Borders are just imaginary lines on maps, right? Wrong! We had a few challenges crossing the border from Mexico into Guatemala.
Part of our epic journey from Acapulco to Puerto Morelos for the WAYcation yoga retreat over this past month included a quick jump across the border to Guatemala. We realized that we were running short on time, as we're only allowed to be in Mexico for 180 days, and in addition, Jenna and the kids never actually got proper tourist visas due to some confusion when we entered Mexico in Tijuana 6 months ago! We tried to get this all straightened out at an immigration office and the Canadian consulate in Acapulco, but we were told by officials to just leave the country and then come back in.
You can check out the vlog we made about our border crossing experience, and read about the details and see photos from Guatemala below.
We did our research and were prepared with the proper documentation when we arrived at the Mexican border in Talisman. The whole process of leaving Mexico should have taken 15 minutes. An immigration officer had a look inside the camper. We then parked and went into the immigration office. Josh had his passport stamped and was officially out of the country and we would have been good to go, but we then had to deal with the fact that Jenna and the kids did not receive their visas. We decided to go with the "we lost them" story. The immigration officer wasn't happy about this and kept telling Josh that these papers were extremely important. He said it would take a 1-2 hours to get it straightened out. So we sat with the kids in the immigration office (which was air conditioned at least!). After 3 hours we had our new tourist visas prepared and sent from Mexico City and only ever had to pay the regular fee and nothing extra for having "lost" them! We were thankful for this as sitting in the office with Arjuna and Lux for 3 hours was enough of a penalty!
As we drove the Earthroamer into the no man's land between Talisman Mexico and the Guatemalan immigration office in El Carmen, our real adventure began. As we were approaching the border on the Mexican side, we were waved over to stop our vehicle as several locals offered us "a free service for tourists" and wanted to help us navigate the border crossing. It was never really clear what they were offering to help with, or exactly what the scam was or what kind of a tip they wanted in the end, but we refused their offer.. Once we drove into the limbo zone, the Guatemalan men who were offering to "help" us were way more aggressive. Half a dozen guys jumped on the side rails of the truck, refusing to get off, or followed us down the road, tapping on the window repeatedly and not giving up even after we told them we didn't need help politely, asked them to leave us alone, and Jenna screamed at them. They still persisted in following us around for at least 30 minutes before they finally gave up and realized they weren't going to get anything out of us. But it stole our peace a little bit, especially after having to wait on the Mexican side for 3 hours. But beyond that annoyance, the paperwork part was easy.
We parked by the Guatemalan immigration office where our tires were sprayed with insecticide. We then went in to have our passports stamped. Next we filled out paperwork to import the truck and had an immigration officer come to look inside the camper.
There was a bit of a learning curve once we finally got into Guatemala. We realized that our AT&T phone plan, which worked great all through Mexico, definitely did NOT work in Guatemala at all. So we couldn't rely on the usual app that we used to find camp spots, the navigation on our iPhone, or tell our family that we made it across the border safely. Luckily we had our trusty paper map! And even with Jenna's poor navigation skills, we were able to get onto the route we had planned, find a 24 hour gas station, and get permission from the attendant to camp for the night.
It's always strange to drive at night, and then wake up the next morning and see where you really are. Landscapes can change so fast! We found ourselves in the lush, green, Guatemalan highlands on windy single lane roads going up and down mountains. Even though we had just left Chiapas, this was nothing like anything we'd experienced in Mexico!
We drove up a mountain and saw the highest peak in Central America. We went right through farmers fields that seemed to be growing carrots, radishes, beets, onions and lettuce in fields that were almost vertical.
We camped at beautiful hot springs, with a mountain view, and had the pools all to ourselves the next morning.
Once we were in Guatemala driving around, and we had figured out some of the basics, like where to get groceries and use an ATM, we were pumped and really didn't want to leave! But after a couple of days, we knew we had to keep moving toward the Yucatan for our yoga retreat. So we drove through the rain to the La Mesilla border crossing and went back into Mexico with absolutely no issues. On both sides of the border, everything was simultaneously organized yet laid back. There were no waits, no one insisting on trying to "help" us, and no questions about why we were only in Guatemala for a few days before returning to Mexico.
Once we were back in Mexico, and our iMessages and Google maps started coming through again, we kind of breathed a sigh of relief, even though we had really enjoyed our brief adventure across the border. I don't think we realized until then just how comfortable we had gotten in Mexico. We remembered crossing the border from Fernie into Montana, and then San Diego into Tijuana, and how interesting it is that things can feel so completely different immediately after crossing those imaginary border lines. And each time we cross them, we have to re-adjust our expectations and re-learn some of the basic life stuff. We'll have time to get used to Guatemala and the rest of Central America later on during our journey, just in time for us to cross the next border.