Saturday, July 24, 2010

Puerto Arrista to Lake Atitlan - 239 miles

Well, we finally left Mexico for Guatemala. After spending the night in a Sam's Club parking lot in the border town of Tapachula, we spent the morning shopping and crossed the border at noon. Tapachula is one of the best border towns I have known. There are plenty of shops besides Sam's Club (WalMart, Home Depot, Auto Zone and a very upscale mall), so we made a final forage before heading for Guatemala. The crossing went very smoothly. Leaving Mexico we kept our vehicle permit, got our exit stamps, paid a toll of about 3 dollars and we were headed across a bridge to the Guatemalan border. We exchanged our pesos for quetzales and was directed to the first of 3 stops. This was for spraying our tires ($5.00) and processing Winston. They reviewed his USDA permit and about 5 other documents. I provided copies of everything which makes them happy. The more paperwork and copies they have the more legitimate they think it is! Winston was legal to enter Guatemala, now it was our turn. Immigration was simply handing over our passports, no paperwork to fill out and no fees. Because there is a standing agreement between what is known as the CA4 (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) you are only processed once at immigration for all 4 countries. We were given the standard 90 days to pass through the 4 countries and it was on to Aduana (Customs) for our temporary vehicle permit. The gentleman who processed us could not have been nicer. He helped fill out our paperwork, again all our copies were ready. He inspected the motorhome, inside and out (but no search), took the vin number and whilst he prepared the permit, we paid the fees of $6.00. He then accompanied us back to the RV, put the sticker in the windshield, hugged and kissed me on the cheek!, shook Tom's hand and welcomed us to his country. Both Tom & I were slightly overwhelmed and quite pleased with ourselves. We can only hope border crossings continue to be this easy. HA!! By 2:30 we were on our way. The first thing we noticed were the roads are in terrible condition. Now and again we reach a mach speed of 35 miles an hour but for the most part we are lucky to maintain 25 mph. We realize there is no way we will get to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan this night. We turn off the main road (CA2) onto a side road to the lake. Now we are "cruising" at 20 mph and it is getting dark. We finally find a gas station at the small town of Polulul and they give us permission to park in their lot overnight. The next morning we are up bright and early to continue to Lake Atitlan. We leave at nine o'clock and figure we have about 2 hours of driving time remaining. After 2 hours of driving through roadwork, ravines, across washed out bridges and just about anything else immaginable, we pass a family of Germans. They wave and stop us. "Are you heading to Panajachel?" they ask. We nod. "Well, the road is closed due to a landslide", they say and off they go. We look at each other, find a place to turn around and head back to a village we passed, which had a gas station. We are about 6 mile from the lake. I pull out the maps and we arrive back at the station. We begin to try to find out what is happening and how are people driving to the lake. We are told that 2 of the 3 roads which go to Lake Atitlan are closed due to landslides. The third is the road from CA1 through Solola, which is mentioned in all guidebooks as the steepest, worst route to the lake! It is also a detour of about 50 mile! Oh well. We find the correct road and on we go and go and go! Everything we had read about this road, is all true. It is narrow and steep and slow. At Solola, we had to make several turns down narrow streets and then the steep decline to the lake. The views were amazing. We finally reach the hotel where we knew there was RV parking at 5pm. Once again, what was supposed to be an easy 2 hour drive , had turned into a marathon session. But we are here. After setting up the RV, we grab a beer and head down to the lake to watch the sunset

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