Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Guatemala - a country with angels... named Cathy.

Consistency. An unknown concept at the Guatemalan border. Through other ADV rider posts over the past few months, I've read a great deal about traveling through borders in Mexico and Central America. No one country is the same, whether it is leaving one or entering the next. The constant, is what must occur at each border crossing, but how this occurs on any given day is the question.

First, you must go through immigration and check yourself into a country. Then, at customs, you have to import your vehicle, showing and proving that it is in fact your vehicle with proper VIN number that you are importing.

I traveled from Mexico to Guatemala last Sunday. This border crossing was not on my radar of 'difficult' borders, I just figured that I'd have to jump through the usual hoops and hopefully everything would be smooth. I had read that a great day to hit any border is on Sunday as locals, workers, truckers and tourists generally don't move much on a domingo. I managed to hit the border at about 9am and it was great, no line-ups, no people, and a chill environment. I checked out of Mexico and into Guatemala through immigration with associated fees and passport stamps in roughly 15 minutes total. 

Next, was customs. I rolled up to another building and walked in, again, no line-ups. I should have been in and out in another 15min but this was not the case. Back to consistency. There was a young guy at the customs window who looked at my paperwork, didn't know exactly what to do with it, and then he proceeded to call his supervisor on his cell phone. It was then decided, in this phone call, that I had to prove through a lawyer, that MY motorcycle was in fact mine. My British Columbia paperwork stating my registration and owners certificate was not sufficient enough, on that given Sunday, with that given Customs Official. My new mission was to head into this dusty, Guatemalan border town and to source out a lawyer, on a Sunday, to get a document drafted up for customs. Perfect.

Guatemala – a country of angels,... named Cathy. A woman who was now in line behind me asked in perfect English if she could help me. Her name was Cathy. Out of no where, this lovely angel named Cathy arrived. Her and her cousin were shopping in Mexico and heading home to Guatemala City. She mentioned that her paperwork was being processed and had some extra time. Cathy and I then hit the dusty streets together. With directions to a lawyer from the Customs Official, we headed one way and banged on locked up doors.  No luck.  We then asked a vendor where to go and we proceeded in another direction banging on locked doors. Low and behold, while knocking on a door, a guy comes walking down the street in shorts and a jersey. He is a young lawyer who was on his way to the local stadium to watch a soccer match, on his day off. He agrees to create this document for me, opens his office and starts at it after agreeing on a price that Cathy manages to lower substantially. By this time, I realize that the amount of pesos that I had changed into quetzals (Mex – Guat) wasn't sufficient enough to pay off my recently found lawyer. Again, Cathy and I hit the streets, this time looking for money.

My angel Cathy - and me, the sweaty, dust covered biker

Cathy and her cousin heading south back to Guatemala City from their shopping trip in Mexico

The entire process ended up taking about 2 hours and Cathy was gracious to stick with me for a good component of it. Cathy went above and beyond the call of any average human being and this is what sets people like Cathy apart from the rest. She has a special place in my heart, if only there were more Cathys in the world.

With my new documents in hand, more fees, stamps, sticker on my bike, copies of copies, signatures, different windows, I was then finally on my way into Guatemala... with the usual 'palm-slap-fist-pumps' from my buddy the Customs Official (who was in fact a nice guy), the guard, and the Guatemalan gate-opener-guard... all new found buddies after 2 hours of getting to know them.

I had eaten a packed lunch consisting of a banana, some cookies and nuts at the border and after my lengthy experience I just wanted to ride. I wasn't exactly sure where I was going so I headed into the mountains up to a town called Quetzaltenango. Locals called it Xela (shell-a) for short.  It was an amazing ride and a really beautiful city. I was happy to be at an elevation (2335m) where I wasn't sweating constantly and where I was into some different territory from the beaches and ocean of Mexico I was used to.

En route through the mountain to Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala

Rojo wasn't 'enjoying Guatemala' like I was... the elevation was rough on him and his carb.

Xela kids enjoying a juggler performing for vehicles at a traffic light

Narrow streets of Xela, Guatemala

Streets of Xela, Guatemala

Xela's Parque Centro Americano where I spent a great deal of time on my day-off

Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala

Xela, Guatemala

Local woman - Xela, Guatemala

Xela was a busy city with loads of people constantly on the go.

Typical street in Xela

Pasaje Enriquez, Quetzaltenango

Pasaje Enriquez, Quetzaltenango (Xela)

I am now in Antigua, Guatemala's premier city – a Unesco World Heritage Site.  I spent 2 nights in Xela unwinding in the mountains and then had a fantastic day working my way to Antigua.  I traveled through the Highlands to Lago Atitlan.  The roads were twisty-fun on a motorcycle that maxed out in elevation at just over 3000m - the highest point on the Inter-American Highway.  My poor motorcycle was hating life up at that elevation - Rojo was whining like a little kid and hesitating at every shift.  

Truck full of pigs - with one more strapped down up top above the cab.

Lago Atitlan and the town of Panajachel

Lago Atitlan and Volcan Toliman (3158m)

Poser-shot high above Lago Atitlan en route to Antigua, Guatemala

I stopped for a coffee and lunch in the town of Panajachel on Lake Atitlan and then pushed on to Antigua.  Looking at the vertical profile above, I managed to cover just over 170km of riding from Quetzaltenango (Xela) to Antigua, with a huge vertical change throughout the day.  I maxed out at just over 3000m and then finished in Antigua at roughly 1500m.  It was an incredible day of riding.  

Antigua Guatemala by night
One of my original thoughts was to brush up on a bit of Spanish and study in Antigua, but I've decided to pass on that for now... after all, I know how to clearly say 'cerveza' and 'bano'... what more does a guy need?!  And, I am also keen to get back to some surf, my board has been off the water for a few days and we are both itching to catch a few waves.   

Tomorrow, another border crossing.

This time, I'm checking out of Guatemala and into El Salvador.  

Lets hope El Salvador has Cathys.  

Catedral de Santiago, Antigua Guatemala

Parque Central, Antigua Guatemala

Arco de Santa Catalina, Antigua Guatemala


  1. Wow!!! Guatemalan Angel? Thanks. Hope you are keep on doing great and having so much fun. Take care and may God be with you always.

  2. Thanks again SO much Kathy with a 'K' ! (Oops!)