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Day 22: First Close Encounter with Border Guides

March 1, 2006

In the morning, we are lucky to find ourselves in a pretty decent hotel just several miles from the border, which we thought was a good enough beginning of the day :) The first and most important task is to find the Banjercito office in Tapachula and get our 400 bucks back (see Tip #1 below for complete info about the Banjercito procedures). Banjercito is supposed to be right on the Tapachula-Huixtla road, so we start looking around very attentively in order not to miss it. However, before we manage to see Banjercito, we notice a bunch of young, decently looking fellows running towards our car, pointing at us and shouting as loud as possible: "Turista!, Transmigrante! Turista!? Transmigrante!?? Tramite- Banjercito!!" For a moment, we are sitting stunned... It takes us a while to realize what's going on. Then, for several minutes we keep repeating "si, si, turista, transmigrante, Banjercito" - yes, we are tourists, looking for the Banjercito office, but who are you??, while the guys keep ignoring our question and continue shouting load: "Turista!, Transmigrante! Banjercito!". Seeing that this conversation is not developing into anything meaningful, we finally demand that the wild people clear the road and let us pass. For a while, we are still doubtful: what if these were the people from Banjercito trying to help us? But then, on the second thought, where in the world have you seen people from the bank running towards you in order to return your $400? People from the bank are more likely to hope you would forget your deposit or fail to find their office, and they would get to keep the money… :)

As for the wild creatures who "attacked" our car, this was our first encounter with the "border guides" - perhaps the most annoying species we have ever come across, commonly dwelling in a very close proximity of country borders, especially densely populated within the customs territory and ready to do anything for you - from currency exchange to translation to carwash to laundry services, you name it! - not depending on whether you ask for any of the above or not :) Most of the times, their services are of questionable value or evidently useless. For instance, in case of Banjercito, they would have taken us to the clearly marked bank office on the other side of the road, then, since we speak Spanish and do not need their translation services, they would have just annoyingly stood behind us, and in the end would, of course, expect a tip for "the assistance"! The worst of the worst are those, who pay no attention to your polite "No" followed a less polite "We don't need ANY help" and still follow you all the way through the customs hoping to get at least a dollar for the "time wasted"!! While you are trying to get rid of one of them, his "colleague" behind you is already washing your car, no matter that the car has just received the obligatory USD 7 insecticide spraying… At this point, it's all just too funny to feel angry :)) Eliminate the nasty border guides, put up a couple of signs in English, and border crossing would become a breeze instead of several hours of chaos. Maybe some day :)

The next surprise awaited us in Ciudad Hidalgo - the whole port of entry was destroyed by the hurricane and, therefore, temporarily limited to commercial traffic only. Fortunately, there was another crossing point at Talisman, just about 20 miles north of Ciudad Hidalgo. The second attempt to enter Guatemala was much more successful, and, having collected several dozens of stamps of questionable importance, we were finally free to go.

The lovely little Guatemala… the wild west of the Caribbean :) Frankly, we were not completely certain about what we were going to do with it - explore it or forget it - until the very last minute. For sure, no Central American country is exempt from risk; but Guatemala….. Guatemala is the one widely famous for armed highway robberies, including rapes and murders of tourists… :)) We had heard and read tons of scary things about vehicles with foreign plates and tourist buses being stopped and robbed by armed bandidos in the middle of the day, on the busiest highways of the country: the Panamericana CA-1 and the newer coastal CA-2…(fans of horror stories can find more scary details below, under Tip #3). If we played it safe and drove through Guatemala as fast as we could, we would miss Tikal, Lake Atitlan and Antigua Guatemala, to name just a few. However, if we decided to take a risk and then happened to get robbed, that might be the end of our trip whatsoever. But could it really be so very dangerous??… Debating like this and still not sure what to do, we arrived at the border. Guess the "last drop" was the Guatemalan guy we met at the customs, who, when inquired about the safety, advised we transfer ourselves and our Californian-looking Nissan through Guatemala as fast as we possibly could and preferably via a slightly safer CA-2 :)) Well, if even the locals say so, then Guatemala will have to wait. We'll be back for it at a later time :)

By the end of the day, we were in Esquintla, about 2 hours from El Salvador. We decided Esquintla should be the most safety and security-oriented place in the entire world: nearly every institution in town, including but not limited to banks, food marts, hotels and even some of the tiny corner stores ("pulperias") had a guard or two at the entrance - extremely safe-looking big guys with even bigger guns. Our cheap hotel must have been of less importance, as we had only one rather skinny guard with very innocent face expression, but the gun was no less impressive… :)

