It took us almost ten months to finally make it to our third country. Guatemala beckoned from across the river for several days.
We were officially stamped out of the country at the Mexican emigration office. The official attempted to charge us a second time for our tourist visa but luckily we had the foresight to retain the payment receipts from when we entered. A short while later we were on a boat for the short ride upstream to Bethel, a Guatemala border town on the river.
We bumped along the rocky road about 4 km to the Guatemalan emigration post and obtained our 90 day visa and were asked for a fee (the visa was supposed to be no-cost). Recognizing the “fee” was not official, we explained that we would need a receipt so that when we left Guatemala, we could prove we paid for our visa.
After a trip to the back of the office, the border official returned and told us we were free to go. Apparently, the trip to the back of the office caused a case of amnesia regarding the fee.
My first impression of Guatemala is that outside of tourist areas and emigration, people are amazingly friendly, providing big smiles and waves. We stopped for a celebratory beer and were adopted by a family. The children climbed over our bikes and asked loads of questions about how we live and travel.
Late in the day, we decided to try a different approach to camping. Our language skills are improving and we approached a house to ask if we could camp on the property. We met a friendly old man who was more than happy to let us stay. He appeared glad to have the company.
We had a great time pulling out maps and sharing our journey. He commented on our gear, noting that nothing of the type is sold here (in Guatemala). We learned he as a granddaughter in North Carolina and a daughter Las Vegas. We showed him where the state of North Carolina and the city of Las Vegas was on our map.
During our visit, a neighbor came over who was a bit surprised to see a tent and a couple of gringos. The neighbor had worked in the US about eight or ten years ago but it got increasingly difficult to find work as the political climate and laws changed requiring stricter scrutiny of paperwork. His return trip to Guatemala sounded harrowing.
The Mexican police removed his car stereo and extracted so many bribes along the way that he ran out of money and was forced to sell his vehicle, making the remaining trip home to Guatemala on a bus. He did reassure us that Guatemalan police do not bother touristas for bribes, apparently they are off-limits so that foreigners continue to visit and spend money.
I’ve adopted a Spanish language variant of my middle name, this is much easier to pronounce than my first name. This change was inspired by Heather, whose name is also difficult to pronounce in Spanish, and goes by Esperanza. I am now Francisco or the nickname, Pancho. Sarah is still Sarah, or the diminutive, Sarita.
It’s official, we’ve gone native. One thing though, I’m in no hurry to make the journey north in search of work.