Tag Archives: central america

El Salvador from Guatemala border crossing

one of many volcanos on Lake Atitlan

We woke well before sunrise at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala with plans on crossing into El Salvador ASAP. Border crossings are always a process and you should expect the unexpected. Arrive prepared, well fed, and expect a long sweaty line of traffic.

boat recovery on Lake Atitlan

Before each border you need to do your homework. Each border is different, and there are always useful tips online to better prepare you for the process. Most borders have locals that are willing to walk you through the process for a small, negotiable fee. I always try to avoid these dudes (they are just random dudes, not official by any means).

IMG_5194One of those dudes spotted us miles before the border, swerved his motorcycle in front of us, began motioning us to follow him, and straight being the only direction to go, we had no choice but to follow. We stopped to do all our Guatemala exit paperwork, and the dude just started telling us what needed to be done. “two copies of this, one copy of that, go over there, talk to that guy”. Guatemala done. We are almost in El Salvador, but before that lets sit in bumper to bumper traffic on a bridge for an hour.

“the dude”

As it turns out, our dude was pretty damm useful. He ripped around on his bike telling all the trucks to move over so we could get by. He directed traffic “go here, go around that guy, drive on the wrong side of the road for miles at a time, cut off everyone, its ok”. We took his lead, with no hesitation. No one seemed to mind either which is interesting.  But, after countless traffic violations we were at the El Salvador border.

IMG_5187Once agian, dude helped us,  “go here, go there, fill these out, now do this”. I have to admit that we propably could have done this all ourselves, but it would have taken twice as long and would have been three times as stressful. When we were finally done, the dude, AKA George, was the man of the hour. At this point, I was ready for him to haggle me for money, but no. It was a smooth transaction. I offered him $20 bucks, and he seemed to be stoked for his two hours of helping us gringos in the sweltering heat. Well worth it in my opinion. By the end of the day we were swimming in 80 degree water on the tropical beaches of El Salvador.

"the dude" George
“the dude” George

To all travelers crossing this boarder, look for this dude named George. He was a perfect gentleman and spoke perfect english. He lived in the states for over 20 years, and is now slowly preparing to become a legal resident. Props to the kind locals helping a couple confused gringos.

Guatemala update…

We left San Cristobal, Mexico early in the morning, with a feeling of uncertainty as a result of the truck’s starting issue the previous night. After some speed-googling I came to the realization that whatever the issues at-hand, they were most likely minor.  Perhaps the plugs, fuel filter, cold humid weather, or all the above, were to blame. The steering has play in it (needs new ball joints), and the exhaust smells funny which was due to the a bad catalytic converter (an issue that I was already aware of in Colorado). The mechanic back in the States would install a new cat for about $1000, or chop off the old cat and install a straight pipe for $500 (which he was only willing to do because I was leaving the country, as it is illegal in the US). I also had the option to do nothing and take a risk of losing power while driving in a remote location, wherever that may be. I chose option 3 and did nothing. It is now our last day in Mexico, after 3 months of rugged travel, and we are finally faced with the problem.

Are we there yet?

The truck still ran fine, despite the starting issue the night prior and a funny smelling exhaust. Either way, we decided to stick to the original plan and head for the border of Guatemala. The border crossing went as smooth as could be. We were prepared to have an anxiety provoking experience, being that we speak limited Spanish, and we had previous knowledge that crossings may take hours while you wait, deal with immigration, banks, vehicle import fees, etc. A smooth hour and fifteen minutes later, we were headed into the depths of a country that we had only read about in our trusty Lonely Planet.  No book, though, can describe those first ten minutes in a new country.


Our plan in Guatemala was to find an apartment for 1 month, go to Spanish school, fix the truck, and take in the country. We headed to the city of Quetzaltenango (aka Xela) and found a $15 hotel room, for the night, right in the downtown area. When driving in Mexico, and most Central American cities, traffic rules rarely apply. It is something like this: red light- go, pass on the double yellows, two lanes wide with four cars side-by-side, people in the roads, and fresh dog road kill constantly. No problemo. I am getting the hang of this.

hotel room chillin
hotel room chillin

We decided to try out couchsurfing.org for the first time, as surfers, instead of hosts. We got a reply from our, now good homie, Jose.  Jose lives right outside of the city in a town called Salcaja. His family has a peach farm up the hill, with a cabin that we now call our temporary home. The cabin is constructed from two box trucks, placed side-by-side and converted into a living space. The cabin has a porch, bathroom, bedroom, and electricity.  It is set amongst the peach trees and has an epic view of the mountains, including Volcano Santa Maria. It is above and beyond where we expected to be staying.

bad catalitic converter
bad catalitic converter

Jose’s mother, who has warmly invited us into her home and fed us countless amazing meals, is a retired teacher.  It was decided that she would provide us with Spanish lessons instead of going to an organized school. Not only that, but Jose also negotiated with his family mechanic to fix our Toyota. The truck had new ball joints installed, catalytic converter removed and straight pipe installed, and a new fuel filter. For parts and labor, the truck was repaired for $300 (in the States I was quoted at well over $1000 for the same repairs). Thank you to Jose, Amparito (Jose’s mom), and the family, for taking us in and treating us like family. They have gone above and beyond in being hosts.  We feel inspired to do the same.

We will now spend time in Salcaja, hopefully improve our Spanish, and enjoy the rest of our stay. Jose has shown us the beauty of his country, including the hot springs at Fuentes Georginas, and educated us about his culture. So far Guatemala has been an amazing experience, and we have met amazing people. We look forward to continuing our exploration of this country.

view from the cabin
view from the cabin