Tip #1: To drive a car into Mexico, you are required to obtain a temporary vehicle importation form and a sticker for the car from a Banjercito office in the US or at the border. They have offices in Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco and most of the border towns. The border locations charge the smallest processing fee (USD 29), but since Tijuana is such a mess, we decided to do ours in Los Angeles for USD 39. Looks like now you can finally also do it via Internet (www.banjercito.com.mx or www.aduanas.gob.mx or www.serviciosdecalidad.gob.mx), but there is another USD10 online processing fee. Also, if you decide to do it online, remember to allow enough time for them to mail you the sticker and the form.
In short, this is how it works: you pay the processing fee to the Banjercito and also leave them your credit card information along with a promise to take the vehicle out of the country within the period of 180 days. They "secure" USD 200-400 on your credit card (depending on the year of the vehicle), but would only charge your card in case you failed to report to a Banjercito office and cancel the permit in 180 days. Keep in mind that you need to return the sticker when canceling the permit. Also, before choosing your border crossing point, make sure that there is a Banjercito office in that location. There are 2 Banjercitos in Chiapas: one in Tapachula and one in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc.
Note that the temporary importation permit is not always required. It depends on the length of your stay in Mexico and the distance from the US border you intend to reach.

Tip #2: Most of the times, all the immigration, customs and other governmental agencies will expect payment in local currency, and in most of such cases there will be no ATMs or banks around. When crossing a border by car, have at least USD 50, better USD 100 in smaller bills and find out the official exchange rate from a reliable source (ask one of the immigration officers). At every border, you will see plenty of guys walking around with stacks of local bills and offering currency exchange service. Even though most travel books discourage from using their services to avoid being cheated on, sometimes these guys are the only way to obtain local currency. Of course, you will not get the best deal possible, but knowing the official rate you will be able to bargain and won't let them cheat too much. Also, if you are not too good at math, a tiny calculator won't hurt :)

Tip #3: This is the link for those seeking the most updated info about the recent crime incidents involving tourists in Guatemala: http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala

Mexico-Guatemala Border Formalities and Practicalities: Fast and easy! Don't forget to cancel your vehicle permit at the Banjercito before going through the customs. Expenses:
- 10 Quetzales (around USD 1.50) for each passport
- 41 Quetzales (or USD 7) for the mandatory insecticide spray on your vehicle,
- another 41 Quetzales for the car paperwork (US dollars no longer accepted, but there is a bank in the customs territory and lots of local boys offering currency exchange service),
- 1 quetzal for each photocopy you will be required to make.
It is a good idea for the owner of the car to have a bunch of photocopies of your driver's license, your passport and the title of your car - you will at least one of each at every border.
VERY IMPORTANT!!! Carefully check every number and letter in your car papers (VIN, license plate, make and year of the car, spelling of your name…) before leaving the customs. Guatemalan customs officials seem to be very absent-minded.

Fun Stuff: Guatemala just couldn't stop surprising us… The two nationally distributed beers are "Gallo" (Rooster) and "Cabro" (Goat)… No joking, pics below :) Sounds funny enough in English, but in Lithuania naming a beer brand like this would probably become the joke of the century :). We couldn't find Goat beer anywhere, but tried the Rooster. Pretty good lager :)

Cick on the pictures to enlarge

The Wild West of the Caribbean... Bienvenidos! :)

Entranceto the Wild Wild west of Central America

Sveiki atvyke i Gvatemala, nepamirskite suzaisti musu loterijoje "nuotykiai keliuose su banditais" :)

A beer is a beer!

What makes this brand name appealing?

Kaip pavadinsi - nepagadinsi!

Nuvesk pelyte virs paveiksliuko, spustelk jos kaire ausele, ir paveiksliukas padides

22-oji diena: Pirk drambli!

