Crossing the Border, Guatemala Style

Crossing The Guatemala Border

Crossing the Guatemalan border from Mexico was chaotic, scrambled and the perfect transition to my new Spanish-only world.

The driver picked me up at 7:30 AM and 3 hours later dropped me off at the Mexican side of the border. One of the passengers spent 5 minutes screaming in Spanish at the driver. You’re an idiot! This is so stupid! No YOU Shut up!

Hmmm. This can’t be good. Are we supposed to walk through? Is this guy mad because he knows something or because he’s an idiot? The best solution? Just start walking.

The border itself is just a small road with a few buildings. On the side of the road, some folks are burning trash, others are selling food, and dozens of make-shift stalls with everything from kitchen-ware to crocs to woolen ponchos.

I hustled past, hand my passport over to the official. Stamped. Climb onto another van, this time on the Guatemala side.

Three hours later, I’m dropped off at a gas station where little boys are wrestling in between trying to sell shoe shines. No, my sneakers don’t need a shine, thank you. The angry guy gets some french fries and feeds them to stray dogs. I’m ushered to a late model Chrysler and told that “this guy” was going to drive me the rest of the way.


I had understood every word of Spanish that the tour operator who sold me the $27 ticket to Xela had said to me. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask if I was going to be riding in some sketchy car for part of the trip. And I’m quite certain he hadn’t described the trip this way: We will drive you to the border, you will find your way through, and hopefully get into the right van on the other side. Don’t worry there will lots of them and no one will speak English. Then we’ll drop you off in some gas station and my cousin will drive you in his dad’s car the rest of the way. Sound good? Great, 350 pesos please.

It was a great introduction into what I would later learn of life in Guatemala. Figuring things out in Spanish (a very good thing) and the laid back way things are run (my first day at the school, I showed up as scheduled at 8 AM, only to wait 20 minutes for someone else to show up) and the immense amount of trust you end up placing in those around you (from living with a family you just met, to hoping that the ice really was made from boiled water).

You have to be cautious too. You can get robbed. You can get hit by a car. You can get swindled. (Oh and that car bit—so serious, the drivers here will mow you over, if you walk in the street). But if you can’t take a few chances, trust a few strangers, then truly you’ll never get over the border.

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