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Published: August 1st 2009
Oh, never in my travels has a day started so normally and ended with so many 'memorable moments'. Quick run down and then the story.
1. Protests / Riots in Western Guatemala block the roads
2. Justin decides to check out one of the protests, and our bus takes off leaving him there
3. Our bags get stolen
4. I realize that Justin left his passport on the bus, thereby limiting my options to go tho the airport without him
5. I wait at the border crossing hoping that Justin can make it in time
6. Justin shows up, we have 45 minutes to cross the border and get to the airport before our flight leaves
7. We get to the airport with 15 minutes before takeoff, but...our airline is grounded.
Justin and I left our lodging at Lago de Atitlan early in the morning to get over to the bus that would take us toward the border.
We started off easy enough. About a half our after leaving, the driver told everyone to get off the bus. Odd, we were planning on being some of the only ones to leave the bus when we got to
a junction. The plan was to take the bus from the lake to a highway junction, and then hop off the bus and wait for our connection.
Our whole bus got off, and started walking in different directions. We asked a few people, and then we walked around a bunch of people with banners who had blocked off a crossroads. We took a right, and boarded a bus after about a hundred yards. They packed people into this bus like I had never seen before. They first directed us to the front door, and then to the back door. They pushed people in so they could close the door. I was standing toward the back, and was so wedged in between people that I didn't really need to hang onto anything. I wasn't going to fall anywhere.
The down side was that after five minutes, we stopped. More street protests. This time, there were burning tires and riot police. We walked around this and then found another bus. The sucky part was that each time, we had to buy new tickets. Oh well. This bus was much less packed, and we were on our way straight to the
border, so I was told. We stayed on this bus for about an hour, and then pulled to a stop. Another street protest. The road was blocked, but the driver thought we would be leaving soon, and did not tell the passengers to get off the bus. Justin got off to grab a bite and use the bathroom. He spoke to the driver again, and then went up to see what the status of the protest was.
About five minutes later, the driver fired up the engine and merged into the oncoming lane to pull ahead of all the parked cars. While the driver worked on setting a new record for 0-60 MPH in a bus, I was looking out the window trying to find Justin. I couldn't ask the driver to stop, since there was no where for him to pull over (all the vehicles were lined up in the right lane, and oncoming traffic was about to start. Plus, Justin said he would be up ahead. Telling the driver to stop because my friend was up ahead was not likely to work. As we passed more and more vehicles, police and protesters, it became apparent that we
had passed Justin. Hmm, this was getting bad. Our flight took off at 6PM. It was 1 something now. That did not leave us a whole of time.
Someone who spoke English had noticed that Justin was missing. He suggested I get off the bus and wait for him. I thought that would be a really bad idea. Justin might speak Spanish, I don't. This bus was going to the border, and my best bet would be to get to the border and wait for him there.
Only problem was, the bus wasn't going straight the border. I got to the final stop, and the driver was surprised that I was still on the bus. He told me to wait for a little and then dropped me off on a curb where I was supposed to take a minibus to the border. When I told him I needed to get my pack, he said they were on the minibus. This was really getting bad. I guess there was a point during the trip were I was supposed to have gotten off at, and that my bag was transferred at that point. The driver wrote down where I was
Packed out bus
The bus staff were pushing people into the bus so they could close the rear door
supposed to go, and told me to show it to the minibus drivers.
I waited, flagged down one bus, nope, didn't go there. Flagged down another, showed the driver the note, and he told me to get in. He took me for 5 minutes, told me where to stand, and then told me how much to pay the next guy. This was repeated 3 more times, with each driver pointing out where to stand or which other minibus to take, and telling me how much it was. Each time I took a minibus, I sat in front, along with 3 other people. I think two could have fit comfortably. We were sitting zigzagged along the front bench, sometimes in each others laps. During one stretch of bumpy road, I had a 18ish year old women half sitting on my lap. Wow, if she had been facing me, it could be called a lap dance. Here, if they are facing away from you, its public transportation!
