Same, Same But Different

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Sunday, October 2, 2011

A mere ten foot walk across the Mexican/Guatemalan border transported me from a country that is somewhat organized and rising up in affluence to a land that seems to be stuck in poverty and the past.    Mexican streets full of catalytic converter equipped Ford Rangers, Chevy Silverados, and luxury buses  have changed to all sorts of pollution belching rides such as the occasional Toyota Tacoma past its prime and plenty of pimped out chicken buses . 

The ever present and annoying speed bumps do keep things sort of the same, however, and now rather than topes we call them tumulos.  Where else will you learn such useless vocabulary but here?   The next time a toilet is muy necessito and your brain fails you for the phrase for the closest sanatario, at least your tongue will effortlessly roll off enough to ask for nearest speedbump.   Valuable lessons learned here indeed.

The easiest way from San Cristobal to Quetzaltenango (Xela) is by shuttle van arranged through any agency or hotel in town.  The cost of about 300 pesos is worth it in that it's advertised as a seamless, 7 hour door to door journey.     This sure does beat hunting down a jam packed  collectivo to the border, walking across, finding a taxi to the bus station, then waiting who knows how long on the chicken bus to roll by and then trying to negotiate a taxi in broken Spanish.

What began as scheduled quickly ground to a siesta like halt on the border.  Thankfully living in Vietnam has taught me patience and this more than paid off for this little exercise of hurry up and wait.   My friends tell me I am more laid back now and I guess I am slowly noticing it myself.   Our Mexican van dropped us off at the border and we were to be met by its Guatemalan counterpart right away.   Two and half hours later we were still sitting on a ledge watching everyone else cross the border and head off to places I was wondering if we’d ever see.   With low expectations and tolerance high for "island time," I just figured we get there when we get there.   And when we got there was 10 long hours total time.

I like this new me.   Life is relaxing when you just don’t give a crap about the little things.  Have you ever heard of anyone not eventually making it to wherever anyway?   In the meantime I sat there thinking how much the border chaos reminded me of Vietnamese stalls overflowing with counterfeit DVDs, jeans, and even “Tommy Hilfiger” backpacks.   Is there really that much of a market on the border to support 8 stalls of bras and underwear?  I mean really.   Is this really where people come to buy this stuff? 

On the van ride into Xela I took a nap and woke up into a strange sense of déjà vu.   Believe it or not for a few minutes I thought I was  back in Vietnam.    I was in the same type of Toyota minivan we use at my airline there and even sitting in the same place in the first row that I like, the scenery looks the same, the roads are just as crappy, the concrete towns look similar.   This really is same, same but different as the Vietnamese like to say.    A chicken bus and a pickup with 10 men stuffed into the bed snapped me back to the reality of Latin America.  Actually now that I think about it, the pickup full of workers is same, same but different as well.   Vietnamese stuffing as many people or pieces of cargo on top of a scooter really is the same concept.  

And speaking of chicken buses, did you ever think that your first grade school bus would find an afterlife down here in these parts.   Picture that yellow paint now all shades of the rainbow with decorations, Virgin Mary grill ornaments, and names like Dios Dinero.   Yes, Bus 212 has reincarnated itself into the chicken variety shuttling Guatemalans, impossible amounts of bags strapped to the roof, and the occasional gringo back and forth across the country.

And a disturbing scene I witnessed has finally yielded an answer to that cheesy age old riddle of why did the chicken cross the road.  Down here the answer is seemingly to be smashed by an old chicken bus prior to reaching the other side.   That was one feathery demise along a highway that is very much same same but different to my life in Vietnam.

How I got here:

Shuttle arranged through Oviso in San Cristobal - 300 pesos ($21) - 10 hours

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