As Jacqui and I continued to drive precariously close the the Guatemalan border, almost accidentally crossing because of one wrong turn, we suddenly developed a new deadline. We had learned a few weeks prior from our Australian hitchhiker buddy Pat of a Guatemalan must-see. We wanted to full-heartedly dive head-first into this cultural and historically significant attraction that had to be visited on the weekend. Being that we were to impatient to make it as soon as possible and not have to wait an entire extra week, we started beelining it for... Guatemala's best water park. Apparently the only thing that can force the PennyWagon and her crew of misfits into expedient travel is giant water slides.
First order of business was to pack up our lovely little camp in Las Nubes and hit the road. I think our pictures clearly show that driving and camping along the Guatemalan border is quite the experience.
Hitting the road...
Our campsite next to the heavily overfilled Lago Tziscao
Exploring the multi-colored lakes and a little informal cave exploration with our 11 year old tour guide around the Lagunas de Montebello
A few days before attempting the Guatemalan border we camped at the El Chiflon Waterfall
Finally we were a measly 150 miles from our intended border. We woke early in the morning and planned to get to the border for a midday crossing. I can't figure out if Mexicans hate expedient travel, despise good gas mileage or it is simply impossible to make them drive in a safe manner without putting vehicle-damaging, oversized speed bumps in the middle of the road. Regardless, 11 hours later we finished that 150 miles and parked our exhausted selves in a shitty Irish bar that had neither Irish food nor drink. We obviously decided to put off border crossing till the next day.
It was well past midnight before we could cool ourselves with soaking wet shirts and fall asleep that night, and we were up at 5:45 trying to make sure we got all of our border crossing paperwork, and vehicle import papers taken care of early. After all, everyone said don't cross on the weekends. Being that it was Saturday and we were blatantly disobeying this advice, we at least figured being early should help.
There was another thing that we had been warned about in our internet research of this border crossing. Locals, posing as officials, will try to make money assisting you with all the border crossing paperwork. As in straight harassment.
As we started approaching the gates this was more than obvious. They were trying to use themselves as roadblocks to force us to stop. I simply mashed my foot on the accelerator and made it clear the van wouldn't be capable of stopping in time. They moved.
Clearly that wasn't enough of a deterrent since they started chasing the car. We were simply surrounded by these crazy people all trying to be the first to point us in the correct direction. However, we safely made it to the official parking lot with heavily armed, fully-automatic weapon-carrying officials so we weren't in any physical danger. Lots and lots of forceful, "No necessito nada!" (I don't need anything) was coming from us.
All in all this was the less painful part of the border crossing. As we got through to the other side it became obvious the Guatemalans were trying for the same game. Except now, the obvious infrastructure the the Mexican side had so generously provided wasn't there. The buildings were spread out and poorly marked. On top of that the safe, official parking was not provided. No matter how hard we tried to shake all these would-be helpers it proved impossible. On top of that, the one we ended up stuck with did know the process quite well. At last I silently accepted we'd allow this guy to give advice while keeping a keen eye on everything. It seemed that their end game was simply to get tips for assistance after all.
Be warned. These guys have friends in among the officials inside the vehicle import office. Their game is simple. After helping you through every step of the way you get to the official building that offers your vehicle's import permit. At that point, the official, ASSHOLE and THIEF of a lady sitting behind the desk starts collaborating with your so-called assistant.
She says you failed to get an exit-stamp from Mexico. There is no exit stamp by the way. You're then informed you will have to return to Mexico to get your exit stamp but they wont allow you to re-enter Guatemala for 72 hours because of policy. After telling you how you can officially take care of the problem, by crossing back to Mexico, they finally offer a solution. Your helper guy knows somebody that can make the problem go away for 400 Quetzales (roughly 51 USD).
Jacqui and I still didn't know this was a gimmick but luckily we're not stupid enough to pay bribes. We immediately declared we we're going to take a quick walk into Mexico and get this taken care of. Of course our helpers were discouraging this. I pulled 20 Quetzeles ($2.50 USD) from my pocket, handed it to our helper, then informed him Jacqui and I would be taking care of the rest of this ALONE.
We immediately went back to the vehicle permit office and there was conveniently a new person behind the desk and all our helpers had dissapeared. We got a permit without issue.
This was far from a great welcome to Guatemala. However, we do feel the 20 Quetzales we paid our helper was well spent since that border crossing did move rather quickly up to that point with his help. So, you know, use common sense.
Border crossing and farewell to pesos
So there we were. Our second southbound country, Guatemala, and we drove hard to our promised paradise of a water park, and probably contaminated everything with our dirty selves.
Driving in Guatemala
WaterPark photos taken from the web. Sorry but we were having too much fun to take photos for you.
Exhausted and happy we left that evening and headed to the mountains for an iOverlander find. Somewhere nestled in those foggy mountains, up a steep narrow road the volcanos were spilling out boiling hot water. It was time to soak in some natural hot springs.
When we arrived that evening the man tending the gate informed us it was fine to swim at any time during the night. We put off dinner a bit, threw on swim suits, then braved the frigid mountain air and settled into the natural hot spring.
Our hot spring was nestled into a crevice between two mountains. Hot steaming water was steadily pouring down the rocks into the pool. The moon and a single star could be seen in the narrow view the two mountains and lush vegetation afforded us, while a steady pink glow flushed the clouds from the setting sun. A haze of steam was rising from the water and surrounded us. Some might call it romantic.
Driving to the hot springs and some pics from a second, larger hot spring the following morning.