After leaving Tziscao we did some lake-hopping through the rest of the Lagos de Montebello before heading for the border crossing we’d chosen at Gracia a Dios (the name of the town on the Guatemalan side of the border). Running up to this there’d been considerable confusion as to when or if it was open and whether we’d be shaken down for a bribe. One thing we had heard was that it was only open during business hours and weekdays. So when we eventually rocked up at the immigration building on the mexican side at after 5pm we weren’t hopeful. The whole thing turned out to be the most relaxed, and uncomplicated border crossing either of us have every done! The mexican office is open until 10pm (we didn’t notice whether this was just weekdays, we were so happy) and the rather rotund Guatemalan official seemed more concerned about finding the correct stamp at the bottom of a desk drawer than making us feel anything other than comfortable. Changing our pesos to quetzales was slightly more murky, but involved responding to one of a crowd of men with fists of cash and calculators standing on the road down from the Guatemalan immigration office.
The ‘low-lands’ proved to be pretty hilly with the road winding up and around some fine looking limestone cliffs. We hauled ourselves a few km along these before nipping off the road and camping behind a jumbled wall. This part of Guatemala (at least) has pretty impressive mobile phone reception with red and white masts dotting the hill-tops.
We had a few choices of route to get to Huehuetenango (known as “way-way”) all of which involved a tough climb up into the Cuchumatan Mountains. We ended up opting to go via San Mateo Ixtatan and San Pedro Soloma.
Having done 25km days getting up into the highlands it was lovely to be able to free-wheel, and even better when the road surface became paved just short of San Eulalia. The effort had been worth it though. The little villages clinging to the mountainsides that we passed before we got to San Mateo can’t see many, if any, white people. Even sending Sarah in to buy food supplies from the little shops provoked a mass scrambling of children and women into closed houses. It was saddening that we scared them that much. In amongst this we had some incredible smiles and hand-waving when we greeted people. It was quite a shock to realise that we were often more familiar with our shared language (Spanish) than some of the shop-owners.
One thing that we both enjoyed mightily was the cooler temperatures – we even cracked out our down jackets. It made for much less of a mad rush to get into the insect-free safety of the tent at dusk and we felt we were truly back in our chosen environment.
Now we’re heading on to Lago Atitlan via a cunning (and probably arduous – will we ever learn) back road from Totonicapan off the Xela road.