We’re leaving this desperately basic town. There is little reason to stay. Even so, we get a late start, frapping about at the hotel, doing last minute shopping, stocking up because we’ll be well into Guatemala before we reach the next town of any size.
We don’t quite make it to our destination, Frontera Corozol on the Usumacinta River which defines the border with Guatemala. So instead, we stealth camp along a small river. The sun is setting fast and we don’t have a ton of options. We do notice as we set up camp that we are in a runoff area. We’re high enough above the river that flooding is not a concern, but if it really rains the runoff would test the integrity of our tent floor.
We fall asleep for a couple of hours but wake around midnight to the sound of rain hitting the tent, first in a gentle mist but quickly building into a crescendo until big fat raindrops are pounding down.
Almost immediately, a river of water is running beneath our tent. The weight of our stuff and us is keeping the tent from sliding with the water.
By 1am a considerable amount of water has started to pool under the tent. The floor of the tent is like a waterbed as we can feel the water sloshing about beneath us. Thankfully, the water does not appear to be coming through the floor.
It continues to pour with no sign of stopping. The water flowing off the rainfly is running into the pool of water around our tent. This causes the water to splash up under the rainfly and into the mesh wall of the tent. In this way, we start taking on water inside the tent.
In short order it’s clear that we cannot stay here. We decide to go back to a covered parking area for taxis that we passed at an intersection a quarter mile away. The taxis are only there during the day so we should be able to set up our tent, out of the rain.
It’s 1:30am. We arrive, soaking wet, to find 10-15 people already hiding out in the shelter. I suspect immediately that they are not locals. It’s dark, but I can tell by their silhouettes that they’re tall. Folks from Chiapas are generally of short stature. Their accent is different too. They’re speaking a dialect of Spanish but with a Caribbean flair. And most obvious, if they were from here then they wouldn’t be hiding in a carport in the pouring rain in the middle of the night. Like us, they have nowhere else to go.
The parking area is small, with only four spaces. Scott and I pull into the far side, putting the greatest distance between us and them. Two of the men come over. They are of African descent. This supports my suspicion that they are not from Chiapas and they are probably not Mexican. They’re traveling light, with just small backpacks. The fact I don’t know why they’re here makes me uncomfortable. Did they simply miss their ride and are stuck here for the night? Are they running from something? Are they desperate? Maybe they’re wondering the same thing about us.
We turn off our headlamps so we’re not blinding them, and also so they can’t get a good look at our gear. We exchange pleasantries, but they don’t say much, just stand there staring at us in the darkness. We sense we’re getting a once-over. They offer us a cigarette and I take this to be a good sign, a peace offering among strangers. We politely decline and they go back to their group at the other end.
An hour goes by and it’s still pouring, the rain and darkness creating an inhospitable mood to this place. There are no locals in sight and no traffic, but we are close to a couple of houses. We don’t feel comfortable setting up our tent in the carport. Fear and my imagination runs wild. We are significantly outnumbered. I don’t feel safe. We have our knives close by in case things go south.
Fatigue is setting in and I want to lay down. The carport only has a roof, no walls, so rain is blowing in on us. There is a tienda across the street that has a porch with a picnic bench and a light on. We roll the bikes over there. We’re cold. We change into dry clothes and are now wearing most of the clothes we own. We each take a bench and try unsuccessfully to fall asleep.
At 4am the first combis and trucks pass by. The tiendas start to open. By 4:30am the carport has cleared out, everyone having jumped on passing vehicles.
It’s still drizzling at 6am but at least it’s not dark anymore. I ask a local man about the people in the carport last night. He says they are from Honduras, and they’re heading north for work (I presume in the US). He adds that it is a dangerous time. I’m not sure if he means for the Hondurans, or us, or the locals. Before I can get the rest of the story, his wife yells something at him in their indigenous language and he goes back inside.
I wish our Spanish was better and I regret we couldn’t have more accurately gauged the character of the Hondurans. I wonder if one of them was a coyote, their guide to getting across borders and through checkpoints. It would have been very interesting to hear their stories of traveling north and understand their motivation for making a journey that is often very dangerous.
But mostly I’m glad the night was not any more eventful than it already was.