More About Pan American Trails

Without knowing it, the author nears the end of his trip. This month he leaves Mexico and enters Central America through Guatemala

By Jose Porta, Photography by Jose Porta

From the May 1936 Issue of Motorcyclist Magazine.

It was while dining in the Hacienda Guanajuato with a German couple that we felt the whole building shaking under us for a few seconds. A minute later it shook again and we thought it was an eruption from the near-by volcano, Santa Ana, and we laughed at it. But I was later to learn that it had been an earthquake which struck the City of Oaxaca in full and destroyed most of it, killing hundreds of people. And I thought of all the people I had known there and I wondered if some of them had been killed. In Mexico City they also had an earthquake a few days after I left it but it didn’t do much damage. Presumably this was the earthquake season and I was just lucky in missing them.

At the time I crossed Chiapas it was the most prosperous state in the whole of Mexico, although business transactions had been somewhat slackened and the ranchers were already complaining about the low prices that the coffee was bringing to them.

But in spite of their poor business conditions I managed to raise quite a sum of money and my future looked very bright by the time I reached Tapachula, the last Mexican city. I stopped here a couple of days to rest up and I had the misfortune of being pinched by a traffic cop.

Tapachula is just a small village but it thinks it is a big metropolis and it tries to act as such. They had to put traffic policemen in every important corner to direct the traffic of their twenty or so automobiles. And they have rules of their own which a stranger cannot understand. While riding down a street I reached a crossing where a policeman stood, looking at me. I said nothing and went straight ahead. There blew a whistle and I was pinched.

I was supposed to stop, says he, when I arrived at the corner, blow my horn to call his attention then tell him that I wanted to cross the street.

I had no horn to blow, says I, I didn’t have to call his attention because he was looking at me and I was bound to cross the street if I wanted to get on the other side. But he got furious and pompously took me to the police station where fortunately he got a good bawling out from his captain, who gave me a letter of introduction so I wouldn’t be bothered any more.

After I left Tapachula I followed a terrible road to Mariscal on the Guatemalan border. The Suchiate River separates Mexico from Guatemala and I was now on its shores, with Mexico behind me and the first Central American country ahead of me.

I had a hard time explaining to the Mexican immigration officer that I had lost my passport. He refused to believe me and threatened to ship me back to the States, but when I showed him my permit to enter Guatemala he cooled down and let me go, not without warning me that I’d be locked up the next time I entered Mexico.

There were no bridges over the Suchiate River, with the exception of a narrow foot bridge which was then not quite completed. They had set the opening date a week from the day I was there, but seeing that there was no other way for me to go through they decided to open the bridge right then and there and I was therefore given the honor of being the first man to drive to Guatemala from Mexico.

I entered Guatemala and roamed all day through the streets of Ayutla trying to get acquainted with the Guatemalans.

But when I stopped to eat and tried to pay with Mexican pesos I was more than surprised to hear that the Mexican silver was worthless in that country. And silver was all I had, a whole sack of it. And what was I going to do with it? I would have to cross the border once more and have it exchanged.

By Jose Porta
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