Friday (Viernes) 10th September, 2010
Day 546

Esquintla, Mexico
Esquintla, Mexico
Miles: 53,134
N 15.32783°
W 92.65500°

This morning, on the road west (CA-2) towards the Mexican border, we got some great views of the volcanoes for which Guatemala is famous. The sky was clear and the mountains mostly free of mist.

This peaceful beginning was interrupted a few kms before Mazatenango, we came upon the rear of a line of stationary trucks. Not knowing what was going on we joined with a group of vehicles that decided to use the left side of this two lane road to move forward (this is a common practice in Latin America - when your lane is stationary, just use the other one). We traveled a couple of miles like this passing a packed line of stationary trucks and occasionally having to pull off the road to allow on coming traffic to use their lane. Eventually we arrived at an intersection that was choked with vehicles. The police trying to bring order to this chaos indicated that the main road was closed (we assumed because of a washout) and that we should take a detour to the left. It took us half an hour to figure out that the detour was that small dirt track that we passed 20 times while searching around. We wound along a country dirt road over a narrow bridge and then onto a track that was still being built - by farmers and their children with shovels - while we drove over it. This was probably only a walking track a few days ago. Back on the highway we drove 5 miles all the way passing stationary south bound traffic, and then our lane of traffic stopped. A short walk revealed that bridge head was choked with traffic. South bound vehicles blocked the entire road in the their efforts to get around a broken down truck. After waiting 20 minutes the police cleared the bridge and we moved forward again. We passed another mile of stationary south bound traffic before sighting the end of the line. We whispered a thanks that we were not in that southward line as those vehicles will be there for days.

The remainder of the drive to the border was slow with lots of traffic and frequent road damage from recent rains. We came upon one bridge that had clearly been entirely submerged by the recently swollen river. One lane was closed while workmen using picks and shovels removed silt from the road way. Beside this bridge the raging waters had built walls of gravel 20 ft higher than the bridge itself. A few km before the Tecun Uman border crossing, at a river crossing, a road branches north to the El Carmen border crossing. The bridge on the El Carmen road had toppled into the river by recent rains. That was our intended route.

The border crossing!!

The exit from Guatemala was straightforward. After navigating through Tecun Uman we arrived at a barrier and were directed into a parking lot. The building at the rear of the lot is where the vehicle exit processing was performed. There were a number of people wearing badges running around. They are not officials and requests for fees should be declined. At the other end of the lot is the immigration office. Processing here took only a few minutes once we got to the window. Then a few hundred yards up the road to the Mexican processing area.

First stop was a shed where the vehicle was sprayed. Next stop immigration - this building was a bit difficult to find. If you don't have the services of a helper, ask the spray attendant for directions. Immigration was simple, fill out a form and get a stamp and get a tourist card. But warning - if you are bringing in a vehicle make sure that the drivers and owners tourist cards are properly stamped. Next to immigration there is a customs office that wanted to look in the vehicle.

This is where the fun startedIf you don't already have a window sticker for your vehicle from a previous entry the customs people will tell you "you have to go to Viva Mexico to get a permit". Viva Mexico is a processing station on the Panamericana (Mex 200) west of Tapachula about 50 minutes drive from where you are. And to make matters a bit more complicated the road one would normally take to get there from Tecun Uman is closed which means some detouring around the chaotic streets of Tapachula.

At Viva Mexico you will pay US49.95 (if you have a motor home) for a 10 year multiple entry permit. When complete you will get three pieces of paper all of which are very important for exit and future entry into Mexico. The first is a blue document from which you remove a sticker and place it on the wind shield of your vehicle. After removing the sticker from the blue document keep the rest. Second a receipt for the fee your paid. Third an inventory of what you are carrying in the vehicle. You will need this last document to make a correct exit from Mexico.

Matters were more complicated for us, we made the mistake of loosing all the documents except the window sticker. It took three hours and a mountain of forms to cancel our old permission (and old sticker) and issue a new permit and sticker.


Pemex gas station Esquintla, along CA-2 from Tapachula.