road passing a bus with a dude in the middle and oncoming traffic. Fun.
Ooh, a new view! Out the back window of the shuttle.
Also saw plantations of these weird sticky trees. Planted all in rows.
You can see the palm plantations a bit better.
Palm plantations on both sides of the road.
Yay, the border!! This is El Carmen (Guate) to Talisman (Mex).
Driving through some checkpoint thing. No one checked.
Finally at El Carmen, our driver pulled right up to the Guatemalan Migración window and told us to get our exit stamp. Easy peasy. The Guate side always uses big blue signs to indicate where to get stuff done. This stop was just a window you walked up to and passed your passport through. There were different windows for leaving Guate and entering Guate. Stamped out and got back in the shuttle.

A quick drive to the next station, where we had to get out of the shuttle with our luggage. The driver stayed with the van while it got sprayed down for ... whatever.
TIP: Always look at your shuttle's license plate number or remember identifying marks and logos. You may think you know which shuttle is yours but the border is FILLED with identical Toyota vans. Embarrassing to come out of a building and not know where your ride is!
We walked into the Mexican border building, very fancy and new looking and official. Lots of fun signs to read about smuggling and crossing illegally. We had to fill out that form again, but we're pros at it now! We even helped the driver's wife to fill hers out. (Don't forget to fill out both the top AND bottom sections.) Stamped into Mexico, super quick, super easy.

Walked back outside and headed towards where the shuttle was parked up the way and suddenly a guy is asking for my bag. Strange place for a bag check -- after you get stamped and while you're outside? There are fences and guards everywhere so I guess there was no place for me to go, but I found it strange that he was just standing behind a counter on the outside of the building. (On the way back, there was a drug dog there! Pretty cool.) He asked me to open my bag, very polite, and asked me a few questions in English too. He was very friendly and respectful. I was impressed. I gave him my best sickly smile and tried not to cough on him. :)

Back in the van and just like that, we're in Mexico. A short 10-minute drive down the road and we had arrived in Tapachula. It was just a bit after noon. And DAMN it was HOT. The wind coming in through the window was like having a hair dryer blowing on you.

Our driver asked where our hotel was, and actually knew it. He said he stays there when he visits Tapachula. I guess we chose well! He drove us right to the hotel and dropped us off, then gave us his business card for the next time we need to go. I would definitely use him again, especially if there's a chance we can have a near-empty shuttle.
Hotel Cervantino, Tapachula, Mexico
Inside Hotel Cervantino. I really felt like it was a renovated prison or mental institution or hospital.
The evenly spaced doors, open second floor, and oversized metal doors just felt weird.
Damn, how do I put this key in my pocket?
A towel doggie on our bed at Hotel Cervantino
We chose to stay at Hotel Cervantino in Tapachula basically for the sole reason it was the cheapest. (Did I mention we were short on funds?) Turns out it is a pretty decent hotel. We were impressed. Very clean, very friendly staff, good sized room with a decent bed. 
One weird thing though: no hot water. I heard the front desk lady say it but didn't really believe it. I thought maybe it was just my bad Spanish but, nope, she wasn't joking. The hotel doesn't have hot water. It didn't really matter to us. I had a cold shower and it was refreshing. Tapachula is HOT. Of course, me being all smart and all, I had booked a room with air conditioning for a few bucks more. SO WORTH IT. We cranked that baby up and took a two-hour nap. So nice. :)

