Driving from Texas to Guatemala
Day 1 - I left from Kilgore, Texas on July 15 and went through Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Kingsville, and Harlingen to Los Indios, TX. The drive was great…glad I’m got the cruise control fixed! It was about 10 hours driving because I left so early (4 a.m.) and missed all the rush hours. I got to meet with one of my former professors and former International Student Director Dr. Mark Walsh from Texas A&M - Kingsville who was nice enough to pass on a couple of contacts’ phone numbers. It was completely unexpected to get to meet with him on my way through, but definitely a pleasure; he’s the one who arranged much of my trip to Chile and got my travel bug in overdrive.
Day 2 - Thursday, July 15, I went to Transmigrantes Mireya, the company who arranges all the paperwork to take a car into Mexico, or in my case, through Mexico. If I had not been taking many personal belongings, I could have just entered as a tourist, but much of the point of driving was taking our stuff, so I went as a “transmigrante,” which is the same class as the guys who tow trucks down with “IN TOW” taped on the back. Actually most of the guys are Guatemalans, taking those vehicles to Guatemala to repair and resell; I always thought they just went to Mexico.
After waiting a couple of hours at the company to get the truck contents inspected (a process that would be repeated many times over the next couple of days) I was able to go to US customs to get permission to leave the country. Apparently, US customs believes that the best way to do this is to have literally 100 or more trucks, cars, and assorted other towed things line up and wait in the sun for two hours, then start to let them through 1 at a time. Hmmmmm. If you need to learn patience, just drive through Mexico….you will develop it or have a heart attack trying. Fortunately, I was mentally prepared for it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t think, “Hey guys, there’s probably a better way to do this!”
Once I crossed, there were guys before the Mexican bridge (if you recall, much of our southern border is a river J Rio Grande for the USA, Rio Bravo is what it’s called in Mexico…same river). These guys are “tramitadores”; basically, they get your paperwork out of the way before you cross into Mexico; believe me, there is plenty to do after you cross, so you’re glad to get the vehicle part out of the way. The short explanation is that these guys take your title and send it to the other border (Guatemala) so that they know you didn’t sell it in Mexico, since you’re not paying Mexican taxes for it. The big packet of papers that Mireya gives you has a list of all contents and approximate value; if anything is missing when you get to the Mexican side, you have to pay taxes on it, because they’re assuming you sold it. Letting go of my title was hard to do, but several people had assured me this was normal. Still, though….you want me to give you my WHAT???
After you cross into Mexico, you have to do several things. You have to get your vehicle fumigated, searched again by guys with big guns (they’re generally nice, though, especially if you speak Spanish), get your visa to go through (21 dollars or so), get car insurance and change money. This can take a while, but the upside is that the coke machine had bottled cokes for only 8 pesos (about 60 cents); downside, it only takes pesos, and you have to change those first lol. Thursday’s legal requirements from start to finish took me all day, so that by the time I drove to Matamoros 30 miles away, it was almost 7 p.m., so I just stayed there for the night. I had planned to get to Tampico the second night, but that proved unrealistic. However, if someone were just driving as a tourist, they could have gone through the border with a minimum of trouble and could have made it to Tampico (about 8 hrs) just fine.
Day 3 – July 17 – Matamoros to Tampico via Ciudad Victoria
Friday the journey to Tampico began…the first “real” day in Mexico. I’ve been this way on a bus before, and the way we went was following the coast. This is a one-lane (each way) road that is always congested and you have to go through 1000 little towns with speed bumps. No thanks. I decided to go through Ciudad Victoria, and then to Tampico. This way was about an hour longer, but the map I had (Guia Roji, buy one!) said that it was a four-lane highway. It was awesome! I basically set my cruise for about 65 mph and drove for 75% of the trip that day. The rest was little towns, etc, but not too unreasonable. Not much notable about Friday, except for seeing an abundance of goats.
Day 4 – July 18 – Tampico – Veracruz
Saturday - Well, Tampico’s not much of a tourist town, and it’s not pretty. I stayed on the north side due to the fact that the loop around the city started there (obvious, no? LOL) So I left pretty early, and not 30 minutes into the trip, this little Nissan Sentra transit cop car pulls me over. I had had no problems with the army with huge guns, but these guys pulled me over for passing a truck going 20 mph, even after 5 cars in front of me did the same thing. Texas plates call attention, I guess. Anyway, short story, they used the same old line about following them to the police station and paying an astronomical fee ($800 – for passing someone??) but after some discussion, they agreed to take $100 USD and I wouldn’t insist on a receipt ;) Fortunately, I had budgeted this in to my trip fund and was really just wondering when it would happen. I never felt threatened, just wanted to get out of there as quick as possible, but not for $800! (which I didn’t even have on me anyway)
The scenery the rest of the way to Veracruz was absolutely beautiful, seeing the ocean for a good part of the way. According to the hotel signs toward Veracruz, this area is a good place to come if you don’t speak Spanish, because they all advertised speaking English. It made me want to stop there for the night, but alas, I persevered : ) I actually made it much further than I had thought I would…all the way to Cosamaloapan, Veracruz. I think I spelled that right. The hotel was much cheaper there…33 bucks a night and that was the pricey place! And it even had internet, although I didn’t take advantage of it much since I didn’t get in until about 9 p.m. Unfortunately, when I went out for a small pizza, I stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the hotel (it was on the next block over). As the grocery clerk was bagging my drink, I THOUGHT he asked me if I wanted him to bag my pizza, too. Well, I strongly replied, “No, no, I’m just walking to the next block, it’s fine the way it is” in a nice tone of voice like “you don’t have to go to the trouble to do that”; well, imagine how bad I felt when he said, “Sorry, I just wanted a little piece…” and realized that he was asking me if he could have a piece of my pizza! Well, I felt bad because I just kind assumed he was asking about the bag and didn’t really hear the question….but isn’t that sort of a strange thing for the grocery clerk to ask?? I was slightly comforted by that fact.
