Guatemala Border Crossing & Driving to Antigua

Published: February 16th 2012
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San Cristobal/Antigua

Last Wednesday the 8th we packed up the car and headed off to Guatemala. It was cool and drizzly and it matched my mood completely, as I didn’t want to leave San Cristobal de las Casas. I have such fond memories of San Cristobal; the neighbors have been great, the sights have been interesting, and the town itself had a cool, funky, laid-back feel to it.

We had an almost uneventful, although long, trip going from San Cristobal to Tapachula, Mexico. As we approached Tapachula, we noticed orchards upon orchards of mango trees. The mangoes were ripe and the people were bringing the mangoes by the truckload to market. There were also stands set on the highway with women selling fresh, vine-ripe mangoes. It was almost enough to make me stop and buy one or two!

Early the next morning we got up, got our coffee, and got on the road. By 8 we were in Viva, Mexico, the town to get our car permit scraped off. By 8:30 our permit on the car window was scraped clean, our credit card was credited, and we were ready to go! What could be easier than that? The banks and money exchanges were still closed, so we headed down to the border.

As we drove down the hill to the border, hordes of people came running to our car, just like they did when we were trying to extend our visas. Someone offered to exchange our money. We should have counted our money because we got ripped off. Once we paid all our fees, we had no money – not a good way to go through Guatemala! We not only had no money, we had no cell phones, or GPS either! I felt like we were making this trip 20 years ago, before the advent of “modern technology”. Thank goodness we found an ATM about 20 miles away.

We took the southern route (CA2) to Antigua; the road that all the trucks take. The road itself was a bit run down, because of all the trucks. It was amazing to see the different climates and the things that grow. We left San Cristobal with the pine trees, drove over the Sierra Madres with the scrub brushes, drove into Tapachula with the palm trees and mangoes, and now we’re driving through massive fields of sugar cane. Like the mangoes, the sugar cane was ripe and we saw men with machetes chopping down the cane. Talk about a hard life!

We pulled into Antigua late in the afternoon, at the tail-end of a thunderstorm. We found a hotel almost right near the Parque Central and went out to explore in between the now drizzles. The town of La Antigua has a square with a fountain in the middle, a church, and government buildings on either side. Originally, it was built to be the capital of Central America, but two major earthquakes in the 1700s forced the people to transfer the capital to Guatemala City. The roads are all cobblestones; even most of the sidewalks are cobblestones, which make it challenging, for both the car and us, to get around. There are also three volcanoes, one still active, that surround the city. While it has been cloudy since we got here; we did get to see the volcanoes on the first day.

The next morning we moved into our new apartment. It is in a gated community and you have to actually go through two gates! Previously, our last two apartments had two bedrooms. Our one bedroom apartment, while small, has everything we ever need. And if we go to the roof, we can see all three volcanoes.

We spent the next couple of days exploring the town. There were quite a few churches in Antigua. After the first earthquake in 1717, the city tried to fix the churches. After the second earthquake in 1773, they left the skeletal remains of the churches behind and moved to Guatemala City. When seeing the churches, it makes you wonder about the chaos that must have surrounded the city.

We went to a coffee plantation the other day. This plantation is one of the suppliers for Starbucks. We had a cup of coffee there and it wasn’t that good enough to write home about. While they had tours on mules and army trucks and paintball and zip lines, they were too rich for our blood, so we walked around on the plantation. We saw quite a few people picking coffee. Actually, the men were doing the picking, the women were sorting the beans, and the kids were playing in the fields.

We also went to the top of Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), a cross which overlooks the city. We had read that a few tourists had been robbed while walking up the hill. We drove right to it; the advantages of having a car! And while it wasn’t crystal clear, we could see Volcan Agua.

Since this is a tourist town, there has been a propensity of non-Spanish speaking visitors, following a guide with a flag around the square. La Antigua is a beautiful little town, but I’m not sure if we can keep busy for an entire month!

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