Traveling Central America During the Rainy Season
by Ag7656 on August 5, 2011
Being from London, I thought I was used to a bit of rain. Central America, however, proved me wrong. In England, there is a splatter here, some drizzle there. Coats and umbrellas are a must, but you get used to stepping around puddles and donning a jumper in the morning.
In Guatemala, however, avoiding a puddle meant dredging up memories from my year six, long-jump PE class, and still ending up with water up to my ankles. The rain seemed to come out of nowhere, drenching all those who were previously basking in the sun, and shunning a Mac and Brolly as ludicrous after stepping out of their hostel.
In June, I spent two weeks in Antigua studying Spanish, and a few days around Lake Atitlan kayaking and generally enjoying the beautiful scenery. It was as we were attempting to move from San Pedro to Panajachel that I finally snapped. Lugging my bag through streams that used to be roads and getting wet through my Mac and waterproof shoes, I threw a hissy fit and boarded the next chicken bus to Guatemala City, anything to be out of that dismal rain.
After three chicken buses and a stroll through the streets of that notoriously dangerous capital city, complete with armed guards outside every building and chains on the shops through which you shout your order to the cowering vendor, we finally found a hostel, a phone booth, and the number for the TicaBus company. The next day, we boarded a cross-border bus and embarked on an epic three day and night journey across the vast area that makes up Central America. For the relatively bargain price of $138, we were able to pass through the borders of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica on our way to Panama, collecting the all-important stamps for our passports along the way with little fuss and many pins and needles.
We could have chosen a slightly cheaper option--there was a $121 option--but we opted for the "executive" choice for a couple of reasons. One was that the latter is quicker. Rather than stopping during the night and spending the night in various cities, the executive bus ploughs on through. The only overnight stop we made was in San Salvador. There are two options when the bus arrives here. We chose to get off at the second stop, but I would suggest disembarking at the first stop instead, as this leaves you in a nicer area of town and stops you from having to do an extra hour in the coach both that night and the next morning.
The second bonus of the pricier package is that you are bombarded with random food products, from Burger King cheeseburgers to french sticks and maple syrup, and offered coke and coffee at various points along the journey. This kept my ever-hungry traveling partner subdued for much of the bus ride, and served as a point of amusement for me for I had been used to a diet of solely frijoles and maiz during my time in Guatemala.
I should mention that border crossings are often long and arduous, the worst being between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We arrived at border control at 4am and were told to get off the bus. Once we had sleepily disembarked, the bus driver then drove off to a parking place awhile away where the driver proceeded to lock up and fall asleep. As a result, we were left to wait for two and a half hours outside of the closed office with only the clothes we stood up in and our passports. With the toilets locked and no refreshments, it was suffice to say that this was not the highlight of our trip.
In Panama, we were told that the only stop would be in Panama City. As it happens, however, the driver made a sneaky stop in David, which we did not hesitate to take advantage of. Request this stop when you load your bags is my advice; the drivers were not too happy about having to fish our big rucksacks out of the storage bins. Looking back, this was probably the best decision of our entire traveling experience so far. From this major but nondescript city, we got a bus to Bocas del Toro, making a stop at the awesome Lost and Found hostel, which is not to be missed.
One could say that this was a somewhat dramatic reaction to a bit of rain, but it did the job. Panama proved much sunnier than Guatemala, with Bocas feeling like a pre-heated oven 100% of the time. Although I am sad to have missed the much talked about Nicaragua, the long slog across the continent also means we will now have more time to spend in South America, which can never be a bad thing.