Into Guatemala

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this episode in my trip because my camera was stolen.

The Border

Crossing the border into Guatemala at Talisman fairly easy, although the place was littered with people trying to “help.” As I entered the border, all these guys started waving cash at me, wanting to change my pesos into Guatemalan quetzales. A few guys ran after me as I cycled by. One guy caught up with me and wanted to show me where to go and what to do. I kept telling him “Estoy bien solo” but he wouldn’t go away. I was consistent, and I finally wore him down.

On the Guatemalan side, I rode up to an area that I thought was immigration. I asked the security guards,but I didn’t understand them. Being a confused gringo on a loaded bike, I attracted a lot of attention, and soon I had about fifteen people surrounding me, laughing.

A couple of them urged me to follow them, so in desperation, I did. They led me back to immigration. I got my passport stamped and paid about $1. The guys who helped me wanted me to get a photocopy of my passport at a place opposite the immigration office. It seemed like a scam. “Give me your passport. I will be back in a moment with your photocopies.” Then I’d probably have to pay them to get my passport back. Who knows? I’m just imagining. I told them no. They threw their hands at me, frustrated with the cheap, paranoid gringo.

I rode away from the border, and got my money changed at a small hotel. I didn’t want to deal with a hustling money-changer on the street.

A New Country

The road was good. A tiny shoulder, but the drivers gave me some respect, and didn’t pass too close. I passed through lots of small villages. People were out farming, cutting stuff down with their machetes, and carrying loaded baskets on their heads and piles of wood on their backs. I got some curious looks, but also a lot of smiles, and greetings. A couple of times, a car slowed down beside me to ask where I was going and where I came from.

guatemala_cafe_box

I was on flat land for a while, longer than I should have been. I realized later that somehow I missed a turn, and I was going the long way to Xela. Although it was longer, it was probably better to stick to the lowlands and then cut up to Xela, instead of going the whole way through the mountains.

At one point when I stopped to rest, an old man with a brimmed hat and a machete came trudging by. I said, “Buenas tardes.” He turned around, his face lit up with a big smile, and he gave me a big “Bueeenas taardes!” back. Nice old man. I was struck by that.

Guatemalan RideShare

I hit the mountains, and some of those climbs were really steep. More work than fun. I saw that the clouds were getting dark, ready to rain, so I stopped to package up my tent with some garbage bags. As I finished, a truck pulled up, and the driver asked me something I didn’t understand, but I figured he was offering me a ride. So I lifted my heavy-ass bike into the back of his truck and hopped in.

His name was Victor Hugo. Cool name. I tried to make some conversation with my shitty Spanish, and he was patient with me. We stopped at a roadside table-and-chairs setup, and he bought me a Gallo beer, the national brand. He wasn’t going all the way to Xela, but could bring me pretty close.

As I was unloading my bike from his truck, he yelled at the first passing pickup truck, “Xela!” The truck stopped. Victor asked the driver if he could take me the rest of the way to Xela. I unloaded my bike from Victor’s truck into another one.

Jesus was happy to take me to Xela. And he spoke English pretty well. I apologized for my Spanish, and he agreed saying my Spanish was bad. It was a weird thing to say, but I think he was joking around with me. I think. We exchanged information before he dropped me off. He told me I should call him if I need any help.

I met with Eddy, my CouchSurfing host. Not much happened in Xela, but I watched “What Women Want” with Mel Gibson since it came on the TV. Where am I?

Food in Mexico

Here are photos of some of the meals I had in Mexico, mostly in Tapachula.  All these were extremely cheap.  $2, maybe $3.

Oaxaca_Frijolada

Tapa_Food_1_Meal

Those carrots are hot.

Tapa_Food_1_Guac

I drank a lot of jamaica.

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Tapa_Food_2_3

This is what the mangoes I bought looked like when I was almost through.  Really juicy.

Tapa_Mango_Close

A shopkeeper in Tapachula figured out I was new to the area, so he gave me a green mango, limes, and chile powder, and told me what to do.  A gift.

Tapa_Mango_Gift

Tapachula

I spent about five days in Tapachula, planning the rebirth of my cycling trip.

Tapa_House_Dinner

Tapachula is in the lowlands, so a sweaty back is your constant companion. I would feel pretty clean for about 10 minutes after showering, and then my pores would start to drip again.

My stay in Tapachula reminded me of the summer in Atlanta where my roommates and I went without A/C. All the windows open, shorts, no shirt, bugs. It was an “open format.” A culture of shorts. You had to be one with the outside community of insects. The first night I was in Tapachula, a large cockroach flew over and landed on my computer screen. Operating under an open format, you have to accept this, although it was rude of the roach to obscure my view. I brushed him off and shooed him along.

