After leaving Palenque, I decided to head for the Guatemalan border at El Ceibo.  I had considered riding up Mex 199 into the Chiapas mountains to San Cristobal de las Casas, but multiple warnings on iOverlander and other websites told of roadblocks (boards and rope with nails in them across the road) by locals demanding money for passage.  Some of these roadblocks were loosely linked with the Zapatista rebel group, active in the region.  Recently a German and a Russian tourist had even been abducted and beaten severely before being released a few days later.  So that plan was out.  There were other ways to get to San Cristobal, but they were much longer and I had to make some time south.  

The thing with making set plans when on a trip like this is that you end up being driven by the plans.  In my case, there is not much I could do about it, because I had to fly home to renew my meds, so I had a flight booked out of San Jose, CR, towards the end of the month that I had to make.  Unfortunately that meant that I had to make continual progress southward and didn’t have the time to do some of the exploring that others making this trip were doing.  Oh well, it is what it is.  I am just happy to be doing the trip.  

I spent that night in an Auto Hotel about an hour from the border since there was no interesting towns between Palenque and the border.  That is what they call the Love motels here.  They are actually pretty handy for quick overnight stops.  Clean, comfortable, good AC, and private garages for each room, at only about $27 for this one.  I guess you can hide your car from prying eyes by parking it in the private garage during a hookup.   They even have a restaurant with only room service, which is put in a little rotating cubbyhole so that you can get your after-sex snack in full privacy.  

The next morning I got up early to leave at 6am in order to be at the border early.  That was a mistake.  The ride was nice in cool temps and empty roads to the border, passing through low foothills in the thick tropical air of Southern Mexico.   When I came to the border nobody was there and there was a set of big, closed, gates across the road.  The sign said it opened at 9am.  It was 7:15.  Sigh.  I should’ve researched that better.  So I sat on the curb and looked through iOverlander some more and then I noticed that the office I needed to go to, the Banjercito, in order to check the bike out of Mexico and get my import refund of $400, was closed on Mondays.  It was Monday.  More research failure on my part.  There were two guards at the gate, so I asked them if they Banjercito was still closed on Monday and they confirmed it.  Looks like another night in Mexico!

I rode back to the town I had just come from and had some street food on the way.   Gringas and Horchata….Street food makes everything better.   With the heat building quickly, I decided to just go back to the Love Motel and get my room for another night.  Thankfully they let me check in early and I retired to the room for the day to do some research, blog a bit, and just relax.  

The next morning I left a little later so as to arrive at El Ceibo right at 9am.   As advertised, they opened the gates at 9 promptly and I proceeded to the Mexican side to check out of Mexico.  It took me about an hour to do the paperwork, which also involved walking about 100 yards into the Guatemalan side to get copies of exit stamps.   I then proceeded to the Guatemalan side and the Box truck which had an office inside of it, one of the bulletin boards covered with traveller stickers.  I was told the system was down and that I had to wait.  They said it could be 15 minutes, a couple of hours, or a couple of days.  Great.  I sat down on the curb in the shade to wait, hoping to not have to return to Mexico again. 

While I was waiting an old Harley with Canadian plates pulled up.  Del Anderson (no relation) got off and asked me a few questions about the wait and then set about getting his entry permit as well.  Del and I talked for a while and I found out he was retired and had ridden that Harley all over the world.  He had taken it to Europe for a while, and also ridden to the Artic circle in both Europe and North America on it.  He had also done the trip to Ushuaia on it in 2013, and now was headed to the Honduran island of Roatan.   He had a lot of interesting stories and was doing it all without the fanfare of Social Media that so many of us riders use these days.  

The system came up after about a half hour and the officials called us both in.  After completing the paperwork, another trip to the copy office, and an official “fumigation” I said my goodbyes to Del and we exchanged contact info.  I was officially in Guatemala!

My destination for the night was Flores, a quaint town on an island on lake Petén Itzá, connected by a bridge to the mainland.  Entering Guatemala, it was immediately noticeable that I was in a different country.   The homes were mostly simple, wood-slatted one- and two-room structures alongside the road, and, I have to say, the roads were better, even though the country seemed simpler in some ways.  As I rode through the countryside on the small roads, I was enjoying the changing scenery and topography.  

It was hot, so I stopped for some cold water and I found some frozen chocolate bananas on a stick in the ice-cream freezer at the small roadside Tienda.  While sitting and eating my frozen banana, one of the locals started talking to me in English.   I found out his name was Santos and he had lived in the US for 8 years, working for a construction firm and doing jobs all across the southern states.  We had a good conversation about his life in the States and here, as well as the journey I was on.   My snack finished, I said my goodbyes to Santos and continued on towards Flores.

