I really do have writings about all of my America travel (from Canada through the USA to the tip of Central America), but I am behind in photo editing and script editing. So, I have decided to not try and just do catch-up, but write of my current travels as I edit and publish my past travels. Here goes:
Europe here I come. Planned length of time here a year and a half. I left the USA the first week of December. But, not before falling over and on top of a giant Mastiff dog. I hurt my knee and was afraid I would have to postpone leaving. My couchsurfing host, Stephanie (a vet whose rescue Mastiff I flew over) suggested calling the airlines to get a wheelchair to go through the airport. I wasn’t sure about it, but no problem at all. I arrived way before departure time as it was an international flight and that is suggested. BUT, in a wheelchair with an employee pushing you get moved to the front of EVERYTHING. I was through the airport customs and sat right by the door to get to the plane. Once it was time to board the same employee showed up to wheel me in first and to my seat. WOW.
Once on the plane I was amazed at what a great flight I was going to have to Copenhagen. I had booked on Norwegian Airlines a couple of weeks prior and was astonished at the price (so I have told EVERYONE I know about it). I flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Copenhagen for $181.00 (yep you read that correctly) and $35.00 for one piece of checked luggage. One way from Florida to Denmark for $216.00. I honestly was worried I was going to get to the airport and they were going to say, “Sorry there has been a mistake.”
They didn’t and I was on my way. New planes three sections wide, with full access to free movies, wifi, tv shows, games and a panel to tell you exactly where the plane was at any given time and how much time to landing down to the minute. AMAZING. It was by far the best plane ride I have ever enjoyed.
I mentioned in one of my previous posts about entry and exit fees in Central America. They gouge you. Often I (along with other USA, Canadian, Australian and British) citizens were kept off the buses till we gave much more than all the other passengers. Being told that if we didn’t we could go back to the country we just paid to leave or they just calmly held our passports in their hands till we went to the window to pay the “required” amount. This was by far the most frustrating thing that happened in my trip through Central America.
There was actually two surfers I met between the countries of Honduras and El Salvador who had each bought motorcycles in southern Mexico to ride and surf all the way to Panama. They had been gauged so much that along the way they had given away one of the motorcycles (they were being charged extra for each motorcycle along with the higher rates for being Australian) and were stuck between the two countries because they were $10 short for the passage into El Salvador. All of us who were not being allowed back on the bus till we anted up our higher price got our spare change and helped them get through too. What a mess.
So there are some really different things that go on in buses in Central America that most US citizens are just not familiar with….
Buses are not the only form of public transportation.
One of the cool things I found all over Central America are “rooms” to rent right in the terminals. So that you can get right on the bus from where you are staying. I did this a couple of times. Works out great when your bus leaves at some ridiculous time in the middle of the night or early morning.
I went through a lot of Central America by bus just stopping along the way to get out and relax, eat and explore a bit before traveling on. I had to get to Nicaragua by a certain date so I only had a short amount of time to get there. Traveling by car/bus in Central America is in no way like doing so in the States. So a hundred miles is a full days journey. I didn’t really know this ahead of time and so I was a bit crunched with sight-seeing time.
Of the countries I went through in Central America I very much want to go back and spend an extended period of time in El Salvador. I was really sad not to be able to explore it more than I did.
As I mentioned in the previous post I was told by my host to be in Guatemala way before sunset. We had made arrangements for him to pick me up at the local bus terminal Zona 3 . Naively I had pictured a terminal station similar to the ones in the USA and Mexico. I was VERY wrong.
As I began to see there would be no way I would get to G.C. anytime close to sunset I asked one of the other passengers if I could use her phone. I tried calling Vladimir but he didn’t answer. So I just figured I would call when I got there. Well I was again WRONG. This is a crazy place. Basically a side walk goes around in an oval shape with Chicken Buses picking up and dropping people off in a system very similar to a conveyor belt.
It was pitch black when I got there and the guard told me there was no way he would let me use the phone. He was not kind and laughed at me. I will admit I was scared. I know that currently G.C. has a reputation for a lot of crime. I did not know what I was going to do and must have looked a bit stricken, because a group of businessmen from the USA saw me and wanted to know how they could help. I asked if any spoke fluent Spanish, two did, and if they would call my host to tell him I had just arrived. One guy did that while the other got one of the nicer guards to tell him my situation in Spanish.
Vladimir had already been to the station and thought I had stood him up. He had not received the call from me earlier from the other passengers phone. So he told the guy to have me stand under a light and not lose site of the guard and that he would be there in about 40 minutes. He then asked to speak to the guard. The guard, who speaks NO English, smiled at me and kept nodding the entire time he talked to Vlad.