Tapa_Shirtless_Mango

One of the highlights was buying a bag of about 20 mangoes for 10 pesos, which is about $0.75. So I ate a lot of mangoes in the tropical heat of Tapachula. I made sure I was shirtless when I ate them. Natural one.

Tapa_Bag_Mango

My bike got damaged and really dirty sitting on the back of Kevin’s car, so I had to do a big job on it. The front wheel was way out of whack from hitting speed bumps, the rims got pock marks from stones flying up and hitting it at high speed, and dirt from the exhaust pipe and road and Mexico City got all over.

Tapa_True_Wheel

I visited the migrant shelter where Fabian is volunteering. The shelter houses migrants from all over Central America and even Colombia who are trying to make it to the US. A common (free) mode of transport to the border is to sit on top of the train, but many times they fall off, and if they don’t die, they might lose a limb. I walked into one of the rooms where about six guys were staying and they all had either lost legs, burns on their body, or a combination.  It was shocking.

Tapa_Shelter_Chess

I helped out at the shelter by playing chess with a few of the people, and letting two boys play with my computer.

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Tapa_Shelter_Chess_Kid

Tapa_Shelter_Group

I had a conversation with one El Salvadorian woman who had been living in Mexicali, CA, but got deported because of child abuse. She was on her way back to the US, but fell off the train, and lost a few of her toes. She told me, matter-of-factly, that “I liked working as a stripper, but I also liked working in prostitution.” I didn’t know how to respond. “Oh yeah, is it pretty good for money?” .

Tapa_Shelter_Camilla

On my last night in Tapachula, I went with Fabian to play soccer with some of his Mexican friends. I definitely felt out of place. All this chatter in Spanish, and I didn’t understand any of it. And as we were warming up, the Mexican guys were all doing tricks, showboating their skills. All I did was trap the ball and pass. Boring. No courage.

But when we started playing, it changed for me. I could compete with these guys. I actually got the feeling I was one of the better players. Maybe because I was bigger than most of them. I think I scored the most goals too.

We stopped playing at about 1:30 am. I got to bed at 2, and had to get up at 7 am to leave Tapachula.

Drive to Tapachula

Kevin was in a bad mood. He told me that his wife angry with him for losing $650 to the police in Mexico City and that she wants him to stop messing around and get to Costa Rica right away. Taking a week to travel through Mexico was apparently too much time for his wife. She was suspicious that we were out partying and whoring around.

So Kevin’s “flow like water” attitude dissipated. He told me that he wanted to get to the border at Tapachula and skip staying in Oaxaca. It sucks because Oaxaca is supposed to be one of the highlights of Mexico. We skipped it.

Tapa_Drive_Car

It was a really long drive to Tapachula. On the way, my plan changed. I didn’t want to drive through Central America at this new, wife-pressured pace. I wanted to get out at Tapachula and continue my bike trip from there.

Oaxaca_Mtns

Luckily, Fabian, our host in Tapachula, was a really cool guy. A 21-year-old German who’s spending 6 months volunteering at a migrant shelter. We were his first CouchSurfing experience.

Tapa_Fabian_Breakfast

I took Fabian aside, told him my plan, and asked him if it would be alright if I could stay a little longer. He said I could stay as long as I liked. His place was a great setup. He had two roommates, but one of them had just moved out, so I had a room and bed to myself.

I told Kevin about my idea to split up. I was going to sleep on it, and decide in the morning. Kevin was disappointed, but he tried to be supportive. Flowing like water.

The next morning, I was still hesitant about what to do, although I was leaning towards splitting up. I gave my sister, Eleanor, a call on Skype. She didn’t hesitate: I should bike through Guatemala. And then she said, “Hey, I could fly down and visit you.” That was the swing vote.

Tapa_Goodbye_Kevin_Hug

I felt bad for Kevin because he appreciated my company and I had agreed to go the distance with him to Costa Rica. To be his road dog. But things changed. Mexico City and Kevin’s wife. That’s what happened, and the trip wasn’t fun anymore.

Puebla

Not a whole lot happened in Puebla. Jason, Dina, and I visited the ruins in nearby Cholula, while Kevin stayed at the house and slept. Apparently, the pyramid was the largest ever created, based on volume, but it wasn’t as tall as the Great Pyramid in Egypt. However, the pyramid is buried under the earth now, and they’ve only excavated parts of it.

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Pueb_Ruin_Tunnel

I ran to the top of these steps, like Rocky would.  There’s even a boring video HERE.

