Crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala introduced me to what the crossing for all Central American borders. It takes about 3 – 5 hours to cross a Central American border with a vehicle, on average.
As one parks the motorcycle to deal with immigration and customs, one is surrounded by no less than a dozen teenagers, usually male, yelling that they alone can navigate through the bureaucratic labyrinth up ahead.
These kids normally hold up some photo-shopped ID card, making pretenses that they are somehow officially connected to the crossing. They hold up the cards with one hand while using the other to elbow their rivals out of the way.
But it is nearly impossible to navigate through the process alone, especially with a vehicle. So one must simply submit to fate, accepting whichever street urchin with an ID card emerges from the Darwinian struggle.
One enters the process of crossing a Central American border much like a patient for surgery, being wheeled in by orderlies, surrendering all control over the outcome.
There are usually large crowds of people at the border, many of them truckers with stacks of paperwork. Stamps must be obtained. Copies must be made. The copier is out of paper, so let’s go to the other place. Permits must be turned in – oh wait, we need another copy of that – oh wait, the signature for this form has to come from that dude, but he’s at lunch. No worries, let me find his cousin. You can’t find the receipt for that earlier stamp?
Then we have to have the title in a registry. Then we have to get insurance. First it has to be paid for at the bank, etc… Another line there… One will hemorrhage small bills and coins.
Finally, immigrations and customs are cleared from Mexico and into Guatemala – four separate processes, each of them divided into two or three sub-processes.
All that remains is to get “fumigated.” This is required for a tourist vehicle and costs around 5 dollars – plus whatever one tips.
With a flourish, a man emerges to fumigate my motorcycle. He is wearing some kind of bio-hazard suit. His backpack unit, and spray hose, will provide my motorcycle with its very first chemical wash.
The worker treats his job with seriousness, as if my motorbike had just landed from outer space and potentially harbors the next Andromeda Strain.
Good to go. Guatemala is a bit rough around the edges. The towns and cities are unkempt. Stray dogs are everywhere. Smoking piles of trash by the road. An entire family on a scooter. In short, Guatemala looks a lot like much of Mexico did in the 1980s. Border Crossing Time Machine.
Guatemala is lush, and giant coned volcanoes try to reach the sky.