After leaving Pana in March, it was time to hang out in Antigua and wait for the much-anticipated arrival of Semana Santa (which happens usually the first week of April and lasts a full week), but before we could do that we had to do a visa run to the Mexico border to renew our visas. We could have opted to just go to Guatemala City and head in to the immigration office and request an extension, but there was so much of the country we still wanted to explore before heading on to our next country. We were already planning on being up near the Mexico border, so we decided to just do the visa run, and see what we wanted to see in the northern territories.
We moved in to a little townhouse in Antigua that we rented through April (so Kaden would have kids to play with) and a few days after “moving” we set out on the road to explore some places we hadn’t yet seen. We left March 4 and decided to head out with our friend from Guatemala City to do a short, 10-day overlanding trip. Well, his Landrover broke down three times in 40 miles, so he decided to just give us names of his contacts in the areas we were headed to for safety purposes, this way we could get in touch with people nearby if we needed to.
The first night, we met a contact in La Union, he showed us a way to hop the Mexico border without having to stop at a border and go through all the customs and stuff. This was a good option because we weren’t ready to go through the Aduana and all the customs stuff just yet. I literally felt like a spy, secretly meeting someone in a red car at the corner of X and X looking for a man wearing ABC, and following him to a corner where he says “this is as far as I go, when you get to the four corners, turn left, go through the ranch and pay 50 pesos to the rancher and you’ll be allowed passage into Mexico.” We did just that and were at our camping spot in Mexico in a short 15 minutes after finding the dirt road that we were supposed to take through the ranchers land. We missed it the first time because there was a couple of dirt roads that were possible to take and each of them appeared to go in the same direction and there, of course, was no signage.
We set up camp and stayed there for a couple of days before heading back into Guatemala to explore the northern areas of Huehuetenango (Way-way tay-non-go). While on our short overnight trip into Mexico we went to Lagos De Colón. This place is far less known than Lagos De Montebello, however, it is equally beautiful with a much more local flare. It is also a Nature Preserve, you do pay admission to it, however, the place we camped was actually a family’s residence. They open it up for campers and have a couple of little casitas to rent. There is also day use with some palapas with electricity for use as well. You can rent them overnight for something like 50P-100P ($3-$6 USD) per night. Kaden made some friends and taught them how to play UNO and frisbee. They sang songs (in Spanish, none of them spoke any English). They spent time playing hide and go seek, soccer and just chasing after each other.
After spending a couple of days there, we ventured back into Guatemala, using the same route as we used to cross into Mexico. This time we didn’t have to pay the rancher, and there was a lot of traffic back and forth.
When it finally came time to cross the border into Mexico, since we were already in the northern area, we decided to try crossing at Gracias A Dios. This is open for pedestrians, but there is no SAT office or Aduana for vehicle renewal, cancellation or importation. They will not let you pass with your vehicle. The nearest border you can get a vehicle extension is over in La Mesilla, a 2 hour drive south. It was earlier in the day, so we decided to take our chances and cross at La Mesilla. Well, on the way, we hit numerous road blocks, police checkpoints and traffic from cattle herds crossing the roads or just standing in the roads. The 2 hour drive took almost 5 hours and when we got to the border we arrived 10 minutes after the border closed. No crossing for us until the next day. We turned around and found a hotel that cost $12/ per night. Nothing special, but it had a bathroom with hot water, 2 beds, it was pet friendly and just a two minute drive from the border with private, secured parking.
The next morning, Wednesday March 11 at 8am, we went to the SAT office Aduana and passport control. They explained to me that Covid restrictions would be in place and that the President planned on closing the Country on Monday. I explained that we were just crossing in to Mexico for a Visa run. They said to make sure we were back by Sunday morning at the latest or we would likely not be allowed to reenter Guatemala. After a little confusion with the SAT and renewal process of the vehicle import (mostly on the different agents at the SAT office) we headed in to Mexico. There was no exit fee and because we were traveling in the “zona libre” we didn’t have to get another import permit in Mexico, and the entry was free. We explored Lagunas de Montebello National Park and camped there for a couple of nights before heading back across the border Friday morning.
As soon as we arrived, the SAT officers recognized us (our vehicle is pretty recognizable) and waved us through to the Aduana. When we exited our vehicle, we were required to undergo a new health screenings and the health officials were telling us we needed to quarantine for 2 weeks. I explained to them we had just left and crossed into Mexico for two days just to renew our visas and that we were living in Antigua. They took our temperatures stamped our passports, renewed our vehicle permit and inspected our vehicle and we were on our way. 15 minutes start to finish. We returned on Friday just to make sure we had extra time if the president was planning on border closures, I didn’t want to be stuck out in Mexico when we already rented a house for two months in Guatemala.
When we reentered Guatemala, we checked out other places in Huehuetenango and drove through countless villages. Many of which don’t recognize Guatemalan government as their governing branch. They consider themselves sovereign states. They are scattered throughout the land all throughout Guatemala, but the signs posted speak for themselves. They denounce any form of government rule. Many of them are poor villages, uneducated but hardworking people. They live in shanties and are extorted by the cartels around every turn. They don’t make money, but some suffer violence at the hands of Narco traffickers if they don’t concede parts of their land for use by the cartels. Many people looked at us, very confused as we drove by. They aren’t used to seeing vehicles like ours driving out that way. Mostly small pickup trucks, tuk-tuks, chicken buses and scooters. I think some of it was fear. Fear that we were the latest round of Narcos coming for their money or land. As we waved and passed by, most of them waved back and gave us nods and smiles.