MEXICO- BORDER CROSSING FROM GUATEMALA
Mexico would be our final country before heading back into the USA. We had a deadline of Sunday March 6th for arriving back in Albuquerque for Mike to start work on the Monday. The extra days at the Lake had put us a few days behind schedule, so we needed to do some long days of driving.
As we had discussed before this trip, the countries of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico would be the countries we would choose to spend less time in, so we could see the lower countries in Central America. We had already determined back then that another trip would be required to see these countries and would be easily doable from New Mexico.
The border crossing from Guatemala to Mexico was a little chaotic to say the least. Again the challenge is to find the buildings you need in order to complete your paperwork. Luckily as foreigners in a vehicle you stand out so much and it is so clear what you need that people usually direct you.
This time we had to complete our departure papers, and then pass under a barrier to the Mexico side to complete a preliminary inspection and to get Priscilla fumigated. Then we had to drive another 2 kilometers to complete immigration and our car paperwork for Mexico.
Our initial problems with shipping Priscilla out of the USA and into Argentina, came back to haunt us yet again. Our original car title had been stamped by US customs, I guess because our car had been exported out of the country. The Mexico official indicated this was a problem with getting our permit for Mexico because our title had been stamped. He told us that this paper would not be accepted by Mexico. After discussing the issue with him, he finally agreed to give us a permit based on the registration and indicated we should not show our title to officers in Mexico. We are not sure if this is in fact true, it definitely could be, but he may have been looking for a bribe too.
We were officially in Mexico with only one more border crossing to go. Hopefully the Car Title would not pose a problem getting into the USA. Only time would tell.
SCENES OF THE COUNTRYSIDE ON THE DRIVE:
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
Our first destination in Mexico was San Cristobal de Las Casas. Mike and I were interested to go back there again. We had visited San Cristobal in 1994 during the Chiapas uprising. The last time we were there we could hear artillery fire in the surrounding hills. There were military patrols everywhere, and the van we were in constantly got stopped for passport checks.
The town now is extremely different and besides a few landmarks the rest was unrecognizable. The atmosphere of the town has also changed, with a huge tourism focus. There are boutique shops, restaurants and cafes on 2 pedestrian walks around the plaza. We still enjoyed the town. We walked through the market making a few last minute purchases, and found some jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt for Keira. Like her shoes she has outgrown her winter clothing, which she had not worn since Patagonia days early in the trip. Again she was thrilled with her new clothes. It is amazing how the small things we usually take for granted mean so much now. Hopefully this will remain. Although as we progress closer to the USA the more commercialism we are faced with.
Around the chruch street performers were putting on shows. There were also people begging in the squares around the church. Some girls were weaving their wares right on the street where they were selling.
ENJOYNG SAN CRISTOBAL:
Keira was so excited about new clothes that she wore them out of the store.
The markets sold everything from regular clothing to masks, traditional dress and colorful kids toys.
Not camping means not being able to cook for ourselves which in turn means we eat out in restaurants more often. This is like a game of Russian roulette, not knowing how the food has been prepared and whether potable (clean) water has been used. We always try and choose restaurants that have a large clientele and preferably some locals eating there. On this trip even doing this has resulted in sickness.
On the morning we left San Cristobal I was sick again, and Keira followed with stomach problems 24 hours later. Once again we were thankful for our first aid kit. And thanks again to our Aussie doctor David Walder for having the hindsight to give us antibiotics for Keira in powder form which extended the life of the product. The medicine from Keira’s pediatrician had long expired.
We did a long day of driving and headed for the town of Casitas which was on the Gulf/Caribbean coast.
LOVE (AUTO) HOTELS:
We had heard from fellow travelers about “the Love Motels” that lined the streets in Mexico. We had begun to see these doted throughout some of the other countries we had visited but they definitely increased in frequency as we arrived in Mexico. The hotels are actually referred to as “auto” hotels. Since a lot of young people stay with their parents until they get married and because a lot of the residents are catholic, couples seek out places they can spend time together out of the public eye. (Also known as cheaters hotels according to Mike)
The rooms of the hotels are all on the second floor with room to park a vehicle underneath. There is a curtain that you pull across the garage space so your car cannot be seen. Fellow travelers had reported staying at the auto hotels and finding them to be very clean and good value.