After we woke up, the heat of the day had passed and we needed to get stuff done, so we headed out. We walked a few short blocks to the central square. It was very pretty! I'd heard a lot of people saying that Tapachula was an ugly city or not worth it, but we thought it was very nice. Sure, it was a city-city, not a historical-city, but we really liked it. Lots of shopping. Lots of modern stuff. Pretty fountains and palm trees and churches. 
At the main square in Tapachula. Two statues of important dudes, big Mexican flag, and some protest signs. Pretty standard. :)
Scotiabank! And Bert. The guy in red in the middle, not the guy in red on the left. :)
Love the palm trees! We met a friendly young boy selling juice. Bert bought me one as I rested on a bench, exhausted from having walked for a whole 10 minutes. Being sick sucks.
We found our favorite pharmacy, Farmacia de Similares, and tried to buy my meds. They only had one package. I needed four. So I bought that one (Q127) and asked where the next Simi's was. They said around the corner. They're weren't kidding. Literally, around the next corner, on the same damn block was another Simi's. Bought two more packs. Went off walking in search of another Simi's but didn't see one immediately so I went into an Ahorra. Their price for the same drug? Q290. WHAT?? Yeah, no thanks. Kept walking until we spotted another Simi's sign not far off and bought my final package of needed meds. Success!
I love it when the cities have the pedestrian-only roads. This one is on 3A Poniente, I think.
And Bert again.
I would have loved to done more walking and exploring of the city but I was sooooo sick and exhausted. So we decided to splurge and buy Domino's Pizza for dinner and just hang out in our lovely air conditioned hotel room and watch TV in Spanish.
MMMMMM PIZZA!!! Bert got a Hawaiian pizza all to himself and ate the whole thing. Good boy!
I had pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms. Damn, so good. And it was actually pepperoni, not chopped up weiners like you sometimes get in Guate. :)

GETTING BACK: From Tapachula, Mexico, to Panajachel, Guatemala

The next morning we got up early (we thought) and prepared to make the convoluted trip back to Panajachel via whatever means available. This is where it gets crazy, folks!
But first, a pigeon. I love pigeons! They don't have many of them in Pana, probably cuz they get eaten. There were tons in Tapachula.
I thought I had done all my research and was totally prepared to find out way back home. But things don't always work out, especially when you're sick as a freaking DOG. I could barely walk, let alone think.
We walked from our hotel north through near-deserted streets to the very clean and modern OCC bus terminal. (Map here.) This is where I was told we could catch a Pullman (Greyhound) bus back into Guate. Nope. Not entirely true. The only buses that leave from there go straight to Guatemala City, no stops. Damn. Now what? The lady at the ticket counter told us there was a travel agency across the street. Sure enough, he had the glorious word GUATEMALA scrawled across his sign. Yay! Let's go!
But first, bathroom break. Four pesos please. :)
Bathroom entrance in the OCC bus terminal, Tapachula, Mexico.
The travel agent guy was helpful but didn't really offer us what we were looking for. He said we could get a Pullman at 12:15 to go to Reu and from there we would have to find a bus north to Xela and then home. I had heard about that route and was kinda planning for it, but wasn't planning on waiting until noon, nor planning on spending as much as he quoted us. (I forget what it was, sorry.) The funny thing was, there had been a bus leaving that morning at 7:15. Perhaps if we had been a bit earlier, this day would have gone differently!

We went back over and sat in the bus station again to gather our thoughts. I was struggling to breathe, my chest on fire, and coughing up globs of mucous. It was awful. Bert was so patient with me, and carried my lovely pretty purple backpack all over for me. At this point, we were both just thinking, "Let's get back into Guate." I remembered reading that you could take a combi to the border so we walked outside to look around. A taxi driver offered to take us to the border for 150 pesos. The driver next to him countered with 130. We declined.

We watched some combi vans drive by, trying to read their destinations written on their sides, but none seemed to be going where we wanted...except that one! Oh oh!! But it was gone before we could do anything. A little more optimistic, we found a bus stop sign and waited next to it. A combi stopped and we asked the helper where to get a combi to Talisman. He said, "Tally-man? Espere aqui." (Wait here.) YAY! Not a minute later, a shabby looking minivan stopped and we clambered aboard, squishing ourselves into the crowded seats with a dozen locals. We were getting the REAL travel experience now! Bert was squashed in the back row with three other people -- yes, three plus him -- and I was sitting half on a bench seat and half on a pull down spare seat while the man next to me sat half on that seat and half on the wheel well. Such closeness. :)
Inside a Mexican combi.
We tore off down the road, picking up a few more people, and maybe about 20 minutes later we got dropped off at the border town of Talisman, Mexico. Step one completed!

