Far too early on my 2nd morning in Palenque, I was up and waiting on the curb, backpack loaded, to catch the collectivo that would take me yet farther south, to Guatemala.  I knew it was going to be a long day, and I was feeling antsy but ready.  The first leg of the 3-stage journey was not too bad.  The van was impossible to sleep or even sit comfortably in, with seats set closer together than my long legs appreciated and not high-backed enough to rest my head against, but it was air conditioned and secure.  The road from Palenque to the frontera was bumpy, but the landscape in southern Mexico is lushly tropical, with rolling hills, distant mountains, and tiny thatch-roofed villages set along winding streams.  And it was a lovely day, sunny with cottonball clouds dotting the sky.  I got to enjoy testing out my new camera at high-speed as we drove along.  Still not as quick as the one in the shop, but serviceable.

The mountains blur into a haze in the distance, but offer the promise of cool shelter and clean water beyond the hot, flat valley.

The mountains blur into a haze in the distance, but offer the promise of cool shelter and clean water beyond the hot, flat valley.

It's hard to get good pictures through the glass of a car window, but the majority of the houses we passed were roofed in thatch like this one.

It’s hard to get good pictures through the glass of a car window, but the majority of the houses we passed were roofed in thatch like this one.

We arrived at the border after a 4 hour ride, with a fair stop for breakfast at a cafe along the way.  I was one of only 3 passengers who were crossing the border officially, and so the collectivo dropped us at the imigracion office and went on to get the other passengers on their boat tour.  As I got my exit slip and passport stamps, my heart dropped.  The exit fee was 300 pesos, even though the information I’d been given said it was just 260.  Already, my trip was shaping up to be more expensive than I had planned.  But, I forked over the cash, got my passport back, and trotted down the dusty street to where the van driver directed a small group of us to the river.

Hiking down to the river.

Hiking down to the river.

The second leg of the trip was by lancha, which took us a few km downriver and across to the Guatemalan border.  The boat was a long, narrow wooden affair covered by a curving tarp, with just the 5 of us travelers and the driver.  As we sped along, we took photos of the muddy gray-brown water, the steep, slippery banks, the mounds of rock jutting up here and there, and the small crowd of women and children bathing and washing clothes on a distant beach.  We also introduced ourselves and chatted about who we were and where we were from.  My traveling companions were: 2 Italian guys, a girl from Argentina, and a guy from Japan.  We would go on to spend the rest of our trip, and most of our stay in Flores together on one grouping or another, as we all were to end up in the same hostel.

Dozens of boats waiting to take tourists to the islands up-river or down to the border.

Dozens of boats waiting to take tourists to the islands up-river or down to the border.

Washing in the river.

Washing in the river.

This was our "landing" on the Guatemalan side...a slippery climb up a damp clay slope.

This was our “landing” on the Guatemalan side…a slippery climb up a damp clay slope.

Across the river, we scrambled up the bank and were immediately greeted by locals offering to exchange our pesos for Guatemalan quetzales. The frequent assurance was that we’d get a better rate at the border than in the city.  From experience I know it can be hard to find a legitimate exchange house, and not all banks will exchange foreign money that isn’t American dollars, so I went ahead and traded my pesos and counted my funds.  Immediately I realized I’d have to do the last thing I wanted, which was find an ATM and get money from my bank back home, or I wouldn’t have enough to finish my trip with.  Le sigh.  That happens when things turn out more expensive than you expected time and time again.  

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Sweetest border crossing I've seen yet.

Sweetest border crossing I’ve seen yet.

I will say this, though.  The immigracion office there on the dusty, backwater edge between Guatemala and Mexico was probably the easiest, most amiable crossing I’ve experienced.  Nothing at all like the noise, filth, and confusion of getting in and out of Costa Rica or Nicaragua.  No shouting, no vendors, no shuffling from one long line to another to the next; just a few hammock-swinging soldiers and one woman behind the counter stamping passports and taking money.  Bienvenidos a Guatemala!

 

 

80 kilometers of THIS.

80 kilometers of THIS.

The last leg of the journey was…misery.  The road was 80km of dirt, dust, rocks, heat, dust, and no shade, flanked by swathes of burning fields or scraggly herds of brahma cattle.  We bumped.  We jostled.  We squeaked.  We sweated.  We breathed dust and fumes.  We ground on over hills and holes for 2 hours, but eventually, blissfully, made it to the paved highway and a gas station where we could get cold drinks and cash from the ATM.  A short hour after that and we were dragging our footsore selves off the bus and into the cobbled streets of Flores just 2 blocks from the hostel we’d all decided to go to.

Los Amigos Hostel... not my favorite of the places I've stayed.

Los Amigos Hostel… not my favorite of the places I’ve stayed.

At the hostel, I paid for my 3 nights of stay, settled my things in my room, found some desperately-needed cold water and a bathroom, then met back up with my little group of fellow travelers for an afternoon stroll around the island.

Together we wandered the outermost ring of shops, restaurants, and hotels, taking pictures of each other, the lake, the buildings, and ultimately parking ourselves in a restaurant to get cold drinks, food, and a great view of the sun as it sank below the horizon.  We chatted, as best we could in our 4 languages, laughed, and unwound, then repeated the walk back the way we came in the cool evening air.  That night would be the best night of sleep I’d get in the 3 I stayed in Flores, as the road and the heat had made me weary, weary indeed.

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FOOD!!!  After a day of bouncing and not eating, veggies piled on a tortilla is like heaven.

FOOD!!! After a day of bouncing and not eating, veggies piled on a tortilla is like heaven.

 

Sweet, frozen, fruity, alcoholic joy in a glass.  With a straw!

Sweet, frozen, fruity, alcoholic joy in a glass. With a straw!

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Proof that I was here.

Proof that I was here.

Gone the day, gone the sun, day is done, time to rest.

Gone the day, gone the sun, day is done, time to rest.

 

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