We checked out a few options in the area and found the auto hotel to offer more for the money, $35 USD per night. Priscilla was a little tall for the garage so had to be parked on the driveway. It had a nice shower with stained glass, an “L shaped” sofa and an oddly shaped curved loveseat (???!!!), which Keira thought was a great slide!
Unfortunately long days of travel and a vomiting 5 year old was not conducive to our “love motel” experience!
We had 2 more long days of driving, nothing much to report. It has been really nice to be able to limit our use of technology on this trip, but having a sick child and lots of miles to cover, we were thankful we could “plug” Keira in for those days. She watched endless movies from her car seat.
As we progressed further into Mexico we were confronted with a lot of reminders of the western world, like an increase in the number of McDonalds, and Wal-Mart’s began to appear, as did a few Starbucks.
Mexico was over in a flash, 5 days only. We had no incidents at all driving through the country and found the people to be very friendly, and the roads to be in great condition. We saw many vehicles with soldiers standing in back, gun in hand as they patrolled the roads.
The majority of travelers, 99.9%, report no problems in Mexico. I have outlined some stories below that had given us some cause for concern. I wanted to relay these stories not to scare people at all, because we had no problems, but to make you aware of the issues we always have to consider when traveling in second and third world countries.
We took extra precautions for our peace of mind, and remained alert for potential problems. We stayed on toll roads when we could, kept our phones charged for GPS tracking and we kept friends posted of our daily whereabouts.
Like we said we had no problems and we hope to be able to visit and explore Mexico on another trip.
THE EDGE OF THE ROAD TO THE RIGHT OF THE WHITE LINE IS MEANT TO BE JUST THAT AN EDGE, HOWEVER IS MEXICO THEY USE IT AS ANOTHER LANE. IT IS INSANE
SO THIS IS HOW MIKE'S DRIVING AREA HAS LOOKED FOR THE PAST YEAR. LAUGHING BUDDHA AND GANESH (REMOVER OF OBSTACLES) HAVE BECOME A HANGING AREA FOR JEWELLERY, AND THE GEARSHIFT A HAIRTIE HOLDER!
Look for the next blog, which will focus on our reactions to returning to the “first world”.
STORIES AND ALERTS:
Most of the stories we had heard about Mexico were all very positive and actually Mexico was on every overlanders list for being one of their favorite countries. The negatives were merely about corrupt police who wanted bribes.
We had however heard several reports that made us concerned about driving through the country. Mostly people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
***A California family told us that whilst they were driving through Mexico going slowly over speed bumps, a car came out of nowhere with guns blazing and pulled over the car in front of them. The armed men pulled the people out of the car and into their own vehicle. The family kept their hands up in the air in their own vehicle, so the armed men did not see them as a threat. The car pulled alongside them, assessed their faces and then sped off. This was obviously gang related, but very scary.***
** An Australian couple we met in Antigua, who live in Mexico, told us a story that they had heard. A car of Mexicans and one foreigner crossed the border into Guatemala. Not too far from the border they were told to take a detour by 2 men dressed like policemen. Once they were off the road and out of site, a car sped up beside them, firing gunshots and an armed man climbed in their window. They were all told to get out of the car and were placed face down in a field. They took all their money and phones, except for the phone of the foreigner. They stole the car and left them there. Luckily, they could make a phone call to friends and one of the women had some money hidden. This was a second or third hand account so not sure how much was true. This incident had apparently occurred 1 month before we crossed this border.***
*** Whilst at migration exiting Guatemala, we talked to a Swiss woman who was riding a motorcycle. She warned us that the day before, locals who had formed a roadblock near a road works area had accosted her. They demanded money and when she tried to drive on, they pulled her off her bike and beat her with sticks. Luckily she had a helmet on and a protective motorcycle jacket.***
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA::
MOST VALUED POSSESION: first aid kit
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- shopping for my girls/watching how excited Keira was getting new clothes; Keira- watching endless movies; Riss- shopping in the markets/having a last day of just “being” in a foreign city
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-long days of driving; Keira- being sick; Riss- being sick and Keira being sick
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- nothing stands out, Keira- a cake pop; Riss- missing Mikes cooking; we would use our rice cooker in hotels/hostels to prepare rice to which we would add raw/tin veggies
BEST CAMPING SPOT: hotels only
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.