Hey guys! We are in El Salvador now and enjoying our first surf attempts. Well, let's just say that we won' win any competitions soon :)
But here is the next episode, back from the end of October:
In Guatemala: October 22-23
This is it! After more than 3 weeks in Mexico and with the initial moto insurance running out 3 days ago, we felt that it was time to hit the road so we wake up in Palenque with the clear target: Guatemala!
From Palenque to Guatemala it is not very far. You need to reach a small town called Tenosique and then onwards to El Ceibo a relatively new border crossing that is not very well known nor it is very used.
We found out about it from Alex si Dagmar, our friends from Mexico City. But the funny thing was that when trying to find more details about it while on the road we were getting very diverse answers. First of all it does not exist on our Mexico GPS map or Paper Map. Also Google Maps doesn’t know it. And when we were asking people around Palenque we were getting answers ranging from “There is no road that goes there, only a boat crossing” to “there is a road but it is in a very bad condition, you have to cross a river and then you are on the Guatemalan side. Passing over the mere existence of the place (of which we knew from Alex and Dagmar but we just could not pin point it’s location) we had another problem: when entering Mexico with a foreign vehicle you have to make a bank deposit (400 dollars in our case) that you get back when you exit your vehicle from Mexico. There is a separate entity dealing with this procedure called Banjercito. Apparently not all the border crossings have a Banjercito office so you cannot exit everywhere. Or you can do exit wherever you want and make a 400 dollars donation (your deposit) to the Mexican government. We learn from AdvRider that there is a Banjercito in El Ceibo but it is closed on Monday. And today is…. Monday, exactly!
The post was from 2010 so maybe things have changed until now.
We decide to go to border and see if we get into Guatemala or not. We meet a few police and army checkpoints along the way. We ask about the Banjercito and they all confirm that there is one and it’s open. Let’s go then, maybe we can cross. Guatemala feels so close!
At one of the Mexican checkpoints we see the wooden board with nails again that brings us bad memories. So this “tool” is used by the army also, in emergency cases. Luckily it was just sitting there, on the side of the road.
The isolated and less known border crossing is almost deserted. We park in front of the frontier building and we are the only ones there. A man approaches us and tells us where to go. Ah, that’s good, it’s means we can cross today. We start preparing our documents when another man shows up and tells the first one: “Hombre, they cannot cross today, the Banjercito is closed”. Ah, we were so close! We take a sneak peak of Guatemala and promise to come back tomorrow. For now, Mexico, here we come! Again!
We go back 50 kilometers to Tenosique. At least the road is nice. Very nice.
After a few unsuccessful trials we find a hotel. It’s clean, it has internet and we have time to write another post for Micadu (probably one about Northern Mexico) and we wait for Tuesday to come….
Next day we go back to the border and everything goes well. Banjercito is open, we take care of the formalities for the motorcycle and then we get our exit stamps for Mexico on the passports. We are in “no man’s land” and head towards Guatemala.
On the other side we park the motorcycle in front of the Guatemalan frontier building. We are the only foreigners there. Only locals seem to know about this border crossing. And because the border is isolated there is no commercial traffic. Perfect, no trucks! We hope to have an easy crossing. And since we are in another country, we take down the little Mexican flag that we received from Tom in Banamici. Two border guys notice what we are doing and ask us what’s with the flag. We tell them that we carry the Romanian flag and the flag of country we are passing through, if we have it. In Mexico we had this small one. Now we have to find one with Guatemala. The border guy smiles to us, he has an idea. He tells something really fast to his colleague and comes back with a Guatemalan flag as big as our panier. He even has scotch tape, so the two men immediately start working on our motorcycle.
Andreea stays with the moto as I try to figure out the bureaucratic flow. First I need some stamps on our passports so we can be allowed in Guatemala. Meanwhile, at the motorcycle….
Then I have to go to another building and start the procedure for Gunnar’s temporary import in Guatemala.
Meanwhile, back at the motorcycle….
To finish the formalities I have to make some copies of the documents that they just issued. There is no copy machine at the border so I have to take a tuc-tuc (madly driven by a child) and go look for a copy machine in the nearby village.
