You'll get two things out this article. First, you'll learn how to sneak across the Mexican-Guatemalan border in the middle of the night. Second, you'll find out why Barrack Obama, in his first term as President, will die.
Sneaking into Guatemala at midnight
I like overnight buses because they save you money and time. You save money because you avoid spending an extra night at a hotel. And you save time because you travel while you sleep. It's like the poor man's version of the Star Trek transporter. You close your eyes as you leave one city, and then open them to find yourself in a new city (or, more likely, at some annoying transfer station in the middle of the night).
In San Cristobal de las Casas, the Mexican bus station attendant told me there was a bus that could get me to the Guatemalan border by 10:00 p.m. However, nobody knew if, after walking across the border, there would be another bus to take me to Guatemala's capital. If there wasn't one, I could be stuck in the unsafe border area at night. Although there's one hotel there, it might be full or be ridiculously expensive. I love uncertainty, so I bought the night ticket to the Mexican border town, called Cuidad Cuauhtemoc.
When the bus arrived at its final stop, it was dark and it was raining furiously. The bus driver then told me something I didn't know: the actual border was another five kilometers down the highway. I'd have to take a taxi there and then walk five minutes into the Guatemalan border town, called La Mesilla.
However, I still had no clue if there would be a Guatemalan bus leaving that night. I asked three guys there if there was a bus to Guatemala City. Here were their answers:
"Yes, there's a bus that leaves at 1:00 a.m."
"No, there's no bus until tomorrow morning."
"Maybe there's a bus around midnight. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. It's not reliable. Talvez..."
In case I wasn't sure if I was in Central America or Switzerland, these conversations removed all doubt.
A sketchy drunk guy shadows me
It was tempting to stay at the hotel, given the uncertainty of getting a bus that night and the stormy weather. However, I love adventure, so I asked the taxi driver to take me to the border. While I was loading my bags in the trunk, a young, sloppy guy stepped out of the shadows and asked the driver if he could ride along for a small fee. The driver agreed. As soon as we took off, I could smell the stench of the man's breath. He reeked of alcohol.
A short drive later, the taxi stopped as close to the border as it could take us. After paying the Mexican driver, I saw that the drunk was trying to pay his fare with Guatemalan money. They raised their voices, but the sound of the rain drowned them out. However, soon the sketchy guy, who could walk fast because he had no luggage, was on my tail. Once I was in sight of the border guards, I slowed down to let him pass. He eyed me as he passed. Thunder rumbled in the distance. This is creepy, I thought.
As I approached the checkpoint, I thought of ways to explain why I hadn't paid the "non-immigrant fee" (derecho para no immigrante). It's a $20 fee that you're supposed to pay for at a bank. I hadn't done so because it was Sunday and the banks were closed. I walked on the far side of the road and tried not to make eye contact with the guards who were in their stations. One guard cried out to me. I yelled back in Spanish, "I already talked to the other guy!" I was referring to someone I talked to five kilometers ago, and not the guard I sneaked by five meters ago. Unbelievably, he bought my excuse and the guard waved me by! Just like that, I had left Mexico behind (and saved 20 bucks).
A few more steps and I would have to face the Guatemalan authorities. I didn't look forward to dealing with them either, because the last time I went to Guatemala they charged me a visa fee and there are plenty of horror stories. I kept my head down, but someone called out to me. There were four men standing around in a poorly lit area about five meters away. It was dark, so I couldn't even tell if they were in uniform. I took a chance and ignored them.
"Hey!" they yelled out again as I kept walking. Although they were probably border guards, I was worried that they may be crooks who would gang up on the solitary gringo. Everything was so dark, there were few signs, and everything was sketchy. I waved at the four men and kept walking away. If they were border police and really cared, they'll run after me, stop me, and beat the crap out of me. Astonishingly, they didn't. They let me go!
As a result, I had just slipped past both the Mexican and Guatemalan border guards without presenting my passport to anyone! And you thought the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was porous!
Searching for the mysterious bus
However, my adventure wasn't over, I still had to find out if there was a midnight bus to the capital. The Mexicans had warmed me that this town was crime ridden with narco-trafficantes. Lightning flashed and thunder roared.
A guy who drove a covered motorcycle taxi told me he could take me to the bus station. I agreed. However, as I entered his derelict taxi, guess who came out of the shadows and joined me? Yeah, my alcoholic stalker.
