¡México!

What a journey it was to get here!!! Probably the best yet. A 16 ½ hour epic I'll never forget. I literally walked across the border from Guatemala and Jesus brought me the rest of the way... (but more on that later!)

It was a saga from the start. As soon as I woke up I wanted out of Guate. Enough bullshitting around with hippies, yoga, cross-dressing parties at La Iguana Perdita and all that crap, I wanted to get to México. Pronto! So I skipped breakfast, skipped yoga, hiked down the mountain to the dock and the rest of the journey broke down as follows:

Lancha from San Marcos to Panajachel. (A speedboat, which could also be called "chicken boat" due to the ridiculous numbers of people they cram in. People literally sit or stand on top of each other, and this morning was no exception.)
Get absolutely soaked. Boat bounces up and down like the emotions of a Waterford hurling fan. Water sloshes in over the sides resulting in wet feet for rest of day. Baggage also soaked. (I'm now convinced there's no such thing as waterproof shoes. Or waterproof anything. Maybe a duck's arse...) The boat ride ends with an argument over the fare.

Chicken bus from Panajachel to Sololá. Packed. Four of us sitting on one bench. (Remember, these buses were once school buses for American children. I know they can be big, but still...)

Chicken bus from Sololá to Cuatro Caminos. Same as before. Four on the bench. Turns out I'm the biggest person on the bus. It's like being on a bus of black-haired midgets.

Chicken bus to Huehuetenango. "Christo Viene" slogan written at back of bus gives me sense of unease. Nerves not helped when row breaks out between two ridiculously dodgy-looking hombres and the fare-collector. Most of the two hour trip spent with all the bus's doors open. The back gate, between the last two benches, swings to and fro like a saloon door.
In Huehue (pronounced Hwa-way) I visit the bog. Attendant there with wig made of paper signing at the top of his voice. Doesn't stop when I walk in. Doesn't stop while I pee. Doesn't even pause when I give him a Quetzal. Just puts the thumb up and continues singing at the top of his voice.

Chicken bus from Huehuetenango to La Mesilla (Mexican border). Packed again. Moustached guy in suit strikes up conversation. Wants to know where I've been, where I'm going, how I like Guatemala, all about Ireland; its people, sports, climate, languages. He tells me there are 232 different Mayan languages in Guatemala alone. He tells me I'm not a gringo because I'm not from North America. Wants to know if everyone in Ireland is white like me or are there darker skinned people like him. Tell him everyone's white because it's always raining and cold. "Mucho frio."
Three Mayan guys sitting on the bench in front are enthralled by the conversation. They keep looking back and smiling. Huge friendly smiles. Obviously they've never even heard of Ireland before.
Then your man starts talking about God and religion. Asking me if I'm religious, telling me about repentance, hell, why Jesus died for us and all that. Tell him it's the same stuff in Ireland. Turns out he's a feckin' priest. Thankfully he doesn't go all the way to La Mesilla, but wishes me all the best as he leaves, blessing me, shaking my hand, and telling me to repent to Jesus.
The three Mayan lads all say goodbye as they get off the bus further on at various stops. Each turns around and shakes my hand. "Que le vaye bien," they wish me. "Que le vaye bien," I reply. (May it go well for you - seems to be the thing to say in Guatemala, but it's always said with sincerity.)

Three hours after leaving Huehue, and I'm all alone on the bus as dusk turns to dark. Nervous excitement builds as I know I'm approaching the border. The road snakes around tall, imposing jagged mountains, but the driver keeps the foot down as the bus careers onward at breakneck speeds.
I look up and see the moon literally smiling down at me. The crescent lies on its back on this side of the world, so it looks like the brightest smile of the whitest teeth.
Eventually I see a town's lights down on the plain far below me and I know it must be México. México! I can't stay still. I nearly jump off the bus to run down the hill. Eventually we pull into La Mesilla. "¿Donde es la frontera?" I ask. They point me in the right direction.

