Crossing into Guatemala

Slept well last night – one of those night where you don’t turn all night. I feel better – not perfect but better. I had some minutes left on my Cell Phone that I wanted to use, so I made a few calls, but just missed Carolyn. Sorry about that, if you’re reading. Ended up leaving later than normal, but paying my tourist exit fee was pretty uneventfully, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have paid it. Why? Because I was about to have a crazy day.

So it’s early when I’m on the road. I am heading for the border crossing at something Jaguar crossing. I’d read that there was a river you had to cross, so in my minds eye I had a ferry across the river, in a somewhat busy town.

When I got there, it was in the middle of freaking nowhere, and the road from the pavement to the river was steep, with ruts and rocks. I talked to the first guy to get to me about a boat, and we settled on a price (35/us) and after looking at his boat from a distance, I agreed.

Now, one thing that weighed in my mind the whole time was my alternative crossing into Guatemala. It would have taken the rest of the day to get to the border at La Mesilla, which is the next “non-primitive” crossing. Then I’d have to backtrack to get to where I wanted to be in the first place. So we are looking at another day and a half worth of driving.

So after grabbing a soda, I take my bike down to the river, thinking I’d drop it at some point, but that was OK, since there were a ton of people around. When I get down to the boat, and think – I don’t have any idea how we are going to do this. This boat is long, skinny and has a high bow. The saving grace of the whole operation was the fact we had 10 guys standing around watching, and helping. The guy that owns the boat pulls some planks out of his boat, and we use those as a ramp to get on the boat. My bike is about as wide as the boat, which helps keep it stable – yeah for a horizontally opposed twin engine. So the driver, myself and his son get in the boat, and we take off 30 minutes down the river. After an interesting ride down the river, we get to Guatemala.

If getting on the boat was interesting, I was pretty damned worried about getting off. The departure had a bunch of people to help, and a gentle slope once you’re in the river. The Guatemala side had a lot of potential for tragedy. First, no one was around, except for a woman doing her laundry and her three very young children. Second, there was a steep road to the river, and a steep drop off in the river. If my bike was to go over, it was going in three feet of water. So there is me, a small but sturdy Mexican guy and his 8 or 9 y.o. son, and steep bank and deep water. Shit.

We’d backed my bike on, which was good. We started pushing it up the first plank to get it out of the boat, and onto the plank to the shore. These planks were at an angle to each other. About this time, a 50 y.o. guy shows up to get a ride to Mexico. I’m pushing from behind, and everybody else is pushing from the shore. BUT, since everybody is pushing from the same direction, they are starting to push the bike from an upright position, and it starts heading towards the water. I stopped people from doing that, but had vision of my waterlogged bike not starting for a couple of days. But, we get it off, which I view as the miracle of this trip.

Once we are on the bank, I still have to get my bike up from the river bank. It took three tries, with my rear tires unable to grip once and my killing it once (damned tall first gear.) It took a couple of guys pushing behind to get enough momentum, but eventually I made it. I found immigration, which was about a three minute ordeal – fill out a form and get a stamp, and I’m done. It was as easy as pie. I’m not sure it’s done correctly, since I never brought my bike officially into the country (nor have I offically exited Mexico), but if it’s OK with the guy behind the counter, it’s OK with me. I changed the remainder of my pesos into whatever the hell the money is called here. The guy that did it for me had a big stack of money, probably three inches worth of a little bit of everything. He had a look like he’s killed a man – a hard bitten, chiseled look that said a lot about him. Given the history of this place, he probably has. He scared me, even though he was only about 5’5”.

After leaving this tiny little town, I start heading towards Coban, where I hope to spend the night. The road outside of Bethel is horrible. It’s a dirt road for about 60 miles. It was one of the worse roads I’ve been on in a long time. A ton of potholes, to the point where I stopped trying to avoid them and just went through them. Much time today was spent standing up on my foot pegs. 60 miles of this crap was pretty tiring, and I was cursing myself, the road, and most anybody else I could think of. Eventually I hit pavement, and it was glorious. That is until I got to the next town, where there was a river. There wasn’t a bridge across the river. Nope, it was back on a boat – this time a ferry. Once I figured out what was going on, it wasn’t a big deal. Except for the guy in a delivery truck behind me who tried to cut me off by pushing me out of the way. I have no idea why he was trying to do it – in a hurry I guess? Once you cross the river, there are no signs. Luckily I got on the right road, and was told I had about three hours to Coban. The roads were pretty good, with banked curves, and not much traffic. Once again the rain came in the afternoon and my rear tire started doing some funky stuff.

Made it to Coban about 6:30 P.M. I had to drive around for 30 minutes before I could find the hotel I wanted. The Rough Guide map to the city had the one way streets wrong – fun, once I figured that out. The hotel had parking, and I was beat. The room was 65 whatever the hell kind of money they use. My understanding is that it’s about $6.50. I spent the extra $.50 for a private bathroom and a TV. The TV has allowed me to see that German is having lovely weather – mid 80’s, no rain. Blade II is on too, but it’s in Spanish. I’ve heard enough Spanish for today. Luckily violence is a universal language.

I’m not sure of what time it is, but I think I’ve gained an hour from Mexico. Regardless, I’m beat – it’s been a very long day. Still haven’t decided if I’ll stay here another day or not. Depends on what Honduras has to offer, and how I feel in the morning.


  1. You made a wise choice to not bother with Blade II. Conicidentally I am running out of movies to rent at the store so I picked up Blade II. But I had a guest over and I was too insecure to just play the damned thing so I played it without sound (similar to what you would have experienced in Spanish I imagine) and my god this movie sucks! I’m a big fan of modern interpretations of vampire cultures, but this one was stocked with pretty ridiculous cliched characters.

    I get the feeling you are really entering uncharted territory, with these ferry crossings. Kind of reminds me of when Frodo escaped the Nazgul at the Brandywine river ferry crossing. Maybe next time you’ll get all Evel Knieval and just land on the ferry in the nick of time with the border patrol after you?

    Things are good here. I’m enjoying a week off from work. James/Steena if you read this I’ll be attending a wedding in D.C. on October 23rd so I hope to spend some time with you then.

    Sanjay #1 Indian.

  2. Greg,
    Sounds like you are having a great trip. I just spent the Labor Day Weekend with Steena and James in D.C. where they filled me in on your adventures. I have heard great things about Guatemala. Apparently Tikal is not to be missed. This spring I spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica – loved it! Most everyone speaks English on some level and you can drink the water. Try to visit Selvatura park outside of Monteverde and go on the “canopy tour” – a 12 or 15 cable zip line that takes you over the tree tops (costs about $35 and worth it). I particularly got a kick out of the artificial limbs left in the equipment room where you get geared up (o.k., so my sense of humor is a bit warped). I did not get over to the Caribbean coast but the Pacific coast was beautiful. I can recomment Quepos, Manuel Antonio National park and another city – really popular with the surfing crowd – whose name I can’t recall. If you make it as far as Peru try to visit Cuzco – amazing city! There is a wonderful church built on the ruins of an Incan temple near the center of town. I fainted in the entry way but it still made a big impression on me (no pun intended). And if you get to Brazil try to get down to Iguazu Falls – very cool. There is also an area in the southern Pantanal in the state of Mato Grosso called Bonito that is quite nice – ironically there are lots of water sports there. Since I have no idea if this will work I will sign off. Happy travels!
    P.S. If you are trying to remember who in the hell I am we met at James and Steenas wedding reception.

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