2006 m. kovo 1

Atsibude pamatom, kad nakvojom, laimei, visai normaliam viesbuty :) Lengviau atsikvepiam ir leidziames Gvatemalos pasienio link. Iki sienos like vos keli kilometrai - labai mums svarbus kelio ruozas, nes jame turime rasti specialu banka ("banjercito"), kuriame privalome sustoti, pasirodyti, kad isvaziuojam, ir atgauti $400 uzstata uz masina - sitokia suma privaloma palikti mokesciu inspekcijai pries laikinai importuojant masina I Meksika. Labai atidziai dairomes, nes pinigus grazinancios institucijos, priesingai nei juos surenkancios institucijos, paprastai buna gerai pasleptos. Smarkiai padaugejo masinu - akivaizdziai artejam prie pasienio… Ir staiga musu Nissana apsupa burys tvarkingai atrodanciu vyruku, kurie ima rodyti I mus pirstais ir rekti: "Turista!, Transmigrante! Turista!? Transmigrante!?? Tramite- Banjercito!!" Vos speje atsitoketi nuo sitokios netiketos atakos, rekiame jiems atgal - "si, si!!", mes esame "turistas transmigrantes", o jus kas tokie?? Vaikinukai kisa pro masinos langa pazymejimus, kurie mums, 6+ metu pradirbusiems apsaugos sistemu srityje, is karto sukelia itarima - oficialiai tokiu siandiena nei viena normali firma nebeisduoda. Mes dar karta klausiam kas jie tokie - jie dar karta pakartoja "turista-transmigrante-tramite-banjercito". Mes sakom - tai mes turistai, ir mums reikia tvarkytis pasienio dokumentus (tramite) banke (banjercito), o kas jus? Atsakymas toks pats - "turista-transmigrante-tramite"… Situacija smarkiai supanaseja I, ko gero, visiems gerai zinoma zaidima "Pirk drambli", kol galiausiai mums pirmiems baigiasi kantrybe, todel grieztai paprasom ju visu atsitraukti nuo masinos. Kazkuri laika dar nuogastavom - ar tik neatbaidem "banjercito" darbuotoju norejusiu mums padeti? Taciau sveikas protas nugali - kurioj pasaulio saly esate mate muitines ar mokesciu inspekcijos darbuotojus, begancius link jusu masinos ir blokuojancius kelia tam, kad tik jus, siukstu, nepamirstumet atsiimti savo $400??..

Tai buvo musu pirmoji pazintis su "pasienio gidais" :) Ypatingai bjauri kategorija - nei mandagus, nei nemandagus bandymas atsisakyti ju paslaugu dazniausiai nepadeda. Vis tiek sekios is paskos, tikedamiesi kokiu nors budu iskaulinti bent doleri. Kol vienam bandai irodyti, kad jo paslaugu tikrai nereikia, kitas, ziurek, prisliukines jau valo Nissano langus ir ratus… begam prie to ir aiskinam, jog vos pries 5 minutes sumokejom $7 uz privaloma masinos nupurskima nuo kazkokiu pavojingu vabzdziu, o jis savo plovimu bando paleisti musu $7 vejais, jau nekalbant apie tai, kad Nissano padangas, o gal ir mus pacius, tuoj sugraus piktieji vabzdziai; o tam ne motais - jis uzdarbiauja plaudamas pravaziuojanciu turistu masinas… Sunku net nupasakoti, kaip palengvetu visos muitiniu proceduros, jei staiga nebeliktu "paslaugiuju pasieniu gidu".

Ka gi, siaip ne taip atsikrate "gidu", uz keliu metru randam "Banjercito" ofisa ir be jokiu nesklandumu susitvarkom uzstato reikalus. Lieka visiskai neaisku, kuriems galams sitoj vietoj kam nors galetu prireikti gido - cia net kalbeti beveik nereikejo, nei ispaniskai, nei angliskai (nebent atsirastu norinciu kazka papildomai pasakyti zaviai juodaakei "banjercito" tarnautojai :)).

Sekantis siurprizas - Ciudad Hidalgo - pasienio postas, per kuri planavom ivaziuoti I Gvatemala - irgi visiskai nusiaubtas uragano. Jo, paprasciausiai, nebera… Vietoj muitines pastatyti primityvus pakeliami vartai , pro kuriuos praleidziamas tik komercinis transportas. Stoviniuoja vienisas pasienietis, kurio mes ir uzklausiam, kas atsitiko muitines postui, ir kaip galetumem ivaziuoti I Gvatemala. Pasienieciui net nespejus issizioti, prie musu pripuola 2 "pasienio gidai", kurie beveik choru ima sufleruoti: "$10 ir vartai atsidarys…" (pats pasienietis tokio "sanderio" siulyti negali, todel, gidams pasirodzius, reiksmingai nusisuka ir apsimeta kazkuo uzsiemes). Matyt, tos dienos "pasienio gidu" doze buvom jau smarkiai virsije - gana nemandagiai atsisakom siulomos "paslaugos", ir pasirenkam "sudetingaja" alternatyva - 37 km atgal I Talismano miesteli, per kita pasienio posta, "kur musu lauks nezmoniskos eiles".
Vos spejam ijungti atbuline pavara, "lengvatos" kaina krenta per pus - $5… Kad juos kur galas, korupcijos neskatinsim :)

