Frontier wandering

Tilapa Travel Blog

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surf at Tilapa
First night across the border...in a hot room in an hospedaje in Tilapa, Guatemala. The border part was a pleasant surprise, I found the Banjercito near Tapachula without being mobbed by "guides" and canceled my car permit, then I drove on to the border. I tried the obvious crossing where the signs pointed and the guard at a gate told me I really wanted the one further in town if I was a tourist - his was a truck or transmigrante crossing. It took a little finding, but the exit from Mexico was easy, except for the 237 peso tax I never paid upon first entering the country that finally caught up with me (I wondered about that part at the Texas border six months ago). The migracion fella said there was a bank I was supposed to pay it at, but it was almost closed.
the estuary at Tilapa you cross to get to the beach
He then decided that 200 pesos in his hand wouldn't go awry. Guatemalan side shocked me by a total absence of yelling kids demanding to be my guide. Some nice adults took my documents at the fumigation station in hand and went to work on everything. They seemed official but I think in the end they weren't. They were simply the mafia that took control of the "guide" business at this crossing and tolerated no competition. Easiest I've ever had it at a Central American border but for Sandinista Nicaragua years ago. They kept bringing everything back out to the car for me to sign and I didn't even have to think. On the down side, after $3.00 for the fumigation and $12 for other things, they hit me up for about $40 in the end which was a bit of a shock compared to the normal $7-10 kids have gotten for guiding me in the past, but Central American borders over the years usually have gotten me for $40 crossing in a car, so $55 for effortless ease is hard to complain too much about.
gulls over the rivermouth
I read an entry online from 8 years ago where some motorcyclists paid $46 apiece just for their bikes, never mind all the other charges they got hit up for, so I concluded that I hadn't done too bad.  Plus they did such a good job of seeming like officials that I wasn't sure I could bargain with them. They gave me wrong directions for getting out of town, though, thinking I was going to the first available beach, which wasn't on my map. It's right across the rivermouth from Tilapa, but to get to Tilapa you have to drive all the way back to the main highway again 35 minutes, go about 10 miles on the highway, and turn and proceed about 45 minutes to the beach. The first half of the Tilapa road was lovely and lush, and then it got horrendously potholed and seemed to go on forever.
estuary at Tilapa
I got here in the dark to find out the little beach hotel that had a website didn't exist according to all the locals. So I ended up in a $7 mildly fleabaggish hospedaje with a gecko and a roach. I had my leftover Thanksgiving dinner turkey out for no more than five minutes before the roach came to investigate it. I have my doubts how long I really want to stay here, this beach village isn't quite what I envisioned. But I have to wait and see the surf, which looked okay when I was on the other side of the river. I'm spoiled by my good life in Huatulco and could use a bit of roughing it.
   Next day... Panic! Tried to run for the border after one day. Went surfing in fun little lonely surf before the wind blew it out, tucked in between two rivermouths, and discovered my hotel (if it exists) requires a panga or swim across the river to get to it.
Lizard at my hotel near Coatepeque
Just the beach I went to requires a 30 cent poling push ride across a shallow estuary to get to it. The town proper is on the edge of a mangrove swamp that they throw all their trash in. Not a pretty place. Lots of pigs rooting through it all. The beach is quite nice, but there's nowhere to stay on the beach unless you take a second boat crossing to Playa Tilapita and the hotel that may or may not exist, and then you're a long way from your car. Gave up, thought I'd find internet and a decent hotel back on the highway, but everything near the frontier is horrible, "auto hotels" (basically fancy drive-in sex places) and no internet anywhere and all too expensive and dubious. Ran to the border and tried the wrong crossing again (the one that screams Mexico/Tapachula and has a special road going to it but in fact wants no part of letting you cross there) and didn't feel like dealing with driving into Tecun Uman to do the border crossing there so decided to try a little harder at conquering Guatemala and getting a chaparrita friend her Mayan "corte" skirt that I couldn't find near the frontier.
the trusty Subaru at my room
So I drove further into the interior on the main highway til I got to the city of Coatepeque, and found a Mayan wrap skirt there for her in the market that was gorgeous. I had no idea if I paid too much, only engaging in mild bargaining, but discovered I had bought it as cheap as they're sold in any mountain village market to locals. I drove back to the edge of town at the highway and try the Hotel Virginia and dreams came true. A big nice room, monster bed, AC, TV, pool, wireless internet, nice country surroundings, for $21 a night and they took credit cards.
    Reading Lonely Planet traveler reports online, I found Guatemala has a pretty awful rep for violent robberies of backpackers and tourists.