Day 5 – July 19 – Cosamaloapan, Veracruz to Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas (border with Guatemala)
How many good things can I say about this day? I was originally going to go to church somewhere, but since I was out in the sticks pretty much, I had no idea where one was so just took off at about 7 a.m. Compared with the days before, there was practically no traffic. The roads through Oaxaca and Chiapas were good, and I was able to sail through much of it like I had my first day in Mexico. The scenery in the mountains is absolutely beautiful! At one moment, I was listening to a song by Brent Beaugeois (however you spell that; anyone remember him?) based on the book of Job, basically saying “I created all this, who are you?” and I looked up to see the most imposing mountains on all sides of me. Talk about perfect timing. Absolutely georgeous. Coastal drive was great, but very windy.
When I came into Hidalgo, these guys on red motorcycles started chasing me. I waved a couple of them off until I saw a huge group of them waiting on the side of the road. I then realized that they were the tramitadores that John Villanueva with Agape in Action had told me about. These guys basically do all your paperwork for you and you pay them a reasonable fee for the service. It’s worth it! Anyway, the hotel was even nicer, and only $25, with free breakfast (a real breakfast, not “continental breakfast” whatever that is ;)). What a deal. I still maintain that travelling to Latin America is the best way to go, because even if you have to pay a flight, everything is dirt cheap when you get here (some places more than others). On to the fun part…
Day 6 – Tecun Uman, Guatemala, to….Tecun Uman, Guatemala. – Monday, July 20
Trying to import my truck - Today started out with a bit of patience testing, as I had to wait until all the right people got in the right offices to check to see if my title had arrived from Los Indios. Not all bad, though, because if it had arrived right on time, I would not have had the opportunity to enjoy the free breakfast! Anyway, it did arrive about 10 a.m. The tramitadores (I have 2 for some reason; they’ll have to fight over the fee…it’s complicated) were a great help and ran around to and fro. I went with them to most of the places, but they handled the talking to people, making copies, and explained the process very well. Note to anyone reading this: if you do not speak Spanish, this process can be much more difficult, but you can still get it done. I would bring a translator to avoid much confusion. The tramitador will be able to pull out the documents you need, but you will probably have no idea what’s going on, raising the stress level on a day when you basically just hang out and follow these guys everywhere. Did you know that I can fit on the back of a moped? :D
Well, we got everything done by about 1 p.m., including going to Western Union in town to get the money Adina sent for the taxes (I didn’t bring that much cash for security reasons). Well, guess what? WELCOME TO GUATEMALA! There was a strike on by the campesinos, many of them Mayan, over some land that was supposed to be rented/given to them to use for farming. Well, apparently it didn’t work out their satisfaction, because they are blocking the border and 3 other places around Guatemala! I tried to cross back into the customs section from getting the cash, and I literally was surrounded by them, yelling “No hay paso!” (No crossing!) and received a stern lecture by the leader about respect or something. When I say I tried to cross, I don’t mean running like Red Rover come over, I mean I politely attempted to walk through what appeared to be a break in the line. Well, they didn’t like that, and I got a picture taken of me by someone that I’m not entirely sure wasn’t a journalist. I had a chance to catch up with her about 6 p.m. and explain that even though her photo might show me trying to break through a line, that wasn’t the case. I can just see it showing up in a Guatemala City newspaper and my boss going “hmmmmmmmmm”. Anyway, I might just advise them of what happened so it’s not a surprise LOL. Anyway, they didn’t beat me with sticks or anything, and I didn’t even say anything to them, just walked back after it was evident that I wasn’t going to get anywhere.
My tramitador, Esbin, was nice enough to take me his house after we bought some Pollo Campero for lunch and I spent the afternoon there. Turns out he’s an evangelico as well and plays the piano, so we had a lot to talk about.
Anyway, so I’m staying in Tecun Uman, the Guatemala border city tonight, apparently. It’s 7:30 p.m. and the gate to the border closes at 8:00 p.m. Hopefully they won’t be blocking the gate tomorrow because I would hate to have to wait another day just sitting here; I may never know the reason for it all, but here I am. Moving on tomorrow, hopefully!
For more about getting a car from the States to Guatemala, or vice versa read this post.
To read another detailed post about driving through Mexico with my family read this post.