Tziscao – Lagos de Montebello and a different kind of border

Keeping trend with our decision to avoid day trips out of Comitan, we decided to go even more off the beaten path to stay in the small lake town on the shores of Lago Tziscao. The aptly named town of Tziscao has a couple of lodging options up and down the picturesque lake. The main attractions of the town are a border crossing into Guatemala, as well as the surrounding lakes, which each offer their own charm.

Panoramic shot of Lake Tziscao

Our hotel room was quaint, complete with a friendly tarantula in the corner and a return to bug nets over our beds. All things considered though, we had functional wi-fi, power, and a comfortable bed, what else do you need? The town had a couple of restaurants that with some problem solving with the waitress produced some delicious home cooked vegan meals. When in doubt? Frijoles y arroz con ensalada y tortilla. Oh and don’t forget the hot sauce!

Food made with love, served with care.

Circling the town daily are tuk tuks that offer tours out to the surrounding lakes and to the border crossing. We hopped onto the first one we saw and for 300 pesos ($16) got a 4 hour tour for two people.

Our first stop was the Guatemalan border which is a 20-minute walk from the heart of Tziscao. Our driver pulled over to the side of the road, we walked up a small embankment, and then along a cement path to the border. As you cross there are no walls, no gates, just markers every 100 yards or so heading in either direction.

No guards, no security, and really, a surreal border crossing considering you do not need your passport or any ID. On the Guatemalan side there is a ton of Guatemalan hand made goods and food being sold in a small market. After a little bit of shopping and a couple of pictures we decided that we would come back here later and hang out so we can enjoy this bizarre phenomenon to our American eyes.

After the border we took off for some of the surrounding lakes via tuk tuk. Our first stop was Lago Pojoj, a charming lake where you can hop aboard a Huck Finn style log raft and paddle your way out to a jungle cenote and an island with Orchids (famous for an Antonio Banderas Corona commercial). The cost was a little steep (500 pesos or $25 USD) but the experience was well worth it. Paddling along across the clear water with just Mandy and our ship captain it was a surreal, peaceful, unique experience.

After Pojoj, we stopped at an overlook of the Cinco Lagos, a grouping of five lakes interconnected by small channels. A small hike up a steep set of stairs and we were treated to a nice view of the raw landscape of the area.

Our final stop was at Lagos de Montebello which had a wild beach striated with streaks of minerals which made for some cool pictures. The weather wasn’t cooperating with us our entire time in Tziscao so we didn’t swim in the lakes, but the clouds made for some dramatic skylines.

After our tuk tuk tour, we were dropped back in “downtown” Tziscao by our hotel and we walked back to the border to have some Guatemalan beer and get cover from the pouring rain. Reflecting back on the day, I think the “border” experience was what I just couldn’t shake. As we sipped Guatemalan beer I mused, why can’t all borders be like this?

Perhaps the reason this is so strange to me is that when juxtaposed against the US-Mexico border, a vastly different environment is present. While we have been gone, I have followed and looked on in horror at the atrocities happening at our own border; families separated and children treated as cattle. The first book that I read on this trip is called “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security” by Todd Miller. For those interested I highly recommend this book, it outlines a compelling argument for what the future holds if climate change marches on unabated. Often in the news, and in rhetoric from our president, Americans are being conditioned to fear Central American migrants. They are characterized as criminals and vagrants, a horde to be feared. Who are these immigrants though? Why now? What are some factors driving them to our borders?

One interesting part of the book talks about a little-known agricultural disaster that struck in 2015 El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Due to a drought that year 80% of bean crops and 60% of corn crops were lost impacting over 400,000 farmers. For a subsistence farmer that is near impossible to come back from. This coupled with a dramatic increase in a mid-summer dry period called canicula, a dip in rainfall during July and August, has made it very difficult on subsistence farmers who rely on their ability to interface with the land for survival. Climate change is here, now, and it is driving people in already delicate socioeconomic situations to make desperate decisions to take care of their families. Who can blame them?

This border is a tourist attraction, and not typical of most Mexican borders, but in a vacuum this struck me as a utopian border. The atmosphere was relaxed, friendly, and truly gave the sense that we are all one people. That is a kind of border I can get behind, because it speaks to our better nature as humans. One thing traveling has taught us is that wherever you go people are, well, people. Everyone goes about their daily lives and many of whom we have come across want to do the right thing. If we had a nickel for every time, we have felt the kindness of a stranger whether it be pointing us in the right direction when they have no reason to, cleaning our wounds after a motorbike crash, or simply sharing a laugh, we would be rich. Perhaps we are rich with a different sort of currency. The currency of this knowledge; we are all the same and given similar situations the same ugly and beautiful parts of humanity come out.

One thought on “Tziscao – Lagos de Montebello and a different kind of border

  1. I so agree Matt! I think if more people would get out of their “ safety bubble” and experience other cultures they would not only reduce or get rid of unfounded fears but would come to your same conclusion. We ARE really all cut with the same cookie cutter in that we want food, shelter, and safe harbor. Is that really so much to ask? I think not. :0) Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

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