Life had been carrying on in our bubble routine. Monday, 25th was different, though. We were lazily eating our porridge, in a state of semi undress, when there was a knock on our door. Sarah, somewhat agitated. “We’re going into the village in 5 minutes to get certificates from the Municipality to leave.”
Dennis asked her to slow down and explain why. As my phone is broken, we had not seen the group WhatsApp messages the night before. The President had threatened a 2 week total lockdown, if virus numbers continued to rise. The group had always intended to review our situation by the 1st June. Fear of social unrest, if this lockdown was put in place, precipitated the decision to want to leave.
Sarah, Anya, Susanna, Martin and I headed for the municipality. Thanks to Anya’s excellent Spanish, we managed to obtain the necessary paperwork without too much aggravation.
The rest of the day was spent in discussion with the group as to whether we should leave and if yes, on which day? As the situation in South America is getting worse, not better, the conclusion was that we could not continue our travels and would leave on Friday, 29th.
I contacted IVSS (International Vehicle Shipping Services) in the UK to see if we could get Poki booked on a ship back from Veracruz in Mexico to the UK.
Tuesday, 26th May:
IVSS advised there was a sailing on 13th June. With all the provisos that have come with Covid 19. There are no guarantees the sailing won’t be cancelled, delayed re-routed etc. If confirmation for this departure is given, we will need to be in Veracruz by 2nd June to complete the customs formalities. These are taking much longer than usual.
The whole day was spent, organising vehicle insurance for Mexico. Liaising with various Embassies for documentation to assist us, including getting authority from the Guatemalan authorities to cross internal borders and finding accommodation in Veracruz. I also promised Aska I would finish writing all the house descriptions for their website and completed another in the afternoon.
Wednesday, 27th May:
Sleeping has not been easy. Nerves, anticipation? I’m not sure which. I wrote the last house description and also one for the sauna and massage room. The fruit and veggie truck came, but I only bought minimal supplies, as Mexican customs may confiscate it all.
In the evening we had a farewell barbecue. A great party and some excellent steak, courtesy of Josh.
This was followed by a Sauna and lake immersion. We were up to 10 at a time packed in the Sauna (which comfortably accommodates 7). People came and went throwing themselves off the jetty into the cold lake – some of us more mature members used the steps – I’m not sure this was an easier option in the dark and after a glass or two of vino! Dennis managed to slip and graze his back.
Thursday, 28th May
Couldn’t sleep so up at 05.00. Still no confirmation of Poki’s reservation, but we have the details of the agent in Veracruz now. Did the washing while Dennis was still sleeping. Now the weather has changed it is not so easy to get it dry. By midday it tends to cloud over and rain in the afternoon or evening. Spent the rest of the day repacking Poki and emailing various documents to the shipping agent.
Had tea in the afternoon with Ann Marie, who very kindly printed several documents for us. Ann Marie is one of Pasaj Cap’s permanent residents. A fascinating lady. She has been very helpful to us with our garden and local information. Plus we have enjoyed listening to tales of her experiences, living in different countries.
The day ended with farewell drinks at Pierre and Aska’s house. Sad saying goodbye to everyone. We have become quite a “family” having been together for over 2 and Half months.
Friday, 29th May DEPARTURE DAY:
At 05.20 the convoy with Josh (American), Tim, Sarah, Charley and Jaxon (Canadian) Dennis and I and Martin and Susanna (Swiss) pulled out of the gates at Pasaj Cap. The German family, Oliver, Anya, Vincent and Marlene decided to stay. The only Overlanders left, so I hope it is not too lonely for them.
As we arrived in San Marcos village we were stopped at the cordon and had to show our Permit to Leave the village and our passports. In the village we met 3 American girls, Josh’s friends, in another vehicle. Now we are 5. Another check-point on the way out of the village. Once again we show our documents and wait while other vehicles come and go and they eventually let us through.
Then what we were all dreading. The climb out from Lake Atitlan to the Pan American Highway. We came in at night and the ride down the never ending switch backs was pretty scary. Going up, however, what not so bad. Steep yes, and first gear all the way, but not so frightening as descending.
