I was up early by the lake. After a swim in the pool and breakfast in the lobby restaurant it was time to try to get back to Antigua. I messaged the bike shop and told them I would ride the bike around and if it ran smooth I would head back. If it had trouble I would find a mechanic in town.
It started out good until I got 10 miles out before having the same issues. Problem was that by this point I had committed to going back and was now in the mountains.
I discovered that the kickstand was the problem. The sensor on it kept activating and stalling the bike. By keeping the kickstand up with my foot while opening the throttle I was ok, just made it hard to shift gears.
I got back into Antigua and the bike guys confirmed the issue and fixed it, but I was not too eager to head back out right now. I found a hostel with a pool to try and chill for a bit.
After checking in, I heard rumors that the president was going to lock the country down. I was told that meant no flights in/out and all land borders closed in/out. I grabbed my bags and got an Uber to Guatemala City and tried to get out on 2pm flight with Spirit. I was just a few people too late. I scrambled for flights to Mexico, but everything was booked up. People were flooding into the airport as the rumor spread. The rumor was that he would shut airport for 15 days but reevaluate in 7. I booked oneway flight out for 7 days later and one for 15 in case either actually left. I then caught ride to US Embassy to hear my options. They would not open the doors and just had the security guard give me a slip of paper with a number on it
The phone was just a recording with no relevant information and the website was outdated. I got an Uber back to Antigua and went over to the hotel I stayed at a couple days ago. It was owned by an American couple and I figured if things got bad, I could trust them to protect me more than a local hotel owner. They said they would hold a room for me the following night and would not rent it out until I told them I did not need it.
I met back up with the bike guys at a restaurant called El Fermento
I met some more Americans who had not yet heard the rumors. It was interesting having people say, “oh ya just in town for a couple days.” Then you tell them the whole country was about to be shut down and their face goes from smiling when they think you are joking to disbelief and then panic.
The President came on TV and made the announcement that everything was shutting down that night. Here is the part where I agree that he probably did the right thing, but you gotta give everyone a couple days to get the Fuck out!
2 Canadians at the bar had decided to make a run for the border in Mexico. They went and got their stuff and paid MarLo, my guide, to drive them. I got their numbers and told them to text me if they got out.
I went back to the hostel and tried to get some sleep. Everyone at the place was freaking out, especially those with little kids on vacation.
I seem to be putting myself in these situations of late. It was not too long ago that I flew from Bangkok into Tokyo right before a major Typhoon hit. That storm shut down the city and stranded us for 10 days. Although I made a poor decision to fly to Tokyo, I was happy with my ability to function in the chaos; gathering data from sources, managing bookings, coming up with multiple options and following through to keep us safe.
Now again, I had made a stupid decision to fly into Guatemala, but let’s see what I could do to extricate myself. With a background owning a Travel company, being an excessive planner, reading hundreds of survival/adventure books, I felt I was a bit more ready for the challenge than most.
I realized quick that waiting for flights and contacting the Embassy was a lost cause. They were going to be overwhelmed and unresponsive. If I was to get out, it was up to me. I might have to wait it out for 14 days, but most likely the virus was only going to get worse, so that 14 days would easily turn into a month or more. I needed a backup plan. I was not scared of getting sick initially, but then I realized that getting sick in Guatemala might not mean the same level of care as back in the states. Also, I was beginning to fear the public backlash towards gringos who brought the virus here.
The next morning I packed up and moved the American-owned hotel. They said I would be safe unless the government ordered all the hotel’s closed, in which case they would be forced to turn everybody out. They actually thought that might happen the previous night. That left me a little concerned. I went to the market and bought some food. I wandered around in the madness trying to think of what was essential. Were Oreos essential? What about a bottle of Rum?
The streets were thinning out. They had armed guards with shotguns outside the pharmacy.
It was time to formulate my backup plan. MarLo was not answering my texts, most likely cause he was sleeping after a 10 hour ride to the border last night. I met at the plaza with an American friend from last night. We discussed paying someone to get us to the border. We were going to make a run if I could get a hold of MarLo. I found a couple other guys that would drive us, but did not know them as well. They were fallbacks. I told my plan to people at the hotel, but they said the Mexican border was closed and they heard people were getting turned away. They also said the president was having people arrested that tried to get out. I had also just heard that all cities were shut down and anyone on the roads outside of town was stopped and forced to return at roadblocks So much information was swirling you did not know what was real, but you could not dismiss any of it. You had to factor every variable into your cost/benefit equation.
I heard back from MarLo and he said he would take me and other guy to Mexican border for $250/each. I decided yesterday to stop making decision based on price. You either do it or not do it, but the monetary cost is not a factor, which for me was hard to get over. As I sat in my room I felt like Ben Stiller in the scene from, “Meet the Parents” where he he is chewing gum in the dark going over his results from polygraph test.
This is the situation.
- You stay here and US brings flights to get you out in a couple days
- You stay here and flights open in 7 or 15 days
- You stay here and flights don’t open for a month maybe more
- You stay here and get kicked out cause hotel they shut it down and you have to find alternate place (bike tour said I could sleep in their shop)
Any of the above could involve getting sick or facing public backlash
- You pay gut to take you 5 hr to border and you get across and get ride somehow to Mexican airport 1 hour on other side and fly to Mexico City and back to US
- You pay someone to drive you to border and you get turned around outside of town and still pay them $250
- You pay someone to take you to border, you don’t like what you see at border and drive back with him and revert to 1-4 above
- You pay someone to take you to border and they arrest you
- You pay someone to take you to border and you get stamped out of Guatemala but Mexico wont let you in and now you are in limbo cause you can’t get back into Guatemala
- You pay someone to take you to border and you get across and into Mexico and you are in some shit hole town and cant get a safe ride to airport and are kidnapped
- You pay someone to take you to border and get across and get to airport but cannot get on flight cause Mexico just did the same thing as Guatemala and shut down airports and now you left a reasonably safe place for a dangerous one
- You pay someone to take you to border and you get across and on flight to US and US quarantines you in a military barracks for 14 days.