Atrasis bandymas ivaziuoti I Gvatemala - daug sekmingesnis. Elgesio su "gidais" (t.y. ju neutralizavimo) etiketa jau beveik isisavinome, "nezmonisku eiliu" prognoze nepasitvirtino, todel palyginti greitai susirenkam pussimti abejotino reikalingumo atspaudu I pasus ir ant papildomu lapu, ir, pagaliau lengviau atsikvepe, ivaziuojam I Gvatemala. (Isvaziuodami is muitines pastebim, kad masinos dokumentuose vietoj musu "Nissan Pathfinder" del protu nesuvokiamu priezasciu muitininkas irase "Isuzu Rodeo". Pasieny jau ir taip sugaise puse dienos, nusprendziam nebegrizti - kaip bus, taip… O buvo idomiai - veliau perskaitysit :))

Ka gi, pagaliau - "ilgai lauktoji" Gvatemala, placiai pagarsejusi kaip Karibu laukiniai vakarai. Iki paskutines minutes negalejom apsispresti, kaip per sita sali vaziuosim - ar spjausim I visus gasdinimus apie sautuvuotus banditus, 24 val. per para "patruliuojancius" visais salies keliais, iskaitant ir 2 pagrindinius greitkelius - Pan American-CA1 ir naujaji CA2 - ir bandysim apziureti Gvatemala taip pat kruopsciai, kaip Meksika; ar patikesim statistika: 2 turistu masinos/ autobusai per menesi "apsvarinami" ginkluotu banditu - nesvarbu nei koks paros laikas, nei kiek tuo metu masinu kelyje - visi kiti kantriai, be priekaisku palaukia :)

Zodziu, baisybiu pries kelione buvom prisiskaite pakankamai, bet…is patirties zinom, kad vosokie turistu informacijos saltiniai, ypac amerikoniskieji, ispedami apie pavojus paprastai perlenkia lazda, ir noras pamatyti paslaptingaji Tikali, Atitlano ezera ir neeiliniu groziu garsejancia Antigua Guatemala turbut butu nugalejes, jei ne nelemtas (o gal - kaip tik lemtas - niekad nebesuzinot! :)) pasieny sutiktas gvatemalietis, kuris net nusipurto, isgirdes musu ideja vazinetis po Gvatemala su "nauja" masina (1996 Nissan Pathfinder…), kurios numeriai - o siaube! - kalifornietiski!... Pataria rinktis pati saugiausia ir greiciausia is galimu keliu - CA2, ir, gink Dieve, nevaziuoti sutemus.

Po tokiu "padrasinimu", nebetrunkam apsispresti - tie jau to, palauksim geresniu Gvatemalos laiku. Adrenalino sitoj kelionej ir taip uztenka :) Todel siandienos tikslas - apsinakvoti kuo arciau Salvadoro (El Salvador), kad jau ryt ryte pervaziuotumem siena.

Isilgai Gvatemala - visai nediduke - vakarop jau esame Eskintlos miestelyje (Esquintla). Iki Salvadoro liko gal 2 valandos kelio. Viesbuty jauciames labai saugus, nes prie iejimo stovi sargybinis su didziuliu sautuvu :) Po panasu sargybini, o kartais ir po kelis, matom ir prie kiekvieno banko, masinu nuomos biuru, o kartais net ir maisto prekiu parduotuviu. Gvatemalieciai akivaizdziai megsta sauguma :)

Smulkmeneles. Gvatemaloje yra 2 pagrindines alaus rusys: Gallo ("Gaidzio") ir Cabro ("Ozio"). Be bajerio :)) Ozio alaus pirkti nematem, bet Gaidzio matem, pirkom, ragavom, ir turim pripazinti, kad visai neblogas. Netikintiems, kad tikrai yra salis, kuri gamina Gaidzio ir Ozio alu, pridedam vaizdini irodyma :))

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