Pueb_Ruin_Rocky

Our Host: Jason

Jason had an interesting story, maybe I mean peculiar. He’s a Californian in his twenties. He didn’t go to college. He said he got out of high school as the education system was “blowing up” for him, whatever that means. He was describing some explosion. Jason’s been self-educating himself by reading books and listening to books on tape, and probably some podcasts or something. He’s been in Mexico for two years, but he doesn’t do the backpacking thing. He says he would miss the comforts of home too much. Jason’s been living in Puebla with Dina, a Mexican, for nine months, but he doesn’t have a job and he doesn’t volunteer. He says his job is “to keep Dina happy.” I felt that Jason was always trying to prove his knowledge on anything we talked about. I accepted a submissive role to let him be the expert because I didn’t care, and it was obviously important to him. It worked out well for me though when we got on the subject of Spanish; I got some great, free lessons. And he was a good teacher, I have to admit.

Pueb_Jason

Jason is also a vegan. So no meat and no dairy. That’s just making your life difficult. Kevin and I asked him for recommendations on places to eat near his house. Jason said he really didn’t know because he hasn’t eaten anywhere. He basically only eats at home. Why would you do that to yourself?

Pueb_Group_Table_2

The answer was pretty obvious. Jason is suffering an identity crisis. Since he doesn’t have a degree, he’s being the free-thinking, self-educated, worldly one. The sad part is that all that self-education doesn’t help much when it comes time to try to earn some money and support yourself. And the vegan thing. Boxing yourself up and limiting your options so you can say you’re different, “I’m a vegan.” “Good job man. That must be difficult.”

Water

The water situation was “interesting” too. Everybody has a big tank of water on their roof. They get water pumped into the tank once a week. If you run out of water before then, you call a special service that’ll fill it up for you, for a fee. Jason and Dina called, so these guys showed up in their old truck, pulled out a ladder, and ran the hose up to the tank.

Pueb_Agua_Truck_Jump

Then, when they went to leave, their truck wouldn’t start up. They used Dina’s car to give it a jump. This would seem “unprofessional” in the US for a business to make a house call with a broken truck. Not in Mexico.

Mexico City and Teotihuacan

Mexican Extortion

We left Guadalajara at 4 am. By 10 am, we were approaching Mexico City. We had to go through a police check point. The cop asked if we were carrying any pot. Then, he leaned in, pointed to me, and asked Kevin, “Are you traveling with your girlfriend?” That was just a primer to shit we were going to encounter from the police in Mexico City.

The nightmare started quickly after that.

Mex_Cop_1

A cop on a motorcycle signaled for us to pull over. We followed him as he led us to a discrete location. As we pulled in, some guy came out of nowhere, acting like he was official with his unmarked navy jacket. He spoke some English so he was trying to act as the translator, but Kevin speaks fluent Spanish, so he was unnecessary. The cop told Kevin that foreign cars aren’t allowed to circulate through the city before 11 am. It was 10:15 am. He threatened to tow the car and impound it for 48 hours, and the fine would be 8000 pesos, which is about $600. However, he’d let us go if we “helped him out” by paying him 4000 pesos, $300. Kevin pleaded with him, but there was nothing we could do. Calling his bluff would be dangerous. Who knows if we’d ever get the car or any of our stuff back? Kevin paid. We both felt sick.

The cop gave us a small piece of paper with something scribbled on it and told us that if we got pulled over again, we could show the piece of paper, and we would be safe.

We were trying to find our way to Teotihuacan, the Aztec ruins just outside of Mexico City. We had to go into the city to get the road out of the city. On the way, we got really lost. But we were able to witness the horrible traffic, the pollution, and the people-everywhere that makes Mexico City famous.

Mex_Traffic_1

We also saw a truck full of swine on the way.

Mex_Swine_Truck

We put on our masks.

Mex_Mask

Teotihuacan

When we got to Teotihuacan and parked, about five guys approached us trying to sell us souvenirs. I kept saying I didn’t have any money. One guy was insistent, holding up a tribal mask, “This is volcanic rock. Very rare. Handmade. This is my work.” An artisan selling his work in the parking lot. Kevin was pestered too, and he couldn’t resist it. He bought two of the masks and some shitty bracelets for $60. Kevin’s bad at saying no. Every time window-washers would force themselves on us, he would give something.

As we were leaving the parking lot, the souvenir guys were admiring my bike on the back of the car. “I like your bike. Very nice. How much did it cost?” One of them suggested $250. I said I didn’t know because it was a gift, but it was probably about that much. Lie. The bike was locked down to the car, but I was paranoid still. Those guys were slimey.

Mex_Teo_Sellers

When we walked into the Teotihuacan grounds, we saw a lot more people selling souvenirs. And guess what? We saw more of those “handmade” masks. Volcanic rock. That’s bullshit. Probably made out of resin. Kevin got ripped off. And this was the $300 bribe. You’d think he’d have recoiled into fetal position.

