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In Tecun Uman the streets are like a Pac-Man game, sometimes they wind in impossible turns around the main square and sometimes they just end onto a dirt path and on the other side is the border. We follow the trail of cars that bleed quickly into Tecun Uman’s now paved roads that I remember so distinctly were dirt roads that would form large mounds of mud along the houses when it rained. There is a main square that the road leads us around and on the outskirts is the SAT office, large, desolate and surrounded by men sitting at old typewriters busily pounding at rusty keys as you enter through the side. It is an inferno outside and inside it is a stuffy cave with people using their documents to fan themselves. There is only SAT person at the front desk and as if he’s been waiting for us all morning, he smiles and asks how he can help us. I take a seat at let Brad do his thing. He’s doing well, until, the new SAT guy says: “There a law that states you can’t bring the car back until 90 days from the point you exit the country.” I interject and ask him if there’s a way to get an exception made. He thinks to himself and says, “Possibly, but you would need to talk to Berta. She’s on the other side of the railroad tracks at the big SAT office.” It sounds ominous. Brad is looking defeated. He zips his black binder with all our paperwork and drags himself to the car. “Let’s go,” he says, “back home.” At that moment a tracker, a guy who’d been listening all along to our SAT conversation, offers to take us to Berta for Q100. I tell him that’s too much, Brad gets in the car. Q50 he says. Q50 and what? I ask. Q50 and I lead you to her in your car. Brad understands and says NO WAY! Q50 and you take a motorcycle, I tell him. That’s fine, follow me, then, he says.
Brad is suspicious. I tell the tracker he has 2 minutes to get a motorcycle, get on it and lead us to Berta. Within two minutes we’re following him out of Tecun Uman, past the snake line of tractor trailers waiting for inspections and to a large SAT office that sits like a mansion at the end of the dirt road. The parking lines are even painted outside the entrance of the building and inside there are two plasma screens with cable tv. While Brad talks to Berta, I talk to the car inspectors, tax collectors and everyone in the waiting room. I find out from Saul at 7943-8163 that our car is not worth much but the taxes are Q10,000 so we don’t ever have to go through this process again. It would take two hours, he tells me. I say, Saul, our car is valued at $3,700, do you think it makes sense to make more than $1,000 on it in taxes? I see your point, seño, he tells me. As I’m wheeling and dealing, Brad calls me into Berta’s office. “Please confirm what she said,” he whispers in my ear.
“We are making an exception for you,” Berta, the young thirty-something equivalent of the Talisman grim reaper from yesterday, is amused by Brad and just gives a lackluster smile when I translate what she says to Brad. “I have called the SAT person at the border and all you have to do is stay out of the country for one day. These things rarely happen, so please don’t make it a habit.” We shake hands and get out of there fast, make our way back into Tecun Uman and over the Mexico border. Next stop Tapachula, oh, lovely Tapachula with a city grid, well-paved wide roads, trash cans on street corners and women who wear shorts, here we come. One hour later we are sitting by a pool in Casa Mexicana and wondering where it all went wrong.
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