From Mexico to Guatemala – border crossings with a motorbike

BMW r1200 GSA in on a busy market street just inside Guatemala

The bike just across the Mexico-Guatemalan border.

5 September – Day 45

Comitan, Mexico to Panajachel, Guatemala (Lake Atitlan)
Distance: 305 kms

Border crossing day!! We left Comitan by about 9am and made it to the border by 11am. Armed with blogs from other motorbike travellers who’d crossed at this border, we started by trying to check out of Mexico… only to be told that there was a $30 fee to exit. Notwithstanding that the signs in the customs office clearly said (in both English and Spanish!) that the fee only applied to those tourists who arrived in Mexico by air – ie clearly not us – there was no budging the official. If we wanted to leave the country, we had to pay the fee.

Here in Central America and I think probably also South America, there’s a bit of a circuitous process to get into the country: first you go to the customs office and get some preliminary paperwork. Then you have to take that paperwork to the bank (usually located very close by) to pay an entrance fee / tourist visa fee and get a receipt. Then you have to return back to customs with the receipt, hand it over and then – and only then – do you get stamped into the country. When there are queues in both places, it can take a bit of time.

Anyway, we paid the fee – and figured out that it was the same fee we’d paid when we first arrived in Mexico, so theoretically we shouldn’t have had to pay it again. However because we had to hand over our initial receipt to get our entry visa, we didn’t have a receipt to give to the customs guy at the other end. Good to know for next time…!!

Once we left Mexico, it was a pretty straightforward process getting into Guatemala: first we had to get the bike fumigated, then change our pesos for quetzals with one of the many guys standing just over the border waving wads of cash around, then pay for the fumigation, then get our own passports stamped, then start to get the bike officially imported and registered, then go to the bank to pay the import and registration fee, then back to the vehicle import office to finalise the paperwork and get our rego sticker. And then, finally, we were off!

The whole process about two hours.

And then we were on our way in Guatemala. Straight away we noticed that there were fewer speedbumps – and more armed soldiers. Banks, for example, keep their doors locked at all times and there is an armed guard or soldier standing on the inside, peering through a thin clear panel on an otherwise frosted glass door. If he thinks you look ok, he unlocks the door. Inside the bank, there are a couple of other heavily armed guards (I’m talking semi automatics/AK47s/other assault rifles) standing at various points. This was the scenario in two of the banks I went to, looking for an ATM. Ironically, ATMs are outside the bank – and not at all guarded or secured!

Our first day of riding in Guatemala was possibly the hardest day of riding so far. Blinding, driving rain.. so much so that often the streets were flowing. Pot holed roads – and often the potholes were hidden by the volume of water flowing over the road. Thick fog, reducing the visibility to less than 20m – it was a total white out. And it was soooo cold – particularly after we got back above 3000m. And to all of this, add crazy traffic with cars overtaking trucks on blind corners, other trucks using the whole road to make some of the bends, speed bumps that weren’t marked at all, cobblestones and all the usual challenges of driving in Central America.

So we were pretty happy to make it to a hotel Adrian had found the day before… only to quickly become less happy when we discovered the price has gone up from $22 a night to $70 a night in two years!!! Such a rip off. Under normal circumstances, we would have just kept looking… but it was still raining hard, we were really cold and had just spent the past several hours riding in atrocious conditions and neither one of us could really face getting back on the bike and riding slowly around town checking out other hotels in order to save $20.

So – here we are. We’ve been for a walk (and couldn’t see much due to the fog and rain), we’ve had dinner and have got a day off the bike here tomorrow so I’m really hoping for some sunshine!!!

