March 01, 2010

I Used to Like Mexico, But I'm in Centro America Now!


The Mexico Guatemala border was indescribable, sort of like one of those scenes from Star Wars when Luke and Han Solo land on a strange planet.  Now I know where Spielberg gets his inspiration.

The crossing was fairly painless, first you have to get your tires hosed with disinfectant, this costs a few Quetzales, which of course I don't have, but there is an entrepreneur right there with a bucketful of Quetzales, for which I trade my 900 Pesos and obtain 450 Quetzales.  I can now do bizness in Guatemala.  First Migracion stamps my passport, and passes me along to Aduana (customs).  Before I left Mexico I had to cancel my temporary import papers for the KTM, this had happened about tres kilometers before the actual border.  I also got my passport stamped by the Mexican Migracion.  All this stuff has to be shown at the Guatemalan border, but thanks to the ever helpful internet, I knew what to do.

With all papers in order and a careful examination of the VIN number of the KTM, I receive my permit to enter Guatemala.

The border scene continues for a kilometer or two, and begins to thin out.  My first impression of Guatemala is that it is all vertical.  The highway runs in a very deep valley with very steep sides.  Shacks, buildings and tarp roofed vendor stalls line the road like beads on a string.  It continues that way with few breaks, but after a bit the valley slopes become a little less steep and begins to flatten out.  There are all these people selling gas out of containers, often a few meters from a gas station, of which there are plenty.  They seem to be underselling the gas stations, which mystifies me, black market gas?  It is all very much out in the open.  I prefer to get my gas from a pump, no telling what crazy stuff is in those cans.

I stop at the first real hotel I see.  Guatemala has sex motels too.  My hotel is the Pinos, and it is in many ways the nicest one I have stayed in this trip.  There is even another KTM parked there, a 65 cc minibike.

There are kids running around, apparently belonging to the hotel owners or managers.  We make friends right away. 

First impressions of Guatemala, compared to Mexico, Guatemala is waaaay more laaaiiiid baaaack, and fun.  Mexico is a very busy place, the people are friendly, but they are always rushing from here to there doing important things.  In Guatemala, people seem to be more content, move a bit more slowly, and have to time to smile at strangers.  Either my Spanish ear is improving, or Guatemalans speak a dialect that is easier to understand.

They have way cooler buses than anywhere I have been.

Oh, and one more thing, there are motorcycles and scooters everywhere.  It seems that everybody is riding a bike.

Day 2, head for Guatemala city.  About 100 km in the highway CA 1 changes to newly paved four lane that is the equal if not superior of any road anywhere.  The road is great and so is the scenery.  CA 1 follows a valley that opens up a bit at Guatemala city, which looks very much like a Canadian or US city from the main road.  The trees are mostly pine, and the new buildings look like standard issue North American steel and glass.  A diversion into the heart of the city also reveals the Barrios common to Latin American cities. 

Whenever CA 1 passes beside a city, the four lane highway becomes a latin american shopping mall, with tiendas, tortillerias, fruta stands, all kind of ad hoc micro-business.  It is never boring driving here.

I fail to spot a hotel that suits me in Guatemala City, and am happy to keep on going, stopping for the night in Barberena, where my hotel that costs me the equivalent of $12.50.  I may have overpaid :-).  Actually it was not so bad, some hotels I stay in are like camping out in a tent that you don't need to set up, but all the comforts (of the tent). It did have a washroom, cold water, and a TV.

The next day I am already out of Guatemala and in San Salvador.  The border scene was even more chaotic than Guatemala - Mexico.   I had to use a helper who knew what all had to be done, first get passport stamped, then get this document signed, over to copia place, make copy, go back, get next document, copia, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Took about 2 hours.  This was all about the moto, basically I had to prove that I was taking the same KTM out that I came with, this requires very careful scrutiny of my Alberta registration, drivers license, passport, exit documents from Mexico mucho two finger data entry on a computer terminal and mas copias of everything.  When done I had an exit permit for the bike and I could leave.

The cagy Salvadorans just place a stamp on the Guatemalan document, which now became the Salvadoran permit for the KTM, this took all of 30 seconds.  They also save money by not printing any, the US dollar is the oficial currency of San Salvador.  At least it makes knowing how much I pay for stuff easier. 

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