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leaving mexico

Since the extreme temperatures in the middle of the day make an early start imperative, I decide to try to get my papers sorted when I return from Yaxchamil so that I can get on my bike and leave first thing in the morning. I locate the immigration office opposite the museum and approach the window.

A uniformed man is sleeping soundly on the other side of the counter, leaning back on a chair, his feet propped up on another. Snores reverberate around the room competing with a television mounted on the wall that is blaring out some forgettable programme that clearly hadn’t retained the immigration officer’s attention either. I wonder if I should discretely withdraw but I really do want to get my passport stamped.

The man is quite charming and slightly bashful on waking. He stamps my passport and queries me about my journey. He discovers that he doesn’t have the change to finalise the financial side of our business. I have some shopping to do so I offer to leave my passport there and return but he graciously allows me to take my stamped passport with me. I don’t think he gets a lot of work at this time of year.

I do so like a relaxed official attitude to border crossings and the Mexicans seem to excel at it. Friendly, charming and helpful; perhaps they could offer some training sessions to US, UK, Canadian and Australian immigration bodies.

In the morning, I pack up camp and head to the boat landing not long after dawn and, after negotiating the best price I can, load my bike and my panniers onto a long narrow blue and red, a small thatched shelter in the middle providing protection from the elements.

Bike on the boat for the border crossing.

The river is turbid, the water brown and swirling. The boatman skilfully negotiates what appear to me ominous currents and eddies and after half an hour, travelling up river this time, deposits me and my belongings in Guatemala.

Travelling to the unknown...

There is something special, I decide, about a river border crossing with ferries that, as in fairy tales and myths, take us to another realm.

Bethel, a tiny village, is still waking up. People are sweeping  and making other preparations for the day. The local shop changes the last of my pesos into quetzals and I then there is only immigration to attend to before I am ready to ride into Guatemala.

The immigration office turns out to be a few kilometres down the road and if I had bothered to go into the building and seek somebody out there is nothing at all to stop me simply cycling into Guatemala, my presence there unrecorded. The Guatemalan official is, like his Mexican counterpart, friendly and charming and speaks excellent English but I don’t find myself trusting him completely. He tells me he grew up in the United States. We chat about different things while he processes my passport and hands it back to me. He then casually informs there is a charge of five US dollars to enter the country and I give it to him without thinking. I realise as soon as I hand it over that he has gyped me but I am too embarrassed to ask for it back or pressure him for a receipt.

Welcome to Guatemala! It's been a long time coming...

The Guatemalan immigration post also appears unmanned at first.

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