Thursday, October 29, 2015

Days 26-28: Mazatlan to Guatemala

We made it to Guatemala, home of the Quetzal bird!

Mexico was great, could have been greater, but part of that was poor planning on my part. We had planned on seeing the Guadalajara Zoo, but it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Since we stayed that extra day in Mazatlan, we didn’t get to Guadalajara until Sunday afternoon, so we just kept driving. We didn’t see any damage from Patricia, but all of the toll booths were closed. So, it was a cheaper drive – that part, at least. There were lush fields everywhere. We couldn’t figure out what this was. People let their horses and cattle graze right in the fields! Not on all of them, but in many of them.

Nice, lush fields

Some of the best shots driving through Guadalajara were lost because the battery ran down on my camera. You know that always happens when you have a great shot lined up!

This dude was really friendly!

After leaving Guadalajara, I guess we needed to head to Mexico. I thought we had been in Mexico for a while! Took me a while to realize that meant the state of Mexico and/or Mexico City.

We thought we’d just follow the road and stop in some little towns that looked interesting along the way. Not a good plan. If you plug Guatemala into Maps.Me or Google Maps from Mazatlan, it will take you over the Arco Norte. The Arco Norte has its share of potholes, though it doesn’t have any speed bumps. For that privilege, the trip from beginning to end was 360 Pesos. That’s on top of the other toll charges for the roads to get to and from the Arco Norte. There are few services on the roads leading to the Arco Norte, too. They just seemed to disappear once we got south of Guadalajara. Gas stations, restaurants, and hotels on the outskirts of towns dotted the road until this. Or, you could just take the free road into town, where you would have some speed bumps and extra potholes. In fact, it cost us an additional 70 pesos to get off and get gas just south of Guadalajara. They do have emergency phones, garbage cans, and non-potable water along the side of the road, though. This path also took us from the Pacific Coast, almost to the Atlantic Coast, then wanted to take us back close to the Pacific Coast before bringing us into Guatemala.

We thought we would stop early one day, so we found this little town on the map called San Andres Tuxtla. It was supposed to have a few hotels, a bank, and a gas station. Just 20 miles off the main road. This was a mistake. We learned that just because all of the other non-toll roads we had been on were okay didn’t mean they all were. About 5 miles down the road, it turned into a dirt road. I grew up on a farm and drove across hillsides without roads that were better driving than this! This is one of the smoother sections. I was too busy holding on to get any pix of the rest. When we got down there, we found that there wasn’t a bank, and the one hotel in the town didn’t have anyplace to park a car. It took us two hours to make that 50-mile round trip. So much for stopping early! (And yes – I still have Maps.Me in miles for some reason!)

Imagine these ridges and holes just in a continuous wave, and that’s how about half of this road was. At one point, three guys were stopping traffic with a rope stretched across the road. They were trying to shake people down for money, saying they could fix that road if they got enough money. We just told them no, and they let us pass.

After we got back on the road, we went over a beautiful bridge!

Searching for a bank the next morning, we made a wrong turn that took us away from the main road, and back on a more direct path. The road was fine, though. All paved, about as many potholes as on the main road, more speed bumps, and lots more things to see. It went through some towns that were rather cool. Unfortunately, there was a lot of road construction that had only one lane open, so we spent a lot of time sitting still. People traveling behind us should benefit, though. They were widening it. I think the road was the 145.

This Tuxtla – Tuxtla Guiterrez – was much better than the other one!

But very Americanized. That’s okay. We stopped at Walmart for a few odds and ends while we were here.

We stopped for the night in San Cristobal de las Casas. Found a real gem for 295 pesos (about $17). First hot water we had gotten since getting on the main toll! And beautiful!

We made it to the border and time to check out of Mexico. We crossed at Cuauhtemoc. A rather unpleasant experience. I wanted to make sure we got the vehicle permit cancelled before we got to Guatemala so we didn’t forfeit our deposit that we paid. This went well. The guy was pleasant, but slow. You do have to give up the sticker. Then, we went to immigrations to get our passports stamped. Everybody agreed that we had to have paid in Nogales to have gotten the stamp in our passports initially. But, since we were never given a particular, 8-1/2 x 11 receipt, we had to pay again to leave because it’s the receipt that’s important, not whether you actually paid! After some heated discussion with the immigration guy, which I obviously lost, we paid the 664 pesos to be allowed to leave the country. I considered just not cancelling the visa and going on over to the Guatemala side, but Bruce was afraid we might end up in jail if we did that.

At the Guatemala side, you pull just barely over the border, and you’re stopped by a road cone. They come out and spray your vehicle. It costs 17 quetzals, and there’s a guy right at your window who can exchange pesos for quetzals. Check the conversion rates before you go in, though. On the street, they don’t seem to have very good rates. But, when you don’t have any quetzals and you need 17 to get to immigration and customs, you pay it.

Immigration was easy. They guy took our passports and stamped them. When I asked about getting the permit for the truck, he gave us a customs declaration page and sent us to customs, next door. At customs, she said it would be 160 quetzals, and they don’t take credit cards. The bank beside customs, where you pay, doesn’t give you money from your bank card, so you have to go to the bank on the strip. It’s in walking distance, but it is uphill, so we took a mototaxi. (Yes! They’re back!!) Back to customs, where she was in no hurry to do our paperwork, but she was pleasant while texting back and forth with someone. We watched Mexico beat the crap out of Chile while we were standing in the window. Again, don’t forget the originals of all your paperwork. She doesn’t want any of your copies. She’ll make her own. The security guy let me go to the front of the bank line, and after signing the paperwork in triplicate, we put our sticker in the windshield, and off we went. There is an inspector who has to look at your paperwork and your vehicle before you drive away, which only takes a few minutes.

The road out is lined with vendor stalls, and we were directed to turn off of the main road at one point because it apparently becomes one-way for anything other than mototaxis and motorcycles. Very narrow streets, straight up and down – and this is for two-way traffic! I’m just glad the other people on that street knew where to get over so we could get by!

Guatemala is a lovely place. It was a beautiful drive until we finally got stopped for the night and fell into bed exhausted.

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