After our nervous experience before crossing US-Mexican border and our subsequent discovery that everything actually went very smoothly, we were very relaxed about the forthcoming border crossing into Guatemala. We had Francisco and crew from UMG, a Guatemalan university, helping us across the border, and we also had a short leg of only 180 miles to accomplish, so everything looked rosy.
After leaving an hour later than scheduled due to coordinating so many different vehicles and people, we headed the 30 miles or so to the border. The road conditions were fine, and before long we were pulling up to the Mexican side of the border. Our passports were quickly stamped out of the country and it looked like it might be a quick crossing. The last thing we had to do on the Mexican side was to cancel our temporary vehicle importation permits, and upon trying to do this, we were told that we had to go back to Tapachula, with all the vehicles, and cancel the permits there. However, we were assured by the consulate in the US that we would be able to cancel the permits at the border. But no matter how many times we explained this, the border guards were not playing dice!
After a lot of back and forth, we finally established that we were allowed out of the country with the vehicles, but if either myself, Clemens or Chris (registered owners of the support vehicle, SRZero, and motorcycle respectively) came back into Mexico, we would be liable to a $500 fine which increases every 6 months. This was not an attractive option, and neither was the alternative of going back to Tapachula and delaying the whole day significantly. So, after a chat with the British Embassy who assured us they would help us sort the whole situation out, we decided to leave Mexico regardless, and continue into Guatemala!
On the Guatemalan side of the border, we were greeted by a large police 4×4 who were kindly going to escort us to Guatemala City. However, before we could leave, we had a mountain of bureaucracy to climb over, and with all our passports in hand, Clemens marched off to the customs house to spend the next 2 hours dealing with it.
Meanwhile, the car was attracting the most attention we had ever had; literally swarms of people were surrounding the car, so much so that you couldn’t even see the car anymore. Over the course of the next 2 hours, thousands of people must have come by to check out what was going on. However, we needed a way to communicate en masse what the car was and why we were here. Coincidentally, there was a small van parked up on the side of the road which had speakers mounted on its roof, and a microphone in the cabin. We went over to ask if we could borrow it, to which the driver promptly agreed! So there we were, a few minutes later, talking to hundreds of people over a loud speaker right on the border with Guatemala…it was really a fantastic and unique experience!
Finally, after conquering the Guatemalan paperwork, Clemens returned with all the passports and documents stamped, and we were free to carry on. Along with a police escort as well as several vehicles from the university, we climbed our way up the mountain and towards Guatemala City. Along the way we stopped for dinner at Central America’s largest restaurant. It was indeed massive, the food delicious, and we had a great time talking with our contacts from the university.
Time was pushing on however, and we still needed to cover a good 100km to get to the city whereby we would be parking and charging the car at the university. So we left the restaurant and proceeded, although progress was much slower than expected as the road was in an awful condition. It was so bad that the support van had to go in front of the SRZero and call out potholes for the trailing SRZero. In addition, it was raining very heavily, and visibility was very poor.
After hours of travelling at speeds barely averaging over 20km/h, we made it onto the smooth highway leading up to Guatemala City, and what a difference! The road easily rivalled anything we have in Europe or the US, and it was a real pleasure to drive on. With progress speeding up, we quickly made it to the university and parked the car up under a massive marquee where we would be addressing an audience of students and journalists the next day.
With this complete, we were able to drive over to the hotel which the university had very kindly booked and paid for. We were expecting a small B&B or something, but it turned out to be an incredibly luxurious 5* hotel. How we could possibly deserve such treatment is still a mystery to me, but we happily sunk into our king size beds and slept the few hours we had at our disposal before the event the following morning!