Tuesday, May 17, 2011
5/7/11 Across Guatemala: Rio Dulce - Bethel, GA. 280 miles, 8 hours.
Head out at 10am and its already hot and humid. Cross over the longest bridge in Central America and head north out of Rio Dulce before coming to the dirt road which I need to take to get to Fray Bartolomeo, smack dab in the middle of Guatemala, before heading northeast to the remote border crossing in the jungle department of Peten, into Mexico. There is not even a road going across the river, I will need to get me and my bike on a canoe somehow. So, I turn off on the dirt road towards Fray, which I am told is about 4 hours away, but which I think is actually closer. The ride starts out for the first hour through stunning farmland, mountain and plantation scenery over a fairly well graded gravel road, where I am rolling at a steady 35 mph. The next hour I hit a small stretch of great asphalt, and then some major road construction, being done to pave the rest of the road it seems. Glad to be on the bike, as I dip over up and around trucks, earth moving vehicles, cars and dirt to arrive in Fray 90 minutes later. Im looking to change some dollars for quetzals here, but the manks are closed and no moneychangers are in sight. So Im headed north to Sayaxche where I will take a ferry across a snall river and head east to the border crossing at Bethel.
The highway north is fast, well paved and smooth, although there are topes/speed bumps (called tumulos here) welcoming vehicles at every town. I cross from the state of Alta Verapaz to Peten, the largest, least populated and most jungl-y state in the country. A couple of hours later, Im at Sayaxche. Ive been here before on my last motorcycle trip down here, when I was headed north to the ruins at Tikal. Im glad I know the layout, as I quickly arrive at the proper ferry and roll right on as it is leaving for the 2 minute crossing to the other side. I pay my 50 cents and roll off, and soon I am at the crossroads where I stop for a drink and a snack and head east towards the border with Mexico.
The road is well paved. For about 5 miles. Then it turns to gravel. Bad gravel. The road is flat and straight, but the gravel and dirt is thick, tons of big rocks everywhere. Nice farmland and mountain scenery though. Im pretty focused as the sun is setting though, and have a couple of scary moments, but I manage to keep the bike upright at about 30mph until I reach the migracion office, about 2 kms before the town of Bethel at the Usumacinta River, with Mexico on the other side.
Its pretty deserted. There is a kid outside about 12 years old. He tries to get me to chenge some money. Damn, he's starting young. I had been rushing to get here before 6 but it turns out this is a 24 hour border. One guy working inside. Stamps me out in a minute, super friendly officer. Then I ask about my bike, and the pricedure needed to stamp out, as this is not a customs office. He basically tells me that it doesn't matter, just leave Guatemala whenever I like. I look in my passport and see that the customs lady from the other night didnt even stamp my passport with my vehicle info, as they do here. So basically all that shit I went through last night with bringing my bike in was totally unnecessary. I was never stopped by police here and in hindsight, I should have just rode my bike illegally here and avoided all the bullshit. Oh well, serves me right for trying to do things by the book here.
So, its late but it would be nice to cross over the river into Mexico if possible. I have less than an hour before it gets completely dark. Im right outside the town of Bethel, but the is a small co-op community called La Tecnica about 10 kms down the road, which is a much shorter and cheapaer river crossing, so I hear. I head to La Tecnica, and the road is really bad, steep 1st-gear only hills and switchbacks thrown in for good measure. On top of all this, I have also heard there have been robberies on this road, because supposedly the Bethel boat people are pissed at the La Tecnica boat people for stealing their business. Hey, at least I have the Virgin of Guadelupe sticker on my bike now, hopefully I'll be ok. I make it to the town, but its dark, and I quickly realize Im not getting across any river tonught, and I head back slowly to Bethel to try to find a room to spend the night in. I go back to the migration office, since I now need some quetzals since I won't be leaving the country tonight, but the money changing kid is nowhere in sight. After being attacked and bitten on the boot by some angry dogs, Im let back into the migratio office, where the officer rings up the kid. He arrives with his mom, but we cant seem to agree on what I need to get changed exactly. I mention I am looking for a cheap room and she offrs to let me stay at her place in an extra room for 3 bucks. I follow them back to their place and settle in. Its definitely a 3 dollar room, a concrete box with a tin roof and matress in the middle of the hot ass jungle, with the biggest, loudest flying beetles and bugs I have ever seen. Home soon, home soon I keep thinking. Her daughter cooks me up a small plate of eggs and beans and I strip down near a tub of water and take a bucket shower, which feels amazing, considering. I meet the rest of the kids and the husband who spent some time in the States, and settle in to my new digs, mentally preparing for a busy day crossing the border in the morning.