Thursday, November 15, 2012

!Adios Mexico, Beinvenidos Guatemala! Part Dos

So there we were, stuck in international waters, men with no country. Actually, it was just Justin without a country; my little act had gotten me my Guatemala entrance stamp.

We got back on the bikes and rode back to the Mexican side where we went through the whole ordeal again. I sat on the curb and watched the bikes and played with the little kids while Justin went back in to try and convince the Mexicans to just give him a stamp so that we could get out of their hair. After about another hour of waiting, I went over and started looking for someone that spoke English. Sure enough, after a little bit we found one guy who seemed pretty fluent.

This little guy was really, really interested the games I was playing on my phone.
We explained the situation to him and he got this "this is very serious" look on his face and started telling us about how this was a big problem. He was asking us why we didn’t get receipts for our stamps when we were in La Paz, and why we hadn't noticed that the official had given us the wrong stamp. We tried explaining to him that this wasn't our fault, we had no idea what a Mexican entrance stamp was supposed to even look like and didn't even really know what the whole border crossing process was supposed to be as no one had even tried to stop us at the border in Tijuana or anywhere else for that matter for the first 1,000 miles that we rode in Mexico.

We went back and forth like this for a while until he finally told us that we would have to go back into the town we had stayed in the night before and talk to the Immigration office there to take care of this. We weren't having it, so we told him that we wanted to talk to his boss. He hemmed and hawed for a little while, then disappeared back into the office to find el jefe. We sat around for another hour or so until they all reached a consensus. They called Justin in to the office and told him that they would make some calls and try and work something out so they could stamp his passport.

So we waited another hour while they phoned La Paz, and phoned the Immigration office, and phoned the Mexican president, just to see if they could just stamp this lonely little gringo's passport.
Justin waits for the wheels of Mexican bureaucracy to finish turning. 
Finally, they told Justin that he would have to pay a fine for not getting the correct stamps in his passport and then they would give him the stamp that he needed and we could leave. At this point I don't think he really cared whether or not this was legit or some sort of corrupt scam; so he forked over a wad of pesos and we got back on the bikes and headed for the Guatemalan side again.....where we were immediately accosted by many of the same Helpers that we had ignored before.

This little guy wanted to watch my bike for money.   I'll told him no, but offered to let him ride it.  He was really scared, but I convinced himto get on so I could take a picure.
Fortunately, things were running smoothly now, and Justin got his stamp in quick order and we were on to the next step: fumigation. Ten yards from the Guatemalan immigration office was a dude with a pressure washer and a respirator spraying the nether regions of vehicles with a thick white, noxious smelling liquid before they crossed the border. After having the undersides of our bikes sprayed down, we then rode another 10 yards forward where we paid another guy about 10 quetzales for the fumigation that they had just performed. Ironically, there was a homeless man nearby who was washing the fumigation off of every vehicle that came by and charging a few quetzales. And the chemical was just running back down the gutter and then out into a small nearby stream.  Go green peace!
High-tech fummigation process.
Next step was a second immigration office where they wanted copies of every single document that I had on my person: passport, passport visa page, drivers license, bike title (front and back), bike registration, proof of Mexican registration, etc., etc. I already had most of these, but I wasn't prepared for the back of the title or the passport visa page, so I had to run back into international waters and pay a Helper to make copies for me. Then I came back handed in my copies and was directed to a small bank were I had to pay for a temporary registration for Guatemala.

Standing in line waiting for the bank, I struck up a conversation with the bank guard and started asking him questions about his shotgun. Throughout all of this, one pesky little Helper had stood by my elbow, talking in my ear in broken Spanglish, and otherwise getting in the way and making a nuisance of himself. I told him that I didn't have any money for him and I wasn't going to pay him anything, but he continued to stick by me like glue. After a while, the bank guard and I became fast friends and he let me cut in line to take care of my work.

With my temporary Guatemalan registration in hand, I walked back to the immigration office one more time, and was then forced to go make more copies of receipts and other documents that they had given me. Finally, I came back, handed in my last copies and was given a little sticker to attach to my windshield which proved my registration had been completed. And that was it.

Justin finished up a few minutes after me; we mounted up, and prepared to ride into Guatemala. The little helper who had been standing by me this entire time finally piped up about money as I was putting my helmet on.

"Give me 30 quetzales!" He said.

I started laughing at him. "Why?" I said. "I told you to get lost like three separate times."

"20 quetzales!" He said.

I was really laughing now. "You didn't even do anything. You stood next to me for about an hour and told me things in Spanish that I didn't even understand or listen to. I'll give you five quetzales just because I feel sorry for you." And with that I pushed a crumpled five quetzal note into his hand.

He got a really indignant look on his face, and thrust the five quetzals note back at me. "Give me 20 quetzales!"

I just ignored him and fired up my bike and started rolling forwards.

"All right, all right! I'll take the five quetzales!" He said, lurching after me.

I stopped gave him the note, and then we left.

By this time it was after 2PM. We had been at the border for nearly six hours. We were both really frustrated and really tired, but more than a little happy to have finally made it into Guatemala. We stopped after about five miles and had our first Guatemalan meal: fried chicken and French fries slathered in mayonnaise. Delicious!

I think that this was very authentic Guatemalan fare.
We now had about fifty miles to ride to make it to the town of Xela (pronounced Shayla) where we would be spending the night. We figured that it would take about an hour, maybe two tops to make it there.

What we hadn't counted on was that the road would climb from sea level to almost 10,000 feet during that distance. We also hadn't counted on the fact that Guatemalan roads would be even more confusing and scary than Mexican ones, would have 20 times the number of potholes and semi domesticated animals in them, and would also be filled with thousands of gigantic, brightly colored school busses belching black diesel smoke in our faces. Ohh, and we really hadn't counted on the fact that we would be riding straight into a fog bank that would prevent us from seeing more than twenty feet in front of us at times. Or the fact that the recent earthquake had reduced sections of the road to rubble. Or the fact that the temperature would drop from about 90 degrees at the start of our ride to 60 degrees at the end. All in all, it turned into a hair raising adventure in and of itself.

The fog became extremely thick.  This picture doesn't even show how bad it was in some spots.  It was very unnerving to be riding along at five miles per hour and then suddenly have a huge school bus come lurching out of the fog and into your lane!
After about three and a half hours of white knuckle riding up and down a crazy mountain road, we finally arrived in Xela and began hunting for the Hostel that some previous riders had told us about. They had even been so kind as to provide us with GPS coordinates for the Hostel. What they didn't tell us was that they had pulled the GPS coordinates off of google maps and that they were over a kilometer off and in the bad part of town. So we spent another hour riding around Xela after dark, through seedy neighborhoods and markets, asking everyone we met for direction until we finally found the Hostel and crashed.

This was a section of road in one of the towns that we passed through that had been destroyed by the earthquake.

So, in summary, the day went like this: wake up early, puke all over the ground, get stuck in the border zone for six hours, bribe a Mexican official, fend off a bunch of crazy locals, nearly lose our lives riding an insane road into the mountains, get lost in a Guatemalan city at night, and finally find where you are supposed to stay.


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