It was mother’s day in Guatemala and so I was awake before my 5am alarm went off by fireworks going off in the street. Karen had been a huge help giving me information about where I needed to go and how to get there in Guate. I was on the bus at 6am, where the ticket vendor tried to tell me it was 35Q (after selling the same ticket to everyone else for 30Q). I wasn’t in that charitable a mood so explained to him quite calmly that I thought his behaviour was flat out wrong. A lady sat in the seat across the aisle from me agreed and told him so too.
We pulled into Guate at 8 and then it was a simple metrobus ride up to the immigration office. I’d expected long lines, but there was no-one waiting at the information line who told me to go to the 4th floor. I spoke to the people at the main desk who gave me a piece of paper and told me I needed to speak to Javier in the corrections department just down the corridor. I let him know what happened and he went off to speak to other people about my possible options. I looked at the paper I’d been given and it seemed to mention a long list of things that are required to make the correction that I was after. The idea of wandering round Guate going to speak to lawyers and getting paperwork organised sounded pretty horrifying, so I was glad when Javier came back and told me it could be sorted out that day, for a price.
Apparently my actions meant that I was in the country illegally and so would need to repent. This involved paying a 400Q ($50) fine for “evación de control migratorio” and “ingresar por lugares no autorizados” (evasion of migration control and entry by unauthorised places). I spent a good few minutes explaining how unfair I thought that was. I had crossed the border at Jalacte. There was an official Belizean exit there and so how was I to know there wouldn’t be an official Guatemalan entrance? I had gone to speak to the military, and police, and had proof of this, to ask them what to do and they had not told me about being there illegally. If I’d heard that at the Guatemalan border I’d probably have just gone back to Belize and taken the boat from Punta Gorda as I’d originally planned. Javier went away again and came back with another solution, I could leave to Mexico or Belize and then re-enter Guatemala, that would have probably involved sitting on a bus for 6+ hours each way and more than likely a fee in Mexico. Even without the fee, I wasn’t wanting to spend the rest of the day sat on a bus going to the border. I wanted to go to El Salvador.
After explaining to Javier that something had to be done at the Santa Cruz border, I went downstairs and took the decision to pay the fine, even though I strongly disagreed with it. I showed the receipt to the people at the entrance to the 4th floor and they told me I needed to go and photocopy a few pages in my passport. Not a chance. I explained how I’d just paid 400Q to make up for a mistake that I hadn’t made and was not going to go and spend a quetzal more photocopying when they had a photocopier right there. The guy behind the counter quietly accepted and came back a few minutes later with a paper explaining my fine that he wanted me to sign. There wasn’t another option, so I signed it and shortly after had the bit of ink that I was after. I thanked them and headed back to the bus terminal to return to Jutiapa. All in all, I’d been in the office for about an hour, and 10+ minutes of that could have been avoided if I’d been more willing to accept the fine at first.
It took longer to get back to Jutiapa as we had to wait about 30 minutes at a temporary road closure, but I was packed up and on the bike by 2 having thanked Karen for all her help. While riding along, I was attentively looking for a lift, I had no desire to ride this road again and wasn’t going to be getting to Santa Ana before dark at the rate I was going. I managed to get a couple of short rides (5-6km or so each) which helped and meant that I got to the border by 5pm.
It was a different guy working in the Guatemalan immigration office and I was done there in under 2 minutes. The El Salvadorian office however had the same officers working there and they were amazed to see me back. They opened my passport and had a good laugh at the police stamp again and how crazy the Guatemalans had been to think it was good enough. After a few minutes where they meticulously checked everything it was time to go. They weren’t going to give me a welcome to El Salvador stamp, but there was no way I was riding away without it. Apparently it wasn’t important, but I wasn’t taking the infinitesimally small chance that I’d have a similar problem trying to enter Honduras.
The sun was close to setting and so I took a short ride in El Salvador too. It was just for part of the climb just after entering the country. People talk about the dangers of El Salvador and how it’s not a country where you want to be out at night, and I was slightly paranoid. The huge amount of barbed wire that was surrounding buildings, even churches, probably contributed to that feeling.
The sun had gone down and it was dark by the time I eventually made it to Santa Ana where I met Roberto, my Couchsurfing host, and his brother Cristóbal. They were waiting at the entrance of their gated community and showed me to their large family home where they live with their two sisters, parents, a couple of nephews and a pair of maids. I got cleaned up and we went out for a mother’s day party, relieved to have the drama behind me.
Welcome to El Salvador in a truck