STEP ONE: Tapachula, Mexico, to Talisman, Mexico
VIA: combi
COST: M$18 per person
TIME: 25 minutes

Bicycle taxis ready to take you up to the border at Talisman. We elected to walk and see the scenery and stretch a bit.
So now we're at the Mexican/Guate border and we KNOW that we're supposed to stamp out of Mexico and give them back the half of the form we collected. But what ends up happening? We walk across the bridge and enter Guate! Seriously. *rolls eyes*
But it wasn't our fault! There was no immigration office on that side. We walked along the pedestrian area, and there was one guard and an empty booth. He waved us onwards. I kept going, "No, we have to stamp out." And then the bridge surface changes and there's a little painted part of the wall and ta-dah, you're in Guatemala! *sigh* Such security, eh?
So we turned around and walked back into Mexico and go to the office window where we stamped IN to Mexico just the day before. We told them we were trying to stamp out and they waved us into the same office. It was very awkward.
Even more awkward? After getting stamped out of Mexico, we walked out of the office and didn't know how to get back to Guate because all the sidewalks are one-way. So we start walking back towards Mexico and the guard is looking at us all weird and starts waving at us to go the other way. We're like, "Yeah, we know which way is Guate but... how??" Well, there's a part of the fence that's open to let you walk across four lanes of traffic and THEN go back to Guate. Confusing. Oh well. We just looked like dumb tourists. :)
The Mexico side of the bridge has nice fences and railings and security.
I could have sworn I took pictures of the people wading across the river but I can't find them. Probably in my feverish state, I thought I was clicking the button and really was just standing there staring. Here's a picture from another website that is pretty much identical to what we saw.
Photo taken from the Guatemalan side of the border bridge at el Carmen/Talisman. People just blatantly wading across from Guatemala on the left to Mexico on the right. Underneath the bridge was a raft on ropes that was pulling bigger goods across.
Photo courtesy of:
Cool statue dude at the border.
Now for the tricky part. We hadn't been out of Guatemala for the required 72 hours. I went up to the Migración window, to the one that said IN to Guatemala, and I handed over my passport. The lady looked at it, scanned it, then started asking me questions. I couldn't hear a thing. Traffic was super loud, my ears were stuffed up, and I was just feeling so sick. For some reason, I didn't understand when she was asking, "A dondé fue?" That's like Spanish 101! ("Where did you go?") I just mumbled some stuff. She started pointing at my exit stamp from yesterday. My mind is going "CRAP". She was saying, "No, no." I kept telling her I didn't understand and saying dumb things like, "I go to Guatemala" in my stupid broken Spanish. Plus coughing and wheezing a lot. She asked for Bert's passport and compared them, then got fed up trying to talk through the window and motioned us around to a side door. She took us into a small office (uh-oh!) and asked us more questions. It was actually better cuz I could hear her and had a moment to think of responses. She asked when we had left Guate yesterday. I said 11 am. She asked where we slept. I told her a hotel in Tapachula. She asked where we were going in Guate. I said Xela (close enough). She asked why we went to Mexico. I said vacation and shopping. Finally, she just sighed, took our passports and stamped them and let us go. *huge sigh of relief*

For those who are wondering why this was stressful, we are required to leave the country for 72 hours every 3 months to get a new 90-day tourist stamp. Technically, she could have refused us entry into Guatemala.
I've heard stories of travellers paying "fines" to bypass this restriction, sometimes of several hundred Quetzales. At no time did I feel there was an opportunity to pay a "fine" or even to offer to pay a "fine". She was very professional and never hinted in that direction at all.
That was definitely the first and last time we will try to do a visa run for less than 72 hours. Not worth the stress! But we made it back into "our" country and now just had to figure out how to get home.

