Today was the big day. Our first Central American border crossing. I did not feel well prepared but so be it. I have actually done a lot of reading and know all the steps needed. We crossed quite a few south American borders couple of years ago on our trip with Ayres Adventures, albeit with spanish speaking guides; the steps are the same in all Latin American countries I am told. I have been progressing pretty well with my Spanish. How bad could it be?
While loading the bike we finally met the fellows with the KLRs. They were indeed crossing into Guatemala this morning. Better yet, one of the guys spoke Spanish. They had not crossed before either so we agreed we would try help each other get through it.
Janine and I left ahead of them since I wanted to stop and cancel my Mexican vehicle permit, a step they did not need to do. I need to because it is only good for 180 days and may run out before we leave Mexico in the spring. I will get a new one on the way back from Central America.
We finished with the Mexican officials very quickly; perhaps 10 minutes to cancel both our bike permit and our tourist permits. The Mexican offices are located about 4 km before reaching the Guatemala border.
We then proceeded towards the Guatemala border planning to stop short once it was in sight and wait for our friends on the KLRs. As we got close the street was lined on both sides with vendors and there was a chaotic mass of people to try and drive through.
Suddenly, we reached a small row of pylons which I nearly rode through and realized this was the border. A money changer quickly asked if I wanted to change some money since I would need it for the border fees.
While I exchanged some money, a border official was spraying the underside of the bike (fumigation process to kill any hitchhiking bugs). Both guys were very polite. The rate I paid was about 10-15% above the bank rate but not outrageous.
The fee for the fumigation was about $11.00 quetzales which is about $2.00. The next step was immigration which was very straight forward. We handed in our passports, the lady typed our information into her computer right in front of us and returned them stamped. No fees.
The last step was the import permit for the bike from the aduana. I handed in my registration and passport as well as the cancellation certificate for my Mexican permit. The fellow filled out a form then directed me to the bank next door. He walked me over and put me in front of the line. The fee $40 quetzales (about $8.00).
Back at the aduana I handed in my receipt and all my documents were returned with the permit and a sticker for the windshield. We were finished!
Total time to cross the border 45 minutes. Total fees about $10.00. Total hassle zero. In fact everyone was very helpful and very polite. Nothing like I expected.
As it happened the fellows on the KLRs drove up just as we finished with fumigation so they were one step behind us all the way through. We kind of help them by giving them the lowdown of each step we completed but I don’t think they would have had any trouble on their own. As far as Spanish, I was able to understand pretty much all that was said and respond which felt pretty good.
The exit from the border point was just as chaotic as the entrance with swarms of people all over the road and trucks, busses and motos all competing to plow through them. We got through it as quickly as we could and headed down the road.
The scenery was stunning. Steep, wooded mountains with clear mountain streams running through the valleys. Again not what I expected at all.
After we got good and clear of the border town we stopped at a small restaurant at the side of the road. We had two chicken sandwiches with cokes and chips. The bill $24 quetzales (about $4). I gave the girl $30 quetzales and told her no change. She brought back the change and I said no, you keep the change. She said no, it was too much.
I took it back thinking I must have made a big mistake with my figuring on the exchange rates. I gave her 3 quetzales and she seemed ok with that. I figured it out later and I was not wrong. The original tip I offered would have been about $1.00 CDN. I ended up leaving the equivalent of $0.48 CDN.
Honest, polite border officials and now a small restaurant owner that is so honest she would not accept an extra $0.50 tip. Is this really the Central America everyone warned us about?
We arrived at Huehuetenango about 3:30 PM. We decided on Huehuetenango because the next major place down the road is Quetzaltenango, a colonial city but at a much higher elevation. We are trying to be a little smarter about staying in high places with no heat.
We passed a nice looking hotel on the way in but thought we might look around the centro plaza first. Not far in we ran into a major traffic snarl. I made a quick u-turn and headed back to the first hotel we had spotted.
It was displaying 4 stars so we expected it might be pricey but it was only about $35.00 CDN. It was a very large place (much larger than it appeared) and they put us way in the back overlooking a jungle like courtyard. It was very nice and being so far back we could mot even hear the street noise.
Little did we know our sanctuary was directly above a large banquet room. The party started about 9:00 PM with a very loud live band. The bass was shaking the windows. The party lasted until 2:00 AM! So much for getting any rest.