Florida to Nicaragua Road Trip #7: Tapachula, Mexico, to Ratalhuleu, Guatemala

Dear Reader,

Today involved a lot of standing around at the border. And then some crazy driving in Guatemala to get to our hotel. We’re tired. We’re cranky. We’re ready to be home already.

We spent five hours at the border. Getting our personal visa stamps to exit Mexico and then to enter Guatemala went smoothly enough. I first wrote “went smoothly” but it occurred to me that you would think that that meant that it went smoothly, as in when things go smoothly in the United States. So I qualified my statement by writing “smoothly enough.”

Because first the GPS took us to the border crossing entrance for trucks and we had to be redirected by a nice guard. Then we made a wrong turn, according to the GPS, which turned out to be the right turn because Voila, there was the entrance to Guatemala. And the guard there pointed us to the wrong place but the person there pointed us back to the guard who this time we just ignored and went past.

Then we stood in a long line to just find out when we got to the window that we didn’t need to be in that line. So we went to the other window, just to be told that we didn’t need to be there at all – that we did NOT need to turn in our Mexican Temporary Import Permit (TIP) if we were going to be bringing our vehicle back into Mexico again during our 6-month permit window. (Hooray, that was good news.) Then the turnstile we had to go past to get our exit stamp from Mexico was jammed and we had to squeeze our bodies past it.

But we got our stamp and returned to our car and drove out of Mexico and across a bridge over the river that just a few months ago was swarming with people on the caravan. Today we saw people walking from the Mexico side to the Guatemala side pulling boats full of crates of something. Who knows. We were speeding past.

Beyond the bridge, we entered the Guatemala border area. The first order of business was changing some dollars for Quetzals, which was easy to do with the money changers alongside our path, and having our truck fumigated.

A friendly and non-pushy gentleman (in fact, no one has been pushy, not even the street vendors) named Gabriel approached us and offered his help in steering us to the various offices. It wasn’t that complicated but still, it was nice to be shown which building to go into and which line to stand in and where the photocopy store was and what copies I needed before I stood in line (although they did ask for the Registration of the car, which he hadn’t told me about).

And he waited around with us for the several hours that it took to get the vehicle permit, which is a bit confounding since there were two customs agents working on car permits and only three people ahead of me. But whatever. I paid Gabriel $10 for his help. He did not speak English.

I’m glad I’m fluent in Spanish.

The custom’s agent at one point told me she couldn’t give us a permit because my driver’s license expires next month, before our vehicle permit would expire (3 months from now). I had to convince her that I’m not driving and that John’s driver’s license is valid for the whole period. She hemmed and hawed (the title is in both of our names) but finally gave in and issued the permit just in John’s name, which is fine by me.

So, like I said that all went smoothly enough and only took a few hours.

The hold up, time-wise, was getting insurance for the vehicle. I don’t think the gal at the bank window, where I paid for our vehicle permit, has ever issued insurance for a foreign vehicle before but she sure was game to give it a go. It just took three hours. And other than a hand-written receipt from her saying that we paid the $157 (in Quetzals, and she called the money changer for me so that I’d get a good rate, although it was the same rate I got at the start) on a piece of paper saying we’d applied for the insurance, we left before we got the paperwork since they said that could take another couple of hours and we wanted to make it to a hotel before dark.

Then we began driving, following Google Maps (Apple Maps doesn’t appear to work beyond Mexico) to the hotel we booked while waiting for our insurance purchase.

Firstly, you know how you notice a huge difference between the U.S. and Mexico when you first drive into Mexico? Well, there is that same huge difference again between Mexico and Guatemala when you first drive into Guatemala.

Guatemala is third world. It is poor poor poor. There are no toll roads. There aren’t even yellow stripes down the middle of the roads, nor white lines delineating the shoulders. There are no lines. Just a big paved expanse with potholes and topes and many many vehicles, semi trucks, buses, motorcycles, bikes, pickup trucks like ours, sedans, pedestrians, dogs, doing whatever it is they please.

Yes, it’s a “two-lane” road with oncoming traffic on a blind corner. But it often looked like a three-lane road all going in the same direction. And around a blind corner. At one point, one car was passing us while a third vehicle pulled out to pass the two of us. That third vehicle was a police car. Go figure.

We drove 34 miles to our hotel. The drive took two excruciating hours. John says he really misses Mexican drivers. They were so civilized.

We got to our hotel. At first they didn’t have our reservation but then they found it. We went to the outdoor bar by the pool for a drink. The drinks were really good. And expensive. I mean, Gabriel would’ve had to spend his entire pay from us on one margarita and one rum and coke. And that

didn’t even include the tip we left.

Geez, I generally don’t bitch like this, but here I am bitching.

John asked me if I was having fun yet.

Granted…The experience is incredible. The sights are incredible. And I’d much rather be bitching about this sort of stuff while here out on an adventure and traveling than be bitching over boring mundane stuff elsewhere.

We are alive.

We are healthy.

We are adventurers.



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