“To Guatemala and Back”
As you may well know, I’ve been in Mexico for a long time now, and to answer the oh-so-very old questions I keep being asked: “No, I haven’t fallen in love with a Mexican lady or the city” and “No I’m not earning astronomical figures that justify my stay“. In fact, I’d go almost as far as saying it’s everything in reverse, I quite dislike Mexico City, I incredibly lonely and I haven’t earned a penny in months.
So, this may lead to you question, why aren’t you still travelling? Or why didn’t you leave already? The short answer, my mental state. I had convinced myself if I got myself 4 walls and a somewhat routine of seeing similar faces I’d start feeling human again. Alas, this is not the case in Mexico, I’ve spent lots of hours contemplating what is the cause of all this misery lack of travel enthusiasm and so on. Compared with other travellers I’ve met, they have their known: knowns, it ends at X and they go to Y or maybe return to A and go back to work. For me, I never gave myself an end to this trip, I never concluded where the finish line was or where I’d go from there. Suffice to say I stayed still in Mexico City where I have friends and it’s the devil I know versus the devil I don’t know.
So enough boring diatribe, my 180 day visa to Mexico was soon expiring and I was itching to get that renewed and out-of-the-way and out of this crazy city. I wanted this mostly so that I could focus on more pressing issues back here in Mexico City. Little did I realize that jumping across the border was going to shift my entire perspective of what I want out of this travel malarkey.
Leaving Mexico City
I set myself a 2 day time budget to get to the Guatemalan border, sadly it took 2 days longer than anticipated. You’d think with everything I own being able to fit into 2 bags packing up wouldn’t be a problem, but second guessing and doubting what I’d need and want for the trip so I could just carry 1 bag prolonged the packing exercise into mid-afternoon. I glanced at the map and checked my options for where I could get to in the remaining hours of daylight. I found a town in the state of Puebla, a town called Tehuacán I got there just as it got dark. I woke up the next day in the rain with a route headed to cross Oaxaca. Little consideration about the altitude I’d be heading into, that or the fact that how far I’d be going between fuel stops. Leaving Tehuacán I simply assumed I’d find a fuel stop before heading out. I didn’t but held hopeful to find one down the road…. which never appeared. 2 hours later, having been riding in ice rain with heavy cross winds at a steady climb for the whole time I was beginning to get terrified. I was now 2 hours from the last place I could have got fuel at, I was 2 hours from the last place civilized. I was frozen, scared how the heck I was goign to get any fuel, I knew that I have a 100 miles roll back to square 1, or hold the hope that if I kept climbing eventually something would show up or the gradient would change to being down hill all I did know was that the road was empty, and everything I’d been passed had nothing available to me.
I stopped just out of Oaxaca for lunch and to warm and dry myself out; thankfully earlier on fumes I arrived at a fuel station in time and then thereafter fuel stations were a stones throw from each other until I arrived in Oaxaca. Now I understand that the tone of this blog is quite sombre so bear with me. So, still cold and miserable with a tummy full of food I hit the road again, the roads were beautiful and the scenery was spectacular however, I still wasn’t quite enjoying myself. I’d make the analogy of going to an art gallery straight after having had an argument with someone, you simply cannot appreciate the beauty.
Just before nightfall, I arrived at Tehuantepec in now what seemed like a tropical storm versus the ice rain I’d been battling all morning. At least this was warm rain! Wet to my underpants, in a somewhat flooded town of Tehuantepec I tried to find a hostel or hotel, I was feeling rather sorry for myself as you can imagine, my fingers were like white prunes from being inside the wet gloves all day, there were very few areas on my body that were dry. I stumbled into the 3rd hotel which finally had vacancies and took whatever price they were charging just to stop having to ride around the flooded town any more. Ironically, it was so hot and muggy in the hotel room I asked for the air conditioning, just imagine that!
