If a border crossing is up-coming we are prepared as best as possible: knowing which papers are required or if we do need copies, for which paper or part we have to pay how much fee, which stamps, stickers etc. we should receive. And if possible where the required places as immigration-, customs-office and in this case the fumigation-station for the motorcycles and the money-changer are located. In our days you will be able to find most of these details in the internet (e.g. wikioverland.org). So everything was in place when we met Mike early morning at the gas station to drive towards `Frontera La Mesilla´. We really enjoyed the windy road heading south-east with a great view on the mountain scenery on the Guatemalan side.
To leave Mexico, any country, we had as usual to check out our motorcycles out of the country again with customs. And in this case we had to get back our deposit which we had to pay when we entered Mexico (2x200USD). The customs officer was calm friendly and it did not take long to process all three motorcycles in the computer, doing pictures of the bikes and the VIN-Numbers. We kindly thanked him and walked over to immigration while Mike took care of the bikes.
The immigration officer asked all our papers and passports which we handed over; as well the receipt of our tourist-fee (533 pesos each) which we had to pay when we entered Mexcico. He sorted the papers and murmured something that the entry/leaving form should be a kind of sticker and not paper and we indicated that it is the only paper we received at the border from the USA to Mexico. It is the original with all required signatures and stamps (in color) as required. He continued murmuring and put the exit stamps on our passports he explained that we will need to pay each 500 some kind of tourist fee again as he cannot find the proof in the system that it was paid already. We looked each other wondering and indicated again that the receipt with tracking number is attached to our papers. The immigration guy took the receipt off and persists on additional paying. So we said: OK, but first we want him to hand out back our original receipt and second we want a new receipt of the additional 1000pesos, including his name so we can claim it back somehow… NOW he was totally freaking out which showed that this was not correct at all, speaking up loud and he snatched the passports away from Kerstin´s hand. In a second he signed our exit stamps as `not valid´ and threw the passports back to us. He said now we need to go back to the Bancajero (customs) and pay each 500 first. We were confused… and went back to the customs officer. When we explained to him what happened he looked amazed and replied there is no need to pay anything `extra´ and he asked where the receipt is which he saw already. We told him the Immigration Officer kept it, is not willing to pass it back and that he signed our exit as invalid unless we pay the additional fee. He looked at everything again and we helpless told him we do not know what to do now. (– all that we had to do in Spanish as none of them spoke any English -) He immediately recognized our situation: the bikes were exported of the country already and the immigration officer does not let us go out of it… He looked serious and asked us to walk over together with him. All that took already nearly an hour and Mike was still outside with the bikes. ( A BIG THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN!!!)
(Nevertheless he´s riding a beamer he´s a really good guy and at the time our hero!)
Both officers were arguing and we could feel the tension. But in the end we walked out again with the customs officer without our exit stamps and he was looking even more serious and worried as well. What the hell is going on here??? He walked back to his office together with us and advised us very gentle to wait once more. We waited, quietly looking each other but inside we started to worry and getting bumpy. The customs officer started making pictures of all our papers, sorting, thinking, writing e-mails and making phone calls… It was clear to us he is shouldering something he do not has to do at all. Trying to stay calm; the time was passing and we informed Mike about the situation. We told him he should give it a try himself. And he walked over to the immigration officer who even did not look even at him while being at the phone (probably receiving an harsh phone call from Mexico City ;) and put the required exit stamp in his pass port. Lucky Mike – but maybe the officer recognized meanwhile that he is in not such good situation… It seemed to us an eternity when the customs officer suddenly asked us to follow him once more. The immigration officer did not have many words anymore and finally asked us to hand out our passports again – and WE GOT OUR EXIT STAMPS!!! Hurray!!! (without that we would not be able to cross into Guatemala!!) Very, very kindly we thanked the immigration officer (F….) and now he was close to explode ;) He turned totally red but couldn´t say anything anymore. ;)
We walked over the last time to the customs officer to thank him for all his effort and patience. Without him we probably would still sit at the border (like in thin Airport movie with Tom Hanks)… Not sure exactly how long all that took, maybe around 3-4 hours and now we had to go to manage the Guatemala border… The narrow road became very turbulent, full of shops and people and vehicles. But everything went well. We found the moneychangers next to the fumigation so we had the required Quetzales to pay. We processed customs with all required copies and received our papers and stickers. And we managed immigration and the paying without any problems – it all just took time. They lady at the Guatemalan Immigration was playing with her mobile-phone so Sascha did the same and they looked like they got an interesting game going on… Sascha won and got all the papers… ;)
Mike´s plan was to drive north-east to Uspantán, El Quiché and visit the father of his friend from Chicago, Alvero. The family is originally from there and Alvero went back to Guatemala after he retired. Our original plan was to go to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, south east. While Mike was waiting at the border he was chatting with Alvero and he invited us to come as well. As the distance to there was about 80km less we spontaneously decided to change the plan and to accompany Mike to Uspantán. For going to Lake Atitlan it was much too late anyhow so we would had so sleep somewhere on the way anyhow. The ride was wonderful with great views. And wherever we stopped people came towards us and welcoming us to their country and thanking us for visiting it. We arrived at the suburbia of Uspantán with the last daylight and Alverio was waiting for us already and guarding us to his house. Lily and Lola were already preparing the dinner for us and we went for a great hot shower. While dinner we shared our story and were interested to learn more about this beautiful country. And we all had a good deep sleep in clean big beds. The hospitality of Alvero is incredible and after a powerful breakfast and a visit at his gas station we were leaving to Lake Atitlan together with Mike.
In Panajachel at Lake Atitlan, Sololá, a couple, Jessica (Canada) and Greg (USA) and their dog Moxie are living here since two years. They traveled the Americas on their bikes and now settled here and doing trips with Moxie on the back of one of their bikes.
They contacted us a while ago, that they would like to meet us and that we are welcoming to stay with them. We planned a longer stop at Lake Atitlan, surrounded by impressive volcanoes cause Kerstin wants to do a language course. So it was just a perfect fit well! And Kerstin was curious to meet another woman driving her own bike ;)
We arrived together with Mike who was welcomed to stay as well. Mike left the next day as he has a tighter schedule but we do stay still with them. They are great, lovely and interesting persons and make us right away feeling home. Beside their normal jobs (they are able to do them mostly online) they produce dog collars and travel-pillows out of Guatemalan fabrics (www.ruffontheroad.com). Sascha is becoming more and more a real dog lover and Kerstin did 6 days language school… Not that she became fluent but it helps a lot! We adore chatting and cooking together, visiting friends of them and circled the lake with its pueblos (villages) all around. Beside we could manage to weld Sascha’s pannier-holder the 35th time. We got new rear break-pads for Kerstin’s bike and Sascha changed our rear tires so we do not have to carry them around anymore as spares.
For our further journey we found a container sharing for the Darien Gap, to cross over from Central to South America, and therefore we do have a fixed appointment now. 29th of October we have to be in Colón, Panama to handover our motorcycles. We do not like having fixed dates but at one point we have to commit to one. We enjoyed staying every minute of these ten days with Jessica, Greg and Moxie! We are absolutely sure we will meet again… somewhere, sometime and somehow!!!