Ok, so myself and other guy decide to go to border because MarLo says it was open. Maybe it is, or maybe it was but that doesn’t mean it still is. Now we have to decide when to go
- You leave at midnight and drive through night to avoid detection, and you cross at a shady small town vs large border in case you need to bribe someone. Leaving at midnight also allows you to get to airport in Mexico in time to make 7am flight out if you can get standby
- You leave at 5am instead of midnight because it is safer (No one drives at night in Guatemala as bandits block roads) and go to popular border crossing because it is safer.
We don’t know if there are hundreds of people at the border trying to cross or no one. I decide on midnight and shady border. The other American says he is not comfortable with this and bails 1 hour before we are to leave. Now it is just me. I sit for 10 minutes and decide to stay with plan and leave 1am.
I agree to pay $300 with opportunity to turn back. Car pulls up at 1am and MarLo gets out along with guy I have never seen before. MarLo says this is his friend Boris. Boris….really. They tell me to get in front seat. I say, “MarLo, I don’t know Boris and I don’t like this. Why is he going?” He tells me he is there to watch the roads. They motion me to sit in front seat. I refuse and opt for back seat. After stopping at another guys place to pass over the cash, we are gone. I am sitting in back sweating as we are flying around trucks on blind curves on a two lane road. I realize that the spotter is there to see speed bumps which are everywhere and in the dark pop up like a log under a speedboat ripping across a lake.
I decide I cant watch this and pop an Ambien. I am awoke 1 hour later by flashing lights. The police have pulled us over. MarLo tells me to just be quiet. I tell him no problem there. They take my DL an ask lots of questions. Eventually they let us go. I fall back asleep and get woken up by loud bang as my head bounces off the roof of the car. We hit a speed bump going 80 mph. Boris! You had one job!
Our rear tire is flat. We pull into gas and fill it up. I urge to keep going as dawn is breaking.
We get to border town and he is driving around like he is not sure where to go. “MarLo, weren’t you just here 24 hours ago?” “Ya Ya no problem”
We come to border gate and there is a card table and a stamp. I cannot see the Mexican side. I told myself that if it looked bad I go back. MarLo told me that Guatemala is shutting down all streets and no one leaves buildings in a few hours. I don’t want to go back
I am very nervous that I cannot see the other side. I cant make this part up: I have to stamp out of Guatemala at this card table (they check my temperature for some asinine reason), then I have to go down this 1 km fenced in alley to get to the Mexican border. I have no idea what is on the other side, but there is a guy on a tricycle that for 20 Quetzals is going to pedal me across. I feel like this is the scene on Raiders of Ark: Last Crusade where they have to go through these 3 challenges to get to the Holy Grail. Now I am at part where the guy is going to wheel me to gates of hell like the Japanese guy in Revenge of the Nerds
Fuck it. Lets do it! I stamp out and I hug MarLo like I will never see my family again, but also like Michael Corleone kisses Fredo in Godfather. “I knew it was you MarLo! You Broke my Heart!”
I take the tricycle ride and pass this guy with bloodshot eyes on this empty alley
I get to Mexico and they stamp me in without a question. There is no one around. I mean there was no one on Guatemalan side and no one on Mexican side. All these people are sitting in Antigua, or wherever, thinking the border is closed.
There is one car there that I guess is a cab
A lady is standing there with 2 kids crying. She speaks Spanish and I ask if she is going to airport. She is. "Can you tell him I want to go and I will pay both of our rides?", I say. MarLo told me not to pay more than 400 pesos. No offense, but I will pay 1000 pesos or whatever he wants. He won’t accept Guatemalan money, of course, so I have to have him take me to ATM first. When we get close to airport, after the lady has told me her story, but I really haven’t listened because I am still frazzled and not able to pay attention, I turn around and tell her, “Listen, I will do everything I can to get you on a flight, but you will not be getting on a flight in front of me.” She seemed to be ok with that. I felt bad, I worded it more diplomatically, but I had to get the hell out of there!
I am able to get the flight that leaves in 1 hour as I hoped from the beginning of this plan. I get through security and the lady joins me and tells me her story once again. She was traveling down from US with her husband who is not a US citizen. He is from El Salvador, heading back to Salvador to try and get US residency/Citizenship figured out. When he crossed from TX into Mexico they stamped all their passports with 30 day visa, but accidentally stamped his the wrong date. When he got to Mexican border with Guatemala, the Mexican side said he overstayed visa and told him if he came back he would go to jail. When he got to Guatemalan side they would not let him in because border was closed. He was the guy I saw in that alley! I got her phone number, and as of writing this he is still in that alley.
To wrap up. I got to Mexico City and boarded to Detroit.
When I got to Detroit they waived me through with no problem. I mean they did not ask me anything or check my temperature. I guess I should be happy but it left me a little concerned. As I write this there are thousands of Corona Virus in US and my hospital is taking care of many. Who knows what the future holds, but hey, it was a good story!
Now you can appreciate this Christopher Cross song and the Lyrics
My body's weak
I'm on the run
No time to sleep
I've got to ride
Ride like the wind
To be free again
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I'll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind
Always spoke my mind with a gun in my hand
Lived nine lives
Gunned down ten
Gonna ride like the wind
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I'll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind
I was nowhere in sight when the church bells rang
Never was the kind to do as I was told
Gonna ride like the wind before I get old
My body's weak
I'm on the run
When I got home, MarLo texted me to say that their car broke down on the way home. That's Boris in the background.
Until Next Time,