Thursday, August 19, 2010

Border crossing Mexico-Guatemala

An easy way to access into Guatemala from Mexico is to take a public bus from San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas) to Cuahtemoc for about 90 pesos. Once the bus leaves you at the border, get your passport stamped and then the only way to cross the border is to catch a taxi (ask to wait until it gets full so you will share the cost of 50 pesos between others). The taxi will take you to the city of La Mesilla in Guatemala about 10-15 minutes drive. Here you will get a bit shocked! La Mesilla is an extremely chaotic town (as many other Guatemalan towns): there is loads of traffic on the main street with taxies, buses, tuc-tuc, carretas (mobile bistros) and bicycle. All along both sides of the road is packed with market stalls selling all sort of things. Walking up the street to get to the bank first and then to the bus station, you will notice that they ALL sell the SAME thing in gigantic amount! Remember that once you have left Mexico you won't be able to use pesos because no one (not even the buses) will accept them . So make sure to withdraw some money at a bank and if you can DO NOT accept change from the people on the street: 1US$ is about 12.9 MX$ and in Quetzal (the Guatemalan value) is about 8. They were offering 5.5 Quetzal!!

Public Buses - Old American School Buses
Be aware of the very backward public transportation system in Guatemala. All the buses are the old "school buses" from the United States (see pic). They are very uncomfortable and absolutely not suitable for long distance journeys in a mountainous country like Guatemala. On the other hand is very simple to catch a bus. Just show up at the dirty and dusty bus station and the driver's assistant will ask for your destination and they'll get you to the right bus. Some can be real gentlemen and they will carry your mochilla (bag-pack) all the way to the bus to place it on the roof of it. Make sure they'll cover them with some plastic material in case it rained.
Guatemalan bus stations are chaotic and very loud! 30 mins before the bus leaves the bus driver and his assistant keep screaming like hell the name of the destination city to inform and attract the people. For example for Guatemala city they would yell "Guate, Guate, Guateeeee!!!" or for Huehuetango "Huehue, Huehe, Huehueeee!!!". The job of the bus assistant is to collect money from the passengers once the bus has left, is responsible to know when and where the passengers need to get out and he also opens and closes the door. When the driver turns on the engine, it doesn't mean that the bus is leaving physically for sure. The bus is only slowly moving at a speed of 10 km/h all the way through the town while the driver's assistant is yelling out on the street through the open door about a thousand times "Guate, Guate, Guateeee!!!" to fill up the bus as much as possible.

Remember there isn't any seat number limit on the bus... so with a seating capacity of 50 in Guatemala can be easily doubled! Kids sit on their parents' lap and on seat benches for two people there will be sat at least three adults and two kids without counting the numerous bags and briefcases. The others will have to stand. All the way to the end of the journey, even on the main way, the bus keeps stopping to let people down or to pick them up. Official bus stops don't exist, only start and destination point. Moreover the roads (any of them; locals, main roads and highways) are in most places in very bed conditions, especially in the mountainous areas and in the country sides. Often you'll see one side of the road blocked because either on the cliff side the concrete cracked caused by a running soil or on the hill side part of the mountain have collapsed such as stones, earth or tree. Also the roads are full of holes, they go up and down and are plenty of curves. Buses don't hesitate to overtake big tracks on a double line main road, check out the movie and ... GOOD LUCK FOR THOSE WHO GET CARSICK!
Food Market next to the Bus Station
PS. Bus tickets are relatively cheap (at least!) and a 4-hour journey from La Mesilla until Quetzaltenango cost me about 40 pesos. The guy initially asked me for 50 until I have bargained to get the right price. So don't forget to ask for less money. They easily give up!

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