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So, dogged by rain and afternoon delight, we left San Cristobol and set our course for the three-ringed-circus known as the town of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, our entry point into Guatemala from Mexico. Ciudad Cuauhtémoc is not really a city, more of a strange collection of border town characters and their endless supply of market stalls and wares. It kind of felt like we should be looking for Rick and the ever illusive “letters of transit”, however instead of Casablanca and Rick’s Cafe Americain we had to settle for Ciudad Cuauhtémoc and the super dodgy hotel across from the aduana (Customs).
The hotel was actually more scary then dodgy, Okay, it was pretty dodgy, but it was very scary. As in haunted-house scary. If you combined the house from the movie “The Others” with a Latino version of “The Shining” you’d have a pretty good idea of the overall vibe of the place. On the positive side, it did have secure parking, and in these parts a good parking space outweighs any fears you may have of being visited by ghosts in the night, or of being murdered in your sleep.
One of the many charms of this particular hotel was it’s complete lack of locking doors. Well, there were no actual doors on the outside of the building, and when we asked for the key to our room we were given a blank stare and shown a series jagged broken key stubs… As we walked back to the room I couldn’t help but think that we should have taken the broken keys with us, they looked pretty sharp and could come in handy later on that evening… Did I mention this hotel is attached to a bus station and we had to walk right through the middle of 2 other guest rooms to get to room? At least we were able to negotiate a very good price on the room, and we couldn’t pass up the great parking.
After a quick assessment of our accommodations and brief discussion regarding our personal safety we went back down to the main level and inquired about changing rooms, preferably to one with a locking door. They obliged. The so-called ‘room’, or cell as we like to call it, was actually one in a series of small rooms in a low, concrete row-house at the back of the unlit yard, about a hundred meters from the main building. There were no windows, apparently none were needed since all the light the room required was provided by a single, bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. No Information was provided about the possible location of the bathroom, and a green, corrugated metal door and matching roof finished off the decor. Although we were initially pleased to see that the rooms could be locked, we found it somewhat disconcerting when we realized that the doors could only be locked from the outside. Back to the original room it was…
When we got back to the room we needed to decide what we would do with our gear, we don’t have much but what we do have is pretty important (helmets and riding gear). Looking around the room, there didn’t seem to be anywhere to put our things. We noticed that the room had a large desk and mirror and that they were pushed up against the wall, partially hiding a built-in armoire. To be honest it kind of looked like someone put the desk there to prevent whatever was in the closet (probably monsters) from getting out during the night. We were faced with a tough decision, either leave our gear out in the open in our unlocked room or move the table and open the armoire doors, potentially letting out whatever was locked in. We chose the latter. Nothing jumped out at us and we used two cable locks to lock all our stuff together, hopefully making it at least a little inconvenient to steal our things. We pushed the table back against the wall and headed out to recce the border for the next day’s crossing.
The border did not look like any border we’d ever seen, first of all there were no orderly line ups, no official looking buildings and there were what seemed like thousands of people milling about, some of whom appeared to be crossing the border at will on foot, by bicycle or via scooter. The border region was actually a massive market with hundreds for stalls sprawling out in all directions for blocks and blocks on either side of the border. Although there was not much worth buying, it was kind of interesting and exploring the area provided a much needed break from our hotel, but nightfall was approaching, and along with it a fast moving electrical storm.
We got back to the hotel as night was falling, just as the storm arrived. To our dismay the hotel did not look any better in the dark. The fact that we were the only 2 people in the entire place did nothing to make it feel any less creepy. At one point we ventured out of our room to look and see if there was anyone around, but there were no other guests to be found and we could not even find any hotel staff. The fist guest room we had to walk through to exit our room was very large and had 5 or 6 double beds in it, some large old fashion furniture with discoloured mirrors that would not reveal an image when looked at (!!!). The windows were partially covered in heavy drapes and, although the room had no functioning lights whatsoever, we could catch glimpses of the nightmare through lightening flashes. It was more than a little unnerving and I am NOT exaggerating. We then made our way back through the second, equally large and deserted guest room/antechamber with more empty beds that lead to an outdoor terrace and a set of stairs leading to the pitch black backyard and down to the main level of the hotel. We eventually found the daughter of the proprietor of the hotel lying down on a couch watching TV in the dark, I didn’t see what she was watching but I’m willing to bet it was a scary movie.
To make a somewhat long story only slightly shorter, we survived the night and awoke to a beautiful day. I’d like to say that the hotel seemed less scary after having spent the night, but that would be a lie. Overall I’d say that our experience in the hotel was very similar to one of those old TV shows where the main character has to spend the night in their supposedly dead grandfather’s mansion to receive an inheritance of a million dollars, except without the million dollars or the Scooby snacks.
In defence of Mexican hotels and hostels, I have to say that all but 1 or 2 of the hotels we stayed in were very nice, some were beautiful, and all of them were very clean. One even rivalled the best hotels we’ve stayed in anywhere at any price. All but 2 of the hotels we stayed in had wifi (I’ll let you guess weather or not our hotel at the border had wifi… ) and most were staffed by super friendly and professional employees, and they were usually located within a minute or two from the main square. Our most expensive night was $72 and the least expensive was $1.90, the overall average was probably around $30, and the border hotel is the only one where I’d prefer not to spend another night. Ever.
The next morning we packed up and headed for the Mexican aduana to complete the paperwork required to export our bikes and get ourselves into Guatemala. We crossed one last military checkpoint and made it through yet again without being stopped or checked, a perfect record for Mexico!!! With our exit paperwork in hand we headed towards the Guatemalan border and the next chapter of our adventure. Thank you Mexico, we had an amazing time and we’ll be back.