Ah, that trip to the biggest remaining Mayan Pyramids in Tikal located in the northern part of Guatemala will never slip my mind. Not only because it was adventurous but also because I had a headache for one week afterward. Normally this is a one-hour trip by airplane from Guatemala City to Tikal but I choose the “Tikal Express” to take the long and torturous road by ground … without bridges or roads….
Lawless and uprooted
The bus left early in the morning from Guatemala City with a projected arrival time in Tikal in the evening of that same day. The road, as mapped, wound through the jungle up northward toward the Mexican border, and it looked to me as if there weren’t that many roads at all near Tikal; I found myself wondering how this regular bus would make it to our destination. The trip started normally, with many stops and a constant flow of passengers. Finally, we left Guatemala City behind and headed into the wild countryside, where the paved roads turned into lousy dirt roads and the suburbs morphed into rural areas, but at least there still were roads, until that is, we got to a raging river we had to cross…without a bridge. This bridge was swept away by the current after a bad thunderstorm, and the government had never rebuilt it. God only knows how many years ago this happened, but then again this was Central America, and clocks definitely tick differently there. All bus drivers and passengers were left to sort out their own solutions as to how to cross the river and continue to their respective destinations. As everyone around me discussed and argued about what to do, I could understand enough of the conversation to hope that the driver would choose to head back to the main road and find another bridge. But I think this was too logical for the Guatemalans. The driver decided simply to cross the river by driving through the water!
I wasn’t exactly afraid of this venture because I was fit and could swim if it came down to it, but the possibilities of being stuck in the bus in the middle of the river without a chance to escape painted a bleak picture. I was wondering if the driver really knew how deep this river actually was, to be able to make such a bold decision for a load of people. It was one of those situations when I just trusted my guardian angel and went with the flow of things because clearly, nobody had really thought this plan through. People around me were nervous, and the children were shrieking with alarm. Water started flooding the floor of the bus but not high enough for it to be a threat to life. Slowly we slogged our way forward across the currents of the river. The ride was rough, the riverbed was littered with rocks and debris of all sorts—maybe even pieces of the bridge itself—and the trick was not to let go of the gas pedal. The worst thing would have been to lose the little speed we had and get stuck in the middle of these raging waters. It took about an hour for this crossing, including the arguing that preceded it, but finally we made it to the other side in one piece and wet feet. In the end, I had to admire that bus driver’s initiative.