Viewing entries tagged
guatemala

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TRY GOOGLING: HOW TO ILLEGALLY CROSS BORDERS

"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way." - Henry David Thoreau

I sit cross-legged on the musty couch, weighed down by the yellow light that presses from the singular ceiling bulb. Black flies buzz on windowsills and geckos chirp, more distinct than the drone of traveler’s conversation that pools around me. I'm not in the mood for company but there is only one hour of Internet in the evening and the signal doesn’t reach up to my bed in the attic's dormitory.

A couple days rest in this lagoon-nestled hostel is necessary but I'm anxious to get back on the road so I can make it back to Mexico in time for my flight. So I sit, scouring message boards for information on how to illegally cross the Guatemalan border.

A comically strong Australian accent leaps into my right ear as I realize I’m being addressed. I look over into the leathered, lined face from which glimmer the little aqua eyes of the proprietor. “Right-o, miss, I always take the right opportunity to find out where everyone comes from, what they’re about, and where they’re going.”

After probing me for my tale, he proves as knowledgeable as he is interesting, loaded with details on every Guatemalan border and stories of traveling the world by boat. Layered in swaths of Aussie slang, I get the lowdown on three border exit points that will hopefully spare my limited funds from being exhausted by paying off border guards. I had asked other hostels, travel agencies and locals along the way, seeking advice on what to do if you’ve managed to miss the exit station of one country (because you wanted to save money by walking to the border instead of taking a taxi) as well as the entrance to the next one (because the borderline is actually a loosely defined patch of geography navigated by two hours travel by both boat and bus). In every instance I was laughed at heartily, “¿Ilegal en Guatemala? Cómo es posible?” but given no answers.

Thankfully, this salty old fella’ has some insight for me, but I'm no more at ease than before. As expected, it will all come down to how much I am willing to pay to have my passport issue overlooked, or how adventurous I am feeling to try and avoid borders altogether. Here are my options to consider:

 1. “The Most Expensive.” Go on the gringo trail. Via Flores and east to Belize,which I know as I took it the year before. But to deal with the pricey, invented border fees that exist there even without passport issues, plus cross through multiple countries, would only be worth it to go back to Caye Caulker. Already feeling the strain of one mosquito-born illness, I figured it was a lot of hassle to head straight into the thicket of buzzers during wet season. 

 2. “The Most Time Lost.” Go back the way I came. It’ll take me back through Flores for another overnight on the miniscule island, back through the border town where I spent my lovely night sleeping on the porch clutching my knife, and racing toward a night bus which I may or may not make in time. Then it’s still 18 hours ride to the Caribbean coast of Mexico. The upside is I know the lay of the land and can avoid passport scrutiny due to the less than defined nature of that border. 

 3. “The Most Mysterious.” Head through Flores to a lesser-known northern crossing, mostly used by Guatemalan day laborers and errand-goers who cross to the more developed Mexican town on the other side. I am assured by the Australian sailor that it is a lax border. In the mornings and evenings no IDs are even considered as people are allowed to move through the gates in large groups. From there a few buses can get me to an overnight bus to the east where my flight to the US awaits me.

The latter option seems the most viable and I finally retire, exhausted, to my netted bed upstairs. The only other person going to bed as early as I am is pre-grade school.  

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Kombucha, Kombucha, Kombucha

"Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity." - Hippocrates

My breakfast just arrived at my table, a large goblet of unnaturally pink yogurt pooled around layers of banana and granola. I long for real yogurt so intensely that I close my eyes and picture it in the aisle from the health food store. Those large white cylinders, words promising well-being glinting under the reflected fluorescent lights. My vision blends with a memory from sleep, draws from my brain a fraction of last night's dream.

I am running through an enormous, gleaming health food store, wildly pulling things from the shelf and tossing them ecstatically into the grocery cart. Sauerkraut! Yogurt! Chia! Kombucha, kombucha, kombucha!

Why can't I be where I am? Why can't I enjoy the present moment? I have arrived at my destination, the pilgrimage nearly complete. I am eating the aforementioned pink yogurt on a breezy veranda overlooking the rushing river at the base of Semuc Champey, that most glorious mecca for which I have longed. So I suck it up, take a deep breath, see out instead of seek within and head out to finally see the falls. 

The glorious falls. The cliffs to jump from. The friends I make, climbing an hour deep into a cave with nothing but stubby candles in one hand, held above the water while we swim through black, icy depths with the other. The splif we smoke on a rocky outcrop as the fog descends on us with the dusk, and we try to do nothing but laugh for five minutes. 

And I begin to remember what it feels like to enjoy traveling. But I also know that it requires a strength and well-being that I lost with that fever. The dreams of health food aren't something to be ashamed of, they are the call of my subconscious telling me to stop acting like an explorer and start acting like a patient. 

I move the date of my flight back to The States up by two weeks.

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The Familiar and the Unknown

"You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you with yourself." - Ella Maillart

I have been to Flores before. On this tiny island in the lake — wound up in the central-most of its few streets — I have been in this very hostel before too. Almost exactly a year before I came here with a friend from Brooklyn half-way through a trans-Central American journey. Here the travelers' paths (lovingly coined the gringo trails) split into two common directions: 1) north-east through Tikal and on to Belize or 2) south to Semuc Champey and on to Honduras.

I hadn't intended to come back because, well, I'd already "done it", so to speak. And what I hadn't done the previous year was Semuc Champey. The promise of those seven magical, glittering waterfalls — that every vagabond had raved about after we had committed to Path 1 — has brought me back to Guatemala determined to get there so directly that I've made many missteps in my rush.

Deep down I know that the art of traveling is to flow from one place to the next. To move like a bead of water down the rocks, pooling where you are welcomed and trickling out where it is full. But what I know to do and what I can do don't always align. I'm stuck, stubborn, and starting to think I shouldn't be traveling. My body is depleted from the mysterious tropical fever back in Mexico. My spirit is broken because I allowed other people's opinions of me (my whiteness, my nationality, my motives) to define this journey, rather than just the experience of it. And mostly I'm completely lost about how to reset that.

So I will see the goddam gleaming falls of Semuc Champey, buy a ticket back to America, and be done with it.

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