Mex_Teo_Sun_Pyr

There are two pyramids at Teotihuacan: the sun and the moon. We climbed up both. They were both definitely impressive. A lot of the site had obviously been renovated as there was cement between the rocks. The Aztecs must not have been master masons.

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Mex_Teo_Jump_Eoin

Mex_Teo_Steps_Fall_Eoin

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Passing through the Gauntlet

We left Teotihuacan, and headed for Puebla. But first, we had to go around the perimeter of the city. We took what looked like a highway on the map, Mex-132, but it seemed a lot more like a surface street. When we were about five kilometers away from leaving the city, a police truck pulled up next to us and signaled us to pull over.

There were two trucks full of police. One parked in front, the other behind. There were about eight cops. We were surrounded. Feeding frenzy. We were told this time that foreign cars can’t circulate through the city at all. He wanted to tow the car. Kevin showed him the piece of paper that cop #1 had given him, but this cop didn’t honor it. It didn’t mean anything to him. The cop insisted he wanted to just do his job and impound the car for 48 hours. Kevin pleaded with him, and asked if he could pay him something directly, a bribe. The cop said the fine would be 3000 pesos regularly, but that he would accept half as a bribe. Actually, 1750 pesos, $135, because he would have to split it between all the guys there, about eight of them. So Kevin bought them lunch. The cop gave Kevin a business card with something written on it. The cop said that with this card, we wouldn’t get bothered again by police as we left the city. Apparently, he had written a “code word” on it.

Mex_Cop_2

One of the police trucks followed us for about five minutes, then disappeared. About two minutes later, a cop standing on the side of the road pulled us over. Same story, no foreign cars allowed. Kevin showed him the card, but it wasn’t honored. They don’t even honor each other’s code words. At least not when gringos with seemingly-bottomless pockets are involved. The cop told us that the previous cops should have helped us by escorting us out of the city. He also told us that we should have taken the toll highways because we wouldn’t have been bothered on that. However, the first time we were stopped, we were traveling on the toll highway. Kevin asked the cop how much he needs. $200. Kevin had run out of pesos by this point. When the cop came back to receive the bribe underneath his folio, Kevin gave him $220. The cop arranged a taxi for us to follow that would lead us to the toll road and get us out of the city. As we followed the taxi, we wondered where it was really leading us. Once again, we had nothing to keep another cop from stopping us and scaring us into another bribe. Luckily, the taxi actually did bring us to the toll road.

Mex_Traffic_2

As we approached the toll booth, I offered to pay the toll since Kevin had already suffered a lot. It was 85 pesos, so I handed Kevin 205. The woman handed back 20, and Kevin just took it and drove. He didn’t check at all. He pulled over, and I ran back, ready to stumble through an argument in Spanish over money. The woman handed me the 100.

We made it to Puebla without any other problems, and met our hosts, Jason and Dina.

Guadalajara

Drive to Guadalajara

Kevin and I left Guasave really late, like 1 pm. It was at least 10 hours to Guadalajara. It was a difficult ride because I got tired, and then Kevin got chatty. He went into detail about his interest in rocks, and wanting to use his metal detector to find gold, “Find a few ounces … that would pay for the trip.” It was hard to stay awake.

We got into Guadalajara at 1am. Our host, Rodolfo, was great. He came to meet us at an easy-to-find location, and we followed him back. Luckily, he had more free time at the moment because the swine flu canceled all classes for a few weeks.

Rodolfo’s place was great. He lived with his mom, but she was gone at the moment. House party! Kevin and I got a bed each.

Centro

The next day, Rodolfo offered to drop us into the center of town. On the way, we stopped to get lunch at Rodolfo’s favorite Torta place.

Guad_Torta_Group

I got a pork torta with a rice water drink. All the gravy underneath the sandwich is apparently something unique to Guadalajara. I think I had to pay about 30 pesos, so just a little more than $2.

Guad_Torta

Rodolfo drove us into town, and dropped us off. Kevin and I walked around and took photos. Neither of us really knew what to see or do, and I could sense Kevin’s awkwardness with the situation.

Guad_Bench_Kevin

I tried to make the best of it, and I kept upbeat. At one point, I noticed a hottie with a body so I pointed it out to Kevin, “Damn, look at her.” I guess I caught some of Mario’s spirit. Kevin said, “That’s the first time I’ve heard you say that,” referring to my lack of participation in girl-watching the previous day in Guasave. “Dude, I’m not trying to showboat how much I like the opposite sex.” That irritated me.

Guad_Ftn_Eoin

Leaving Guadalajara

We took a taxi back to Rodolfo’s place, and started thinking about leaving Guadalajara. Rodolfo said that when he makes the drive to Mexico City, he leaves at night. So Kevin and I started flowing like water and decided to leave at 4 am the next morning. We got excited about it. Inspired by spontaneity.

Guad_Rodolfo_Group