Huehuetenango, Guatemala – Refuge in the village church

The last two PEMEX gas stations before reaching the border crossing Ciudad Cuauhtémoc – La Mesilla are tax-exempt and offer diesel and gas for lower prices. We fill up, Guatemala will be more expensive. We get an exit stamp in our passport on the Mexican side and the temporary vehicle import permit is cancelled. La Mesilla on Mexican side is said to be impassable on Thursdays (new) and Fridays due to the market.

The Guatemalan formalities turn out to be simple and friendly. The superficial vehicle disinfection is determined according to the size. For the Unimog we have to pay 47 Guatemalan Quetzals (GTQ), Klaus just pays 39 for the Toyota pick-up. The entry stamp valid three months costs 20 MXN, the temporary vehicle import for the same period 160 GTQ. Currently 10 GTQ equal 1.27 US$ or 0.90 €. Some men who exchange Mexican Peso, US$ and other currencies into GTQ loiter around. The exchange rate is bad, but the bank is closed on Sunday. It is difficult to exchange MXN in the country since most banks don’t accept them. Nobody is interested in our truck or its content; there is no inspection at all.

First we visit Mirador Cuchumatanes that’s also known as Mirador Juan Diéguez Olaverri. This view point at 3100 m elevation offers spectacular sights into the valley and to the surrounding volcanoes. It is difficult to reach with larger rigs since the town of Chiantla is very tight and the following steep winding road no fun when riding something big. On our way down we ask ourselves where to spend the first night in Guatemala. There are no official campgrounds and everybody warns us about free camping in Central America since poverty supports violence and crime. In a tiny village nestled to a mountain we ask for the permit to camp. The place around the church seems to be the only levelled area in town. We wait for the mass to finish. I ask the lay preacher if we could use the church graveyard as a safe place. He weighs the pros and cons and eventually asks me to wait for some minutes. He goes to one side of the church and discusses, then to the other. After some minutes he returns and explains with a dignified expression that we get the permit to stay. Some people start to clap and suddenly the whole parish is applauding.

We shunt our campers into the narrow aisle between church and side building and are suddenly surrounded by rubbernecks. They jump up and down our ladder in packs to visit our camper cabin. They admire the gas stove since this is perfect to make tortillas – what else. The older women embrace and kiss me, and a young lady has to take photos with her modern cell phone form each single person with me in the cabin. The lay preacher gets some pens for the children, and then everybody goes home. A few minutes later one of the men returns with a handwritten piece of paper: the “official” permit to camp, issued by the three councillors and the community. Now nothing can go wrong any more.

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