The boat sped over the dark green waters of Amatique Bay, the no man’s land in between Belize and Guatemala. I was exhilarated to feel the sea wind on my face once more; with enough imagination, even taking a water taxi between two countries can be a maritime joyride. All around us, green waters stretched out, colored by its proximity to the land.
I was crossing from Belize, where I’d been traveling for the past weeks, to Guatemala. I’d spent the last few weeks in the keys that lie in the warm waters of the western Caribbean Sea off Belize City (I suspect my liver still hasn’t recovered from Caye Caulker) and afterward in the mainly Garifuna town of Punta Gorda, one of Belize’s towns. I’d paid the Punta Gorda boatmen to take me to Livingston, a small port on the Guatemalan coast, from where I’d be traveling on to Guatemala to teach English to children in a village school.
As the boat sped on, I clung to my backpack to keep it from bucking around like a bull angry to find itself caught in the tight corral that is a Belizean skiff. The navigators, if the silent, grim figures who looked more like Somali pirates than simple ferrymen could be called that, weren’t shy about their desire to complete their voyage as fast as they could. So far, the boat had smashed into every wave from Punta Gorda to the middle of the bay, and it was all the German and French tourists behind me could do to keep the boat from bucking them off their seats and onto the wet deck.
The boat remained on its southeastern course, and I took a moment to observe the coast. This coast was hilly, and looked to be completely blanketed in emerald green. I wondered if the first Europeans who first came to these shores had felt that same awe and curiosity as I then felt, just a swim away from a fresh land.
We passed a small port, nestled in between the hills of the coast. I turned to the pilot. “Excuse me, friend, what port is that?”
“Livingston,” he said, looking at me from behind his fishing sunglasses with nonchalance.
I was confused. I’d bought a ticket to Livingston, and we were clearly not headed there. “Aren’t we headed for Livingston?”
“No, Puerto Barrios,” the brute replied indifferently.
I think I just got shanghaied into Guatemala. Jesus, who needs pirates when you got these maritime bandits? I decided I’d go with the flow of my travels instead of struggling uselessly.
Another fifteen minutes and we were finally docked in Puerto Barrios. I shouldered my backpack and took my first step onto Guatemalan soil. Puerto Barrios was exactly how I imagined a Central American Caribbean port to be: chickens lay in cages and baskets, and there were peddlers selling everything from tropical fruits to sandals out of their stalls by the side of the streets.
Prima facie, Guatemalans are vastly different from Belizeans, more akin to their Mexican counterparts further north. It was confusing for me as a Mexican because the country felt vastly similar to Mexico, but other things seemed exotic, outlandish. The people are genuinely friendly and attentive, which does remind me of my country. After coming from Belize, where people tend to be more aggressive, I was unnecessarily defensive. I quickly relaxed and began absorbing the myriad of sensations of this new land.
After breezing through immigration, I walked to the bus station, where I bought a bus ticket to Antigua Guatemala from a pretty girl with pearly skin and fine features.
Soon, we boarded the bus and were off. The trip from the coast to Antigua would take over six hours. I settled into my seat by the window and took the opportunity to observe the countryside. With the right attitude, even a bus ride on a worn Guatemalan road could become a sightseeing tour.
As we sped on, we passed rows of hills and low sierras covered in coats of plants. Streams and creeks wound its way down from the hills in between the trees. Tropical forests of palm and broadleaf trees extended before my eyes for hours on end. It was a veritable overload of green. Here and there, small farms peeked from among the trees.
Watching the countryside landscape gave me a deep sensation of peace. Maybe it was all the green, as if I’d fiddled with my eyes and now everything I saw were oversaturated colors. Seeing all that life made me regret I hadn’t studied biology.
I had never seen such majestic trees. So vibrantly colorful and tall. The countryside passed before my eyes in shades of green and emerald. The sun reflects off the leaves and gives an impression of life and vibrance. The bright blue sky contrasted pleasantly with the dark green of the jungles. In some places, the canopy was packed so tightly that the forest was shrouded in darkness as if it were nighttime.
All this beauty was multiplied when a bank of cloud broke out among the forest, carrying the vapors that the humid jungles breathe onto the land. It was plain to see that forests are the living lungs of the world— it seems my elementary school teachers were right.
Further on, the rains came, pouring down amongst the trees. The earth turned a dark brown and the mist settled among the hills. The scene had a mystical air of mystery about it, something I’d come to associate with the Guatemalan countryside over the next few weeks.
Guatemala is filled with rolling hills and tropical forests. This is why nature is the worlds best landscape artist!Halfway on the road to Antigua, the bus broke down… twice. We had to wait in the humid jungle heat of a Peten afternoon while another bus arrived to take us on our journey. Thankfully, the rain resumed, which lessened the heat somewhat but called the mosquitoes out for lunch.
After almost an hour’s wait, the other bus finally arrived. We switched buses and, soon, we were back on the road, eager to reach the Guatemala City bus terminal, where we arrived a couple of hours later.
Since we were the final bus to arrive, the terminal was already closed. I’d been worried I wouldn’t be able to catch the last bus to Antigua and… my worries were confirmed. Thankfully, I’d been conversing with a Maya man who’d told me he was going to go to Antigua. I was lucky to get him to take me along for the ride with the friend who’d be picking him up and his three-year-old son.
Over the course of the hour-long drive to Antigua, I made faces at the little kid, who giggled and laughed uncontrollably while the two men talked between themselves in one of the Maya dialects. Soon, the dark road gave way to cobblestones and ancient colonial buildings: I’d finally arrived in Antigua Guatemala.
It had been a hard day of travel. Between the rogue boat ride and the ill-fated bus ride, I’d managed to cover only 400 kilometers. Things hadn’t gone the way I’d planned but had nevertheless happened perfectly.
On the plus side, I am in love with Guatemala.