At this point, we were a bit lost though. We walked up the street and saw a ton of combi buses parked but no one seemed to be going anywhere. We were mobbed by "helpers" who are really no help at all and just want your money. We walked through them and onwards a bit.
Then I simply had a little meltdown. Okay, maybe a big meltdown. I was so tired and sick and hot and confused. I started crying and then couldn't breathe and I'm wheezing like a broken racehorse and poor Bert is trying to stay calm as he leads me to a ditch to sit down amidst the trash and catch my breath. My mind is bawling, "I wanna go home!"
But we were miles from home and there's no magic bus that picks up crying girls and transports them in cushioned comfort straight back to their cozy beds.
So through wheezy breaths, I explained to Bert the next step we had to take: get to Malacatán. (I was quickly realizing that it was a mistake to not involve Bert in the travel planning. He had no clue where we were and no clue where we had to go! Other than back to Pana, of course. But there were far more steps involved than he realized.)
Well, apparently there is a magic bus -- or rather combi. It drove right up to us and a friendly young dude said, "Malacatán?" Yes!! We climbed gratefully aboard for a really wild ride!

STEP TWO: El Carmen to Malacatán
VIA: combi
COST: Q4 per person
TIME: 20 minutes?
The friendly ayudante (helper) riding the combi with the door open. He would yell out our destination to people standing on the side of the road.
Sure, more people can fit! Come on in!
I'd say there was at least 20 people in this minivan. Wild. 
The combi tore along at ludicrous speeds through the lovely countryside, packing more and more locals into the worn seats. Bert and I both started to feel better, more optimistic. We were back in Guate and headed in the right direction! Maybe we could do this after all?

Bert had told the ayudante that we were headed to Xela, which I thought was silly cuz why would he care, but it turned out to be really fortuitous. When we arrived in Malacatán, the ayudante spotted a chicken bus to Xela and told the driver to stop. He waved us out of the van, pointing and saying, "Xela!" and waved at the chicken bus to stop for us. We thanked him profusely, and jumped on this unknown bus to hopefully somewhere closer to home.

STEP THREE: Malacatán to San Marcos
VIA: chicken bus
COST: Q15 per person
TIME: 60 minutes?

The chicken bus WAS heading in the right direction, to our next change-over station, San Marcos. It was a nice bus actually. Chicken buses are refurbished school buses and sometimes can be hit or miss as to comfort. This one was decent and not packed to the brim with people. We had a rather pleasant ride UP UP UP UP UP UP UP into the mountains, through the jungles, over rivers, past small towns, and up into the clouds.
So much green in that part of Guate.
Red bananas! I wonder if they are pink inside? We didn't get to find out.
I thought it was funny to see all these big tropical plants growing that I've normally only seen in big pots in hotel lobbies.
If it wasn't so damn hot and sticky, I would like to live in an area like this.
Up into the mountains, literally driving through the cloud layer. Got real cool real fast!
We arrived in San Marcos and hopped off the bus at some random intersection. The driver waved us off uphill a bit when we asked for a bus to Xela. We walked that way for a minute but didn't see any buses, so we sat in the shade to collect ourselves. I noticed a sign that said bathrooms, desperately needed, so we walked up to the second floor of this big building... and then realized we were on the back side of the bus station! Another great fortuitous moment. :)

After our bathroom break, we asked for the Xela bus. They pointed out a chicken bus already packed with people. This was when I remembered some advice from a blogger: "Don't get on a bus you don't want to. There will be another in 10 minutes so just wait." I didn't want to end up standing on a chicken bus all the way to Xela, so we decided to just hang out at the terminal for a bit.
Turned out to be closer to an hour before the next Xela bus came but it was well worth the wait. Plus I got to enjoy yummy homemade coconut ice cream while observing the madness of a busy bus station. We literally watched a Mayan woman get off a chicken bus and collect her live pig in a sack that had been riding on the TOP of the bus. She walked calmly off, the bag squealing loudly as it swung against her leg.

