As we prepare for a border crossing we often consult our maps and do a read through (or three) of the several guidebooks we keep on hand. Lonely Planet always outlines border crossing via airline first. This never fails to amuse us and we find ourselves reminiscing over our own international flight experiences. You arrive in the waiting area, gazing sleepily at the tarmac, awaiting a dramamine induced slumber on your way to paradise. A couple of hours and a bag of peanuts later, you have filled out your international visitor’s form and are dumped into an air conditioned waiting room with hundreds of other gringos. The rest is a carefully laid out, practically fail proof system, to get you where you need to go. Grab luggage, find hotel shuttle, tip bell boy, find pool, drink cocktail, vacation attained.
A far cry from an air conditioned airport terminal was the Guatemala (Talisman) border crossing. The half mile leading to the border is inundated with very aggressive Mexican “helpers” yelling, banging on your car, and even standing directly in front of your vehicle. They spend their day “helping” gringos across the border, but often take advantage by increasing the prices of the various fees you must pay. Finding the real border crossing is a journey in and of itself. We made the border and were given our first task: backtrack 30 miles to give up our Mexican vehicle permit. With our one-track minds directing us to the border we bypassed the vehicle checkpoint (not in the guidebook).
An hour later we were headed for the border again, once more fighting off the helpers. We successfully passed through the border gates but missed the parking lot for the customs office. Already a bit on edge, an official looking gentlemen in uniform stopped us and requested $10Q. Racking our brains to figure out the best way to politely ask why, a large group of helpers formed behind the official and began yelling all sorts of unintelligible nonsense. Ultimately we decided: this guy has a uniform, a name badge, and he’s offering us a receipt, pay the man. We were scammed before putting our truck into park.
We parked in front of the Guatemala migration office and hiked back to the Mexican customs office. There is a special kind of urgency in the power walk that ensues when you leave your truck out of sight in a strange land. With passports freshly stamped and a midday sweat threatening to completely take over our freshly laundered clothes, we returned to the migration office. We paid a helper to keep an eye on the truck, which persuaded the bystanders to only steal one pair of hiking shoes, as we went in search of our Guatemalan vehicle permit. When we popped the top for inspection, there was a unanimous intonation of understanding among our growing audience of helpers and locals. The official smiled and said “Oh, es su casa!” With that, we left our house in the hands of our trusted helper again, to pay a few more fees before we could return for fumigation.
Finally our tires have been sprayed, the permits obtained, the fees (and scams) have been paid. Cocktails? Dip in the pool? Quick siesta before dinner? No. What’s next is a winding sign-less road, an unfolded map, and a destination we hope to reach before sunset. What’s next is four large, archaic cities where we anticipate getting lost among cobblestone streets which cause the camper to squeak and sigh with the weight of our misdirection. There is no HBO on demand awaiting us on the other side, there is no gringo fluent waitress ready to serve up a much desired mojito, there probably is not even a shower. While our pictures have given a particularly charming view of the scenery, this is only part of the story.
During our expedition there will be tears, there will be yelling, and there will be moments when our minds quiver with the onslaught of new
information inspiration. This journey is all exclusive.