Before we left, we rode with David and Valerie to the old cross on the hill that overlooks Antigua and Volcan Agua. This, and our leisurly packing and bidding farewell to our Irish friends, caused us to leave Antigua much later than we originally planned. The problem is, when we’re really comfortable, it’s hard to get moving early in the morning. We tend to make the most distance when we’re camping or when we’re staying in a truly terrible place.
We would get the chance to stay in a truly terrible place very soon.
During this ride, we stayed at what is probably the worst place we’ve ever paid to sleep. But that comes a bit later.
Our Spanish was getting undeniably better through this trip. It still wasn’t great, and there were still times when one of us would misunderstand a word and try to correct the other. For instance, in Coban when we tried to complement the tiny, thick, delicious tortillas, the waiter repeated the word “paiz” several times. To this, I took it to mean that the name of this particular dish was, “paiz.” Later, we learned that, at some points in time, I was asking waiters for extra “nations” to eat, and not tortillas.
All that to say, sometimes the situations we get into are caused by these misunderstandings… but I’m also sure that some people are just telling us the wrong things.
We left Antigua and got stuck in Guatemala City for about two hours. When we finally figured out how to get out of the city proper, we got lost in the suburbs. It got dark and we were lost on some dirt roads that led to dead ends. Our GPS said we were paralleling the right road, but we just couldn’t figure it out. All said and done, we rode for about 7 hours and only got about 40 miles from Antigua as a bird flies. During this, Aaron claimed that it was the worst day of the trip for him (and remember… just days before he’d been hit by a truck).
We eventually decided we had to give up for the night and started looking for a hotel in San Jose. We couldn’t find one for a long time. Everyone seemed to either not know where one couldn’t understand what we were saying.
After a thorough search of the area, we finally found a half-a-city-block-sized, blue, cube-like compound with the words, “San Francisco Hotel” painted in large white letters along the side. Aaron stopped there and I was confused at first, because I thought it was just a billboard or advertisement for something further on. Short of options and prodded by desperation and the prospect of sleep, we knocked on the door and asked the price of the room. It was cheaper than camping.
This is the first time Aaron and I agreed to stay in a room without seeing it first. Again, this is because we couldn’t find anywhere else and we didn’t trust camping this close to Guatemala City. I’ll do my best to describe this place to you, but I’m afraid I won’t do it justice.
The large metal gates were opened and we were led into a gravel parking area occupied by one car on the right and a pile of smoldering garbage on the left that, as far as I could tell, was fed to continually smoke day and night like a suffocating tire fire.
In order to get to where the rooms were, you had to pass by the burning rubbish and push through the poorly constructed gate. When you did this, you had to avoid the roosters and other small barnyard animals that liked to loiter there. The rooms lined the edges of the compound, leaving the middle open for a courtyard, which was decorated in a style reminiscent of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if…” jokes. Aaron arrived at our room first and he turned back to me and said while smiling, “Our’s has a duck in it!”
Our room was a concrete cube. Inside were two wooden beds lined with stained sheets. The ceiling was made of corrugated metal sheeting that didn’t touch the walls, so anything happening in the other rooms could be easily heard. (Aaron later heard “something” happening next door)
At first, we were going to leave our things there and get something to eat in town. After surveying the quarters, we decided we would be taking everything into our room so we could keep our eyes on it, close the door, and wait/pray for morning.
Before I could do this, I needed to use the restroom. So I mustered up my courage and stepped out onto the walkway and headed around to the other side. When I walked into the restroom, I was struck by how completely disgusting it was. Dark, damp, smelly, and like everything else there, it was just shaped concrete stained to a gross dark grey. I thought to myself of all the terrible, dirty restrooms I’d used in my life and immediately counted this in the top five.
Just then, as I looked around, I was struck with both profound relief and horror at the realization that this was actually the shower, and not the restroom at all.
I stepped back out the doorway, went one more door down, and entered the next small room. I then also backed out of this room, as it was occupied by a large, black and white duck that may or may not have been the same duck we’d met earlier in our room. It quacked at me as I let him pass by.