Once everyone was off the phone the guys told me what Vlad had told them and that I was to stay right with the guard. He was going to take care of me. This guard would not let me go two steps away from him. He took my luggage in the hand opposite his gun and pulled it behind us as I walked with him on his route around the “terminal”.
BUT for me this wasn’t even the real scary part. Nope that was about to drive up. Vlad was good to his word and showed up a little over a half hour later. On a MOTORCYLCE. I am scared to death of them. I have two things on my Bucket List published here on this blog and I have already conquered one of them, well sorta, and that is guns. But I need to ease into these things (I did eventually take a ride on my friend’s motorcycle this past summer with a little less fanfare and really enjoyed it). So here I am in the middle of one of the world’s most dangerous cities, with someone I have never physically met, in the middle of the nite getting on a motorcycle to cruise through town. I was terrified.
Off we went. My carry-on luggage between us, me on the back with a death grip on Vlad and him driving. Oh and no helmet. I would have been scared in that traffic in a car. This was crazy. He lives in a small village a half hour outside the city called, Santa Catarina Pinula. So cute. But back to the motorcycle ride. There is a foothill that goes straight up and then you go a city block and it goes straight down to get to the village. TERRIFYING!!!
Once we got there Vlad introduced me to his amazing family. I fell in love with his grandmother.
But Vlad had found out that day that he had to go to Belize. And since I wasn’t going to get on that motorcycle again to save my life I was going to be staying with the family without Vlad. Problem is only he had any command of English, sorta. His 16 yr. old sister knows a few basic words, and we did have Google Translate for what that is worth, but we ended up having to get the 7 yr old nephew to come stay from up the street to be the translator.
I had such a wonderful time with this family. They treated me like royalty. I went with the kids and bought fruit and some goodies for the family and a large bouquet of colorful roses for the grandmother. She was so surprised. She told me she had never been given any flowers in her entire life. We also went to a sort of Swap Meet. It was so fun and I got some really cute clothes. I love them all.
Oh and I woke up the first morning by being thrown off the bed. It was my first out-of-the-country earthquake!!
After several days I went with the kids to the edge of town and caught a taxi to the bus terminal to go to El Salvador. But as a side note that crazy foothill was still really scary even in a taxi…..
So traveling thru Customs has been an experience. I’m quite behind in my blog entries so I can say in retrospect that my first real encounter of going from one country to another by land , especially if the country I was leaving was not my own, was a warning that is was not going to be smooth. Laughable many times, yes. Smooth, never.
I got to the border crossing at Tapachula, Mexico going into Ciudad Hidalgo, Guatemala on a very hot day. By the time I got to the actual area where Mexico ends, but before Guatemala begins (Yep, every country in Central America has about 1 km of nomad’s land, where you are not in any country. They do this to be able to charge you to leave one country and then to enter the next county. More on that in a minute….) I was sorely mad I had not brought water with me.
Leaving Mexico I met a really good looking college guy. Very well built and tall. He offered to walk with me across the bridge and help me with my backpack. He was on his way to Nicaragua for a month. According to the internet and to locals this particular border crossing can be very busy unless one goes in the middle of the week first thing in the morning. Which is exactly what I did.
As we walked we laughed about how dumb it would be to jump in the Rio Suchiate to get to the other side as we both had read about people doing to sneak into the countries.
Then we noticed that it was weird how we didn’t have to really go thru any kinda customs at the Mexican border. Seemed strange to us both. Well, it is because we should have. Apparently there was a little booth that we were just suppose to “know” to go into. We figured out that, of course, this is a scam to make more money. Because you have to go back across said bridge to get your passport stamped that you have left Mexico or greatly risk that when you leave Guatemala they will hold you for not having officially ever left Mexico. The scam part being that all these old guys are just waiting outside to take you back in these cute little bicycle things.
I have no idea how they ride these things. It is hotter than a frying pan and they ride with two or three passenger, plus their luggage, sitting in the front. They are very sketchy about how much they are going to charge you. Saying one price, but charging double to bring you back even though they had told you the price for coming and going. Still all in all very much worth the ride just kinda shady way to go about it. So we went back and got our passports stamped to leave Mexico (the guy at Customs in Guatemala let us leave our luggage in the room so that was good). There was no exit fee to leave Mexico. Nor was there one to enter Guatemala.
After getting through both border crossings we decided to take another “pedal taxi” and split the cost to the bus terminal.
