At first driving through the huge, luscious mountains of of Mexico towards Guatemala in our little car was fun, like site seeing on a roller coaster with excellent tunes. But once darkness swept in and we found out that absolutely no streets are labeled and no roads allow you to drive faster than 35 miles per hour things got rough for road life. We slept on the side of a quiet road in the mountains. We made it to the border early in the morning and were instructed to “adelante” or continue, by military personel. We drove for miles down unmarked extremely rocky roads only to find out via locals that oh no, you can’t cross here by car, only buy boat. And We thought we had been on rough roads befor, but these were buy far the most treacherous. our little car is so amazing and strong. The Guatemalan military kept waving us through though, with no hassle and trying to give us directions and loving our car. And when gas got low we couldn’t find anywhere to covert our money from Pesos to Quetzals (their money) and nowhere would accept our Mexican money. We stopped in a small city to find a bank or an ATM but we were S.O.L there too since it was el Domingo –a Sunday and everything was closed! All we could is keep driving. Luckily we found a gas station that accepted American money –which makes absolutely no sense at all since Mexico is only hours away whereas America is days away from Guatemala. What a headache wrapping our mind around that crap, but regardless after being heavily ripped off we had a full tank and were back on the road.
The real shit storm started once we actually found the border to Belize. We gave the military our passports, insurance papers, whatever, so excited to be leaving this country.
“Why don’t you have a stamp for Guatemala? Why don’t you have Guatemalan visas? Why don’t you have Guatemalan insurance for your car? Why don’t you have a Guatemalan sticker?” The military men asked us.
Panicked we explained in our terrible Spanish that the military gave it to us, or told us we needed it when we crossed from Mexico to Guatemala.
“Then you did not cross at a legal border. You crossed illegally and have been illegal your entire stay in Guatemala. You cannot go to Belize and you cannot go back to Mexico because you cannot drive through Guatemala without the correct paper work” they explained.
Trapped in Guatemala. A dios mio!
Fred and I could not believe what we were hearing. What the hell has happened, this is extremely serious! A passing man who could speak English came over and helped us translate. Fred got out of the car and pled our case with the four or five heavily armed military guards, he told them that it is not our fault that their military did not give us the necessary paperwork and that we were just following the road we were on and there were no signs for another border and that we have been driving all day and just want to go to Belize. How can we work this out, he wanted to know.
Of course, they wanted money. All of them wanted money. Okay that’s predictable only problem is that we physically do not have any of their money. We cannot even bribe these people. We showed our wallets, “no senior, no tengo dinero para nada.” We don’t want to be here, we don’t have any money, we don’t have any idea of direction, we don’t speak the language, we don’t know the culture, and we have no way out.
Fred stayed outside in the night with all those prick-military guys who were trying to intimidate him and hustle him while I stayed in the car trying to figure out how to call the American embassy even though I barley had reception. The best I could do was call my Mom –just so someone knew what we were going through and that we were in a pretty damn bad situation with no solution in sight.
By ten o’clock at night we agreed to sleep at the sketchy border and wait for the immigration office to open and plead our case to them. But the translator passerby would not leave our car without some money for his services. He claimed that tomorrow he would come back and help us translate with the office folks, Fred wasn’t fooled. Fred offered him half his asking price be paid tonight, and the other half tomorrow IF we cross the border. “No man, no man, no I protect your car you see so that no one hurts you in the night. You pay me all now and I protect you!” he kept repeating. Fred explained, “I will protect the car I don’t need you to watch us in the night I just need you to translate tomorrow…”
This went on for a half hour. Back and forth, back and forth. In the end Fred gave him half the asking price and of course when morning came the guy never showed.
Thankfully a man from Belize crossed over and helped us translate with immigration who told us there was a fee in which we could get around if we went to the Belize border and asked them if it was okay if we come to their country without a Guatemalan stamp. So we actually went to Belize and asked them and they said no! So had to go back to Guatemala, tell them what happened and pay the stupid fee. It was only 20 dollars each, American which actually is cheaper than if we would of gotten all the necessary visas and insurances.
Alright awesome, we got our stamps and the go-ahead from immigration now we just have to drive over the border. Nope! The same guards from the night before were still there and STILL wanted money. We explained that we were all good to go but he still said no and wouldn’t let us cross! Even with our Belizean translator at our side we had to go back to immigration and make the guy come out of his office and order the guards to stand aside and let us cross. So we sped away before the could change there minds.
Finally, they let us leave stupid Guatemala! We thanked our translator profusely, “thank you so much you saved us! By the way, your English is really, really good!” Fred said. The man gave us a puzzled look and said okay and walked off. We found out upon entering Belize why he was so weird about the complement. Belize is an English speaking country.
Do research on the countries you are visiting. Lesson learned.
Guatemala was beautiful, but that was a frightening experience.
It made me appreciate Fred even more, the whole time he was calm but unimaginably strong, protected us from those horrible military people, navigated us when navigation was impossible, and kept me from having a nervous breakdown in a foreign country. The image of him standing straight and tall with his arms crossed, talking firmly to five aggressive men with huge guns is forever solidified in my mind.
We crossed into Belize and went through the whole border song and dance. They made us take every single thing out of car. At the podium the man asked me what kind of car we had, then what color it was. When I told him “the color is rainbow”, he looked at me strange then looked outside to see for himself. “What the fuck?!” he exclaimed and then started laughing.
It felt SO good to be through Guatemala and speaking English again.