Tuesday, November 13, 2012

!Adios Mexico, Bienvenidos Guatemala! Part Uno

Prologue: Okay, so this one is a little longer and doesn't have many pictures (they get really angry when you try and take pictures at international borders for some reason) but it's a really great story, so bear with me.  Ohh, and spell check is not working, so excuse my speellingg and grammerar.

The night before our fateful border crossing into Guatemala, we made a pact to wake up at six and be on the road by seven.  We wanted to get an early start because we had heard horror storries of the border crossings from previous travelers.  However, our ambitions were a little stronger than our resolve, and we ended up sleeping a little late.  When we realized that it was already past seven and we hadn't even packed up the bikes yet, we decided just to take it easy and go get a good breakfast. 

The bike staged in front of our rooms.
In my infinite wisdom, I also decided that this would be a good day to start taking Doxy.  Doxycyclene (or doxy as it's commonly referred to) is an anti-malarial medication and general antibiotic.   It's generally prescribed to travellers heading to the tropics or to people who have been bitten by a tick.  I had a large supply on hand, so I decided I would share it with Justin as well.  We both popped our little pill and headed off for breakfast.  We ordered breakfast and started sipping our coffee, which they love to dose with chickory and cinnamon for some reason.  Unfortunately, the cooks were on latin time and breakfast was a little slow coming.  After a few minutes, I started feeling a little sick. 

"Damn!", I thought to myself, "We should have ate something before we took those pills!"  About that time, Justin said he needed to head to his room as he had forgotten his wallet or something.  I didn't really hear him as I was a little busy turning green and wondering where the exit was.  A few minutes later, the waitress brought out our food.  I took about two bites, decided it wasn't going to stay down and sprinted for the door.

As I was out in the alleyway emptying my stomach on the cobblestones, I heard Justin re-enter the resteraunt and try and re-assure the waitress that I was okay.  His broken spanish amounted to: "My friend.....okay....bad medicine..." Or something like that. 

After I finished, I walked back in and felt immensly better.  Justin and the waitress were both laughing.  And then Justin fessed up that he had gone back to his room to puke as well, so I didn't feel so bad.

The lovely ride to the border, complete with distant volcanos.
After that magnificent start to the day, we packed up and headed for the border which was about five minutes away.  As we approached the acutal checkpoint, about half a dozen screaming Mexicans jumped into the street in front of us, angrily ordering us to stop.  I ignored the first two or three but finally stopped when one jumped right in front of my bike.

"Where are papers?!" he shouted in broken english.

"Huh?"  I said, "Who the hell are you?"

"Do you have copies?" he said.

"What are you talking about?" I said, then I realized that this was just some dude trying to make a buck.  I could see the actual Mexican toll gate about 100 yards in front of me, with actual uniformed officials and guards.

"Justin, lets go!" I shouted, and we fired up and blasted for the gate with the beleguared Mexicans sprinting after us.

We arrived at the gate and were met by the actual Mexican officials who asked us for our papers and checked the VIN numbers on our motorcycles before waving us on.  There was a Mexican Marine on guard ("Marina" en espanol) who I struck up a conversation with while we were waiting.  We swapped storries for a minute and when I told him that I was a Marine and had just gotten back from Afghanistan he shook my hand and called me brother!  It was awesome!

After the VIN check, we were directed to the Mexican Immigration office just beyond the checkpoint.  As we crossed the checkpoint, we entered into what is sort of a "no-mans-land" between the Mexican and Guatemalan checkpoints, almost like a kind of gigantic duty free zone with it's own stores and hotels and population.  I'm not quite sure what jurisdiction or law this place fell under.  It was about 500 meters long and was replete with money changers,  vendors, and shady characters.  We started refering to it as "international waters" and wondered where we had to go to see a monkey knife fight or engage in high stakes betting on American College Football.  So many neferious activities, so little time.

Our bikes parked just inside international waters.  The guards kept telling me I couldn't take pictures, so I held the camera at my waist and snapped a few when they weren't looking.
In any event, we went to the Mexican Immagration office and parked our bikes.  I stood guard while Justin went in to get his passport stamped out of Mexico.  I sat there and waited for about an hour, fending off little kids who wanted to finger my gear, and telling the money changers to get lost.  After a while I got frusterated and asked one of the guards to watch my bike.  I walked into Immagration and found Justin having a heated conversation with a Mexican Official.  Apparently, when we had had our passports stamped in La Paz almost a month ago, the customs official had given us the wrong stamp.  He had stamped our passports with an "exit" stamp instead of an "entrance" stamp, meaning that we had techically left Mexico on October 27th and then magically appeared at the Mexican-Guatemalan border on November 11.

