Colas are the bane of my existence. The direct translation for cola is tail, which is fitting since the line of cars that amasses down the Pan American highway begins to look a lot like a tail after an hour and a half of standstill.
Road conditions in Guatemala are anything but great, and, rightly so, the Guatemalan government has decided to remedy this, at least in part. However, in the act of widening and repaving the Pan American highway they have made getting up to Xela a massive headache for all involved. Since the highway is currently a two lane winding road through the mountains, to make any progress they have to cut off traffic; hence, the colas. While the trip from Xela to Chimaltenango should normally take three hours, depending on your luck with hitting or missing colas, it now takes anywhere from four and half to six hours.
Camioneta (bus) drivers like to improve upon this situation by driving the wrong way down the highway, bypassing the whole cola, only to block all oncoming traffic at the front. The mass of camionetas that accumulate at the front then proceed to try and cut each other off when the road is reopened causing me a massive heart attack. In their zeal to be off down the highway they get within inches of each other, and the ayudantes (these are the guys who throw bags up on top of the bus, help the bus driver change lanes and pass cars, and collect your fare, or, if you’re a gringo, try and rip you off) scream profanities at each other while shaking their fists and attempting to appear all sorts of manly.
To avoid colas I have found it is best to either leave before the crack of dawn (think 3 am) or travel on a Sunday, this way avoiding all road work. However, lately I have been foiled twice in this attempt. Once I took the 3 am camioneta out of my site only to hit a two hour standstill somewhere before reaching Nahuala. The cause of my pain and annoyance: a mudslide. My mistake this day was leaving too early because we had to wait for the work crews to show up to clear off the road. On the bright side, the rainy season is now over, so I don’t think I should have to contend with this again until at least June. The second occasion occurred this weekend. I was traveling back home on a Sunday, only to find that road work is now no longer contained to Monday through Saturday. After hitting one hour and a half long cola and another 45 minute cola I was barely able to catch the last camioneta back to my site. But I caught it! My reward: the two and half hour camioneta ride down a dirt road back into my site… and of course, sleeping in my own bed. After spending 11 hours trying to get home I swear I will never ever travel to Chimaltenango for only one day again (this month). (It’s amazing how quickly you get used to traveling long distances… two and half hours is nothing to me, I start balking at about eight hours depending on how long the trip is for).
On the bright side, the rumor is the road into my site is being paved! I have witnessed all sorts of machinery digging away at the mountainside on the way in from Xela. Of course, this also means, I am now contending with colas not only between Xela and Chimaltenango, but also between Xela and Cabricán. If you thought it was impossible to have a traffic jam on a dirt road in the middle of a cornfield, you were wrong.