Hasta Luego Mexico, Hola Guatemala

28th Sept 2016

 

Sunrise waiting for our transferThis could be a short post (yippee say at least one of our avid readers!) of, ‘we sat being transported from San Cristobal des les Casas in Mexico to Quetzaltenango in Guatemala and watched the amazing scenery as we sped over the 200 mile trip arriving in time for a quick explore and tucked into a tasty Indian dinner at the first Indian Restaurant we have seen on our travels.’ Full stop, done.

 

However I would like to spend a bit of time reflecting on our trip so far and our modus operandi. We have never said we are hardcore backpackers as we have always had our comfy(ish) bed booked in advance and are staying in cheap to mid range hotels. However, today when things got tricky we did not take the easy option of a pre booked private transfer for £60,  instead opted to wait until we arrived in San Cristobal to book a minibus transfer to the border through one of the many tour operators lining the main street for £8 each like most other backpackers.

 

Petrol anyone?After a nervous hour in our hotel reception waiting for our transfer to turn up, we joined five backpackers already on the minibus and got chatting with them. which is always interesting and great fun hearing of their adventures. A couple from Manchester who had given up their jobs and were travelling a circuitous route to Australia over the next seven months, two Israeli girls who were travelling around after completing their military service and one single Israeli chap. They were more like true backpackers travelling as their whim took them, staying in hostels where they met like minded people and chatted away with other guests with whom they had much in common. Our hotels have mainly been empty and again today as I write this we sat the only guests at breakfast in a seeming empty hotel. We know we are low season but how do all these places survive?

 

Road leading to the borderAgain, the border crossing reminded me of the divide between our group. We have pre booked all of our transfers and hotels in Guatemala and Belize as we were not sure of how easy it would be to get around. We were being met at the border by a Spanish speaking driver to take us to our hotel. Well, when we got to the Guatemalan Border office, parked right outside was the shiniest 4×4 we have seen with a huge sign with our name on the windscreen. We felt like royalty. The rest of our group had booked a transfer all the way to Lake Atitlan and were told their minibus would be there in about 40 minutes and they would not get to their destination until early evening.

 

As ever many stalls selling everything

Don’t get me wrong, we are loving our trip and enjoying seeing local life with a bit of comfort and security. We also would not enjoy the opposite extreme of a fully sanitised organised tour of five star hotels and only seeing what the tour operators want you to see at top end markets and purpose built tourist attractions.

 

Different modes of transport at the borderI would finally mention the actual border crossing which was easier than some of the tales we have heard and the transfer company driver was good in showing us where to go for exit and entry formalities. Leaving Mexico we had heard mixed reports on whether an exit tax was payable so were prepared to pay if necessary and had MX$600 ready for the two of us but landed up paying MX$780 as this was the amount shown to us on a printed sheet. It seemed the only way to get our passports back with the necessary exit stamp so we paid up. We had been told not to pay in Guatemala and sure enough a guy in the office there tried to charge us a fee for our stamped passports back but we firmly said no and asked for a receipt, and he did not push us further.

Incredible scenery en routeEn route to our hotel our driver had to stump up the odd bank note to some kids who were shovelling dirt to fill portholes in the road. I would add that we were on the main road to Guatemala City for most of the way and it was mostly well maintained. We have entered Guatemala in the Western Highlands with many mountains, some volcanoes and green for as far as we could see (and sometimes that was a very long way). Tonight we stay in Quetzaltenango, Xela for short, which is Guatemala’s second largest city.  It will be interesting to see how life in Guatemala compares to Mexico.

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