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The Most Terrifying Ride Of My Life…(So Far)

Today, Jonathan and I had booked a trip to Lake Atitlan. We used Plus Travel (please see this post for more information on Plus Travel in Antigua, Guatemala).
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala
Our trip included: shuttle ride from Antigua to Panajachel, a boat tour of 3 cities on Lake Atitlan, a hotel in Panajachel, shuttle to Chichicastenago, and a shuttle back to Antigua.
I’ll talk about the rest later, but I want to take just a minute and tell you about the shuttle ride from Antigua to Panajachel. Why? Because I’m still alive to tell the tale.

Our shuttle was supposed to pick us up outside our hotel (Hotel Casa Luna) at 6:00am. But, they warned us that it could come up to 15 minutes before or after the scheduled time.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala
We have already learned that time means something different here in Central America than in the U.S. (Or we thought we had…more on this later too.)
Anyway, the shuttle came at 6:30am. We were surprised to see that we were the first ones picked up. From there we picked up another couple at another hotel, and we were off.
We learned that the shuttle wasn’t supposed to pick them up until 7:00am, so it was 30 minutes early for them. We figure that they had 2 shuttles scheduled, but only 2 people on each, so they combined the two.
Anyway, we thought as we were driving through Antigua, over cobble stone streets (literally stones here, not bricks), that the driver was a bit on the aggressive side.
It’s kind of difficult to bottom out a 15 passenger van driving through town, but our driver managed to do it.
We tried talking to the other couple for a while, but we were all very quickly either tired or a little car sick, so we tried to sleep.
Sleep did not happen.
The drive from Antigua to Panajachel is through the mountains (volcanoes) of Guatemala.
So, if you’ve driven in the mountains, here’s the picture:
Imagine driving through the curvy mountain roads you’re familiar with.
But, let’s make a few changes to the picture you have in mind:
First of all, there are no guard rails on these roads. The road is literally the side of the mountain, with nothing to block you, should the vehicle lose control.
Secondly, these roads are way more curvy, and there are no “sharp curves ahead” signs to warn you of impending danger.
Third, there are rock slides. Back in Colorado, we see signs warning of possible rock slides, but we’ve never been too worried about it. Here, every time I see one, I know that it’s not just a small possibility, it means that one has either happened recently, or it probably will.
Finally, add to that a driver who is driving a smidgen too fast.
Ok, not a smidgen.
Our driver was going so fast through all these mountain passes, that the tires were actually squealing around every turn.
He was going so fast that at one point, he almost slammed into the back of a truck (that he couldn’t see was around the corner). This close-call (thankfully close-call) threw all of us out of our seats – quite literally I assure you.
Oh, and did I mention yet that there are no seat belts? I didn’t think so. There are NO SEAT BELTS. (There actually haven’t been any in nearly every vehicle we’ve been in here in Central America.)
At this point, Jonathan decided he needed to befriend the driver. So, he started asking questions.
He eventually found out that our driver had kids. (At this point Jonathan is trying to make the driver think of his children because we’re all scared that we’re going over.)
He’s thinking to himself (he tells me later)…think of the children! if you aren’t thinking of us.
During the ride, Jonathan is thinking to himself…the driver is contemplating suicide by driving off a mountain and we’re the unfortunate people who happened to be on this trip with him.
We’re all thinking that it’ll be a miracle if we make it to our destination in one piece.
I know that these words do not accurately describe the sheer terror we were all in. It’s hard to convey something like that.
When we did finally make it (safely) to our destination, one person we were riding with said, “I’m glad I didn’t eat anything today, or I’d have thrown up more than once.”
That pretty much sums it up.
Jamie, I don’t recommend that you travel much in Central America (at least not by car, or shuttle with an insane driver).

2 thoughts on “The Most Terrifying Ride Of My Life…(So Far)

  1. Marty Renee

    Unfortunately, from now on, you will notice in our newspapers (which don’t even hear about most of the road accidents) the number of mountain
    fatalities in South America, especially in
    Guatemala, Peru & Bolivia.

  2. Sue Zamora

    I guess, since I haven’t experienced a Latin American ride like this first hand, I can’t really say, “I can imagine how that felt”.
    However, sadly several years ago the children (daughter and son-in-law) of dear friends (the children were a missionary couple) did pass away in Bolivia when their “shuttle” plunged down the side of a mountain.
    I am glad you are still with us.
    Also, I lost another friend to an infection that recurred but originally was contracted in Brazil. I hope you are actually over those bug bites.
    I know traveling the world is a great adventure, but hope you’ll also be wise

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