Days 283 – 286 Friday, 8th May to Monday, 11th May. Still Marooned at Pasaj-Cap, by Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

We have now been here for 55 days and as Dennis has mentioned the rainy season is starting to set in. On Friday evening and for most of the night, we had torrential rain. Accompanying it, a plague of flying ants. Despite shutting the windows, we were inundated with them. They shed their wings and then carry on normal ant functions, whatever they might be. Apparently they only fly on one or two days during the year.

Yesterday we had another potluck dinner. This time to say farewell to Sergei. Sergei came over from Russia to visit his daughter, Yana, who is a long term resident here.
He came for just 2 weeks, but got trapped by the closing of the border. It was not easy to fly here from Russia and his journey entailed 2 or 3 changes of aircraft.

There is another Russian family here and their government has advised them there will be no repatriation flights and they cannot assist them to get back to Russia. Sergei has found it very hard indeed being stuck here. He only speaks Russian and has left an electrical engineering business with six employees and other children in Russia. He has been very stressed and everyone has tried to help him. He is a lovely guy.

Enough is enough he has decided and plans were made for him to go to the Mexican Embassy in Guatemala to get a Mexican visa. This would then allow him to get a taxi to the Mexican border. Walk through the border formalities. It seems it is possible to do this. Only people in vehicles seem to get stopped. He would then get another taxi to Tapachula airport and flights to Mexico City/Amsterdam/Helsinki/Minsk. He was then going to get a driver to take him across the Russian border. This horrendous journey would take six days.

At the potluck dinner last night he had just learned that his Mexico City/Amsterdam flight had been cancelled. He was still going ahead though and hoping to organise another flight.

We were up early this morning at 05.30. We had organised tickets for the 07.10 boat from San Marcos to Panajachel, locally known as “Pana”. It is a 20 minute walk into San Marcos, then we had to allow time for the local check-point. Some days this involves showing passports and answering questions. Other days temperature taking and/or hand sanitising can occur as well. This morning was quite quick and we were at the dock by 07.00.

More showing of passports, with the details being recorded in a book. Everyone was milling around at the dockside. A mixture of local people and visitors. Little social distancing. A police lady then asked everyone to move a meter apart. A boat arrived and passengers exited in a mass. The police lady then called names from the list in the book, their temperatures were taken, a squirt of hand sanitiser administered and then they crowded onto the boat. Social distancing isn’t well practised here. The boat filled up and left before our names were called. We wondered what was going on.

We went and sat down and in chatting with the other remaining hopeful passengers, we learned there was to be another boat. We also learned that the President in his address last night had tightened up the lockdown. Disappointing news, as two weeks ago he had said he had hoped to free things up. It is felt the population isn’t taking the lockdown rules seriously enough and case numbers are going up. Now all inter-departmental travel will be stopped again.

Eventually at 07.50 we made it onto a boat. Once on board we had to fill in another form. Name, passport number, Guatemalan mobile no, purpose of journey, name of the boat you are travelling on. We don’t have a Guatemalan mobile so I left the box blank. For purpose of visit we put “going to the bank”.

After 30 minutes we drew into Pana harbour and disembarked. No real possibility of social distancing on the boat and everyone swarming around on the dock. Temperature taking and hand sanitising once again. We queued at a desk to have our details checked. You can’t come into Pana without a Guatemalan mobile phone number the lady at the desk told me. I said we didn’t have a Guatemalan number, would a NZ one do? No! Dennis wrote down his NZ number and she was happy!! Next question. “Which bank are you going to?”. We looked blank. Fortunately the guy behind us spoke English and mentioned the names of 3 banks. We picked one and we were on our way.

Pana was like a ghost town. All the little stalls around the dock closed. As we walked towards the town centre there were closed hotels and restaurants, with the occasional small store open. We found a coffee shop and a couple of Canadians said it was too early. Shops would open up at 9am. This they did and we found Sandros, one of the supermarkets we were recommended and bought masses of NZ cheeses. Next we found a hardware shop where Dennis purchased a connector for the hose we have borrowed to water the garden. Our next stop, the largest supermarket, was at the other end of town. Here we managed to find everything on our list.

We were supposed to return on the same boat, Karla, that had brought us into Pana. The captain said he was leaving at 1pm. As we had been up at the crack of dawn, we thought we would find somewhere for an early lunch. We found a first floor restaurant overlooking the street which was open. The owner seemed pleased to see us. We were the only customers. A leisurely lunch followed, while we watched the activity in the street below us. By now it was quite busy. Both with cars, bikes, scooters as well as pedestrians.

We fancied ice cream, so went to look for an ice cream shop. We eventually found one, but it was closed. We had to make do with “Magnum” type ice creams from a fridge. After we had consumed them sitting on the steps of a closed shop, we made our way back to the port.

We were there by 12.30. One of the passengers who had come over with us in the morning and who spoke English, said he would let us know when the San Marcos boat arrived. It was a bit chaotic, so we went and sat on a seat in the shade. The guy called us over almost straight away and said that Karla, the boat we arrived on and were suppose to return on, had already gone. So much for the captain telling us we would return at 1pm! We were rushed onto a boat and the captain insisted we put on the life vests provided. We asked if he would drop us at the pier at Pasaj-Cap, which he did. This saved us the walk back from San Marcos.

When we returned we learned that Sergei was still with us. The taxi driver could not take him this morning. The new regulation did not permit him to go to Guatemala City, which is in a different department. Poor Sergei. I can imagine how he must be feeling. It doesn’t bode well for us getting out of here any time soon either.

7 Comments:

  1. Wow! I just discovered your website and l am glad you guys are hanging tough. I was trying to contact you because l am interested in interviewing you for my Nextbiteoflife podcast series on life in lockdown in various places and yours would be of interest to my audience. Sorry to leave this as a comment but l couldn’t find a contact page. I would appreciate your getting in touch if it’s of any interest to you. Thanks a lot and l hope the borders open up soon.

  2. Hi! Kemkem, thanks for your contact and interest. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to be talking about our life at present as the interesting bit will be when the lockdown finally lifts and the world gets back to some sort of normality. Travelling on through South America will be fascinating….should it happen.

    You can make further contact via our personal email addresses. 🙂

  3. This was really sad to read about Sergei 🙁 you guys are in our thoughts all the time. Hang in there and hopefully things will be lifted soon.

    • Hi Renee. It’s good to hear from you. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We should have left with you. We had hoped a couple of weeks ago that things were relaxing a bit. Covid numbers have got very much worse in the last few days, so restrictions are getting very tight from today. Longer curfew, no traffic on the roads and no one can go out at all from 1100am today until 0500am next Monday.Small neighbourhood shops were allowed to stay open until 11 this morning to allow the purchase of essential supplies.
      Of course we all rushed out to stock up as much as possible. Sergei made a second attempt to leave and had managed to secure his Mexican visa in Guatemala City yesterday. We are waiting to hear if he has been able to get any further, but possible not with this latest tightening of the rules.NZ seems to have coped pretty well. Trying to stay positive 🙂

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