This post features a return to riding, defiant urination, a real Central American border crossing, creative corn sales-girls and inconsiderate bovines.
Sunday, January 28th
Time to escape the infirmary. I don’t know if I was completely ready mentally to hit the road again, but physically I felt mended enough. It wasn’t going to be the easiest day, as I would be traveling on the same road on which I had crashed just five days prior. This stretch also featured some pay-to-pass blockades.
The goal for the day was to make it to Comitan, a good jumping off point for entering Guatemala.
My ride began rainy and fairly cold. (I had an issue with the SD card on my helmet cam, so I have no media) The road was a little easier in the daylight, but was still a real challenge in the damp conditions.
The road blockades from the previous day were not present (maybe since it was Sunday?), but I did run into a less menacing blockade. A group of three girls (probably around 10) were selling corn right at one of the big topes (speed bumps). They had a little piece of string with ribbons on it that they were using to stop traffic.
As I approached, they tightened the string, but it slipped out of the hand of the girl on the left. Seizing the opportunity, I eased passed them as they yelled at me and slapped Annie’s trunk. I just yelled, “Disculpe!” (excuse me), waited until I was safely clear, then twisted the throttle. In my mirror, it looked like they got a good laugh from it too. 🙂
After a few cautious hours, I arrived at the site of the crash. I didn’t need to look at a map, it was eerily clear. Shortly before arriving, my left hand guard (the one that had been hit in the crash) lost a bolt and started dangling off. This was probably an after effect of the spill. I stopped at the crash site to fully remove it.
I felt like I should do something, but what? Should I pray to dispel the diesel demons? Should I just yell and curse at this dastardly stretch of road? No. There was really only one thing to do to properly express my feelings:
Hey, urine is a natural solvent! I’m just trying to clean it off for the next guy. 🙂
I did ride the stretch again, even slower than last time. The patch of spilled fuel was pretty difficult to see. I’m guessing that my eyes were already scanning down the straightaway when the obstacle appeared.
I made a little navigational error after Ocosingo so I took a “shortcut” to get back on my route. It was a really rough road through little villages.
Keep right except to pass! How hard is that!
The road eventually improved as well as the conditions and for a brief moment, I was actually enjoying myself. This was a tough stretch to ease back into riding, but it went pretty well.
I got a nice hotel in Comitan for about $12, where I could see Annie from the shower. This is always appreciated. The owner, Jose, was very helpful and made sure I had everything that I needed. I went out to a little restaurant that had a bunch of vintage post cards on each of the tables.
I had enchiladas suizas, which was actually one of the best meals I’ve had in Mexico.
My evening was spent trying to make sure I had everything in order for my first real Central America border crossing in the morning.
Sunday, January 29th
I was up around 5 and got right to work. As always, the morning procedures took a little longer than usual. Still, I made it in the road at first light, around 6:30am. There was still a little Mexico to do before reaching the border. It was another rainy morning and the roads were not in good condition. The state of Chiapas has the worst roads in Mexico that I’ve been on by some distance.
I made it to the Mexican immigration office at Ciudad Cuatemoc right at 8am. This town is a little ways from the border. My information had said that this border opened at 6am, but they seemed to just be getting started. I’m still not sure when it opens.
(Note: The following blog has been very helpful for borders. We’ve taken a similar route so far and he does great write ups of the crossings. http://www.ironroamer.com/crossing-the-border-into-guatemala/)
After a brief wait, the guy behind the counter took care of all my motorcycle related stuff, cancelling my import paperwork. He then directed me next door for migration related paperwork. Let me tell you, it was some door.
At first I couldn’t find it. I jiggled all of the doors at the adjacent building, but nothing appeared open. I asked a couple of officials who were waiting for incoming vehicles and they directed me to the door in the center. It was obviously a sliding door, so I gave it a good tug. It didn’t budge. I went back and asked the same guys again. They said that you had to really yank on it.
I finally opened the partially tinted glass door to find a lady behind the counter who had obviously been spectating my entry attempts. She was one of those people whom I just could not understand. She was also not too concerned with making herself understood or giving any explanations. Since my tourist visa was good for 180 days, I tried to make sure that she didn’t cancel it. She took all of the papers and I’m still not sure what the status of it is. If I have to pay another $25 to re-enter on my way back, I guess it’s not that big of a deal.