Walk from La Mesilla to border. I walk along what seems the longest street in Mesoamérica. Shops, cafés, comedors and stalls line the sides. Air is filled with smoke as food fries on street berbeques. Cars, kids and dogs all scramble around me as I keep the keep down and walk for the border. I must get to México!
Eventually get to Guatemala border control. They check my passport, but seem more interested in the gameshow blaring on the telly. Must be Guatemala's version of Winning Streak. They give me all the necessary stamps. Tell me the Mexican control is 4 km further down the road. 4 km! I look for a collectivo but none to be found. Doesn't seem like anyone else crossing the border at this time. In the dark.
I walk on a bit and then see a magical sight: "Bienvenidos a México" on a sign high above me. I'd made it! I was in México! ¡Woohoo!
Still no collectivos to be found anywhere, so I walk on. I sure as hell wasn't going to get a taxi. Taxi drivers the world over are fuckers - don't take one unless you really have to.

So I walked and walked. Soon the road becomes very dark and remote. No street lights anywhere, but I can kind of make out where I'm going by moonlight. Crickets are the only living creatures I can hear, and soon I can't see any sign of human life either before or behind me. A few cars approach from the direction of Mexico blinding me with their headlights. I jump into the ditch to make sure I don't get run over.
I walk on and on. I keep walking. Eventually, after what seems an eternity, I hear a car behind me. I stop and wait for him to pass. The lights approach and a pick-up flies past me. The break- lights come on straight away however, and he stops on the road. Woohoo! I run up to him, and open the door with my heart in my mouth. A moustached-guy in dirty overalls asks if I want a lift. He looks friendly. "¡Si! ¡Si!" I reply, and I jump in.
Turns out he's a Mexican mechanic, on his way home from some business in Guatemala. He points to petrol drums rolling around the back of the pick up as if to verify his story. He's amazed when he hears I've come from Lago de Atitlán, and then blown away when he hears I'm from Ireland. "Aaahh, Europa," he says wistfully.
We chat a bit more, before I ask him his name. Jesús, he replies. You couldn't make it up.
He drops me off at Mexican immigration and wishes me well on my journey. "Gracias! Que le vaye bien," I tell him.

The problem. Once I clear Mexican immigration I'm presented with my first problem - I was expecting a bigger town, but all I find is a shop, restaurant, taxi rank, bus stop and a closed bank. No ATMs. Of course, I don't have any Mexican money. Not one peso.
I ask at the bus terminal if they take Visa but no - leider nicht. It turns out the next bus isn't for another two hours anyway. My final destination is another three and a half hours away by bus.

The lift. Buoyed by my last hitchhiking experience, I decide the only option is to chance it again. No way was I getting a taxi to an ATM - especially in México. I walk on a bit down the dark, lonely road and stick my arm out at the first passing car. He stops! Another pick-up. There's a bit of confusion when he asks where I'm going and I ask him where he's going. We settle on the next large village. Comalapa. Wherever the hell that is.
I jump up on the back of the truck to discover two more passengers - one of them seriously iffy looking. To make matters worse, he tells me he's from Guatemala City. He's chatty all the same, and we soon talk about Ireland, Guatemala, Honduras. He tells me he's working in México, but the conversation veers around to money. Soon he's asking about how much things cost in Europe, how much flights are, what the minimum pay is etc. He bemoans the economic crisis, telling me how shit things are in Guatemala.
I get the feeling he's trying to suss me out. The silent type meanwhile, says nothing, although he laughs when the two share a private joke.
In the meantime, the pick-up is snaking its way around lonely, dark roads. All I can see is darkness around me, punctuated by the odd light in the distance. The conversation kind of dries up and I start wondering if the two boys in the back are in cahoots with the driver.
Suddenly we pass another pick-up parked at the side of the road with its lights on. It beeps at us as we pass and soon follows right behind. My heart sinks into the pit of my stomach. We're still flying around lonely country roads. The jeep behind keeps its lights full on, and it drives right up behind us, then falls back, then drops off again. Nobody is talking now. With the lights on I can see how dodgy your man in front of me actually is. The scar on his face catches the light in a peculiar way, as he scowls at the car behind.
Of course it's a set up I think. The driver must have rung his buddy to tell him he's got a gringo in the back of his pick-up. They're going to bring me to some remote location, rob all my shit, and then drive off leaving me in the middle of Jaysus-knows-where.
Your man behind suddenly tears off in front of us, beeping like a lunatic as he passes. I'm still not sure what's going on. Two minutes later though I see lights ahead. Another glorious sign passes: Comalapa. The relief!
We drive into the centre of the town. The two lads hop out - Wilson, and I didn't catch the quiet guy's name. We shake hands and they give the driver some pesos. I explain to the driver that I need to get to an ATM (as I had nothing to give him). I ask him to wait for me so I can pay him, but he tells me to hop back on, that he'll bring me there.
The uneasy feeling returns, but the two accomplices are gone and we're in the middle of a town. I jump on and gather my nerves.
Soon I'm marvelling as Saturday night in México plays itself out before my eyes. Everyone is on the streets - young and old, and the noise of mariachi bands comes spilling out from all directions. Laughter and shouts intermingle with the noise of traffic as cars come from all directions to go in others. Dogs run around between vehicles, no doubt driven mad by the delicious smells wafting from the outdoor eateries.
Your man drops me off across the road from an ATM. I run over, and take out the minimum. (I literally have to reinsert the chip back into the credit card before I put it in the machine, but that's another story.) I run back to find him but he's nowhere to be found. He's gone! Turns out he wasn't looking for money, he just wanted to help a wandering gringo. And I didn't even say goodbye!! He probably thinks I'm a right fucker - worse than a taxi driver.

