Since I arrived back from Mexico on Monday last week (17th April), I've realized that my blog got severely neglected towards the later part of my trip, in particular as it does not mention Mexico. I have decided to rectify this situation by writing about the three weeks I spent in Mexico (the second half of my trip - the first being the 2 weeks in Guatemala) retrospectively.
So I'll start from when I was in Xela, Guatemala. Andy & I had knackered ourselves climbing the Santa Maria volcano, we had followed this with a day of light sightseeing to San Andres Xecul. The following day Andy had to travel back to San Pedro La Laguna to get back to work. This was the point at which Andy and I would part ways so on Monday morning we headed into town, we said our goodbyes, Andy went to the bus stop and I walked off to sort out some things out. It was at this point I realized that despite being in Guatemala for almost 2 weeks the fact that Andy had mostly been there to organize accommodation/food/tours etc. for me had made the trip fairly easy for me. I found that despite 14 or so hours of one to one Spanish lessons in San Pedro la laguna I actually knew very little Spanish. This was made apparent to me minutes after Andy left. I entered a restaurant to get something to eat, no one in the restaurant knew any English and the menu was in Spanish only. Later this was also highlighted when I tried to book a trip to Mexico from one of the tour companies. Despite these obvious difficulties I managed to muddle through with a mixture of broken Spanish, pointing and gesturing. Over the next few days in general my communications with the locals were slowed down compared when Andy was helping me. I learnt a lot of Spanish in these few days out necessity.
A couple of days later it was time to head to Mexico. I was picked up from my hostel by a taxi driver (I was expecting a bus) who seemed to know who I was and what he had to do. He eventually got the message across that we were to meet a bus that would take me the rest of the way. This gelled with what I had been told. We met the bus and I was on my way to Mexico. The people on the bus seemed to be there for one of two reasons, surprisingly over half weren't actually intending to stay in Mexico for more than a few days. The reason for this was that they had been in Guatemala for almost 3 months and the visas they had been granted on entry were about to expire. The Guatemalan authorities will grant a further 3 months provided you spend 72 hours outside the country, and this was the intention of these people. The others (the minority) were like myself travelling to Mexico because we wanted to stay there.
After several hours we arrived at the Guatemalan border. Before arriving I had expected the land border to be constructed very much like an airport with strict security, professionalism and efficiency. I found none of these qualities at the border. There seemed to be people wondering all over the place, locals doing currency exchange and people selling things just outside. It didn't seem that it would be too hard to walk though with out having you passport checked by any officials. In any case I got an exit stamp for which I to pay 10Q (about 77p or about an hour's local pay), which I can only assume went into the guy's pocket. For simplicity I decided to pay this rather than to cause a fuss. Though despite this payment one of the girls in our group did not get the exit stamp at the first attempt (which is essential to get a new visa some 72 hours later, when she re-enters Guatemala), the guy said he forgot, fortunately for he remember to collect the backhander off us all but forgot to actually do his job.
Entering Mexico was much more organized and there were no backhanders to be paid. On travelling from the Mexican border to San Cristobal we had stop numerous times to be "checked" by immigration officials, it was not at all clear what they were checking, often looking inside the van, however we were never asked for our passports or any other type of ID.