Mexico, Guatemala, Mexico, Guatemala…
From what we gather, “frontera” in Spanish means, “border,” in English. We figured it was fitting, then, that we head to the town Frontera to cross from Mexico to Guatemala. This was a big day for us, as we never meant to be in Mexico for long, but had spent over a month there at that point.
We were going to cross at El Ceibo, but at a military checkpoint a few guys told us that we’d have no issues at all riding to Frontera, the closer crossing, and putting the enduros on boats to cross the river in to Guatemala. This idea also appealed to that part of us that wants to be awesome.
Also, it was getting late enough that we figured El Ceibo might be closed by the time we got there while we could definitely make it to Frontera and, if turned away, we’d just head North to the other place and cross the next day anyways.
When we arrived at Frontera we rode straight down to the boats and everyone said they could definitely get us across for cheap, but we had to get the paperwork done fast. So we went to the ferry office and a man there walked us over to the immigration office.
The guy there seemed agreeable enough and happily stamped our passports and took our Mexican visas. During this process, we were constantly asking when they would get to reimbursing our moto fees.
You see, if you ride a motorcycle through Mexico, you have to pay for registration. It’s $200 for vehicles year 2000 or older and more for newer, so we had $400 invested in that. When you leave, you return the papers and sticker and they give the money back to you (at some point in the near future by putting the credit back on your card).
It took a lots of time and insistence on the importance of these papers before we learned that this border was not able to help us with our motos.
“Ok,” we said. Just give us back our passports and visas and we’ll just ride up to El Ceibo. We figured this might happen, so we weren’t too upset.
When the man returned our passports and not our visas and told us that we had to go, we were upset. He had already taken our visas and stamped us, so as far as he was concerned, we had already left Mexico. We were in No Man’s Land with no way to take the bikes with us.
We had to go to the river and take the 15 minute ferry to get to Guatemala to take a 10 minute taxi to get to the Guatemalan immigration office. Once there, we had to pay for them to stamp us into Guatemala and immediately stamp us out.
In Guatemala they told us that the reason our bikes’ paperwork could not be completed at this crossing was because there was no customs, only immigration. This simple explanation is exactly what we would have liked to have known in Mexico. We also pieced together that the locals who told us the bikes wouldn’t be an issue had no understanding of what it took to remove a vehicle from the country without the intent to bring it back.
Then we took a taxi back to the ferry and returned to Mexico where we found howler monkeys hanging out in the trees where the boats dock.
We also found the Mexican immigration office had closed while we took care of this errand. By the time we found the guy and he returned to the office, it was dark. We gave him our passports again, and it started to pour outside.
Both our bikes were sitting out in the open about two blocks away from the office. This is some of the hardest rain I’d seen in a really long time and none of my things were properly covered.
So we waited there as all our things got soaked as he told us that he could not let us re-enter Mexico, as the internet was down and it’s essential to immigration. So we continued to wait.
After the rain ended, the internet came back and the process continued. He stamped some documents, turned, and tried to tell us something that we didn’t understand the first time he said it. His friend next to him said it in different words, but we were still unsure. What followed was a very long… conversation?… argument? I don’t really know what to call it, but it was very confusing and when all our joint abilities weren’t capable of conveying or comprehending what was necessary, we turned to Google Translate.
According to Google Translate, the man there had stamped us for that day’s tomorrow, despite it, technically, still being “today.” He did this because it was past the time immigration should be open, so, obviously, he couldn’t stamp it for “today.”
You can kind of understand how that was hard to grasp.
We weren’t sure if the man was somehow rationalizing that stamping for tomorrow was not dubious, while stamping for today was sheer debauchery, or if we was simply a bit slow.
Furthermore, he wanted us to not leave the town we were in so that no one would know that he had done this. You see, if the police pulled us over and looked at our passports’ immigration stamps, which, as far as I know, never happens, they would see that we entered Mexico in the future. Or, worse, if we rode straight up to El Ceibo that night and tried to cross the border first thing the next day, they would see it and wonder how we made a six hour ride in less than 1. This, unlike that earlier thing, was somewhat worrisome.
At this point, we realized that this man at the border had not only callously taken our visas, despite our insistence on looking at our documents first, and sent us on a two hour, $80 excursion to Guatemala and back, but had also stolen another 10 hours from us by not allowing us to leave that cursed town.
If I wasn’t sure we were arguing before, I’m definitely sure we were then. All of it came to an abrupt end when the man pushed our passports away and said that he refused to “help,” us if we weren’t going to do exactly what he told us to do.
Very bothered and somewhat disturbed that this man thought himself, in some way, a “help” to us, but very much in need of a stamp, we unenthusiastically apologized and asked that he just get us into Mexico, saying we’d do what he asked.
He complied and we left aggravated, but relieved to be out of that office. As we walked away, I asked a man that was there if the immigration officer was always like that and he said, “Yes.”
Not wanting to have issues with immigration at El Ceibo, we only rode a few miles down the road and stopped at a restaurant called The Two Sisters to lick our wounds.
There was a couple with a young child at the table across from us and we started talking. They spoke very little English and we still spoke very little Spanish, but we had a great conversation. After a while, we brought our computer out and started showing some of our favorite videos from the trip.
Before long, they asked us where we were staying that night. We told them we didn’t know yet, so they told us that they were camping at that restaurant and that we were welcome to join them. So we did.
They had a truck that they had altered to be a sort of camper. We slept on the porch. The next morning we woke up with children running all about. We played for a while and the smallest took a liking to my guitar. It was a good morning.
We ate breakfast there and made for El Ceibo.
A few hours later, we arrived at the crossing.
Then the KLR’s electricity went out. This, it seemed, was caused by the torrential downpour it endured the night before.
I took everything off it and took it apart to follow the wires right there during our second encounter with No Man’s Land between Mexico and Guatemala. After taping up some possible shorting areas and replacing the main fuse, it worked.
Then, after riding it only slightly further along the immigration process, the main fuse broke again.
Foolishly only having one replacement fuse with me, I wrapped a bit of aluminum foil around the broken fuse and put it back in. Luiz told me this would work for a while if I needed it to back at Baja Motos in La Paz, Mexico. Sure enough, it did.
We got through the rest of the immigration without any major drama and I made a point to ask people where I could find more fuses like the ones I’d just broken. The first answer was 20km down the road. Then it was 10km. Then the last person I asked said that a shop with just that was just around the corner. He jumped on his motorcycle and led us there. I bought eight of them there and Aaron bought a machete.
Some people immediately understand the role of a machete, while others find it excessive. If we were taking public transportation, we probably wouldn’t carry one. If we didn’t occasionally camp and find it to be incredibly useful, we probably wouldn’t carry one, either. If we never traveled at night or if by simply having one you didn’t greatly reduce the likelihood of being hassled…
Anyways, we made it into Guatemala. Now we just had to get to Cabon, where we’d promised to help at an orphanage.