Last day in Mexico

Lauren at Tenam Puente (ancient Mayan ruins)

Mayan ruins – Tenam Puente (just outside of Comitan)

4 September – Day 44

Comitan, Mexico
Distance: 0kms

We spent the morning at some incredible Mayan ruins just outside the city. They were equally expansive as the ones we visited a few days ago – as well as being more authentic and not at all touristy… we were the only ones there! If you want to see Mayan ruins in southern Mexican, these are the ones to visit. We’d only really expected to spend maybe half an hour here, but ended up wandering around for well over an hour. Meanwhile, the bike was being closely watched by a security guard – so Adrian was happy!

From there, we went to the El Chiflon waterfall. Adrian had really been looking forward to this… and if we were here at another time of year – ie not on the middle of the monsoon!!! – then I’m sure it would have been absolutely spectacular. As it was, I was still pretty impressed… a massive waterfall cascading down to another waterfall, to another one – with beautiful pools in between each waterfall. However because of the monsoon, the water was decidedly muddy brown, and the pools too flooded and too fast flowing to even consider swimming.

We got back to the hotel later than expected so decided to just stay another day here rather than push across the border to Guatemala in the afternoon. We weren’t sure how long the border crossing could take, and didn’t really feel like riding through the afternoon storm. It’s been raining pretty heavily every afternoon. So… one more night in Mexico…and tomorrow morning it’s off to Guatemala!!!

Possible unintentional grasshopper ingestion

View over sunken ruins at Monte Alban

Some of the ruins at Monte Alban

August 31 – Day 40 – Adrian’s birthday!!

Oaxaca, Mexico
Distance: 0kms

We had the day off for Adrian’s birthday today and spent it in what is really a lovely Mexican city. The further south we travel here in Mexico, the more we like it. The beaches are better, the cities more enjoyable and the people friendlier. There are also more street vendors.. so many, that it’s impossible to sit down anywhere without being approached, countless times. The main products for sale are belts or bracelets made from knotted embroidery thread, scarves, rugs, shirts, carvings or bookmarks. And it is constant. Mostly, if (or when) we say ‘no thanks’, the seller walks away. And then the next seller approaches us. And so on.

After spending some time in enjoying a coffee on the square and people watching, we headed out to Monte Alban – the ruins of one of the earliest cities of mesoamerica. The city was founded around 500 BC and abandoned sometime between 500-750 AD. So it’s pretty old! We had lovely weather and it was nice just walking around amongst the very expansive ruins… Monte Alban covers an area at least equal to the size 10 football fields – so there was lots of walking to be had!

For Adrian’s birthday dinner, I’d found a fair trade, organic, slow food (ie all local produce) Mexican restaurant with a social responsibility program and its own single village Mezcal distillery. It was to be Adrian’s first Mezcal in Mexico this trip… and the waitress instructed him to sip it slowly throughout the meal. The slow sipping really brings home the flavour of the drink, apparently… a flavour Adrian described as an “acquired taste”… kind of like the chilli wine from the Kingston markets, I’d imagine!!

My main meal involved a delicious sounding stuffed capsicum with a whole heap of different veggies and grains and a thick, dark sauce – minus the grasshoppers that this particular dish also usually came with.

Except that three quarters of my way through the meal, I noticed a significant number of stringy, decidedly grasshopper-antenna-like, threads on my plate. Antenna, attached to what looked – to me – like a part of the grasshopper anatomy. All of a sudden I was hit with the realisation that I’d just eaten a plate of marinaded grasshoppers. I passed the plate over to Adrian for an inspection. His unsympathetic (and, it must be said, highly amused) view was that they were just strings from some of the vegetables… but to the best of my knowledge, and just like in Australia, neither Mexican capsicum, nor kidney beans, nor rice, nor mushrooms are fibrous.

I guess the positive is that I’ve now ticked the ‘grasshopper’ box. Apparently, they’re a great source of protein…hmm..

My spanish is getting better the longer we’re here; I’m picking up a couple of new words or phrases each day. This includes helpful phrases such as “did you go through the road toll back there?”, “do you have your receipt?”, “ok then this toll is free.” , “does the room have hot water?” and – after today – “are there grasshoppers in this?!!!!”