On to the town of La Mesilla, which is right on the border.
My information said that I had to show a Mexican official my canceled paperwork right at the border before they would let me through. I didn’t see anyone there. A large truck was blocking traffic right on the border, but there was enough room for me to pass. Nobody stopped me, so I just went straight to the Guatemalan immigration office.
The border, from the Guatemalan side:
I changed out the remainder of my Mexican pesos for some Guatemalan quetzales, losing about 12% to the money changer. Not too bad. I entered the office and was helped by a really nice staff person.
I had read that I was supposed to get the bike fumigated when crossing, but he told me not to worry about it. We joked around a little and he helped me with some Spanish. People like him really make this sort of process much less stressful. I got my passport stamped and paid about $3.
(Not the most picturesque day to see Guatemala for the first time.)
A little ways away was the customs office, where I would need to import Annie. There was no line and the guy behind the window was really helpful. I had a major brain fart when I could not understand the word “licencia” (license). I felt really embarrassed, but the guy was cool about it.
A couple of times during our interaction, I apologized for my Spanish. Both times he responded with, “Eres en Guatemala.” (You are in Guatemala) At first, I thought he might mean “You are in Guatemala, so you should know how to speak the language,” but I think it was more like, “You are in Guatemala, we will like you anyways.” 🙂
Lots of copies of documents were needed, but he did them all for me. When it came time to pay for the import ($25 or so) I realized I was a little short on quetzales. I found the same money changer to see if he would change a US $20. I only lost about %5 on that transaction.
The official behind the window came out to put a sticker on my windshield. He shook my hand and offered a sincere welcome to his country. Though I trusted them, I spent a few minutes double checking the documents against my VIN. Shielding them from the rain was a bit of a trick, but everything looked in order. All told, I think the whole process was right around an hour. I didn’t wait in a single line.
We are in Guatemala! (Motherland of my brother, Jerardo) 🙂
Generally speaking a Central American border crossing should supply enough excitement for one day, but this day would still have plenty of twists and turns.
The first stretch of road in Guatemala was really, really bad. Though I can’t say it is the worst road that I’ve been on on this trip (Ombabika still wins, I think), it might have been the worst paved road that I’ve been on so far.
Oncoming in the previous clip is one of the infamous “Chicken Buses.” These are brightly painted school buses, used to transport a tremendous amount of people and things. If you ever wondered what happened to the school bus that took you to school in 1962, it’s probably still on the road here in Guatemala. I really love the way that they personalize these vehicles and make them stand out. I learned later that “chicken bus” is just an English term. In Spanish, they’re just called “buses ordinarios.” (literally, “ordinary bus”)
The road was disintegrating in lots of places, especially as I got nearer to Huehuetenango (the founders of this city wanted to choose a name that no white person would ever have a chance at pronouncing correctly).
I actually had a really close call on this stretch. In some holes where the road has disappeared, mud has made its way up onto the road surface. Through one of these patches on a steep downhill slope, I gripped a little too much front brake and caused the wheel to lock up. Annie began to pitch sideways until we were aiming for the oncoming traffic. It took nearly all of the strength in my still recovering left leg to keep us upright. Though it was a tricky spot, this one was definitely an operator error. I could have ridden the stretch much more competently.
I buzzed into Huehuetenango to use an ATM and get gas. I was surprised that they sell it by the gallon in Guatemala. My efficiency spreadsheet was appreciative of this.
Reaching Lake Atilan was kind of a long shot when the day began, but I’d made great progress. By 2pm, my maps showed that I only had about an hour to go. I stopped for a bite to eat at a little roadside restaurant.
The meal was great, but it ended up being really expensive. Over $10! I was still getting used to the conversion when I perused the menu. 🙂
After the break to eat, the clouds had parted and the weather was finally cooperating. Lake Atilan, here we come!
….but you’re going to have to wait. 😦 I’ll catch up on my time in this idyllic location soon. Thanks for reading!
Pull the door as hard as you can, everybody. (Wow, that’s a bad one.)
Realtime update: I’m still kind of in a go mode. I currently sit in San Miguel, El Salvador, close to the Honduras border. Honduras is probably the most dangerous country that I will be visiting on the trip, so I am going to try to make it through in one day (probably Monday). I’ve not had very good internet for a week or so, so I’m a little behind. I should have another update completed tomorrow.