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Friday, July 9, 2010

The Guatemala Shuttle to Mexico

Looking back at Atitlan as we climb the steep precipice around it.

Thus is a blog about doing an overland journey, so I have tried to give a good idea throughout of what it is like to actually make the journey and the sort of scenery and terrain you encounter when you make a journey across what is sometimes stunning landscapes and mountain views.

We started out at Panajachel just before 7 am with a quick cold coffee and made it out ten minutes beforehand to wait for the shuttle bus we had booked to take us directly through to San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. After waiting for several minibuses to pass run by other companies, suddenly a sleek white minivan backed up and we were whisked away up the steep road ascending the precipitous cliffs above Panajachel.

Solola the local centre overlooking Atitlan

Looking back at Atitlan from above Solola

This journey which cast $35 US each proved to be a super alternative to a complex and sometimes dangerous multiple connection in chicken buses and collectivos, possibly requiring a change at the Pan-American, another at Huehuetenango, a local taxi across the 4 km separating the Guatemalan and Mexican immigration posts, and possibly another one or two changes inside Mexico,

By the time we reach the Pan American, we have ascended into the mist

Until we got to the Pan- American where the road from San Pedro turns off we were the only people in the 12-seater bus, but then a group of 8 got on, all but two of which later got off again on the outskirts of Huehuetenango, the northern commercial centre an hour or so before the border.

The highway runs through rolling highlands

The Pan-American runs through very high misty hill country at one point climbing to over 10,000 ft before descending into a steep narrow gorge shortly before the border than runs right down to a hot lowland plain in southern Mexico.

The road climbs further, rising above the surrounding highland towns

It then ascends a high pass whose summit rises to 3,200 m (10,400 ft)

Looking out over the surrounding high country

Volcan Taimulco, the highest mountain in Central America rising 4220 m (13845 ft) beside the pass.

The outskirts of Huehuetenango

The road continues at a high altitude

As we near the Mexican border the road descends into a deep ravine

The valley is bounded by high hills on either side

La Mesilla, the border town on the Guatemalan side

The Mexican border proved a quixotic affair. There was no commercial traffic and it seemed almost as if we were the only travelers crossing the border at the time we made the crossing, demonstrating how good it was to have a through connection. The Guatemalan minibus had been keeping cell phone contact with its partner bus coming from San Cristobal to the border so they arrived simultaneously at the Guatemalan border post. The matched minibus from the Mexican side and offloaded a full consignment of passengers into our bus while the remaining four of us piled into the Mexican one.

The Guatemalan-Mexican border

The road on the Mexican side firstly traversed a hot lowland plain but then again began to climb steeply into hill country that left the plain far below. By the time we reached San Cristobal, we were right up again at 2100 m (6825 ft) significantly higher then Panajachel.

The Mexican side sets out on a hot plain

It then runs back up into hill country

Looking out over the lower plane as we ascend

The road reaches a cooler highland plain

Looking out over a Mexican village with the hills misted from altitude

A town nearing San Cristobal

The stark church

Some of the Mexican roadside scenery is a trifle squalid
Entering San Cristobal at the cool altitude of 2100 m (6825 ft) higher than Panajachel

On the way to the Central Plaza

We finally arrived about 3.15 pm. San Cristobal was one of the first places we have arrived at where we didn't have a confirmed internet reservation, so we had to drag our luggage about six blocks from the Zocalo on spec and very luckily arrived at the Ganesha Posada to find a room free for 2 nights just before about 20 people descended on the place hoping to find accommodation.

Posada Ganesha from outside

Out rickety little wooden room with hard mattress was actually very cozy
and the kitchen and breakfast was good

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