Sunday, March 10, 2013

We Don’t Need No Stinking Passports

Driving in Guatemala is not for the timid. Driving in Guatemala City is only for the insane. However, Big Dog does not fare well on long bus rides so the only way we were going to see more of Guatemala was to rent a car, insane or not.

Good thing we had honed our driving and navigating chops in Mexico. After getting our car at the rental agency near the airport, we got out of Guate (how the locals call Guatemala City) without a hitch, managed to make the turn towards San Jose Pinula and found a sign pointing us towards Mataquescuintla. The road led us past a lush country club, then eventually came to...a dead end. Hmmm. Were we supposed to follow the arrow sign way back when? We turned around, followed that road even though it was a dirt road and hoped for pavement soon.

It did not come. But a fork did and so we stopped until a car came out of one of the roads. We asked the group of women in the car how to get to the Atlantico Highway and they pointed and rattled away in Spanish. I couldn't understand much, but it becomes obvious that they are going to lead us to the main road. We go back the way we came, beyond the sign for Mataquescuintla. Maybe the road is blocked, or under repair and we need to make a detour.

They stop, point ahead in the direction of Palencia and zoom off to their destination. I think there might be another turn somewhere, but now we have driven through Palencia and all I see is a sign for Guatemala City.

"Maybe they're making us go all the way back to Guate," I wonder. What if we become tourists trapped in this town, unable to go anywhere else, just around and around Guatemala City forever. It would make a good movie. We'd get involved in all sorts of local drama...

I have lots of time for my imagination to run away like this because we have to drive quite a bit before we hit the Big Highway.

The Atlantico Highway descends into a low valley and the landscape changes into a more tropical one. There are palms, bananas, lush farms. We follow a river valley, with mountains on either side. The highlands were dry and scruffy but it is green and pretty here.

With our detours, we will not make it into Honduras before sundown so we look for a place to spend the night. There are several "auto hotels" -- what we would call love hotels in Japan. They are designed for privacy: you drive into a garage attached to your room, then use a telephone there to speak to the proprietor. The rooms have no windows. We opt for Motel America instead. It's your basic road stop motel -- a concrete room with fan, two beds, a toilet and shower with no hot water. The sounds of people, dogs, cars on the gravel outside and trucks on the highway lull you to sleep (or not.)

It's not a place to hang out. We're headed for Copan in Honduras anyway and the border is a short distance away.

That's our car, next to the big truck.
This is the El Florido border crossing. We're not sure what we're supposed to do, so we just follow the giant rig in front of us as it gets waved through the first check point. At the next one there is a man spraying vehicles with what I assumed was disinfectant. He tells us we need to do our paperwork for the vehicle so Big Dog goes to the Yellow Office, pays 31 quetzales and gets some sort of permit. We get waved through the second checkpoint. No stamps, no fees, no nothing. No one looks at either of our passports. Is this the easiest border crossing in the world?

It wasn't.

The same crossing on the way back was THE easiest border crossing in the world. After descending past a long line of parked big rigs, we get to the border but no one wants to look at anything. We just get waved through. 
Mountains of something heading to Guatemala.



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