The last bus. The next step was to get out of the madness and somehow make it to San Cristóbal de Las Casas. I'd been told (by Wilson of all people) that I'd need to get a bus to Comitan and then another from there. It was already approaching 10 p.m. however, so I wasn't optimistic about my chances. I wander down the main street and eventually find the bus terminal. A large bus sits there with its engine purring in the forecourt. I look at the destination - San Cristóbal de Las Casas! Shit!!
The driver tells me I'll need to buy a ticket in the office. The bus was supposed to leave 20 minutes before.
"¡Esperar!" I tell him and run in to buy a ticket. Of course there's a fucking queue and the ticket guy is messing around with the printer.
"¡San Cristóbal!" I yell as I throw money at him. Arse to everyone else. He spends yonks pissing about with the computer. Wants my name. Then where I want to sit, as he shows me a plan of the bus on the screen. Practically all the seats were free. Aaaaagh!!!
I just grab the ticket and run out to the bus, hop on, and suddenly everything is cool. Real cool. Air-conditioning! But the bus was from another world. Toilet down the back, TVs which popped out on demand for every seat, reclining seats (almost like beds), reading lights. I was just happy to have a seat to myself!
The bus glided to San Cristóbal and arrived at 1.30am - bang on schedule. It took another hour to find somewhere to stay (cheap), but to be honest, after everything that happened previously, I was ready for anything.

¡Andalé, Andalé, Andalé!

Comments

  1. jaysus that blog ,,scared the living shite outta sea biscuit and whitecity..we went thru a few barrys bags reading that one,,oh and holy funk, was it long enough? I used my words quota for the day on that one...JAYSUS,BOG time especially that fiend with the scar on this face in the headlights,,practically touching cloth reading that your man in the back of the knacker wagon..man you've gotta carry heat down there..do you not remember you basic IRA training.
    sounds like the chickens are trying to tell you something ..and the next priest you meet,,be a man and tell him your a atheist..

    ReplyDelete
  2. jaysus that blog ,,scared the living shite outta sea biscuit and whitecity..we went thru a few barrys bags reading that one,,oh and holy funk, was it long enough? I used my words quota for the day on that one...JAYSUS,BOG time especially that fiend with the scar on this face in the headlights,,practically touching cloth reading that your man in the back of the knacker wagon..man you've gotta carry heat down there..do you not remember you basic IRA training.
    sounds like the chickens are trying to tell you something ..and the next priest you meet,,be a man and tell him your a atheist..

    ReplyDelete

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