The quick summary of this report is the licuado was good.
About a half hour from the Guatemalan border the landscape turned lush, green and tropical.
The only truly scary part of the trip was at the transmigrantes area.
For anyone bringing a car for a long period of time or permanently into Mexico or Central America you must stop at the transmigrates office to get paperwork done and pay fees.
At the US/Mexican border at Los Indios there are dozens of these in the middle of nowhere that look pretty much like car junkyards. Clearing paperwork can take days. That is why motels in the Los Indios/ Harlingen area offer weekly rates.
Don’t get impatient … I’m getting to the food part.
At the office we used in Los Indios there was a microwave, coffee machine and soda machine. People heated their frijoles and such while they sat on couches watching TV and waited and waited.
If an agreement is not reached with Mexican customs, you go back and try again the next day. It took us two days to clear Los Indios and three days to clear the office at the Guatemalan border.
Near Guatemala we got lost the first night and at a stoplight, someone popped up and started a long discussion with my friend who said this guy would find us a hotel for the night and wake us up at seven and bring us to the office.
“Did I black out and miss something?” I asked.
I was told these guys watch out for stickered cars. I was told he was ok because he had a badge around his neck. This guy takes us to a creepy restaurant with a hotel in back and a group of the scariest people I’ve ever seen. The room had bedbugs. I had a fit. We found a taxi that drove in front of us and took us to the wonderful Los Arcos hotel.
Seriously … trust a guy who appears in the dark because he has a badge … and our truck loaded with things ripe for picking … badge or not … I think we would have been murdered that night.
It wasn’t a much better when we got to the transmigrantes area on our own the next day.
Like a pack of wild dogs men ran to our car surrounding it telling us to pull off onto a dirt road. Then one or two of them get assigned to your car and attach themselves to you like suction cups … running along side the car, standing next to you negotiating with officials and sitting with you while you waited… and waited … and waited.
Driving in there were some of the saddest looking restaurants I’ve ever seen. I would learn as we inched along … and inched is too optimistic of a word … that as you get closer to the Guatemalan border, the restaurants got nicer. But the first part is one sorry part of town.
For most of the morning we sat in the hot car. This was my first intro to intense tropical heat. Street vendors passed by … a man pushing a sort of wheelbarrow that had ice cream cones and a large metallic vat with ice cream … vendors selling food on three wheeled carts, some motorcycled-powered others bicycle. The motorcycles were usually for what passed for taxis … a sort of open red rickshaw/surrey with a bench seat in front. Kids stop by asking to wash the windows and some just ask for a peso.
About three hours later we moved to the central area which had a huge restaurant that seemed to be the central waiting area. There were black, ripe plantains on the counter and flats of eggs, but in the hours I sat there I never saw a person eat a thing… only bottle after bottle of Coke or Modelo until the plastic tables were filled with maybe a dozen empty bottles.
There was occasionally an order of a liquado … fresh fruit blended with ice and a choice of water or milk. I thought milk might be the iffier choice in the heat and went with water. To be safe, I downed an anti-diarrhea pill.
Fruit choices were melon, pineapple or papaya. My friend suggested a mix of all three which I got. It was served in a huge heavy glass goblet. It was very tasty.
The first room in the restaurant where I waited had a heavy round wooden table with a smoked glass top that was large enough, I imagine, to seat King Arthur and his knights.
Four large white alabaster angels … about 3 feet tall … were on a shelf next to a mega TV. There was a white alabaster box guarded by the angles … two on each side … ashes, I guessed. For good measure two brown Mayan figures, one bare-breasted, kept company with the angels
On one of the posts was crucified Christmas Jesus. The horizontal part of the cross had an artificial pine branch across it. Shiny red, green and gold ornaments were strung from the branch on the cross. Christmas lights were wrapped around Christ’s body. If only the ancient Romans could have added this extra torture
When that room needed to be cleaned, I moved to the next. In a corner a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe and other saints had a lighted white candle in front. I was praying feverously to The Virgin at that point myself.
White dove wind chimes tinkled faintly in the all too infrequent and weak breeze
Next to the restaurant were large cages with parrots. Black tropical birds give piercing shrieks and for no apparent reason picked fights with each other. Ducks chickens and turkeys ran through the unpaved street nearby.
