Friday, January 2, 2009

Adv #7 Continued: Guatemala

(To give a feeling for what's going on right now, I'm posting this while sitting in a hotel in La Union, El Salvador on January 2nd, but the last picture and comment from below is really from December 31st. It's tough to keep this stuff current, but this is the closest it's ever been! We're crossing into Honduras tomorrow morning.)

About Guatemala though.....

An hour’s ride to the border from Comitan in Mexico was a piece of cake, but as we guessed, nothing is quick and simple about crossing the border into Guatemala. Even the signs they put up don’t make it clear where we’re supposed to go to take care of anything! We had to rely on directions from security guards and such to tell us where to go next, who to pay, what to bring, etc. (Of course we each have to do this separately while one guy watches the bikes and equipment.)
Standing there in our gear in the midday heat, we eventually made it through all the visa & vehicle exit requirements from Mexico, and then through the entrance formalities for Guatemala (including the spraying of our bikes for some kind of insect.) This was my first time having an official try to extort some money from me though. Some little dork in the Guatemalan passport office stamped my passport and said “Viente quetzales.” At first I thought it was legitimate, but as I started to ask if it was okay to pay in Mexican pesos instead of Guatemalan quetzales, his counterparts muttered something to him in Spanish and he turned to me and said “forget it.” I think they had talked him out of adding to the stack of twenties already in his hand.
Of course, not everything about crossing the border was tough. The locals seem to be just as friendly as in Mexico, and they even have a few dark-haired cuties like Ariana running around here that want to meet us, too.


Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m never leaving Guatemala. The weather is great, the scenery is outstanding, and I’m sure the enclosed picture will help explain this decision. Say hi to Andy for me.
Your loving son,
One night’s stay in Huetuetenango put us in the middle of some gorgeous Guatemalan Mountain riding for the first two days in the country. We crossed the highest point on the Pan-American Highway (about 9500 feet) and drove around the eastern side of Lago de Atitlan, which was quite impressive with the volcano in the background. In a bit of a hussle to make it to Guatemala City by dark, we only cruised through Antigua very briefly.

In traffic in Antigua, we had the good fortune to meet another motorcyclist named Johnny who, with his girlfriend on back, offered to lead us into Guatemala City and directly to the hotel we were looking for. (Regrets, no picture though.) What a great offer, as it’s always a challenge to find stuff in these big cities. Tough part was, Johnny drives a Honda CBR 1000 and slices through the traffic much more easily than Peter and I do with the big bikes and the luggage and stuff. It was a challenge….but we were able to hang with him all the way into the city. (It’s another example of the help we’re getting from strangers though!)

Hotel Spring in Zone 1 of Guatemala City was a good find for us, but the 4-inch cockroach I killed the first night along with a variety of other bugs in the room motivated us to set up our tents in the room, creating a small barrier for us during the night.

Peter had set us up to meet Jose from BMW-Guatemala, and what a great time we had getting tours of their facilities, stories and jokes, lunches, dinners, and all sorts of fun stuff with the BMW guys. Jose Del Busto, the business manager for BMW in Guatemala, had been in touch with Peter prior to arriving, and was kind enough to be a sort of "guide" for us in everything we needed around town. Also joining us was Arne, the owner of BMW Motorcycles who first started importing from Germany into Guatemala about 50 years ago. (He's still the only BMW Motorcycle importer in Guatemala today.) Quite a little empire his work with BMW has turned into though. His business has turned into multiple shops and showrooms around the city selling and servicing motorcycles and cars, and we got the full tour of each place. (And the opportunity to touch up a few things on our bikes of course.)

Dinner with Arne, Jose, and Tito (their riding instructor) was a great time, and I heard stories like the one about how a young Argentinian was once working within the Guatemalan government trying to get a deal put together with Arne for the purchase of some BMW Motorcycles some 40+ years ago. Many meetings and negotiations took place, but Arne wouldn’t compromise on his pricing and turned away the business. Interesting thing is, the guy Arne turned away was Che Guevara.

I finally got the chance to visit a non-U.S. KTM dealer, and Vicente and the guys at KTM Guatemala City were able to get me the right tire I need to make a switch by the time we leave Central America. (Rough roads and riding are chewing up these tires very quickly.)

I we felt like we were still in Mexico, seeing how these open potholes in the sidewalk remain unmarked, unfixed, and if you're careless, unnoticed.
We spent New Year's Eve there at the hotel in Zone 1 of Guatemala City. The temptation was to take a taxi out to Antigua, as it sounded like the only safe spot around the City at night. But we skipped that, just stayed around the hotel with some other tourists, and brought in the new year with a few beers and some fireworks. It was a little weird spending 4 nights in a city where our local friends say they "never go out at night.....especially in the city." (One of the BMW guys we had dinner with actually carries a pistol in his car and had to use it a few months before we arrive. In a scuffle with a guy that smashed his driver-side window, he fired a bullet into the guy's leg and sped away.) But we had proper escorts and help from them when we needed to get out somewhere, so it was okay. Even the taxi situation is a threat here, with muggings and murders being committed by illegitimate taxi drivers.

On New Year's Day, we headed out of Guatemala City for the El Salvadorian border.

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