The Rio Suchiate is a beautiful river, lots of greenery. Along the banks old men were already fishing.
The border is actually in the middle of the bridge over the Rio Suchiate. When we drove off the other side we were in Guatemala. At the end of the bridge was a chain stretched across the road and a toll booth.
It was 7:00 a.m. when we drove off the bridge; the border had just opened so there was only one battered red pickup truck in front of us. When our turn came we drove over the lowered chain then stopped.
Bill had to get out and go to the toll-keeper to show his driver's license, the registration papers for the vehicles and pay the bridge toll of Q20 per person! All of the information on the vehicles was officially entered into a large brown leather book by hand. From there Bill walked next door to the Police Station to get us "people" registered.
Then we all had to go to the Migracion building to have our passports validated (stamped.) We also had to pay 1 quetzal to have all the tires on the motorhome, Randy's motorcycle and Paul's bike sprayed with some sort of pesticide. A big deal was also made of spraying the undercarriage of both the motorhome and trailer. I was laughing so at this, why would bugs ride with us when they could walk or fly across the border
We got back into the motorhome and drove up the hill to the Aduana where we stopped at another shed and again waited. When our turn came an official told Bill to back the motorhome into the lot behind the shed where it would be "inspected." Bill did as requested, (I think he showed great patience as backing the motorhome with the trailer behind it was no easy task.) Once parked, he gathered up all the paperwork and went inside to show the proof of ownership for the motorhome and motorcycle. He had to convince the man inside that Paul's bike, riding in a bike rack on the front of the motorhome, was just a bicycle and that it wasn't motorized. Out they came (three men and Bill), papers in hand, to study and discuss the bike. Finally everyone was satisfied it was just a bike. More money exchanged hands for the vehicle permits. Another piece of paper with its many rubber stamps was given to Bill. I guess it said everything was Okay. This was to be turned in to the Policia when we finally left the customs area.
Meanwhile back in the motorhome the rest of us apprehensively waited for the inspection. Would they make us open all the trunks, would they make us unload the trailer?
Nope - they just walked around the outside and stamped the papers with more green rubber stamps.
Bill got back inside and we were free to continue.
Just inside the border we saw a Texaco gas station, so buying gasoline wasn't a problem. It was quite a bit more expensive though about $1.00 U.S. money (remember this was 1978.)
A few miles into the country there was another Customs/Immigration checkpoint. We just had to show them our stamped papers and we were on our way again. We passed several small villages, called aldeas here.
Either we were really covering ground or they liked checkpoints because we were already at another one. This time we were just waved through, no stop. We all waved back and continued on our merry way.
The weather was warm and clear and there wasn't much traffic. The roads were okay, well not really okay, just kind of okay not as good as the roads in Mexico. We had to cross several very narrow bridges. Bill decided if the big trucks could make it over them so could we. There weren't any signals or crossing barriers at the railroad crossings just signs that said "Alto-Mire-Oiga" which meant "Stop-Look-Listen", good advice. One interesting thing the railroads were all narrow gauge. A little farther on at a blind railroad crossing was a green GO light, we went. I hope that when there is a train coming it goes off or turns another color!
A few miles on there was a marker next to the highway, we stopped for a stretch and to take a look at it. It was the "Pacific Central Marker" indicating that the 91st parallel was at this point. Hummmm.
This part of the country was very agricultural. We passed coffee plantations, sugar cane and banana plantations.
As we got closer to Guatemala City, where we planned on stopping, the traffic increased - lots and lots of trucks and busses.
We stopped just outside of Guatemala City at a RV park called Las Hamacas. It was very nice, lots of grass and shade trees, a laundry (just washers, had to hang everything out to dry), a small restaurant, two thermal pools and saunas. We ate at the restaurant several times. The owner’s wife was the cook, and an excellent one. One thing we weren’t used to were the 50 or 60 strips of fly paper hanging from the ceiling. They were doing their job though. We really didn't need the saunas as the weather was very hot and humid. And the whole time we were there it managed to sprinkle at least once every day.
Because of the tropical climate the plant life was amazing, red, yellow and purple hibiscus with flowers as big as pie plates just grew wild all over the campground. Also because of the climate the whole campground was crawling with little green frogs with warts all over them. All day and all night they were calling to each other "Brrruuuppp, Brrruuuppp, Brrrrrp." John, Paul and Gil wore themselves out chasing and catching the frogs. Then chasing each other with the intent of putting a frog down the chasee’s shirt.
The second day we were there the manager of the campground, Hector Torres, took us into Guatemala City in his van. As we started down into the valley where the city is situated we could see and smell the smog. Our lungs felt right at home.
The part of the city he left us off in seemed to be much cleaner and newer than Mexico City. In 1976 there had been a terrible earthquake and much of this section of the city was rebuilt. The streets were wide and the buildings quite modern.
