Saturday, 13 April 2013

Remote Border Crossing

It was a bit like trains, planes and automobiles... but we left Guatemala and made it to Palenque in the Chiapas state of Mexico a few days ago safe and sound.  It started with a tourist shuttle at 5am. - easy enough... a handful of tired tourists (one from Netherlands, one from Montreal, another from BC and two Asian ladies and us). The driver seemed to have told a few of his friends there were extra seats as we made a few side stops along the way and picked up some Guatemalans... never saw money change hands so I think it was just a freebee ride for them.  One got off at a smaller town school down the road, so maybe she gets a lift every morning.  So, we drove for about 3 hours, in a fairly tired looking shuttle bus (the driver kept checking out his window every time we went over a bump as if he was expecting something to fall off).  The driver stopped several times - for a pop, then at a roadside stall for chicken and tortillas (just a shack with meat hanging on hooks and a grill... they put it in a small plastic bag for takeout), another quick stop for  not sure what and then finally at a concrete building along the side of the dusty road at the Guatemalan immigration post (to pay our exit fees and get our passport stamped). 

Guatemala Immigration post
Then back on the bus for a short 5 minute ride down the road to the Usamacinta River where the driver tell us to get our bags and get off the shuttle (in very minimal Spanish).  Now we really are in the middle of nowhere... and we see the driver hand over some money to a guy who points us down the road a bit to the boat guy so we assume things are set... and we walk down to the river edge.  We tentatively get on the little lancha on the Guatemala side... head down the river for about 20 minutes... arrive at a much more organized Mexican "river port", but feeling a little bit on our own with our Guatemala connection now severed and out ticket back with the first shuttle driver. 

Guatemala side of the Usumacinta.... Mexico in the background

Ladies doing their laundry..
I asked the boat driver if there were crocodiles in the river.. he said yes

So we now look at the taxi drivers lined up and a nice looking shuttle bus... hoping that is what we get... but no... the taxi drivers are waving us their way... but we aren't sure... we don't want to pay... and a slightly anxious moment thinking we may have just been dumped at the border!  But the taxi drivers assure us "no pager" (you don't pay)... so we load into the taxi - we take one and the three others take another and we weren't sure what happened to the Asian ladies.  So, we settle in (our bags in the trunk that won't close... Sean was a bit concerned about that).  And I think... oh... I guess we get a taxi ride all the way to Palenque? (another 3 hours away)... but he drives us to the Mexican immigration building where the immigration guy is very friendly with a big smile and "Bienvenidos a Mexico".  We get back into the taxi just for the taxi driver to drive us 2 minutes up the road to a shuttle stop where we get out again... with our bags and wait.. okay, now what?.  Now the other three that were in the other taxi are back with us (still no sign of the Asian women).  This whole time there is very little communicated (the lady from Montreal had much better Spanish than ours but even still) to us and we we are all going on blind faith that everything is going to work out.  So, we wait in the middle of the hot, dusty town of Frontera Corozal (I've linked with google map so you can see just how out in the middle of no where we were) and about 30 minutes later a brand new shuttle bus arrives for us... air conditioning even... sweet! 

There were two very skinny dogs we gave some our snacks too...
it's a bad sign when skinny Mexican dogs won't eat Pringels!

So away we go in the shiny shuttle.  But it seems like these shuttles ("collectivos") never leave empty... we made a few more side street stops to pick up additional passengers (they seemed to know they were going to get picked up). And once filled to the max... we drove the 3 hours to Palenque in relative comfort though lush green scenery listening to the chatty driver and one of the Mexican passengers.  Well, actually about 10 minutes up the road the driver got out and switched spots with a guy in the passenger seat.  I guess to let the other guy get some driving practice?  (Not sure).  Anyways, I totally enjoyed the ride with A/C, beautiful scenery but mostly because the whole trip the driver (not actually driving) and the lady he had picked up back in Frontera Corozal were chatting and giggling and laughing.  I don't' know what they kept finding so funny but they were just in the best of moods and their laughing just made me smile.  My first impressions of Mexico... a friendly immigration guy and just happy, giggly people!  I'm liking Mexico so far! 

The rest of the trip was pretty straightforward... arrived in the town of Palenque and walked to a hostel, nice room available (and the other two Canadians found space there too) and then explored the main square a bit, where there was a Marimba band playing in the central square (called Zacalos in Mexico).  Now we just need to get used to another new currency (Pesos - but they use the $ sign, so it threw me off a bit when they said it would be $590 for the room) and a new exchange rate (12 to 1, but I find it quicker to just divide by 10 and then take it down a notch).  So we got our double room with A/C... for about $50US... that's okay but not like Guatemalan prices. 


So, we are here in the town of Palenque.  Yesterday we explored the ruins of Palenque and are now just deciding where we go next!  Oh and we ran into the Asian ladies at the ruins... so they made it okay too :> 


  1. Kerri! I'm so inspired by your adventure and I can't wait to hear more about it when you get back :) Stay safe and keep blogging!- Adam Kuhn

    1. Thanks Adam! Good luck with your Peru trip.