Two weeks ago today we fled tropical storm Agatha, from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, to Guatemala City. We've since learned that subsequently, road access to our hotel was cut in both directions by mudslides.
And here's the rest of the story of the trip out:
Elias, the van driver, got us started. Not too much debris in the road. Into and then past the little village of Santa Catarina. Plants bent in toward the van, mud or rocks might have slumped a foot or two from one side into the road, but it was mostly easy to avoid. Pretty much nobody was driving.
Crossing the river just before Panajachel, though, was a revelation. It was a torrent. Already they’d put barricades across the footbridge, and people milled around gaping at the rising water, more than I’d have thought would be out in driving rain.
Part of a building with a corrugated roof, maybe a warehouse or light industrial, was collapsed into the river from its perch on the shore maybe ten feet above.
Panajachel is the main town on Lake Atitlan. The few tuk tuks that were out, which look liable to blow over on a good day, were in full crisis. Water flowed a few inches through the streets.
The whole world was saturated – the rain, the ground, the roads, the air – and so were the insides of the van windows. All fog. First Elias and then we all began mopping. The ventilation was just overmatched, and we’d be mopping all the way to Guatemala City.
At some early point it became essentially impossible to see out the windows, except for the little area Elias constantly wiped down for six hours. For a while we’d slide a window open for a fleeting instant if there was something we wanted to see.
Finally, as the wetness began to equalize inside and outside the van, we dropped that nicety. Especially as we began a steep climb away from the lake toward the department capital called Solola. We drove around a corner and threw open the windows in amazement at what we saw.
I guess this was when Mirja and I realized we were in a real predicament.