I was a bit worried, thinking that he would mug me or force feed me cocaine, but I let him squeeze into the tiny taxi with me. The taxi dropped us off at a parking lot full of old, converted American school buses. It was dark and the rain was blowing sideways.
"Are you sure about this?" I yelled out to the taxi driver. "I don't see any activity anywhere! Nobody is here! Where do you buy tickets? Are you sure the bus is leaving?"
He sad, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure," he yelled over the din of the rain smashing against his tin roof. "Look over there, there are a couple of people in that bus. Ask them."
My delinquent drunk buddy and I got out. We were alone. Lightning flashed on his face. We look at each other in the rain. It's really wasn't that romantic.
Over his shoulder there was a cafe that was open. I hurried over there. Thunder rumbled as I entered. Three men there couldn't stop staring at me. I felt I was in a bad Western movie and that at any moment there would be a shootout.
At least the drunk had disappeared. Best of all, there was a bus leaving that night. I convinced the ticket seller to accept my US currency because I had no Guatemalan currency (the Quetzal) and didn't want to hunt for an ATM in this shady town. We boarded a parked bus at midnight, but it wouldn't get going for another hour. While we waited, my drunken friend entered the bus and sat near me. Great. I missed him.
The "chicken bus" started moving after 1 a.m. It blasted annoying Mexican music all night. By the sunrise, my drunken pal was sober. When I finally stepped off the bus in Guatemala's capital, I sucked in the polluted air and sighed. Whew! I made it.
Although I was a bit tired, I was thrilled to be in Guatemala. It was, and still is, the center of Mayan civilization. The center of Mayan culture is the Popul Vuh, sometimes called the Mayan Bible. It explains many things about the universe, including...
Why Obama is doomed
Obama won't live to finish out his first term as US President. In fact, he will die on December 21, 2012. Unfortunately, Obama's Vice-President, Joe Biden, will also die that day. And the next in line, Nancy Pelosi, will also perish. In fact, the bad news is that on that day, the world will end. That is, if you believe the Mayans.
According to Mayans, the universe goes through 5,200 year cycles. At the end of each cycle the world is annihilated. The Mayans say that this cycle started in 3,188 BC. This was convenient start date for those who ruled 1,500 years ago. With the end of the world over a thousand years away, the politicians and religious leaders didn't have to deal with mass hysteria and pandemonium. Such distress would have been bad, when you consider that during the peak of the Mayan period (circa 750 AD), about 10 million Mayans were running around. Some of its biggest cities had 200,000 inhabitants. Therefore, pegging the end of the world 1,500 years down the road meant that they only needed to sacrifice a few hundred 14-year-old virgins instead of a few thousand.
However, for you and me, the Mayan Cycles timing is extremely inconvenient. We have four years to go, folks. Mark your calendar: December 21, 2012. Let's hope our new government leaders get us deeper in debt because we won't have any great-grandchildren anyway.
The rest of Guatemala
In my previous visit to Guatemala, I saw the best Mayan ruins in the world (Tikal), as well as the original capital of the New World: Antigua. Both places are world-class, must-see places. This time, however, I was more interested in cocaine.
About 66% of America's cocaine travels through Guatemala. One of the routes it is trafficked is El Rio Dulce. After crossing the river via the longest bridge in Central America (it's really not that long), I stayed at one of the best places I've ever stayed at: Casa Perico. It's built on stilts in a swampy rainforest. It's a magical setting with boardwalks crisscrossing a canopy of trees and vines. You can explore the various waterways on a kayak for free (which I did). It's one of the best values I've ever found. If you don't mind sharing a bathroom, private rooms are only $10 per person. However, you can't buy blow at the bar.
Check out Guatemala's forests while you can. They're cutting down their forests at an alarming rate. For example, every year they chop down four percent of La Reserva de Biofera Maya. However, don't stress over it. The world will end in 2012 anyway. So chop away! Woo-hoo!
Riding the river Dulce
A two-hour boat ride down the Rio Dulce is pleasant and beats taking a bus, even if you don't find any crack dealers. The river spits out into the Caribbean at a port town with a very non-Spanish-sounding name: Livingston. There's not much to see there. The main reason I was there was to take a two-hour, nauseating boat ride to Belize. I'll share that story next week!