Borders are funny things… One might assume everything would happen right there… but, really it doesn’t. At some. Like this one in Mexico. When I entered Mexico from Nogales, I had to give the bank (21km’s past the border) $300 US as a hold on my moto entering the country. Along with my tourist, and vehicle permits.
I left my hotel early to cross the border by lunchtime but stopped at the bank and arrived at the Guatemala border looking for the Banjercito that should be there. I was exactly in the right place at the right time…
A bunch of “helpers” came running at me. These are savvy kids that are incredibly pushy so they can “walk you through the process” but honestly, in their fervor, they seemed to make the process more confusing… I knew the first thing I had to do was get the money back from the bank… I was told when I entered the country to go to Banjercito and get it back… thinking any Banjercito would do.
After cries of “Copia, Copia” and Money changer guys, I finally figured out I had to go back. Two different banks later, a security guard drew me a map of where I had to go… 49 Kilometers back up the road. The Banjercito was at the customs office. Not even close.
Hours later, I got my papers, my money and was back on my way towards the border, but now it was getting late in the day and I was emotionally drained from the ordeal… I decide to get a hotel in Tapachula. I’ll cross at Talisman early tomorrow.
I found one almost right away at the end of town. It was quite expensive.. about $40/night
I could have stayed at an Auto Hotel.. They are hotels in Latin America that people go to have sex. Each room has a garage downstairs so you can park your car in secret…
They are pretty cheap but they don’t come with anything.. not Wi-fi.. not cable.. there is a TV you can play some DVD’s on.. They also have a cooler downstairs you can order cheap beers and gatorade from… and condoms. You are not allowed to go outside and wander around… it’s all very secretive.
The one I stayed in two nights ago was super nice, tiled from top to bottom.. it had a see-through shower… meaning you could watch your friend shower from the bedroom… the glass is frosted, with an organic design. The tub is a deep jacuzzi… And a BIG mirror in front of the bed, where a dresser should be.. With hearts on it. Bow-chicka-wow-wow!
But instead, I wanted to have some internet, and be able to come and go as I pleased.
And not be totally freaked about touching anything. At all.
There is a great open-air restaurant around the corner you can get some splendid quesadillas and beans for not too much money either. Actually, you’d probably be happy with just the beans and some rice.. They are better than any beans I’ve ever had.. well cooked and seasoned pinto beans with big chunks of bacon and bone resting in a thick, meaty, salty gravy. The quesadillas were a couple different cheeses with fried squash blossoms wrapped in homemade tortillas. Deeeeelicious!! It is called Papablitas. Or something like that. It’s awesome and a nice reprieve from all the street food I’ve been chowing down… not that there is a thing wrong with street food… it’s actually pretty darn good.
In the morning, I pack and head for the border. Again, the Helpers swarm me. They are incessant. There is one young man that will not be dissuaded, he follows me from post to post. I really have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ll figure it out eventually and I did do a little research the bight before.
I have no idea how much the Helper costs but I know that if I don’t do this by myself, I’ll never figure out what I need to do and if I’m being scammed.
It only takes about 45 minutes. The weather is still good, I don’t mess up too many times and I am the ONLY person running around. Not a single other person. It’s actually easier than the Mexico border. (except for getting my dinero back from Banjercito) Fumigate bike, stamp out of Mexico migration, Stamp into Guatemala, immigration, go to customs, have them inspect the bike, make copies of everything.. (Don’t think you’re going to be smart and get it all done beforehand like I did.) You need copies of the stamps they put in your passport and copies of the motorcycle papers.. there’s no help for it. You’re going to be making copies at the border. Everyone wants your money, so they’re nice. Being nice back goes a loooong way.
I earnestly try to speak Spanish and they appreciate the effort I’m making, when I get frustrated and run out of words, they sometimes break into some English. I never try to be pushy about speaking English because it seems like I should at least make the effort to speak their language… I am visiting their country after all.
The moment I roll into Guatemala, I can tell things are different. It is on the same scale as leaving the US for Mexico. I can tell it’s poorer. But not ugly poor. The people here seem happy. Generally. Also, Guatemalans LOVE color. They haven’t spared a dime with the paint. There are murals, flowers, bananas and jungle and color everywhere. They sell gasoline on the side of the street in plastic jugs. The price is right on it. The roads are steep, windey, temperate delights.. I find my self high in the mountains quite often. I was worried about the heat when I set out this morning, but am happy now that I am covered up so well. I am comfortable and focused on the mountain-jungle scenery.
As I roll towards Panajachel, I am constantly pulling over to take pictures.. each road has a new, delightful scene.. The people are fascinating.. they wear certain patterns.. there is some kind of rhyme to it that I cannot discern… the men carry enormous bundles of sticks on their backs and the women carry things on their heads usually. Big tubs of… whatever. Laundry, fish, cleaning supplies, maize… anything that can be wrapped up or put in a bin… on the head it goes.
Getting to Pana is a real challenge. I don’t have paper maps. I’m using my iPhone. The main problem with this is, Guatemala has a one-way road system in the cities and iPhone doesn’t know about it yet… It keeps sending me the wrong way down one way streets… every once in a while, someone sees me going the wrong way and tries to head me off… wildly waving and whistling, pointing the other direction. I go around and around in the cities… sometimes making three or four laps to find the right street.
Yes. I get some strange looks.
As I wind into the town, I am caught behind a funeral procession. At the front, there is a casket being carried by a few fellows, and behind there is a large procession of mourners dressed in somber colors.. maybe about 75 or a hundred people walking behind the casket, taking the entire right lane… and some of the left. There is music playing from a boom box… It doesn’t sound unhappy.
Finally, amongst whistling and waving, the funeral, the color, the churches, the sticks, dogs, cattle and the panoramic vistas, I make it to Panajachel. It is a happy throng of bicycles, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and people walking… people from everywhere. You’ll hear different languages and accents as you walk down the street. There are dozens and dozens of little shops selling knick knacks, leather goods, crafts, souvenirs and food. Smack in the center of the buzzing central street is Real World Paragliding. Stephanie and Christian are a beautiful, bright and energetic team that are delighted to meet you and get you in the air! They fly Tandems all the time when the weather is good, so book early if you want to get a birds eye view of the city and remarkable landscape!!
I get some good info on a hospadeje.. from a lovely English couple that is currently doing tandems for Real World.. The room a little more than $5 US a night. A Hospadeje is usually someones house that they rent out the rooms. Bathrooms are normally communal and not much else should be expected. This one has safe parking for the bike at night. In Latin America, especially in these undeveloped countries, the poverty is extreme.. so is the crime. You should not be expecting to see your moto again if you leave it on the street overnight.
I want to fly but the wind isn’t from the right direction.. It’s not going to be right for a couple days… It is so beautiful here though, I am committed to making a flight. I can NOT miss this.
Besides, it will give me a bit of a break with my rumbling guts. Something has been amiss for the last two weeks and I need to figure out a solution for my unhappy GI tract.