Meanwhile, at the motorcycle…
I come back from the village with the copies and after I get some more stamps I have to go to a bank and pay some tax. You cannot pay with the credit card at the bank and I don’t have too many pesos left so it’s time to start looking for the dollars I kept well hidden “just in case”.
Meanwhile, at the motorcycle…
Basically, whenever I was going out of a building and running to the other one I was taking a look at Gunnar and saw that something else was going on there. But everything was OK and they were all respectful and nice with Andreea who got a cold drink and was invited to rest in the shadows. Meanwhile I was running around with documents from one office to the other. Oh well, everyone is having fun, their own way.
One hour and something later we are ready! I was reading all sort of unpleasant stories about border crossings in Central America. For us crossing into Guatemala was a real pleasure. Everyone was friendly and, being such a small border crossing, we ended up knowing everyone and everyone knew who we were and where we were going. We shake hands with the border men and they wish us safe travels in Guatemala. This is is! We are leaving!
We are in a less populated area. And full of contrasts. Normally we were supposed to be in a jungle, and the places where nature was on her own were luxuriant green.
But other places the jungle was just a memory:
Massive deforestations. Here you cannot say “you cannot see the forest from the trees”. No matter how hard we tried to imagine things were not how they were supposed to be. And we were to find out the next day about an old practice, thousands of years old. One that was probably the main cause for the decline of a civilization.
But before meeting the Mayan civilization from thousands of years ago we see the marks of a more recent one, from 2012.
A sad and strong contrast with the clean nature surrounding us.
We feel like we saw this before. We feel like this picture of trash thrown away all over the place is uselessly repeating. We promised ourselves before leaving that we will remember the world as it is. I don’t claim to be a photo-journalist but still I cannot only show the “beautiful” pictures, the ones that look good in the magazine. The New World is fascinating in all its forms.
We see the first settlements in Guatemala. We are in an area that was strongly affected by the Civil War that lasted over 30 years and ended not so long ago, in 1996. There are modest villages with barely no infrastructure, except the main road that passes them by.
Everything is closer to the ground. The ground that seems to be the main source for survival, ironically unsustainably used but many times strictly necessary on short term.
We pass the few villages we meet along the way and get closer to the place where we want to stop for the night. Lake Peten, in Northern part of Guatemala is famous for being one of the cores of Mayan civilization, the city of Tikal being probably one of the greatest ever built by the Mayans.We stop on Flores Island, a place that is mainly touristic. What a difference between the villages we just passed and this tourism oriented place.You can tell where you are from the marks left by the big commercial chains.
We barely find a hotel not made for foreign tourists (without North American price levels and not especting dollars instead of quetzals- nation currency of Guatemala). There is big bustle and the tuc-tucs are flying around carrying tourists and locals.
We manage to find a quiet place, park the motorcycle inside the hotel (again) and try to get used to the new location.
Today was a special day. The first day in a new country is a little bit weird, you are in between two different worlds, still trying to adjust to the new “rules”.
We enjoy the sunset over Lake Peten and our thoughts fly back to the last weeks.
We stayed in Mexico more than we hoped for and still, we feel that we could have stayed twice as much and still we couldn’t have discovered all that it has to show. We look back with joy and content to all that happened to us the past weeks. The frights of the first kilometers we rode in this country “feared” by so many people and the easy-hearted stops we take now anywhere to eat at the “comedors” by the side of the road. From the worried thoughts when we had a flat tire at 2500m in the middle of nowhere in the mountains to the relaxing days we spent by the ocean and the towns where we met such beautiful people.
Mexico was supposed to be just a short chapter of our journey. A gate to Central America, a place that many people avoid and even more fear, a place we had to cross. It turned out to be more than this and we would love to go back. And now Guatemala! A country we barely new anything about before coming here. Over the lake, hidden in the dense jungle, there is Tikal, the old Mayan city full of mysteries and answers in the same time, echoing the life of an empire that flourished thousands of years ago, with scientific and technological performances hard to explain for those times and that suddenly disappeared without a clear cause.
Wondering what we will see tomorrow? Stay tuned!
The road we took is not on Google Maps so the map for this post is shown on Google totally wrong. The route was Palenque-Tenosique-Flores, without the Southern detour.
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