I don’t know what the truck drivers in Central America do to end up in some of the accidents I come across, but most of the ones I see are single-vehicle accidents that have run off the side of the road into a gully or ditch or something, often overturned.  Hopefully they all got out ok. I came across several in Mexico and a few more already in Guatemala.  About 30 miles out of Flores I came across what I thought was another, more serious, accident, as the traffic was at a standstill.  I observed a local in the car in front talking with the Police officer nearby, so when he returned to his car I asked if the road was closed.  He indicated it was, but then said I could get by on my motorcycle, so I buzzed up the wrong side of the road, past the line of cars, to find several big-rigs across the road blocking it completely.  Still thinking it must be an accident, I followed some local motorbike riders into an empty field on the left and then they started threading their ways through the trucks, up and around one, then the next.  Sometimes there was barely enough room for Bella, fat with her panniers on the back, to make it through, but we did make it.  At one point a local fellow tried to tell me I could not pass through, but then changed his mind and waved me through.  At the other side I saw a big banner with a fist on it and a slogan in Spanish, and it was then that the lightbulb came on.  It was a protest.  I had read about these.  Apparently the truckers are upset over the price of diesel and are blocking rods to protest.  Totally understandable, but I think that hindering the average person who is just trying to get home or to work is not really helping build sympathy for their cause.  At any rate, once again, I was happy to be on a bike and not in a car.   In a car I would’ve had to just sit and wait, probably for hours.   

I finally pulled into Flores in the early afternoon and found my hotel quickly.   After a quick shower I hit the town, exploring the small island.   The colors and vibrance of the island struck me, and, even though it was a bit touristy, I really liked the place.   I saw more gringos here than I had seen in a while, mostly a lot of Europeans, but also a few Americans as well.  I ended up at a cool little place on the waterfront which had hammocks and chairs to while away the evening with good wifi, a few cervezas, and a view of the lake.  It was owned by an American woman, who had been there 27 years, and her Guatemalan husband, and they took great pride in it and took good care of me.  Afterwards, I walked the busy waterfront back to my hotel.  People were out enjoying the evening by swimming in the lake, listening music on the boardwalk, and reveling in the brightly lit bars and restaurants which lined the lake.  I have to say, I really liked Guatemala!   

The next morning I was up early for a 6am guided tour of Tikal.   I decided on the tour, rather than riding up there, so that I could just wear shorts and sandals and not worry about the bike.   Tikal, a Unesco World Heritage site, is the mother of all Mayan sites.  Its jungle setting takes up over 16 square Kilometers, and the temples are some of the most picturesque, steepest, and highest of all Mayan cities.  At one point, it is estimated, Tikal had a population of over 250,000 people.   It is thought to be as old as 800BC, but its height of power was between 200-900AD and it was largely abandoned by the 10th century.  Although locals knew of the site, it was not discovered by westerners until the late 1840s, when rumors of the lost city were followed-up, and then by the 1880s, archeologists  finally started clearing the overgrown site.  Much of it is still covered by jungle, peaking out from under the growth.  

The tour lasted almost 4 hours and we covered 4.5 miles of walking amongst the ruins.  While walking was were able to see (but I was always too late with the camera) numerous species of birds, some monkeys, and the Central American Trash Panda (who stole some other visitors sandwiches as they were picnicking against the rules), the Coati, who looks like a cross of an Anteater and a Racoon.  Our guide told us how George Lucas used Tikal as the setting for the rebel base on Tatooine, in original Star Wars movie.  He even showed us the scene on his ipad of the Millennium Falcon as it was landing here, the temples of Tikal clearly visible.  After that, we climbed the Pyramid the scene was filmed from and saw the most incredible view of Tikal, as you could see the other Pyramids in the distance, rising from the jungle as the rain was just beginning to fall from the fast-approaching rain clouds.   

When the tour was over we got back on the bus to Flores for the 1.5 hour trip.  Approaching Flores, another protest had the road blocked, but the tour company had arranged for us all to get on a small minivan (packed in like sardines) to negotiate rough, narrow dirt roads around the protest and back onto the island.  That evening I found a nice, small restaurant, overlooking the lake, for an early dinner and then back to bed.  The next day would be a long one, headed for the Guatemalan mountains and cooler temperatures, but 190 miles and about 7-8 hours.  Nothing happens fast on Central American roads.  You just have to adjust your thinking to get used to the days being much less mileage than you would accomplish back at home.