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Riding With Strangers


Guatemala Mexico border

We had already been though Oaxaca, Mexico and Chiapas in our backpacking tour of Aztec and Mayan ruins, when we entered the Lacandona jungle for the night. We would be crossing the border into Guatemala the next day.


Our taxi dropped us off in front of the unguarded river that divides these two Latin American beauties. We paid a little too much to board the canoe since there were only two of us, but at that point we had no choice. We were rowed for about fifteen minutes down the river, watching the locals wash their clothes in the fast, brown The guide left us at what appeared to be a dirt driveway. It struck me that there really was nothing separating these two countries but water, no fences, no guards, no hate. It was a welcomed change from the US and Mexican border on the opposite side of the country. We walked up it past the stray roosters and pigs to a building that read bank. It appeared to be the only public building in this border town called Betel.


Strangely enough this money exchange could not even exchange our $20. They simply did not have enough Quetzales. There was also only one bus leaving the little town that day. In Mexico, buses come and go regularly, but due to hijackers in the past, Guatemala usually offers fewer rides. We were a bit worried we would be stuck there, with nowhere to stay and a little intimidated by the stares. Luckily they accepted pesos for payment for the bus. So there we waited, for three hours in the blazing hot sun, despite it being December.


The bus was really a van, which came and then left without picking anyone up. We panicked, but were reassured the driver would return. In about 20 minutes he did. We boarded and drove about two houses away so that the driver could chat up a neighbor from the front seat about buying some oil. Thinking this was a bit funny, we waited patiently. Then he literally proceeded to stop at every other house to chat up those neighbors and conduct his business. At this point we realize why it was to take over three hours to get to Isla de las Flores. Finally he stopped at one last house for a friend who said he still needed to shower. We sat and sweated while the man showered. We laughed it off, relearning the meaning of the phrase, “ni modo,” or there’s nothing you can do about it. Soon, we were on our way.


A few miles out of the city we stopped to get our Guatemalan visas. The driver took off with all our baggage with him. I about lost my lunch. Again we were assured that he would be back but I didn’t believe it. Half an hour later, he did. Our bags were untouched.


Every few miles we stopped to pick up more passengers. We were already on each other’s laps but that didn’t seem to matter. We kept piling them in. What we did not know until we dropped a gentleman off in another little town was that he had been carrying a handful of machetes with him. I was glad I did not know.


At long last we arrived at Isla de las Flores, Guatemala. We found a money exchange that had cash and got ourselves some Quetzales, or as a British tourist we met there would say, ‘quesadillas,’ as well as a hotel room. I never knew the ride itself could be more of an adventure than the destination.


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30 Jan 2008

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