Nelson was a bit of a hero…
I obviously liked him instantly for letting me into the secret of the best seat and casting aside my ‘small seat’ fears.
He also drove us for the entire 18 hours (2am – 8pm) and was chirpy and helpful throughout. We were all quite concerned for his well-being, so we regularly checked in whether he was okay, did he want a coffee? Or an energy drink?
The minibus took eight of us in the end: me, three guys from Aus, 2 silent Spanish girls, a girl called Mona, and a drunk German guy called Stefan. When Stefan got in it instantly stunk of alcohol, and he was then super loud for a while and I was so worried I wouldn’t get any sleep however he quickly passed out, only to stir when snacks were being passed around.
We made it to the Nicaraguan-Honduran border about 4am. Nelson disappeared with our passports and left us in the van. We were all on high alert, except Stefan, who wandered off into the bushes alone for a wee. He stumbled back towards the passport office, we were all willing him to come back to the bus, but no, he headed inside, drunk and towards all the border guards with guns. We waited with baited breath, but eventually he staggered back out, and announced he’d been looking for some socks!!
It took us a couple of hours to drive through Honduras, incident free (except some dodgy overtaking!) and we got through the Honduras – El Salvador border about 7am. I’d heard horror stories of tourists walking across the bridge that connects the two borders and being attacked, but Nelly took good care of us once again and we made it across smoothly. We then stopped at the El Salvador equivalent of a little chef service station for a greasy breakfast. This seemed to perk Stefan up no end and he wolfed down all of his about half of mine when the grease overwhelmed me.
It took about another 4 hours to get to the beach resort of El Tunco where we stopped for some lunch…so if I had ended up with the ‘small seat’ I would have had it for maybe 10 hours, not 4 (time laws of travel – check!)
Our lunch stop was far more scenic than breakfast, we were given an hour to go to the beach, some of the boys swam and we had a drink and nachos overlooking the sea.
El Tunco looked great, really relaxed and great surfing. It’s where I was planning to visit if I’d had more time, but I decided that if I broke it up it would still be two days lost to travelling, rather than one epic journey. I would also then only have a few days in El Salvador and a few in Guatemala, rather than just over a week in Guatemala. So whilst a few extra days on the beach would have been wonderful it would mean I couldn’t see everything I wanted in Guatemala.
After becoming rather too relaxed in our new found freedom on the beach we rushed back to the bus a few minutes late. We needn’t have worried as we didn’t leave for more than an hour, we were waiting for another minibus to come to pick up other people. It was all a bit bizarre as everyone in our original bus was going the whole way to Antigua so we didn’t actually need to stop in the first place.
After the delay we made it to the El Salvador – Guatemala border by about 4pm. All the border crossings were super simple, but sadly Nicaragua didn’t stamp the passports on the way out, and El Salvador doesn’t at all! The passport guys also seem to have developed a habit of stamping my passport on the same page every time now, all on top of one another, even though there are tonnes of blank ones…I think filling it by 30 will be a challenge!!
So there we were, finally in Guatemala, on the home straight of the journey. We had been driving for about an hour after crossing the border when we came across a guy lying by the side of the road. There was no-one around, and at first we thought either he was sleeping, or that perhaps he’d been hit by a car. At first we drove past but then we slowed and the other shuttle we were travelling with pulled up next to us and we both turned around and drove back. In the 30 seconds it took us to get back a police keep had arrived. All of us travelling in the van wondered why we were going back…I really hoped it wasn’t just to gawp!!
Pulling up from the other direction it became clear that the guy had in fact been shot. It was horrible. We’d thought he was wearing a red T-shirt but you could just see that the shoulders were yellow and the rest was covered in blood.
We asked Nelson again why we were there, and he explained that there had been a police escort following us from the border (which explained why they had arrived there so soon after us) and that therefore because the police needed to deal with the shooting we would have to wait for a new police car to come to escort us on to Antigua so we had to wait for about an hour for them to arrive.
It was really strange just sitting by this body for an hour. The only small positive (if you can see it that way) is that he was already dead when we’d got there so we couldn’t have done anything to help him.
Eventually an ambulance arrived and covered him up, and our new escort arrived. Apparently it’s standard procedure for tourist shuttles to get a police escort from the border to Antigua as it’s a dangerous stretch of road (evidently!) and you’re more of a target if in a van full of tourists than a local bus. It suggests that the police do have some authority in Guatemala though, because I know in some countries having a police escort would make no difference!
I asked Nelson whether shootings were normal along the route but he said that it was the first time he’d seen one. Unless he says that every time!
We eventually made it to Antigua at 8pm. Only 3 hours later than scheduled. I feel that Nelson and Gekko tours let us down slightly at the end by just dumping us in the centre of Antigua, rather than taking us to our respective hostels.
This meant I had to take to the streets, with the backpack of doom, and try to navigate the ridiculous street address system. I had booked into somewhere called ‘Hotel y Arte’ using booking.com, but disconcertingly when I googled the place nothing came up, no website, no tripadvisor, so I had a worry at the back of my mind as to whether it even existed!
It took me about 30 minutes of wandering (at least the city felt safe!) and two requests for directions and eventually I made it to Hotel y Arte….