Rio Suchiate near Coatepeque
Everyone in this region has been a picture of friendliness, but out on the Lonely Planet trail in the highlands and jungles and Guatemala City and Antigua there seem to be a lot of problems. Heated the remainder of leftover Thanksgiving turkey along with gravy and corn and mashed taters on my engine manifolds tonight . Mmmm.... tomorrow I guess I get to finally sample Guatemalan cuisine.
     The nice thing about blindly stumbling around in your own car though is you go places that aren't on the Lonely Planet trail. The way to avoid bandits? Go where there are no travelers. They'd be sitting up in the trees here a year waiting to leap down, fire off their rusty guns, and rob someone.
the flowers of Guatemala - cue REM
Took the new road northwest out of town to scout the Suchiate there (big river that forms the border another 20 k's downstream) and after that came back into town and then a bad rocky road northeast out of town that went along a quite beautiful canyon before it eventually dipped down to the river. This part of the Suchiate is solid Class 2-3, probably 4 in sections, and bony right now because of rainy season being over. But with some more water, would probably be a lot of exciting 3 and some 4. At least from what I could see. Way back toward the border where the main highway crosses, it's still solid 2+ rapids in places. From Coatepeque to the main highway, 12-15 miles, would be quite a treat. Likely very similar to the Hamaca run of the Copalita back in Huatulco.
bridge on the Suchiate
I get the impression it's relatively unpaddled, a post on Mountain Buzz mentioned it and the whole Sierra Madre de Chiapas range as the next frontier of whitewater.  The highway through Chiapas actually gets lush again after you leave the dryness of coastal Oaxaca at this time of year. Tons of rivers, all with water still, but all looking like they want more. Lots of 2, 2+ stuff you cross on the highway that probably gets more exciting real quick as you head up. The massif of the Sierra Madre is formidable at times in Chiapas. No wonder the Zapatistas can hide out so well.
   If I can leave my car somewhere that I don't have a nightmare driving through a crowded town, I find the teeming humanity can become a little less intimidating.
overview of the Suchiate
And I've even conquered driving through the heart of Coatepeque now that l know my way around. I feel it's my entertainment duty to bring laughter to a market with my sheer presence due to being 6'7", and I try to cover every inch I can just so everyone can appreciate the absurdity of me among them. I might do a children's book "George Among the Guatemalans" It can sort of be an ongoing sequel to Roald Dahl's "The BFG" (Big Friendly Giant).
   Finally ran out of anything much to do in my little corner of the world and crossed back to Mexico and headed home to Huatulco. Found out the seemingly quiet border town of Tecun Uman in Guatemala is known as "Little Tijuana", and not a place to want to dwell in a second longer than you need to.
flowers at my hotel
Drugs, guns, and sex are the major commodities. A large number of migrants coming up from Central America use the Suchiate as a crossing point into Mexico, rafting and swimming across the river. Consequently there are a lot of human predators trying to fleece these poor folks of their life savings. Not a pretty combination. The town was named after the legendary Quiche-Mayan warrior, Tecun Uman, who fought and died against Pedro de Alvarado. A Quiché chronicle, written in the 1550s, tells how Tecun Uman "became an eagle covered with real feathers that sprouted from his body.  He had wings that also sprouted from his body and three crowns--one of gold, another of diamonds, and a third of emeralds." The legend has it that Tecun Uman rose as eagle in flight to attack Pedro de Alvarado, who plunged a spear into Tecun Uman's breast.  The conquistador "called all his soldiers to come and see the beauty of this quetzal Indian.  He told them he had not seen another Indian so handsome and regal and so full of quetzal feathers and so beautiful, not in Mexico, nor in Tlascala, nor in any other town they had conquered."  His present namesake, a sketchy border town of broken dreams, would not quite seem to do him justice.
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surf at Tilapa
surf at Tilapa
the estuary at Tilapa you cross to…
the estuary at Tilapa you cross t…
gulls over the rivermouth
gulls over the rivermouth
estuary at Tilapa
estuary at Tilapa
Lizard at my hotel near Coatepeque
Lizard at my hotel near Coatepeque
the trusty Subaru at my room
the trusty Subaru at my room
Rio Suchiate near Coatepeque
Rio Suchiate near Coatepeque
the flowers of Guatemala - cue REM
the flowers of Guatemala - cue REM
bridge on the Suchiate
bridge on the Suchiate
overview of the Suchiate
overview of the Suchiate
flowers at my hotel
flowers at my hotel
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Tilapa
photo by: Hurch