When I got to the border, no one knew where the bags were. Shocking. I had written them off by the 3rd minibus transfer. So, I waited for Justin to show up. With
Walking around the protest
The bus companies were stopping on both sides of the protest. We then had to walk around and catch of bus on the other side
my new found free time, I checked to see exactly what it was that he had in his small backpack. Great. His moneybelt was in it. Along with his passport and money. I would have to speak with him about the place moneybelts go. Well, that just about ruled out heading straight for the airport on the Mexican side. However, about 45 minutes later, a taxi driver pulled up and said that my friend was looking for me. He said that our flight was at 6. Ok, enough convincing for me. He was legit. He was open to taking me in the taxi, but was not sure where my friend was. I decided to stay put. Another taxi driver arrived, and said that he had heard that there was a gringo looking for his friend in a town about 15 minutes away. He agreed that it would be best to stay put. At about 5:15, Justin showed up. "Hey Pete, so good to see you. I will explain later... Where are the packs?" "about those..."
So we raced through passport control, and found a taxi to take us to the airport. We arrived at 5:45, and then ran into
the airport. Security staff looked at us, and we noticed that the place was absolutely dead. No staff, no nothing. I was not shocked that they had already left the check-in counter. But it got better, per security, the airline had been grounded by the Mexican government. There was even a hand written sign by the check-in counter. Great! Our airline didn't fly anymore. And our ticket was for the last flight out of the airport that day. We would not make our connection in Mexico City (on a different airline). We headed back to Tapachula to figure out our next step.
A taxi driver took us to a cheap hotel, one that had WIFI. We did our research, and decided to get to the airport to try to get on Aero Mexico's first flight of the morning (leaving at 6:20 am). Aero Mexico is the only carrier serving the airport right now, with 3 flights a day. Predictably, since Aviacsa had several flights a day using a much larger plane, they were sold out for the next 4 days (I was surprised that they hadn't upgraded to a larger plane, but maybe they didn't have one). But we
Passenger and Guinea Pig
to make this day even better, the one animal I am allergic to was seated right next to me.
got the airport at around 5:30am, and purchased same day tickets for the not too bad price of $140 (to Mexico City). But we were put on standby. 100% of the flight showed up, so we had to wait for the next one. But, after they worked away at the kiosk for 10 minutes, they did get us confirmed seats on the 1PM. They had heard our story, and worked hard to try to get us seats.
We were also able to buy replacement tickets for Mexico City to La Paz ($200 and something). We ate a bite at the airport restaurant (not too pricey considering it was an airport) and then read while waiting for the flight. Right before boarding, the ticketing agent came over and told us that our tickets were for first class. What an angel! The reason that it had taken so long was because economy was sold out, and they didn't want us to wait on standby any longer. So they upgraded us. When got my boarding pass, I hadn't thought anything of it being for 1C, because I assumed it was all economy seating. But this was a larger jet, and had first
Tapachula Airport snacks
How cheap is fruit here? The pancakes and fruit were the same price. Had I known that, I would have stuck with two orders of the fruit.
class. What a difference 24 hours makes. Less than a full day before, I had been bouncing along a packed out minibus to a small border crossing while trying to figure out where my friend was. Now I had a flight attendant bringing me complimentary vino tinto.
I would give a great shout out to Aero Mexico, had it not been for what happened once we landed. Our ticketing agent still gets a big thank you.
However, once we got in, we headed straight for the AeroMexico lounge to get a bite to eat (there was no meal service on our short flight into Mexico City). I had looked it up before we left, and a first class boarding pass gets you in. WooHoo! We ate a quick bite, and then noticed that our flight was now boarding. So, we went down to the gate. Gate 75 is where they handle all their smaller AeroMexico connect flights. 3 of them were boarding at the same time. Our display board showed general boarding, but there was no agent working the counter under the display. So, 15 minutes before departure, we told one of the staff we wanted to board
our flight. "Wait here, your flight has left, you will get new boarding passes for the next one." WHAT? I told them they they were still showing the flight as "General Boarding". The gate agent looked up, shrugged his shoulders, gave me a 'not my problem' look and continued boarding a different flight. I took a picture after the display remained unchanged for several minutes. By the time they got around to giving us new boarding passes, there were about 10 of us waiting. Several passengers were livid. My guess is that they had a overbooked flight and sent it off early. Our new flight was for 4 hours later. Back to the lounge we went. This time, we took advantage of the great bartenders and complimentary drinks. Yes, it was a very fitting end to a stressful two days of travel. We boarded our flight and arrived in La Paz without further hassle.
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