First we went looking for the post office that Hector said was right around the corner. We found it, it was open but we couldn't buy stamps because all the government workers were on strike! There was no one there to sell to us.
Anyway back to our exploration of town. We noticed a strange thing, all the streets calles ran east-west, all the avenues avenidas ran north-south. The traffic on the avenidas always had the right of way, so if you were on a calle you had to stop and yield to the traffic on the avenues. The streets and avenues in the downtown section of the city had numbers for names. The even numbered avenidas were one-way north bound and the odd numbered one-way south bound. Same with the calles. And of course there were the inevitable roundabouts with the statue in the middle.
I was glad we were walking and not driving, this is the kind of challenge The Driver loves.
So we just went sightseeing. We wandered away from the main street behind the Cathedral and found a big Central Market that seemed to take up a whole block. There were small shops and stalls selling all sorts of wonderful things. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, and handicrafts. Brightly colored woven material, rugs, pillows, vests, hats etc. Indian women in native dress gestured to us to come look and buy. In Guatemala the natives’ Indian ancestry was very apparent. Everyone was very friendly and wanted to talk to blond Paul and Gil. By then Paul had already pickup up quite a bit of Spanish and was only too willing to stop and talk.
After drifting through the Central market we found a nice big clean supermercado and stocked up on what we could carry. Essentials like cereal, bread and milk. With our bags in hand we went looking for a bus stop. Hector had told us what bus to take to get back to the campground.
The busses were big and looked like regular modern city busses anywhere. There were designated stops for picking up passengers and several busses would be at each stop. Each bus had a hawker, a person hanging out of the bus door telling you to get on his bus as it was faster and cheaper. Remembering our last couple of bus rides Paul and Gil were a little hesitant about boarding the bus. We located our bus and shoved our way on and actually managed to sit next to each other. The bus did not start to move until all the seats were gone and the aisle was full of people holding on to the straps.
And move it did, from stopped to full speed. We thought we would be back at the RV park in no time. Ha. A few miles into the ride the bus pulled into a food stand and everyone piled off to get snacks. The ride continued like that. At the every bus stop people would get off and the hawker would wheedle others to get on. When the bus was completely full it would take off again. It took a couple of hours on a winding road at 60 miles per hour to get back to the camp. Gil was the first off the bus muttering he was NEVER getting on another one.
After putting everything away and eating in the restaurant Bill and the boys tried the sauna, even Paul went. I didn't go with them, something about being enclosed in a little hot room just didn't appeal to me. They stayed in there so long I started to worry if they had all passed out. Was about to send Gil into find them when they came back to the motorhome all relaxed and warm. Bill explained to me that after the sauna they went to the piletas - the natural hot pools the area was famous for.
The next morning there was a new camper next to us. He was a young man from Germany named Klaus. He looked like the classic Nordic type: tall, lanky, blond and blue eyed. His mode of transportation was a big silver BMW motorcycle loaded with gear. In his broken English he told us he started his ride in San Francisco and was planning on going all the way to Argentina.
We spent three days at Las Hamacas, would have stayed longer but Hector told us there was an election coming up in a couple of days and he advised us to leave before then because trouble could break out. Trouble in the form of strikes and demonstrations was already becoming a daily occurrence in the City. And it was getting nastier and more violent every day. We didn’t need much persuading. We packed everything up and would leave the next day.
After breakfast we wished Klaus well and left for El Salvador about 195 miles further south. The road between Guatemala City and the border was narrow, bumpy and winding. There were a lot of narrow one-way bridges, the first vehicle there got to cross while the other pulled over and waited. We could see the vehicles coming toward us speed up to try to get to the opening of the bridge first. Of course we also accelerated. Interesting trip.
We arrived at the border village of Pedro de Alvarado around noon and drove through a market place and over the last bridge in Guatemala.
Bill pulled into the border station. There was a "carport" type area marked Automoviles where we were supposed to park, however will all the stuff on top of the motorhome there was no way we would fit under it. So Bill just pulled up next to the building and stopped. He got out and went to the Control de Vehiculos and turned in our vehicle permit and signed Salida an exit release form. It cost us $10.50 to leave the country. A departure tax of Q50 per person!
Back into the motorhome and on a few yards to the next stop, Migracion. Here we had to show our Tourist Visa and passports, which, after counting us and looking at the pictures, were dually stamped and returned to us. Then another look at the vehicle registrations and Bill's drivers license. The information was written into another big brown leather book, the "leaving book" I guess. Whoops, almost forgot, another Q1 per person had to be collected before we could get back inside and start off again.
Across another bridge on the Pan American Highway into El Salvador.
We drove our motorhome into Guatemala on Tuesday February 28th, 1978
Money and Paperwork