We argued with the guy for a while, telling him it wasn't our fault, we had no idea what the stamps looked like or where even supposed to mean, and that there wasn't anything we could do.  He argued back telling us that there wasn't anything he could do, as we weren't even technically in Mexico anymore because we had obviously left on the 27th and why couldn't we just go to the Guatemalan side and leave him alone?

Okay, we'll play your silly little game.

We got back on the bikes and fired up, blasting through the crowds for the Guatemalan side.  We didn't even bother with helmets as it was a short distance; Justin was smoking a cigarrette angrily while I laughed at the absurdity of the situation.  As we entered the center of international waters, we were swarmed once again with a large group of swarthy latinos yelling at us to stop.  We ignored them this time, but the persistant bastards chased us for nearly 200 yards until we stopped at the Guatemalan Immagration office.  We were immediatly inundated with about 20 yelling men and boys, directing us to go with them, offering to watch our bikes for a small fee, or telling us that we were in the wrong place.  Many of them even had little homemade ID cards and looked semi official.

Note the running men on the right side of the picture and behind Justin's bike.  They were literally running after us trying to help us.  I was laughing so hard when I was taking these pictures over my shoulder that I almost crashed into one of them.
Fortunately, we had been warned about these little "Helpers" who try and help you navigate the murky waters of Latin American border crossings.  Justin ran interference by laughing at them and handing out stickers to little kids while I went to the office with several sweaty latinos at my elbows trying to tell me where to go. 

These two gentlemen stood at my elbow as I played dumb with the Guatemalan Offical and kept trying to tell me what to do.  Persistant little devils they were.
I thrust my passport into the little window and stared at the Guatemalan official dumbly, trying to put on my best "stupid gringo" face.  He looked at me, then looked at my passport, then looked at the lone mexican exit stamp on the last page.

"Where is the Mexican entrance stamp?"  He asked me in Spanish.

"No hablo espanol."  I replied smilling.

"You're missing a stamp, you can't come through here until you get the stamp from the Mexican side."  He said.

"No hablo espanol." I said again, giving him the biggest stupid grin I could manage.

"Furthermore, the date is all wrong.  How did you leave Mexico on October 27th and then magically appear here a few weeks later?" he said.

I looked at him quizzically, smiled even broader until it hurt, then, with my best obnoxious american accent said: "No hablo espanol.  Hablas ingles?"

I could see the frusteration building in his eyes.  He looked at me, looked at my passport, then grabbed his stamp and slapped the rubber down next to the Mexican one.

"Welcome to Guatemala.  That will be 10 Quetzales."

"Gracias!"  I said, and tossed some rumpled Quetzales through his little peep hole.

I walked back to the bikes and Justin who was still fending off helpers.  He had a huge collection of little boys around him and he was handing out stickers to them.  One of the kids took the proffered sticker and promptly applied it to my luggage.  I laughed and grabbed a large handlebar mustache sticker and started pressing it on one of the more obnoxious men, who also happened to be the only one without a mustache.

"Here, this will look good on your face!"  I told him in broken Spanish.

At that, all of the other Helpers started laughing and I started joking with them while Justin went to try his luck at customs.  One by one, as they realized that we were just ignoring them, the Helpers started drifting away, and I was left with a gaggle of little boys who kept telling me in english that they would watch my bike for 10 quetzales.

Justin flashes gang signs and hands out stickers to the ninos.
As I was playing with the kids, I began to hear Justin's frusterated voice rising as he talked to the Guatemalan inside the office.  Keeping an eye on the bikes, I walked over to see what was the matter.  The Guatemalan official, who realized that he probably shouldn't have stamped my passport, was now refusing to stamp Justin's passport.  When I started talking to him in my broken Spanish, he got even more fusterated, realizing that I had probably tottaly understood him earlier. 

Eventually, it broke down into a shouting match between us and a short, bald, sweaty Guatemalan who decided that today he would do his job, at least with one of two Americans.  We eventually gave up and walked away frusterated.  He thought we were going to try and sneak past him somehow and came out of his little hole to angrily watch us and ensure that we didn't try and sneak into his country without papers.

We walked back to the bikes frusterated.  I was okay, but Justin was stuck.  A man without a country, he had left Mexico over three weeks ago if his passport was to be believed, and was now stuck in international waters, unable to return to Mexico and unable to continue on to Guatemala.

At this point I turned to Justin and said, "Well, have a fun time!  Call me when you get through!" and took off running. 

Just kidding.  But now we were really up the creek without a paddle.  I had managed to sneak across the border by playing stupid, but Justin was legitimatly stuck in some sort of twilight zone immagration limbo like Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal.  What ever were we to do? 

 To be continued............

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