Now, I want to stress, I could not make this next part up even if I tried. As I mentioned this was a young, tall, well-built, 20 something year old. college student riding along with me. So he was quite embarrassed and I was astonished when a one-armed man of about 65 grabbed my luggage to convince us to ride in his pedal-taxi instead of the other 30 taxis waiting for passengers. He rode us to the bus terminal several miles away like the pro he must be. Dodging some of the hugest livestock I have ever seen. At one point a gigantic domestic pig ran along side us to what I can only assume was a bit of exercise.
Sadly, I have no pictures of this ride except in my mind. Which I get a chuckle out of every time I think about it.
Now I was going to go as far as Guatemala City. I had made arrangements to stay with a Couch Surfing host by the name of Vladimir and his family. He has a very basic understanding of English, but told me over and over again in our emails to make sure I got to Guatemala City way before dark. How hard could that be with it only being a 119 miles away. Well apparently in a bus that stops whenever and where ever someone throws up their hand it can take forever. I am told the trip is normally about 6 hours. My trip was just under 8. There were the aforementioned on and off riders, but also lots of immigration check points. These were very scary for me at first due to the heavily armed ~~ with Uzis and assault rifles mind you~~ guards. But after awhile, even as scared of guns as I have been my entire adult life, I got very used to it. Then I didn’t even seem to notice.
Next blog entry…..another Bucket List item checked off and my time in Guatemala City with such a lovely family for hosts.
After taking an overnight bus from Oaxaca to Tapachula, Chiapashttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapachula,_Chiapas
This place is full of coffee bean farms. So pretty. Red berries hang full from each branch. Long oblong pans thick with picked beans in various stages of sun drying.
The sun is so much closer there than any other place I’ve been, except the Virgin Islands. Tapachula is the border city to Guatemala, the beginning of Central America.
My host, Ahmet is a great and talented guy. He is a 30 yr. old poet that also happens to co-own a newspaper. As with all my male hosts in this part of the America’s he lives with and helps his entire family. His parents and high school age brother live in the family home and at night lots of family comes over to play guitars and sing.
The family all welcomed me with huge smiles. Only Ameht and his teenage brother spoke any English at all and both wanted me only to speak it so they could practice.
After a cup of coffee (I arrived at their home at about 7am) Ameht and I went with his mom to visit his grandmother, sister and niece. I love to go into the homes of the locals when I travel. You get a great sense of the people and area that way. Ameht’s home consists of two stories with an attached garage and patio which his father has turned into a mechanics garage for their income.
An interesting fact I noticed while I was in Mexico and Central America is that for such a huge area for coffee importing they, for the most part, only serve instant coffee in their homes. Weird.
Once I had met the family I went with Ameht and his mom to see his grandmother, aunt, and niece. Again I got to see other local’s homes. I have to say I was quite a novelty for them. Lots of smiles while they looked me over so that was cool. After we left there, Ameht told me he wanted me to go with him to this “little get together” for a friend of his.
What he didn’t say is that it was an event for his friend who happened to be a famous poet there. Ameht was the emcee for the event and a painting was unveiled and dedicated. Ameht is a poet, I have posted one of his poems in the “pages” section of my blog. We went to the event at a place called, Campo experimental Rosario Izapa.
It was so much fun. I met so many interesting artist, poets, politicians. I had a wonderful time and would very much get involved in this Center if I lived nearby.
The full day I was in Ameht’s home and Southern Mexico he took me to visit his friend’s Hotel up the mountain. He had to do some work on his newspaper (which is a wonderful online periodical about cultural, political and news events in Chiapas http://periodicoensuma.blogspot.com/ and I recommend reading it and or “liking” the fb page).
I loved the van ride to the Hotel. It was majestic. We went there for Ameht to work on the bio of a famous chronicler (who own’s the hotel), Antonio Valera Saá.
Mr Valera Saá and his family opened their arms up to me. Fed me and asked me many questions. I was part of the family for the day. It is a BEAUTIFUL hotel that overlooks the mountain into Guatemala. The name of the hotel is Hotel Colonial Campestre in Union Juarez.
The next morning I said all my goodbyes and followed Ameht through the town to where I could find a ride to the Tapachula, Mexico border with Guatemala. I was leaving Mexico and starting my journey through Central America.
Thankfully Ameht went with me because I never would have found the cheap ride in what looked to me like a WWII tanker. It was fun and the guy gave me a ride for free as long as I taught him some words in English. I was on my way to Guatemala…