After this progress was easy. Until we reached Quezaltenango, about half way to the border, and the American girl’s van broke down. Josh went back to help them. After about half an hour we all stopped too. Should we wait or should we continue? Dennis and I needed to cross the border that day. We are supposed to be in Veracruz for a meeting with the shipping agent at 08.00 on 2nd June.
We reached Tecun Uman, the border town easily. Finding the border was another matter. A policeman directed us and we found ourselves at the crossing for trucks. There are two crossings, one for trucks and one for light vehicles. We were turned around and directed back into Tecun Uman. There were no signs, so we kept driving through the town. Almost at the end of the town we came across closed gates. We stopped and people told us to drive up to the gates. Someone let us in and told us where the customs office was to cancel our TIP (Temporary Import Permit). That was quick and easy. The place was deserted. Next the passport office. They told us to go over to the Mexico side to check whether or not we could get in. Then come back and if we could cross, they would stamp us out of Guatemala. Once out we cannot get back in.
We were told we could drive over, which we did and found the office and bank were open until 4pm, so we could get in. Driving back was another matter. Our way was barred by a barrier and we could not go through without paying $19. We tried to explain we were not leaving Mexico, we hadn’t yet entered, but it was falling on deaf ears. Eventually a manager came out and we managed to get him to understand our limited Spanish. Because of the “system” if we went through the barrier we had to pay. So, we left Poki and walked back to the Guatemala side, where they stamped us out.
Back in Mexico we quickly got tourist visas for 180 days for ourselves. This was after numerous applications of hand sanitiser and having our temperatures taken twice. A TIP for Poki took a bit longer, but was unproblematic.
Off we go into Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico to find a cash machine and some Pesos. Once achieved we set off for our resting place for the night, Mission Surf. Our route took us through banana and mango plantations. Dennis stopped and picked up 3 fallen mangos, by the roadside. They were the best mangos we had in the whole of Central America. Mission Surf took some finding on the beach, along dirt roads, just outside Puerto Madero. Now we could relax, but it was hot, humid and buggy. We are missing Lake Atitlan already!
Later we hear Sarah and Tim are arriving. We go to meet them in Puerto Madero to show them the way. It is a struggle for the truck to come down the little dirt streets with low wires and overhanging branches. Sarah sits on the roof to remove any branches that could cause problems and push any low wires out of the way.
We learn that Susanna and Martin are stuck in the middle in no man’s land. They were stamped out of Guatemala but too late for the Mexican Office. Josh and the American girls were too late for both (apart from one of the girls who had a flight to catch who ran across.) The others will be stuck until next Monday as Guatemala is in lockdown over the weekend.
I think in our protected bubble, we were almost afraid to go back out into the world. Everything seemed so grim, according to the media. It was quite a shock to find life going on as normal in Guatemala. Shops, markets and restaurants open. Businesses being conducted normally. The only difference, people wearing masks. Mexico was even more “normal”. Here only a few people are wearing masks. Mainly just policemen, toll booth collectors, border officials and people in official positions.
Saturday, 30th May:
We decide we need to recover from yesterday’s adventures and we’re up quite late. Later than we thought, as a time change means we have lost an hour. Martin and Susanna turn up half way through the morning. Already at Mission Surf are two American campers. They were staying in Pana, the next village to us by Lake Atitlan and left the day before us. The afternoon was spent talking about all our experiences and future plans.
Sunday, 31st May:
Up at 5am again. Martin and Susanna left just after, one of the American campers left at 6am and after tearful goodbyes to Tim, Sarah, Charley and Jaxon we were on the road by 7am.
An easy drive to Ariaga. We stopped for tea and biscuits for half an hour, but still made it to Ariaga in 4 hours. On to Tuxtla Gutierrez and then a long haul up to Coatzacoalcos. We stopped at a Pemex Petrol Station just short of Coatzacoalcos and the guard unlocked a gate to let us camp at the back. 363 miles achieved. We should get to Veracruz tomorrow.