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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

Weeks 12 : Welcome to Guatemala!

GUATEMALA | Wednesday, 15 June 2011 | Views [1986] | Comments [2]

Temples at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Temples at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Oh, I'm so far behind on writing! This is going to be a [not-so] quick and [very] dirty summary of the past two weeks of adventure! I last left you in San Cristobal, having reunited with some traveling friends. After San Cristobal, we cruised on over to Palenque, a Mayan ruin noted for its carvings and jungly setting. The town isn't much to look at, but the ruins are a saving grace. We hit them up early the next morning with another Australian named Des whom we kept saying goodbye to throughout southern Mexico, but who kept cropping up! Des and I set off on our own to explore the carvings and maze-like hallways and doorways of Palenque, climbing to the tops of many of them to admire the views and architecture. It was amazing to me to see how well preserved so much of the site was! I learned later that much of it has been reconstructed, but still, it was damn impressive.

When we got back to the hotel, I had made up my mind about something I'd been pondering for the previous day. Since Charlie and Patrick were crossing the border into Guatemala that afternoon, maybe I should tag along with them, thereby getting myself an escort across a remote border crossing between two countries with some serious rivalries and issues going on at the moment...it made sense. I would have to abandon my plans for the Yucatan until my ride back north, but it seemes like a fair trade for a safe border crossing. So I went with them. Unfortunately, a few things went wrong before we left town, and we ended up having to race for the border before it closed for the night--especially since we wouldn't be able to export our bikes from Mexico the next day since the import/export office was closed on Mondays.

Oh, funny/awkward story: So we're leaving the Mexico side of the border, and I'm the first one at the aduana office, where they check your passport for the Mexico stamp and sign you out. I managed to remove my credit card, tourist card and a wad of pesos from my passport before handing it over...but somehow missed the $60 in twenties stuck in the middle. Just like you do if you want to bribe someone. Crappola. The aduana, a big, stern man with zero sense of humor and exuding a aura of corruption, finds the twenties and gives me a look, like, "What are you getting at?" I could see the greed gleam in his eyes, but he didn't know yet why I was bribing him, so he kept looking. He must have gone through my passport four times, looking for something fishy, some reason to take my money and, better yet, ask for more, stopping at the twenties each time and giving me that same look...before he finally gave up and gave it back to me. I had apologized right off the bat and explained that I keep a small stash of backup cash in my passport and had forgotten to take it out, but he sooo did not believe me. I was mortified and scared at the same time.

Anyways, the Guatemalan side of the border was a new world right off the bat. The oddest thing was the need to take a tuk-tuk into town for photocopies before I was legally allowed into Guatemala. Not stamped in yet? That's fine, welcome to Guatemala, let me photocopy all your documents excessively! But the difference in attitudes was palpable, even at the aduana. The men helping us cross the border helped us cross the border. Everything was smiles and graciouisness. It was lovely.

We made it to the town of El Naranjo that night, a small town about forty minutes into Guatemala. Along the way I almost ran over every animal in the petting zoo. This is a country where dogs sleep on speedbumps, and pigs run willy-nilly across highways. As a result, the driving speeds are much more tranquilo, and I love it. El Naranjo was a bit of a dump. It was raining as we hit town, looking for a hotel. Almost immediately a red sports car full of rowdy guys started following me, cat-calling and whistling. At first it was a typical annoyance, but then they cut me off, slowed down, and jockeyed lanes so I couldn't pass and catch up to my friends. I don't think so. At the first chance, I sped by them and caught up with the guys. As we idled motors and discussed which hotel to try, the guys in the red sports car idled right behind us, watching our every move. We pulled away, and so did they. At an intersection, I called over to Charlie that we were being followed. Shortly after that we pulled into a hotel and never saw the car again. Not the best way to be welcomed to a town.

As it happens, we had good reason to mistrust the town. The hotel owner, a lovely man named who'd worked for years in LA as a chef in a French kitchen, welcomed us in with open arms, then promptly forbid us to go out again. We wanted beers? He would send out for them, no problem, but we were not to leave the hotel. Just a few weeks earlier, between 20 and 40 people (depending on who you ask) were decapitated (or chainsawed, depending on who you asked) just 40 km (or twenty) from town. The drugs issues in Mexico are pushing ever south as Mexico cracks down on its problems. And the cartels are not excercizing restraint with their southerly neighbors.

This is me at the hotel room, grateful to be warm and dry and somewhere safe after (yet another) evening border crossing.

It occured to me, actually, that of the five border crossings I've ever done on motorcycle, between Africa and here, I've done three at evening/night, when borders are closing. Not a record I should pursue.

The next day we drove the rest of the way to Flores, a beautiful and tiny town on an island in Lago Peten, northern Guatemala. And that's where the story will pick up another time.

Until next time,


Tags: el ceibo



SO happy to hear from you again :) Creepy stories. Glad your friends were there to help you out. Miss you lady!

  Bobbie Jun 16, 2011 12:45 AM


Fortunately for me, I've probably looked like an idiot americano every time I've done a border crossing. That actually seems to work in my favor, as it reduces suspicion.

  Eric D Jul 27, 2011 10:16 AM

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