Thursday, April 2, 2009
4/2/09 Mazunte-Tonola-Tapachula-Xela, Guatemala 650 miles. Sick and Exhausted, but Finally There
So I am finally settled in Xela, Guatemala where I'll be in spanish immersion school for 5 weeks or so. It's been a while since I posted so I'll try to cover everything as well as i can. I left Mazunte in the morning and the heat was already pretty intense. The day before I had met that girl from Spain on the beach and I did indeed see her later that night in a local open air restaurant/hostel on the beach where she was staying. However, the sun from the beach from the previous couple of days caught up to me finally and I definitely had some fever and some painful-ass sunburn which is rare for me. The sun is the strongest I've ever been in on those little beaches in southern Mexico and that's coming from someone who has lived in Vegas in the summer! So long story short, we talked for a while and she made sure I had some proper lotions and other soothing stuff and while she went to go eat with some friends I slinked away back to my room in quiet exhaustion. Thus began the first of three nights continuing nights of extreme discomfort. That night included not being able to sleep much at all because of the pain from the sun (it hurt badly just removing my shirt) and constantly getting tangled up in the mosquito net which only worked marginally. So, like I was saying, I left Mazunte and decided to leave Mexico without stopping in the beautiful mountain town of San Cristobal (I have been there before) and finally getting to Guatemala quickly now as I had already been in Mexico for two weeks. The plan was to stop overnight and make the trip in two easy days to Xela where I would be for 5 weeks. It seemed like it would be no problem on the surprisingly modern (for Mexico) 4 lane highway along the southern coast where I was cruising at a steady 65 mph for the first time since the U.S. However, it was not to be. The first missstep I made was to take the advice of the owner of the previous hostel I stayed at and try to stay at the town of Boca del Cielo, a beach community halfway to my destination. However after travelling down miles of back roads to the community, I was just to beat from the road and the sun to spend another night in a hot humid place with mosquitos. It wasn't really pretty either to be honest, just kind of a place where the locals go to party for the weekend it seems. So I made my way back to the large city of Tonola which is a complete shit hole. Dirty and ugly with not much to see. Also didn't help that couldn't sleep and got sick from a bad sandwich. The works, coming out both ends, good stuff. Plus the killer sunburn, especially on the back of my neck which is exposed while riding and starting to peel. And the two weeks on the road in Mexico catching up to me. I was fucking done, and laying there with no sleep on top of it with the sun coming up, realizing that i would probably have to spend another day in this cess-pool of a town when i was only a couple of hundred miles to my destination in Guatemala. Long story short, I crawled to a store for some Gatorade (the only thing that went into my body besides water for almost 2 days) and passed out for a few hours. I woke up and although i was still weak and would remain that way for a couple of days, I felt good enough to push on. It's still a fast road as I cross over into the frontier state of Chiapas and I'm having mixed feelings of making it to another country i've never been to, bouts of loneliness, and barely hanging on physically. I'm right on schedule 10 miles from the Guatemala border filling up at the Pemex when I reach for my wallet. Gone. Fuck. Wait, not so bad. It's my dummy wallet. afew dollars and some expired credit cards. But it does have my license and I am about to cross a border. So even though I have a passport and International Drivers License (kind of a joke), I decide to go back 50 miles to the gas station where I am sure i left it. By the time I get there and back the sun is starting to go down and I'm not sure how long the border crossing is gonna take. So another night in Mexico in the city of Tapachula it is. Tapachula turns out to be surprisingly vibrant with a large nice town square and many people out enjoying the night. Lots of good looking women also. by the time i get cleaned up and get online at a cyber-cafe for an hour I am ready to pass out. So i go back and try to get as much sleep as i can coming down from being sick, but still really tender from the sun which makes it really hard to sleep. So, wake up, duck out and go to the border 10 miles away. Except I miss the turn off and do a 40 mile detour back to the town I just left. Ok, round 2 and Im at the border at Talisman. It's known for being a pain in the ass to cross here although there are much worse crossings. Immediately I am swarmed by money changers. I was planning on this and i need some Guatemalan dollars (quetzales) and work out on ok rate since I know what it is supposed to be. Of course they try to rip me off but we end up with a deal both sides are happy with. Get an exit stamp in my passport from the Mexican side but I still hold on to my tourist card and vehicle permit which are good for 6 months for my return. Go to the Guatemala side and again I am immediately swarmed once again by "tramitadores." These are basically a bunch of fucking termites who insist on helping you through the semi-complicated border process. By helping I mean not listening to you at all when you tell them you dont need help and have no money for them. They literally will just keep hounding you and shoving themselves in your face and saying they don't care about the money. Yeah, ok. If i sound like an asshole, just google accounts of these motherfuckers and how they rip people off with their bag of tricks. Long story short, it is a madhouse and Im still sick and tired so in my weakened state, this guy who really wont fucking go away runs around with me and shown me where to make copies and tells me how much to pay (i watch for change) and basically does what i could do myself but in a little less time, so I tell him Ill give him whatever pesos I have left over from Mexico. Plus one of his buddies is sitting next to my bike and keeping an eye on it. We go to a mandatory fumigation station where they spray your vehicle for bugs (unique to Guatemala) and i say Ill pay the small fee but could they please not spray my bike with that shit? Ok they say and then the guy starts to do it anyway before I stop him. Of course when payment time comes. it isnt enough. bad vibes ensue, he quotes a fair-to-him price and I calculate it to be about 6 bucks. Sounds like nothing but the border fees were about 10 bucks and realatively speaking it is quite a bit for the world Im in at the moment. Fuck it, I look at the road leading out of the madness and give it to him. Then the kid sitting next to my bike who is partners with the other guy and who is supposed to take care of him ( I told him this) asks for some more $. So i give him a few pesos and he grimaces angrily and leaves. Mind you , he was sitting in the shade next to my bike for 20 minutes or so talking with a bunch of his friends. I chalk the whole unpleasantness up to learning experience and my own stupidity for not quoting a price beforehand. 3 hours later through extremely steep mountains and quickly-dropping temps and Im in Xela. Go straight to an internet cafe and look up a few good spanish schools and write down their addresses. Go to one and it has a beautiful Spanish style indoor courtyard where the learning takes place, free coffee, tea and snacks for students, wi-fi included, and they can set me up with a homestay family immediately. Plus I can start tomorrow. All this plus 3 homecooked meals a day for 130 bucks a week. I couldn't be more fortunate. I meet my Guatemalan "mom", Esperanza and her family and settle into a large private room to myself. Plus there is hot water! Eat dinner and meet the one other student staying at the place, Aleen. Afterwards, we go and watch Changeling (which was great) at a cafe in town with a bunch of other students. Can't tell you how nice it was to be settled in and watch a movie. Head back and go to sleep. Since then I've had 2 days of private instruction which has been going well and Zim slowly getting to know the town which will be my home for 5 weeks. It's been good to really take my time the past couple of days and not feel like Im passing through and having to hit all the best spots before I leave again. Im looking forwards to the "immersion" part of the school and I'll post here periodically on my experiences in the city before I leave for the rest of Guatemala, Belize, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and back through the States.