To say that we're going slower than we planned would be an understatement. In fact, we're moving so slow we think we've coined the term sloverlanding. We figured we had enough money to stay on the road for about a year and a half. South America is huge, and we wanted plenty of time to explore, so we gave ourselves six to seven months to get through Mexico and Central America. Five months into the trip and we're still in Mexico. And to make matters worse we still don't want to leave. We love this country.
Mexico grants a tourist card that allows you to stay up to six months in the country. After that you have to leave, but you can come back after three days and get a new tourist card valid for another six months. We had made plans to meet Natasha's mom and her cousin in the Yucatan with two weeks left on our card. That would have given us a week after they left to drive the couple of hours it would take to get to the Belize border. The problem is there was a lot of Mexico left that we've been really excited to see. So against our better judgement, knowing we should probably just get on with our trip, we decided to make a border run to Guatemala.
International border crossings are never fun, but we went in as prepared as we could be and it ended up going pretty smoothly. There was the ubiquitous running back and forth between offices, standing in line at the bank (twice), searching out a place to make copies, and money changers and “helpers” pestering us; but it wasn't nearly as stressful as we thought it was going to be.
Mexican law says you have to be out of the country for three days, but many laws here are more like suggestions. We'd heard if you just stay out for a night you can come back in the next day. So we planned on staying at a hotel not far from the border that reportedly accepts pets. It turns out they didn't. We apparently could have camped in their parking lot, but spending a hot humid afternoon in a hotel parking lot wasn't too appealing. Over lunch we discussed our options. We realized that Lake Atitlan was tantalizingly close. It's where we've been planning to spend a month or two taking Spanish lessons, so we figured this would be a good opportunity to check it out and see where we might want to stay once we got to Guatemala for real.
On the way there we got a crash course on driving in Guatemala. It's a little like driving in Mexico except drivers in Mexico seem to have at least a little concern for safety. We also had our first introduction to chicken buses. These brightly painted repurposed school buses serve as the main form of public transportation. They apparently get their name because they pack people in like livestock, but I think it's because they drive like the tazmanian devil playing chicken with everyone on the road. We did however make it to Atitlan safely and without incident.
We chose to stay in Panajachel, one of the larger towns and the main hub on the shores of the lake. Waking up in the morning to several monstrous volcanos looming over us was a treat. Meeting our first scorpion was less of a treat, but still exciting nonetheless.
The several villages that surround the lake are most easily accessed by boat so we jumped in one to check them out, and also took our first tuk-tuk ride in 6 years since our trip to Asia. The bumpy, jarring jaunt on this odd little three wheeled vehicle was fun for our short ride, but we were ecstatic that it's no longer one of our primary modes of transportation.
One of the highlights of the short time we spent in Guatemala was meeting yet another overlanding couple. We'd been ogling Overland the Americas beautiful photos on their instagram account and randomly running into them was another example of just how small this community is. They invited us over to their camp for dinner. We swapped travel stories, had a crash course in the oddities of fundamentalist Guatemalan Pentacostalism (which we didn't know was a thing) from their chanting neighbors, got locked in their campground because we stayed too late, got tons of travel tips for Guatemala and had an all around blast on yet another overlanding speed date.
Our whirlwind tour of Guatemala was a quite a drastic change from our months in Mexico and got us excited about the time we will eventually spend here, but it also reassured us that we weren't done with Mexico. We missed it.