We hit the road when it was still dark out and made our way off the volcan and set a course south. We were headed for Rancho San Nicolas, a small RV park and campsite In San Cristobal de las Casas, a few hours from the Guatemala border. After winding through the town in roads a little tight for a Land Cruiser, we made it to el rancho. There, we met a collection of other overlanders on various stages of their own respective journeys. Groups from Texas and Switzerland alike were both coming and going along the Panamerican Highway. We set up camp and shared a beer with JR, a California native who had quit his job, rented out his house, and hit the road with a few buddies, planning to make his way south for as long as they could afford to keep going. With the sun long set, we said farewell and climbed into our bed for the night.
Again out before sunrise, we hit the Guatemala border at 7:30 am. We had missed the Mexican aduana (customs) and had to pull a quick u turn to get our documents for the car in order to leave the country. With permit in hand we crossed the border only to wait yet again for our passports to get stamped and to process the new car permit. After a little over an hour, we were given the so called “green light” and we pressed through the small town and into Guatemala. Our first uncharted border went relatively smoothly. Country number three was under way.
Guatemala is a beautiful country. The drive in from Mexico skirted through the mountains, passing through small towns scattered in between the jungle and the cliffs. The highway followed a river along a mountain valley, and we curved our way on through the country. Apart from the beautiful scenery, we were also excited to see an abundance of old Land Cruisers on the road and parked alongside. FJ40s and FJ70s were quite common, so we felt right at home on the road. Unfortunately, this is as good as Guatemala got. Passing through the capital we encountered heavy traffic, considerably stalling our arrival at the next border. We decided to press on and try to get into El Salvador, despite the hour getting a little late. The process at the border seemed easy enough, and after waving off the “helpers” an official – or so we thought – helped us get to the right offices so we could get across quickly. With that finished, we were told the customs in El Salvador was closed for the night, but we could pay the entry fee on the Guatemalan side and it would be fine. We were inherently skeptical and debated with the man, who claimed he was a customs secretary. We counted out the money and demanded a receipt, and when he would not provide one we grabbed the money back. But we were nervous about the border closing and tired after a full day of driving. We handed over the cash and got an “official” signature before crossing the bridge to El Salvador. Lesson learned: go with your gut. They weren’t officials at all, only scammers quick to capitalize on unsure tourists passing through. El Salvador was open well into the night and customs didn’t even have an import fee. The El Salvadorian officials were sympathetic and very helpful getting us through to their country. Upon exiting they told us we needed to grab a cold beer in town, something to sooth the burn after being swindled. With a wave and some broken Spanish, we told the officials genuinely that El Salvador was far superior to its western neighbor. Guatemala left us with a bad taste in our mouth, but we had still made substantial progress. Pulling into town, we had crossed two borders and three countries in one long day. With a “rest” day ahead of us, the trip was moving along as planned and we were making progress through Central America.