At this point, I went with what everyone else was drinking… bottle after bottle of Mexican coke and one Fanta.
Real Mexican coke … so real there wasn’t even an ingredient list. However, the mellow, balanced taste indicated sugar cane … no rusty, metallic taste of US coke … this was the Coke of my childhood and beyond … the taste of the coke appearing on Normen Rockwell posters.
The Fanta with sugar cane was equally pleasant. The waitress went back to the kitchen and made fun of the way I pronounced ‘Fanta”. I gave the Spanish pronunciation an attempt. Fine … coke from then on
Trees with yellow coconuts lined the road. Most people sat on the plastic tables outside shaded by a tin awning. There were brief outbursts of rain … my first intro to the pleasant sound of rain on a tin roof.
There were few street vendors. A little four year old boy with a bag of a half dozen limes passed by shouting “Good morning” in English
Ladies strolled by in colorful Guatemalan dress and frilly aprons with baskets balanced on their heads
The most excitement was the dog.
The dog ambled along the cobblestone street. A passing boy stopped, picked up a stone and aimed it at the dog. The dog leaped out of the way, forgot the insult and continued along. The boy’s face lighted up with malicious glee. A look of pleasure crossed his face and he walked on in the opposite direction with a self-satisfied grin as though he had done something great.
At four we went to the next area and sat in the truck in a parking lot guarded by Guatemalan soldiers with rifles.
It is a bustling entry point with people crowding the streets.
My border food was fast food because if we got clearance we had to leave NOW. So my first taste of Guatemala was a torta of sorts. It was a soft roll stuffed with chopped hot ham, chopped hot dogs and lots of oozy cheese. It was a good intro.
That was washed down with a can of Central American Coca Cola, which like Mexican Coke uses cane sugar rather than HFCS. It gives it a more balanced, mellow taste and is not as overly sweet and cloying as Coke in the US.
Sitting in the truck and continuing to wait, it got dark and my friend bought a Guatemalan-style hamburger. I couldn’t see what I was eating but it was small beef patty with fried egg and maybe bologna. There was also lettuce, tomato and mayo.
Then the office closed and we had to go to a hotel. They are also closed on Saturday and Sunday.
In the morning women in native dress balancing straw baskets on their head were selling fruit from those baskets such as bags of cut watermelon, papaya, pineapple and mango
We had fresh orange juice and a sweet roll with a lardy edge to it. It was sprinkled with sugar. Customs cleared us and we had to leave NOW … NOW!!! My understanding is the agreement to enter the country can sour if one lingers.
After lots of discussion with officials it turns out I was the issue … why an American would drive to Central America with a truck filled with things. An arrangement was made to get a sticker costing 40 quetzales, the Guatemalan currency. I was told to go alone to the customs office
My friend leaned over and said in a low conspiratorial voice … say nothing. Only say you paid 40 quetzales for the sticker. This was repeated a number of times so I would be clear.
Heck, at this point I probably would have agreed to almost anything that didn’t land me in jail … or worse … leave me stranded in Mexico. I spent a few days paying “gratuities” to Mexican officials … my favorites at places that had big signs saying that there were “No costs for any services at this location”.
When my American indignance finally got the better of me and I told my friend I would not give out one more ‘tip’ … what would they do anyway … my friend said they would find something wrong with the paper work and take everything in the truck. I was rather attached to my new net book at that point and sort of shuddered when I thought back at one border official who admired it while I was working on it to kill time.
I still plan to start a blog asking for stories about people who paid “gratuities” in Mexico … and write a letter to the US State Department.
So told to say nothing ... NOTHING … when the custom official asked my why I did not fly … I told the truth … about staying with my husband a few months while he got his paperwork done to become an American citizen.
“Why do you have a transmigrantes sticker on your car?” I was asked.
“Uh … the Mexican border guards said I had to?”
She sighed and said “Next time tell Mexican officials you only need a tourist sticker”
“You don’t need to pay anything else. Welcome to Guatemala”.
So ends the Mexican part of my trip and begins my life in Guatemala
Living and eating in Guatemala
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