Being in Guatemala was beginning to feel easy and comfortable to us. We had been there so long that we were at risk of running out of time on our tourist visa. So we made a run to the Guatemala/Mexico border and left the country for a few days. After three days in Mexico, we crossed back in with the time-clock refreshed.
The border run was a bit of a mess. We ended up on the wrong side of a counter agent, and she did not want to renew for us. This left us trapped in that place between two countries! Fortunately a very nice bilingual man named Hugo stepped in and assisted us. With his urging, and a few tears from Geneva, we were able to renew the visa’s and the truck permit and return to Guatemala. Below is a photo of people crossing between Mexico and Guatemala who do not bother with paperwork at all. They simply roll up their pants legs and wade across the river!
It may be worth noting that we have not seen any sort of Border Patrol or Border Control Agent since leaving the United States of America. The countries we have crossed thus far, do not spend billions of dollars to control the passage of humans across invisible lines. There are still requirements to be met, and ways around those. But without a huge deficit to the national economy. Sometimes when you put less energy towards an issue, the issue becomes a non-issues. Just a thought.
One interesting phenomenon at the Mexico/Guatemala border is the importation of vehicles. These videos help illustrate the enormity of the commercial trade in used cars.
As you can see, there are primarily Toyota trucks, but there are a few other small vehicles in there too. And they are in various states of disrepair from total scrap, to running and ready to sell. Some of these people will be in the lines for several days as they wait to take these cars further South. Every car is from California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas and will make its way into Guatemala and beyond.
Once we were cleared, we found ourselves at a highway roadblock. The nice officers asked to see our paperwork. And then quickly waved us on and went to the car behind us. We weren’t sure what they were checking for, but we didn’t have it!
Just about a mile later we were diverted from the roadway into a small city. We wound around the streets as they became narrower and narrower. Each way out of town was blocked. It was a full-scale strike by the taxi drivers. They had parked their taxis across the highway and all the roads out of town. Since we weren’t going anywhere, we found a pay parking lot and pulled in among some other rigs to spend the night.
That was a peaceful place to spend the night and we were able to get back on the road in the morning with no issues. The next night was a bit of an issue for us though.
We drove way back into some valleys and up a mountain to try to find a waterfall hike. When we got near, we found the road was closed and we could go no further. As it was starting to get dark, we asked about camping near the only restaurant in town. A nice guy came out and helped us wedge into a spot nearby. He said we could stay there for 20 quetzals. Since there were very few options to us, we accepted that offer. We were on a pretty steep slope, perched on the edge of a roadway and a cliff. But we would make it work for a night. We noticed some men carrying sheets of styrofoam up over the hill, so Mike went to offer to help. It turned out they didn’t want him to help, but they would let him buy them all some sodas. So he delivered Coca-Cola to the workforce that was carrying materials for the new classrooms. Then we negotiated a rate for a local kid to guide us on a hike to the waterfall in the morning. He would earn 30 quetzals for guiding us on a two-hour hike. We were quite a spectacle, and people were walking by just to look at the camper, and then peer in the back door. Many kids stepped up to the door and asked for money. As night fell we walked the dog around for a bit and several kids asked us for money as we passed by them. It was during this walk that Zeb met a pig. They exchanged kisses on the sidewalk and then went their separate ways! We returned to the camper to make dinner. After about an hour of peaceful darkness, there was a knock on the door. It was the restaurant guy and his brother. They had been talking (and perhaps drinking) and had decided they would now charge us 200 quetzals to park there. We said “NO” and they requested 150. We said “NO” and they requested 75. We said “NO” again and they asked for 30. We said we would pay 30, but not until the morning just as we had previously agreed. Then we closed the door and begin to talk about our situation.
Let me set the perspective here- lets say you and I had agreed on $20 dollars, then in a few hours you decided you wanted $200 dollars. Should I pay that different price? Should I feel uncomfortable saying “no”? What if you were just a bit edgy about it, perhaps even intoxicated? Then should I feel uncomfortable? Add to it that the whole village knows where the “money-bags” are parked, and has been asking for handouts all evening. Now things begin to feel uncomfortable for us, as if we are vulnerable and a target. So we discuss our options and our discomfort. We review the fact that they may come back and demand more money from us. Or others may decide to join in on the request. We even go so far as to discuss the fact that they could cause harm because they feel slighted by us (perhaps break a window or damage to rig while we are gone on our hike) Geneva admitted that she would not sleep easy tonight in this awkward situation and does not want to leave the rig unattended to go on the hike in the morning. So with all this playing out in our minds, we decided to leave. It is now 10pm and we are breaking one of our most firm rules, to support another of our rules. 1- NEVER DRIVE AFTER DARK 2- ALWAYS LEAVE IF IT DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT
So we drove about 12 miles down the road and located a fire station. They were just wrapping up their Christmas party when we pulled up. The commander came out and we explained our situation and asked if we could park for the night. They jumped to action, moved fire trucks, rescue trucks and personal cars around and waved us in to an open lot next to the station. They offered us food, water, drinks and they asked to see inside the rig. They wanted to make us feel safe and felt honored that we trusted them. We slept easily that night, and left in the morning after a donation to the department and a sticker for the office! It all turned out fine.
Our final visit to Antigua was a fun one. This would be our fourth time in this city (some sort of a record) and we used this chance to meet some great people, take a fun tour and experience some dancing. But first we had some mechanical maintenance done on the truck. Then we signed up for the tour which combined a coffin-shop and a chicken-bus fabricator. This was an interesting combination and we learned a bit about each industry.
We also walked through a village that was just wrapping up the celebration of the local saint. Fireworks, marching band, long sermons and religious parades were coming to an end. These kids were the finale’
We also met a wonderful couple from Canada and hung out with them a bit. We all attended a farmers market nearby. And our final event in Antigua was a stop at the Central American Breakdancing Championships. We watched teams compete from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua (Honduras could not attend due to political issues hampering travel) The young men and women were incredibly strong and had powerful command of the stage. It was a fun afternoon for us. If you follow this link to our YouTube channel you can watch some of the videos of the dancers. YouTube video of dancers
Leaving Guatemala we encountered this truckload of pigs and Zeb blew them all some kisses! Then we drove the narrow winding roads that lead to the border between El Salvador and Guatemala. But of course, leaving would not be without incident………
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In the small town of Villa Canales, we took a wrong turn and got caught on a closed street market area. This meant we had to go down a one-way street, the wrong way. As we were focusing on that, we heard a strange snapping sound. Just then we were surrounded by police on bicycles. I looked in the mirror and saw the town Christmas lights laying across the camper like limp spaghetti noodles. We had caught the top of the camper on the strands of lights which were strung across the street. The city manager came out with a bill and we paid for the 8 strands of lights we had damaged. Then the police removed the barricades and we were free to go. We would expect the same in any town if we vandalized the lights, although they might not be so friendly about the collection process!
After that we were there……. the border of Guatemala and El Salvador. The next adventure chapter begins!