Picking up our story, we are driving from the last Mexican town, Tenosique to the Guatemalan border. The engine cooling was still rather erratic, but we were moving still none the less. We arrived at a final checkpoint and were greeted by some very cheery policemen. They were very excited by the kombi and soon waved us through with great big smiles. As we pulled away from them the gearstick slipped out of place and we lost the ability to change gear as we wrestled it back. Ruby, as ever, did not want to leave.
It’s a short drive to the border and we parked up by the various offices to sort out our Mexican paperwork. As we had been through a lot of hassle the previous week with our visa, we were expecting more today. First we went and closed out Banjercito, the paperwork that gives Ruby permission to be in Mexico. This was pretty straightforward and the lady pointed us in the right direction to get our visas stamped and we sat and waited for the appropriate person.
You are supposed to have and entry and an exit stamp, every time you cross the border. In reality, Lee has one from February in has old passport, and I have none. The border agent was not impressed. After some time and some sighing and unhappy glances at our documents, he eventually stamped our passports and told us not to come back soon. We looked forward to entering Guatemala and actually having the proper paperwork for once. We were now set to drive just around the corner to the border itself.
A row of traffic cones blocked the way. We were waved to the side to park up and sort out paperwork. The visa was fairly straightforward and free. He was still not happy about our lack of Mexican stamps which seemed rather stupid considering, but he gave us visa and made it very clear it was just for three months.
Compared to the Mexican side of bright white concrete buildings, polished floors and air conditioning, this side was more basic. The vehicle visa office was in a large truck. There was just about space for us to squeeze inside out of the pouring rain. After getting the right documents, the guy sent us to pay for the TIP. You have to walk up the hill, into Guatemala, to pay at the local bank which is actually a hardware shop. The guy scanned our documents, gave us a receipt and exchanged the last of our pesos into quetzals. We made our way back to the truck to complete the process.
With all the visas sorted, it was now only a matter of ‘fumigation’. Pay four pounds to have the underside of your car vaguely sprayed with something toxic. The guy in charged glanced through the window and that’s when he spotted the cats. This ensued another trip to the ‘bank’ to pay to import the cats and the best part of an hour waiting for him to fill the paperwork in. Finally, after several hours we were allowed to leave. We drove on into a new country.
Despite the slightly slow crossing, we had plenty of time to make it to Flores, still a three hour drive away and the nearest decent place to stay. The weather was stormy and we drove through tiny mountains villages in the pouring rain. This is actually a good thing for a long drive, it’s cooler for the cats and also for the engine.
We stopped for fuel and had some fun getting the card to work, every employee in the petrol station crowded around the camper. They looked at the stickers, pointed out the cats and asked us where we had been. After the touristy states of Mexico, we were a novelty again. Payment sorted, we continued to Flores, on the shores of Lago Peten. We stopped for some basic groceries, before heading around to camp on the other side of the lake.
We had been warned that it was more expensive here and after only a few hours it was already apparent. We payed nearly ten pounds for a spot on the shore of the lake in a muddy car park, but after a long day we were glad to be camped for the night.
The last part of the drive onto the campsite had been on a fairly serviceable dirt road, but our steering had begun to make some rather horrible clunking noises. We decided we would find another spot to stop for a day or so to get our bearings and sort out some of the basics things like internet. We wanted to go to Tikal, and needed to plan that too. The noise from the front sounded like it needed attention.
It seemed there was a hostel on the other side of the lake near the island, that was pretty good, so we headed for that. The engine overheated several times and the steering clunked ominously. We hadn’t even been in Guatemala for 24 hours and already stuff was breaking. Fortunately, it wasn’t far to Hostel Chaltunha, unfortunately however it was closed. There is nothing else on this part of the lake and after seeing our disappointed faces, they agreed to let us stay at a reduced rate due to the fact the showers were out of order.
This didn’t bother us, we had access to wifi which we really need and a tap, that’s all we need. We also got to enjoy the rather lovely view, if a bit fleetingly.
Later on we met Neil. He told us that as part of a political protest, there would be some road blockades for the next day or two, and so we spent three nights here.
As is now part of the routine that comes with owning Lizzie, I spent the morning washing poo or snot of various cushions and items of clothing. We looked at the clunking steering noise and found that it was the box itself, it seemed to be wearing out and there was no adjustment left either. We hope we could make it to Guatemala city to locate a new one, parts here are not as easy to come by.
On the second day, we headed over to the island to buy car insurance and get a local sim card.
Who would have thought that the former would be far less complicated than the latter. We stopped off at a bar on the way back to try a new beer, an important part of being in a new country. The owner poured it rather apologetically into coffee cups for us. Part of the covid rules here bans the sale of alcohol past 6pm.
Walking around the small island a little further, we attempted to find the good pizza I had been craving. We found a pretty bar and were unsurprisingly told that we couldn’t order alcohol. We ended up with an overly sweet lemonade instead, when the pizza arrived it think it was fair to say that it was one of the worst I’ve had. It wasn’t cheap either. The best thing about the bar was the view, we watched boats ferrying people back and forth the short distance to the other side before catching a boat back ourselves.
The final, and best thing, we did in Flores was to hike to the mirador. One of the reasons for wanting to stay at this hostel was it’s close location to this viewpoint. We wandered through the town by the shore of the lake and it’s many boats, before heading uphill again.
Two steep flights of stairs bring you to this large tree with a platform that offers great views of the surrounding jungle, lake and island. It was well worth the climb.
Now a little more sure of our plan, we left the hostel and headed for Tikal, a large ruined mayan village to the north of the lake. We knew they had a strict no pet policy, but we hoped to hide the cats and get in anyway. In preparation for the next day, we camped on the road outside the entrance, knowing it would be an early start in the morning. From what we’ve heard though, it would be worth it.