The following morning, having slept well, I took breakfast at the restaurant of the hotel while I planned what I could achieve in the remaining hours of the day, it was now 10:30 and I hadn’t packed my possessions yet but I held hopeful to make it to San Cristobal de las Casas by the evening. While I sat and ate breakfast it had been sunny and dry, but as I strapped the luggage on my bike the rain and thunder re-emerged. I set off in 4-6 inches of surface water on the roads, at places it was deeper, I like to think the underside of the bike appreciated a wash. As I headed out the lightning and thunder became so short apart and so repetitive I actually started worrying for my safety (and more so for my electrical products), I pulled under a bridge and waited for 20 minutes for the persistent lightning strikes to shift off, where I had been riding was near windmill farms and the power lines beside the road seemed to attract the strikes.
Before I knew it, I was riding climbing into Chiapas, I pulled over to take my jacket off and catch a bit of sun, it was roasting hot and despite my jacket having been wet throughout, it was now dry and I was roasting within…. the day took a funny shape as before too long I was then now getting cold as I climbed and climbed and climbed, again I pulled over to wrap up. Frankly, I cannot recall much of that day with exception of the grim grey cold thundery start the rest of the day was a breeze in the high mountains and before too long I was navigating down the cobbled roads of San Cristobal looking for a hostel for the night.
…onto Huehuetenango, Guatemala
Prior to leaving Mexico City I had put out a few guestimated dates at said locations where I’d be stopping along the way, in the hope that someone on Couch-Surfing would take me up, I had almost given up on this hope, my responses of Couch Surfing in Mexico to date have tended to be gay men with agenda of bed-sharing with me…. but to my surprise the night I arrived in San Cristobal I received an invitation to stay in Huehuetenango, Guatemala with a female host. This now gave me a place to stay! I accepted it and gladly hit the road. Border crossing was fairly straight forward if a little bit of a nuisance getting photocopies of this and that got to that man get a stamp, come here pay me this, go there sign that, pay me another amount, show me your bike, pay another amount. Crossing the border into Guatemala was akin to riding into Ethiopia from Sudan, suddenly the people and the landscape and vehicles changed, everything was now different, the road just winded its way through the mountains; villages built on the sides of steep slopes, and everyone and their dog was on a dirt bike. Honda and Yamaha were all the rage and the Mexican favourite “Italika” was not so frequent bike to be seen, I’d say that Guatemala was a motorbike country, cars were few and far between.
I arrived in Huehuetenango, lost with my really bad directions, no telephone credit, going round the one-way system a while until logic kicked in and decided to stop and ask for help. Before too long, I asked a man and his daughter for directions, he ended up giving me his phone to call my host. Before I knew it, I was parking my bike inside the house, meeting the crazy cat and dog combo and all the family.
The next day my Couch Surfing friend took me up to the Mirador de Juan Dieguez Olaverri a look out spot over the city. It was beautiful but we should have caught the first day light as the haze kind of ruined it for good photography, following that we went to the Archaeological ruins of Zaculeu.
Back to Chiapas
That evening, I had a Guatemalan feast prepared for me, the following morning I invited the family out for breakfast and then hit the road back to Chiapas, I was now conscious I had to get back and finish my work in Mexico City. Back to the same border crossing from 2 days before everything I thought should be smooth was now not so much. Guatemala immigration guy asked me if I was sure I wanted to be stamped out? I told him with all certainty it shouldn’t be a problem and nodded him away. He then proceeded to tell me that the formalization of the exit implied that I was not allowed to return to Guatemala for 90 days, and the paperwork took 2 days to clear, and thus: I’d not be allowed to return to Guatemala for 92 days from this date forward. I frankly, didn’t feel this was an issue as last border crossing into Mexico granted me an easy 180 day visa.
A few miles down the road, into Mexico border control I went and before I knew it I was being stamped in for a maximum of 90 days into Mexico, I pleaded for an extension but they told me the law is the law and that was final. I finished up the rest of the process of in and out and paying him and her and this and that and was on my way into Chiapas.