San Marcos chicken bus terminal. We did see one Pullman bus come here too.
These buses were going towards Guate City and Xela. The other side was for buses going towards Mexico.
Bert looking like a seasoned traveler. He's actually a natural at this stuff!
STEP FOUR: San Marcos to Xela (Quetzaltenango)
VIA: chicken bus
COST: Q10 per person
TIME:  60 minutes?

The chicken bus from San Marcos to Xela was not cool. It was the type of chicken bus you read about that you DON'T want to be on! The good news: we had seats and we gave them up for NO ONE. It was about an hour's drive and they kept picking up more and more passengers. We had no idea how they could even get in the bus. The bus had been modified in a weird way. The seats on the left-hand side had been replaced by larger seats that made the aisle only about 10 inches wide. I'm not joking. It was very difficult to walk down the aisle, yet people were standing in it, plus every seat had three people in it, so there were six people across plus people standing, and women with babies on their backs and a toddler in their lap. And then the ayudante would come down the aisle to collect the fares.
The interesting thing: no one seemed to mind. They all seemed fine with it. And the bus would stop to get more passengers and they would get on and barely grimace when they saw how full it was. If I saw that bus, there would have been no way I would have gotten on it. They must have been desperate for a ride. We estimate there were about 90 people on that bus!

The bus dropped us off in Xela in some random location with a bunch of other buses, near to the market. I had hoped it would drop us off near the MegaPaca, where we had seen the large flock of buses on our shopping trip to Xela just a few weeks ago. (It turned out it HAD dropped us off pretty near there, but we ended up walking the wrong way and not realizing it until we returned later.)

We were hungry and tired of buses, so I figured I could get us to the mall we had visited before. We walked thru the market and came out the other side, right where I expected us to be. But I was soooo tired! I didn't want to walk anymore, and I couldn't quite remember how much farther we had to go. Nothing else to do though, so we just kept on. Trudged up a hill and around a corner by the zoo and we could see the mall signs not too far off. Yay! We're doing it! We're super awesome travelers!

Went into the silly mall to eat Burger King and use modern bathrooms and sit in air conditioned comfort for a bit. Then we headed back outside and walked past MegaPaca to find that we indeed had been dropped off where I thought we would be, and that loooong walk around the block past the zoo was completely unnecessary. Live and learn. Now we know for next time!

Walked amongst the lines of chicken buses until we found a guy yelling "Pana" and hopped aboard a near-empty bus. Got great seats and settled in.

STEP FIVE: Xela to Panajachel
VIA: chicken bus
COST: Q25 per person
TIME: 2.5 hours

The longest stretch of the trip but the easiest. We recognized everything so it felt exciting to be getting closer to home. And we were super proud of ourselves for making it! Every minute we got closer to Pana, we felt more and more happy. :D  We didn't even have to change buses in Sololá; we just stayed on our bus while it picked up more people and then moved on.
Bert snapped a pic of the mirador vendors. We have to go up there one day!
Bert took this picture of our lovely Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes just as we were snaking down the mountainside to Pana.
So happy to see home!!
We arrived back in Pana at 6:15 pm. Our street is right at the main bus stop so we got dropped off near home too. We were so relieved! We did it!
I walked in the door, shed my dusty clothes, and fell into bed. Home sweet home.

Below is a map of our route back from the border. Looks fun, doesn't it?  :D
Our squiggly route from the border to home.
Click here for the Google map.
Thanks for reading this incredibly long blog post. I hope it was entertaining and maybe even helpful. If you're doing a visa run and need help, ask in the comments section and I'll try to assist you. We'll be going to Tapachula again in three months and staying a bit longer next time to see the sights... and to avoid future uncomfortable situations at the border!
Happy Trails, everyone. :)