Mexico to Guatemala…and back again (Mexico 2017)

Part 1: The Hippy Skate Party @ Misión México

The staff, volunteers and kids had all put a lot of effort into preparations for the Hippy Skate Party, including making decorations, tye-dying 30+ t-shirts, various cooking experiments, and even frozen watermelon lollies…so obviously in true sod’s law fashion the heavens opened and it went tropical-monsoon-crazy on us just as festivities were set to begin!

We didn’t let that dampen our spirits though (even if everything else in sight was utterly drenched).  I’d have to say the highlight was getting to see a traditional piñata-whacking; starting with the smallest kids, most of them had a few good swings at the poor star-shaped box of sweets, it’s surprising how violently a 5-year-old can thrash a cardboard box with a big stick when large volumes of sweets are at stake!

Me and C sporting our tye-dye t-shirts and headbands

 

Part 2: Tapachula to Tecún Umán (Guatemala)

The day after the party it was finally time for the Guatemalan skate adventure with Delmar, being a bonafide Guatemalan himself he’s got a great network of friends there.  Step one was for us to grab a ‘collectivo’ from Tapachula to the Mexican border town of Ciudad Hidalgo (‘collectivo’ = small mini-bus-taxi that stops whenever someone flags it down).  I definitely had a bit of nervous excitement as we got off the collectivo in Ciudad Hidalgo and wandered a few streets up to the border, it’s not every day that you cross by land from Mexico into Guatemala carrying your skateboard.

Of course there was also the random episode where Delmar stopped to ask if I still needed to exchange Mexican Pesos for Guatemalan Quetzales, to which I confirmed I did; so we carry on walking another 20 steps and stop next to some random guy sat on the corner of the street in a red plastic chair.  Said random guy with a money belt is apparently the currency exchange man and offers us a better exchange rate than any I’ve seen online, so money changes hands and we’re on our way ($500 Mexican Pesos = $210 Guatemalan Quetzales)…as you do!  (Quick tip: I’ve since learnt that this practice can be a bit dodgy if you are a gringo on your own, I think the fact that I was with a local and that we both had weapons (i.e. skateboards) made sure that the two dodgy-looking blokes under the nearby tree didn’t come over to say hello).

 

Moving through the Mexican side of the border was fairly painless, a quick photo check and a passport stamp and we were on our way.  The weird bit was crossing the bridge over the Río Suchiate where we stopped to film some folks taking the ‘less legal’ route over the river-border, i.e. dozens of large rubber rings transporting up to 8 people at a time from one side to the other.

After a 200-metre skate/walk over the bridge we arrived on Guatemalan terra firma.  If we’d have wanted to, we could have just walked straight into Tecún Umán because there was only an open road barrier to walk under and no one would have noticed.  Being the sensible chaps that we are however, we decided to mosey into the border control building and get our Guatemalan entry stamps to prevent any issues when we came back through this way.

I should probably also mention that the heat and humidity during this entire journey was just the same as in Tapachula, so that’s just on the kinder side of ‘some sort of tropical oven from hell’ then I suppose.  Being therefore fairly sweaty after lugging our bags and boards across an international border then walking for a few blocks to get to the central plaza of Tecún Umán, we plonked ourselves in a cool, air-conditioned restaurant with Wifi; ‘Pollo Campero’ (literally translated = ‘Chicken Farmer’).  Yes, it’s a fast food joint, but there’s precious few places with both air-con and Wifi so our first meal in Guatemala came with fries and a fizzy drink.

Delmar gets his chicken on

 

Delmar’s friend Jonny joins us in ‘Pollo Campero’

After a quick catch-up between these two we meet up with another local buddy called Piña (Pineapple) in the main plaza and head to the local skate spot.

Central Plaza in Tecún Umán (a local copper came over within about 10 seconds to remind us we couldn’t skate in the plaza, yeah cheers mate)

 

The gringo has landed

 

It’s a decent skate park, better than the one in my home town of Alton, UK

 

Skate Turkey and Skate Rooster

Demlar’s mate Chino also came to meet us at the park, then a quick stop off at Jonny’s place before hopping in the car to our next destination; Xela (also known as Quetzaltenango).

