Sunday 17 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Entering Guatemala

      An early start; again I beat the alarm which I had set for 5:45, and again I woke up with rumblings in my lower digestive tract, and again the Lomotil seems to be holding things together.

It was a cold misty walk through the streets of San Cristobal, empty except for a lone guy on a bicycle and an elderly Indian woman scampering across the street toward the lit facade of the old cathedral.

    I patiently waited in the bus station, happy that I had finished reading the awful “Artifact” novel, so I no longer had to tolerate its stupidity.  I left it behind for some other sucker to read.   After a twenty minute wait I was able to board the bus to Cuauhtemoc, which is located on the Guatemalan boarder.  The ride just outside of San Cristobal was picturesque, with the dawning sky illuminating the low lying morning smoke coming from the thatched Indian huts, that dotted the land beside the limestone hills.

    It was another madman driver who raced us down the narrow highway, dodging everything in sight:  horses, trucks, and old ladies with their grandchildren, honking his horn, and de-accelerating each time the 95 MPH warning on the bus dashboard started buzzing.  When we reached Cuauhtemoc bus station, a group of us Gringos shared a cab to the Guatemalan border.

    I didn’t know what to expect when we reached the Mexican/Guatemalan border, but once there, a Mexican Official came up to me and took my Mexican Tourist card, then indicated to me that I should walk across the border.  I slowly did that, not sure about what would happen next.  I was somewhat reassured to see that the other Gringo taxi passengers followed me.

    Once on the Guatemalan side, an official gave me a Guatemalan Tourist Card and asked me the expected questions (How long was I going to stay?  What was I going to do?)  I had to pay him 2,000 Mexican Pesos, and then he was finished with me, so I walked outside.  A Guatemalan solder who was standing just outside the door, motioned me over toward another official who wanted to examine my passport, after which he gave me another card of some kind.  He asked me if I wanted to exchange some money, which I did, so I handed him a US $5.00 bill and a 2,000 Mexican Peso bill.  In return I was given 14 Guatemalan Quetzals.

    Once all that official stuff was done, I wandered out onto the street, pondering my next move.  I noticed a white and gray school bus, with the name, “The Condor” parked nearby, so I thought maybe the school bus-type vehicle took us to a town where I could catch a regular more modern passenger bus, so I walked over to ask the man standing by the bus door, and he just motioned me into the bus. 

    The bus driver, a small man with glasses, wavy hair, and a thin, sparse, long beard, took my green suitcase and stuck it out of the way, by the gearshift.  I am always sort of hesitant about parting with my luggage when I travel, but since I took a seat on the front row on the passenger side of the bus, my green suitcase was sitting practically in front of me, so I didn’t put up a fuss.

    When the other 4 Gringo passengers got onto the bus, some of their luggage went outside, on top of the bus.  The old school bus was practically empty of passengers as we started on our way,  it was only us and the three Condor employees; they just hung around the front of the bus talking to the driver.  As our  near empty “Chicken Bus” proceeded down the narrow highway, it picked up about twenty peasant-looking Indians.  As they boarded, a bus helper took their machetes and piled them by the door.

    The old Condor school bus sped down the empty highway, until we were forced to stop at a military roadblock.  (The Guatemalan government was engaged in a fight against a rebel Mayan group at the time.)  A soldier in a green polyester uniform boarded the bus and one of the bus helpers motioned that I and the other Gringos should get off the bus.  He grabbed my green suitcase and put it on my seat, near the door, and beside the window.  

    I was bewildered again, as I obeyed the military man’s instructions, I got off of the bus, and walked up to the porch of the building.  There I was confronted with an official who carefully examined my passport and cards.  As he was dealing with my documents, I watched a huge crowd of peasants enter the Condor bus, and with some concern, saw my green suitcase come out of the bus’s door, carried by one of the bus helpers, who threw it up to another helper who was on the bus roof, and there it was deposited.

    When I returned to the Condor bus I could hardly get through the door, because the bus was so packed with passengers, but to my great surprise, I found that my seat had been saved for me.

    The old Condor school bus again started on its way, honking at vehicles, and small groups of Mayan Indians walking along the roadway.  As I was jostled back and forth in my seat I wondered how far we would have to go before we came to the next town, and maybe get a regular big bus to Guatemala City, but my thoughts were interrupted when the bus slowed and an unbelievable thing happened—it stopped and picked up more passengers.

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