Coconut started coming down with what ails us before New Years’. She was running a high fever, and had muscle aches and a hacking cough. We were camping at the time at a tranquil place on the Rio Chiyo owned by a guy from Philadelphia and his Japanese wife. While we were all having fun swimming in waterfalls, fishing, and jumping off of bridges, poor Coconut was curled up in Wesley’s top bunk.
We were worried that she had chikungunya, a relatively new-to-the-Americas mosquito transmitted virus which may or may not cause those infected to scratch in the dirt looking for insects, or Dengue Fever, which is just as horrible. We met a guy from Canada who had both viruses within a few weeks of each other and he didn’t prefer either – said they both made him feel worse than a turd stapled to a garbage can lid.
We got out of the campground after two nights and headed towards Rio Dulce, a crossroads town on Lago Izabel, so that we could get Coconut to a doctor and checked into a hotel so she could be more comfortable. We never found a doctor, but we did find a pharmacy with a nurse on duty who was able to quickly rule out our worst fears - though, we don’t know how - and prescribe some medications for inflammation and congestion - though, we don’t know why.
We had planned to visit the lake anyway because our research indicated it was centrally located for water activities, to visit the Caribbean coast town of Livingston, which is home to the Garifuna people who are descended from African slaves, and to visit some other unique natural sites around the lake. We also heard Bruno’s Marina would be a great place to camp.
Whoever wrote that research needs a good talking too - Rio Dulce is horribly hot, congested, noisy, and dirty and Bruno’s Marina was a muddy wreck – there was no chance we could camp there, even if Coconut felt up to it. The more interesting places to stay in the area are situated around the lake and are only accessible by lancha, so to do any water activity on the lake requires paying enormous sums of money to people with boats. We had to pay nearly $60 USD to get to one jungle lodge where we stayed for two days so that, with no other eating or drinking options, we could pay to drink their bottled water and eat food prepared in their kitchen. Plus, even though J and some boys from the Czech Republic didn’t seem to mind, you came out of the water feeling like an oil slick.
Livingston turned out to be a ramshackle town providing ample living quarters for pelicans but not much else of obvious cultural significance. The Garifuna culture, at least, has been Westernized enough to give the white oppressors who enslaved its ancestors its comeuppance in the form of overpriced, mediocre soup.
The natural beauty of the Finca El Paraiso, a hot spring waterfall, was underwhelming, and the Reserva Bocas del Polochic, one of the richest wetland habitats in the country, is being threatened by a Russian nickel mining operation that pollutes without sanction by the Guatemalan government.
To top off our week, at one of the hotels where we stayed, bed bugs had me for breakfast, lunch and dinner, J beat me at ping pong, and R started coming down with the same symptoms that Coconut was finally shaking loose.
Needless to say, we were happy to leave the area, and were intent on getting R someplace where she could rest comfortably. Our next attempt at nirvana was to head to an abandoned eco-resort set on a waterfall that a motorcycle overlander we met shortly after we left Oaxaca described as paradise on earth. Unfortunately, to get to Eden, you first have to drive through Puerto Barrios, which is the port town where the major U.S. fruit companies ship pineapples to the rest of the world, but apparently fail to give back to support the city’s infrastructure – the two-lane country road in use by the heavy duty and high volume of truck traffic, when not covered in dirt, is like driving on a trampoline it’s so cracked and uneven.
After getting through Puerto Barrios, the road to Eden becomes an extremely steep and rocky ascent and all I needed to hear from R was let’s find another place to stay, but she was fading fast – she failed to even comment on my exceptional conduction of our vehicle as I bounced it over boulders and through mud pits or on my witty opinions of our motorcycle-driving friend. Plus, since we had already committed more than an hours’ worth of driving in the wrong direction from where we planned to spend the rest of our time in Guatemala in order to get as far as we had - there was no turning back. When we finally arrived nobody liked the place. R immediately went to sleep, Coconut proclaimed the water too cold for swimming, J wouldn’t sit on the toilets, and the camping turned out to be expensive, not free like I expected. We spent one night.
We planned to spend the next few nights at a Japanese guesthouse so that R could rest in clean white-sheeted bliss, Coconut and J could catch up on homework, and I could visit some nearby ruins, but after we found the place on a street so narrow we had to move to the side just to let ourselves pass, we learned the guesthouse was full so we changed our plans to push on to Guatemala City. I was the most disappointed with this turn of events as my sole experience with Japanese guesthouses is gleaned from the novel “Shogun” - the protagonist of the story is visited repeatedly in the night by unsolicited women - and I was curious to know if this protagonist could expect the same treatment. Alas, fate can be cruel.
Fate can also decide that we aren’t going to make it to Guatemala City on a particular day, and along about the time the town of Santa Cruz rolled around, we were all hot, cranky, and tired of being in the van. Santa Cruz wasn’t on any map that we had or in any guidebook, but it turned out to be an okay place because it had a waterpark, and the hotel, though not much from the street, was like a small neighborhood – but like one of those weird, spooky dreams, there was nobody home but us.
We decided to hang around for a few days anyway so that R could get back on her feet, and like an exorcism, the demon bacteria could worm their way into me. Sure enough, by Sunday, after two-days’ worth of chlorine-soaked thrills, I was beginning to feel achy, feverish, and after taking the medications prescribed for Coconut that we didn’t give her, just well enough to drive to Antigua and crash into a hotel bed for the week. And that’s what I did. R and the kids might be able to speak of Antigua, but they didn’t do much different. So, we leave after a week in Antigua without knowing much about it other than it has big, wide cobblestone streets and the workers doing construction next door thoughtfully don’t start work every day until 7 a.m., on the dot.
So far, the month fits into the category of misery loves company and is similar to those first days with a newborn when you tell everyone how wonderful and rewarding it is. You are tired and cranky because the kid keeps waking up at night crying, you’re not having sex with your wife, and you can’t hang out with your friends because of the guilt of leaving your wife on her own with the cute, little monster. In this case, I’m tired and cranky from tossing and turning all night with worry and sickness, I’m not having sex with my wife, and I feel guilty because we’re dropping serious coin on fancy hotels and laying around like sloths. Overall, it’s been a wonderful and rewarding experience. You should try it.