 

Jonny, Delmar, Chino and Piña holding new boards from Jonny and Chino’s skate company ‘Tropic Skateboards’ (The bird is a Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala)

 

Part 3: Xela to Retalhuleu and back to Tecún Umán

Chino was kind enough to drive the 4 of us all the way up to Xela in about 2 hours; well, I say ‘drive’, when what I really mean is a calmer version of rally cross!  The roads in Guatemala aren’t exactly what we’re used to in the UK, pot holes are numerous…and they come in gangs.  So whilst Chino is an excellent driver, staying in your lane generally depends on how many hazards you have to dodge, at certain points we spent a good 12-14 seconds driving on the wrong side of the road or just plain weaving.  You get used it after a while.

After 45 minutes the road starts to climb into more mountainous topology with jungle-covered volcanoes visible in the distance.  Mercifully the air cools along with this elevation gain and you can begin to think clearly again; ahh the simple pleasures.  By the time we get to the city of Xela it’s actually cold enough for me to need my shell and 90’s bucket-hat.

Me and Delmar upon arrival in Xela

 

Xela

After arriving in Xela we chilled with some friends of Chino’s for a coffee before hitting a local skate park; following this was an evening full of million-mile-an-hour Guatemalan Spanish as we headed out for dinner at a restaurant high on the hill, found ourselves a hostel for the night, and ended up sampling the local beer and tequila until 01:30am.

I wasn’t so happy therefore to be dragged out of bed at 06:30am to head down to Retalhuleu, but the photo I got as we drove out of town was priceless…

Xela, you little beauty!

 

I found out later that Chino had an exam to take at 9am in Retalhuleu, hence the ridiculous wake up time; we even picked up another mate of his called Ronnie on the way.  Retalhuleu was a fairly random day.  Arriving at a skate park before 9am was a new one for me, plus I was pretty damn tired, and a little hungover…the last thing I felt like doing was going for a skate.  Add to this that the skate park was slap-bang in the middle of a busy public area, and that gringo skateboarder soon became the most interesting thing to stare at!  Whilst it turned out to be an interesting day in the end as I met other friends including Junior and Brandon, the first half felt a wee bit sketchy.

Back to Tecún Umán later on and we stayed with a friend of Delmar’s called MannyManny lives in a house with a big Rottweiler called Sam, Sam’s head is like a massive rock! (but he’s a big softy really…as long as you’re not a burglar, because if you’re a burglar then you should expect to have your face forcibly removed, did I mention Sam’s head is massive!)

Sam the Rottweiler

 

Sam selfie

 

Part 4: Tecún Umán back to Tapachula

Our third day since leaving Tapachula was super lazy, both knackered from 2 days of travelling, skating and socialising with just a 4 hour sleep in the middle had left us zombied.  A late breakfast was followed by a long nap.  A long nap was followed by a big thunderstorm, it was just one of those days.

Chino kindly gave us a lift back to the border and we said our goodbyes, it’s nice to know I have a posse of Guatemalan skaters to hook up with when I come back next year though.  The Guatemalan side of things was just as simple on the way out as it was on the way in, the same cat was sitting outside just as it had been 3 days ago, except this time I saw the sign saying ‘no tocar el gato’ (don’t touch the cat)…but I was too tired to ask why.

Getting back into Mexico was slightly more complicated.  There was virtually no one around since it was 8pm, and the guards we walked passed in the border building waved us straight through mainly so we didn’t interrupt their conversation I think.  It’s only as we approached the exit into Mexico that I reminded Delmar I needed an entry stamp to prove I’d officially re-entered Mexico; he agreed.

The problem being that we couldn’t go backwards, so we had to exit into Mexico and then go back in from the Mexican side to interrupt that guard conversation.  After a few confused-looking faces I ended up filling out the usual forms and paying $500 Pesos, therefore giving me another 180-day tourist visa; job done!

Thanks again to Jonny, Piña, Chino, Ronnie, Junior and Brandon for your hospitality; I’ve got some great memories of Guatemala now, cheers lads!

 

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