Road Survival II: New Lessons

Midday traffic on Calle Roosevelt.

This weekend we had our first solo experiences in a car in Guatemala. We had some interesting new lessons in surviving traffic and in finding our way home after getting lost.

Lesson 1: Google maps can’t be trusted—but it may not be Google’s fault. Using a Google map to try to find someone’s home, we ended up miles short. But here’s the problem: Guatemalan cities are divided into zones, and each zone has its own street numbers, so it’s theoretically possible to find the same street coordinates more than once in a large city. We think that’s why the map we used on Saturday was wrong. After driving around the Kaminal Juyu ruins a couple of times trying to find the right route to our destination, we backtracked, stopped at a McDonald’s to regroup, and ended up deciding we would try again another day. We had to drive up Calle Roosevelt to turn around, and finding ourselves approaching Walmart, we decided to stop and shop. (Fresh fish, eyeliner, and motorcycles all under the same roof.) Sister S. found a great little dollar store (“Everything 9 Quetzales”) next to Walmart—a bonus—so the day was not a loss.

Lesson 2, from Sunday’s travel on the peripheral freeway around the city: Freeway exits are not well marked. There’s usually one sign, giving you about 15 seconds’ warning, and that sign might be blocked by overhanging foliage.

Lesson 3: If you miss the exit or take a wrong turn, you might have to drive a long ways to find a place to turn around—maybe halfway to San Pedro Sacatepequez.

Lesson 4, learned in returning from across town after dark: big trucks and buses traveling slowly in the right-hand lane may not necessarily have functioning taillights.

With the girlfriend riding sidesaddle.

Lesson 5 (related to Lesson 4): Watch out for motorcycle riders carrying a girlfriend on the back of a small bike capable of handling just one rider safely.  You even have to watch out for bicycle riders on the main boulevards, and maybe even the guy pushing his fruit and vegetable cart home.

Lesson 6: If there’s no parking space on the street where you want to go, you can make one by parking in the traffic lane. People will just have to go around.

Lesson 7: If a bus is parked on the right hand side of the road, be wary because passengers getting off have a distressing habit of dashing out from in front of it to cross the street. They’re always sure they can make it before you get there. But I’m not always sure—especially when they see you, hesitate, and then run. Pedestrians who play chicken with oncoming traffic are prime factors in the stress of driving here.

And, finally, a bonus lesson: Be careful how you open the car door in the church parking lot. If you simply unlock it with the key, without first pushing the button to turn off the alarm, the alarm will sound—and good luck figuring out which button turns it off.



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