As I started thinking about this fiasco, I started to wonder whether or not I wanted to be forced to solve this same cycle in 90 days before finishing this trip. Frankly, I just felt like I was doing the motions of travelling without any enthusiasm. My mind kept wondering what my options were now, keep in mind the travel would require the bike to leave with me as I paid a hefty deposit on it, plus importation fees, which left me with the option of: I could head to Belize and spend a few days there and return to Mexico or I could head north and enter the USA again… Of the two prospects one certainly gained my interest a whole lot more than the other… and to be blunt, Belize was not it.
I plodded on to San Cristobal de las Casas to find the same hostel I had been at a few days before. I was able to get in the dorm room this time, meaning cheaper bed, more sociable. I met the three Australians (Heidi, Kyl and Tom ) from when I was there before, was an instant friendship. As I contemplated my route for the next day, I was also being convinced to stay another day. One day became almost week and before I knew it I was almost a piece of the furniture in San Cristobal. Doing tours and excursions of the area, trying to clear my head of my predicament.
Almost a week later, I hit the road again, this time a different route, I was going to be heading in the Carabean side of the country through Tabasco and Veracruz, in a town called Cosamaloapan when I had no more miles left in me to do for that day I pulled over.
I found a hotel, I asked how much for a room for the night, they responded: “how many hours?” I proceeded to look at the room, enquire about wi-fi and left. I went onto the next hotel, again the same question about how many hours I’d want the room for. Again, no wi-fi. I moved on to a third hotel which had a night rate for the rooms, it wasn’t unreasonable so I went to have a look at one of the rooms, I came back and asked for another key for another room, the dank humid smell turned my stomach, I third room smelt like a biohazard disaster, third room had a flat screen looked fairly clean and sure enough I took it. Little did I know that the air conditioning had two settings: Antarctic / Off I spent the night flicking the unit on and off as I couldn’t find a happy medium between dying of sweat, eaten by mosquitos or shivering to death in a ball on a bed. It was a wild night for Neil! 😉
The following morning when I couldn’t sleep any more from the bangs and crashes outside my room, I went to find breakfast, I walked the whole town looking for something open at 7am, alas nothing… I kept on walking until 8am when things started to serve. I got what I can only describe as an “adequate” breakfast honestly surprised I didn’t get ill… from there, hot and sweaty I hit the road.
Three hours in and I was riding up a steep and winding mountain road divided traffic the uphill direction had a separate route to the downhill, and thankfully so as the 3 lanes downhill was at a stalemate and for the following 30 miles I proceeded to see more stationary traffic, thankfully for the uphill it was steady climbing and by the time I got to the top I was frozen snow was on all the mountains around me and I just couldn’t do enough zippers up to keep me warm. I pulled over for a coffee in a petrol station near Esperanza (Hope) and warmed up a little… from there it seemed only a couple of hours from home and before I knew it I was sat on the sofa staring at nothing processing my thoughts about “what am I doing now?!”
So after seeking counsel from some of my friends, weighing up my options and speaking to lawyers, more friends, ex work colleagues and so on. I have decided to call things quits and end this trip. Now the ongoing fiasco I was facing and dreading was “what do I do after Panama” and that problem hasn’t gone away. Originally Australia was a hot favourite, but as with all things the paperwork is more based on invitation versus application. Or in Australia’s case: you apply for an invitation to apply for the visa in which they can reject. I spoke to immigration lawyers in the USA for assisted application into the USA, however, as awkward as the Australian situation was, the USA must you to find an employer who will apply for you … and in that they have only one date in the year to submit the application in by, and in that you have to wait sitting on your hands for 6 months for the decision to come through, and of that only a quarter get accepted. So summarizing the summary, I wont be moving to Australia or the USA to work any time soon. However, I will be going to Barcelona, Spain to seek my future there for the time being.
The great news of this outcome is that I’ll be going to tear up some of the places I missed before in Arizona and Utah and spend some time doing some of those things I loved to do. I hope to spend another 2-3 months on the road before heading to Spain.