Guatemala City – an unforgetable experience

Para José Roberto and su familia. ¡Gracias por hacer mi estadia algo tan especial!

For José Roberto and his family. Thank you for making my stay so special!

It is true what they say about Guatemala City – you either love it or hate it but certainly never forget it. It was an experience!

I arrived in Guatemala after a smooth border crossing, a few buses and colectivos. I later found out that I was the only one who didn´t mind the border crossing as others though it was hectic and poorly organized. I took a bus to Tapachula (Mexico), then a colectivo to Talisman (Mexican border village), crossed border with the help of a guide who ripped me off a bit, got a taxi to the next Guatemalan village as there were no buses leaving from El Carmen (Guate border village), and talked to the locals. At the border I realized I was unprepared for the formalities and fees involved as I didn´t carry any money (only $40 pesos which I exchanged at a bad rate for Q22 quetzales which was enough to pay the border fee). I learned my lesson and from now on will always keep spare US Dollars at hand.

I bought a bus ticket and luckily there was a direct bus in about 10mins. After 6h it dropped me off in what looked like an industrial zone and something that could hardly be called a bus terminal. I got a taxi and made my way to the hotel, where I got a small room with a double bed all to myself. I also had the luxury of a TV. I got settled down, and went out in an attempt to find something to eat.

This is where it gets interesting! It was getting dark by the time I went out and I found myself wandering in the middle of a very bad part of the capital. The streets were dirty, noisy and packed with vendors all along. They were run down and hectic. I was using a little map I had in my guide book but it didn´t help as the streets in there were numbered (8 Street, 13 avenue, etc.) while the streets signs (if any at all) had names. Despite the grid like structure of the city I found it extremely difficult to get around.

I didn´t feel safe wandering the streets and kept checking my back pack. I tried to move as fast as possible and draw as little attention as possible.

After dinner I got in touch with a good friend from Guatemala (we met on the language website Livemocha) and he took me to the good part of the city where we had delicious coffee (a tropical smoothie in my case) and pancakes. He explained how Zona 1 is the worst zone in the capital despite being the very center where the majority of the tourist attractions are.

I had the next day to myself and I went to this fancy mall in search of ´The North Face´ store. I desperately needed a good pair of hiking boots and sandals. The only reason I actually came to Guatemala City as I knew it wasn´t all that exciting. Meeting Jose Roberto was an added bonus.

Later that day I decided to visit the local sights. I went to the Palacio del Gobierno and Parque Central. A scary place. Again I felt very uncomfortable walking there as the place was packed with suspicious looking individuals all looking at me. A took a few quick photos and sat down to rest a bit when a scruffy old man approached me and started asking questions about my travels. He asked if I was going to Antigua, I said yes, and he started showing these little calendars with drawings ofAntigua. I looked at them, thanked him for showing them to me, and tried to give them back. He wouldn´t take them, trying to sell them to me. I said no again and again, thinking he will leave eventually when I turned to my right and there was another scruffy looking man sitting next to me. That´s when I thought it would be a good time to get the hell out of there! The first scruffy man tried to touch me as I was standing up. Not nice.

I took a few more photos, wandered a bit, and decided to sit down and send a text message to Jose Roberto about the evenings plans. I sit down, take my phone out, and here someone calling me. I turn around and there´s this man sitting behind me, warning me to be very carefull with my phone. I thoughtit best to put it away. I went to another part of the park, where I had people greet me with ´God bless America!´ or looking intensly at my camera. 14 photos later I though it best to leave the place and look for safety!

That evening I met with Jose Roberto and we agreed to go to Antigua together the next day. He picked me up and we had breakfaast at his house before continuing our journey.I got the chance to meet his lovely family for the first time and got invited to El Dia de los Santos on Sunday. I met his mom, Iris, his grandma, his sobrinos and primos, his friends.

We arrived in Antigua and wandered the streets, took photos, found a smelly hostel to spend the night, and went out for a special dinner Jose Roberto had arranged earlier that day. We put our best clothes and headed to the restaurant. There we enjoyed a lovely meal, and a great ´Moros´performance. Now, there is a story about it of course, which I didn´t remember.

We then wandered around and ckecked out this super popular, never dying club. It was fun to see all the people wearing costumes and masks for Halloween.

Next day, we had to make our way back to the city at about 11am as it was the day of the celebration and we couldn´t miss it. The streets were packedwith flower and kite vendours, food stalls, cars, people. Crazy and beautiful! When we got to the house, the rest of the familywas already there. I got to meet them all and had such a blast!

Jose Robert`s family is amazing and tretated me like their own! I am so grateful to have been invited to what is a family celebration and having had the chance to share the experience.

We had a typical Guatemalan meal called`fiambre`. An interesting experiance! It is a mix of everything – sausages, vegetables, cheese, fish, and much more. Served cold.

We then played poker (with beans instead of chips), talked to Jose Roberto`s friends and cousins, and later that night we went to a nearby food market for some atole de maiz and something crunchy with honey. We waited for the rain to stop and then made our way back home. It rained so hard that the streets turned into rivers and we all got soaked. Traffic was completely congested, and Jose Roberto hit a street sign on the way out of the parking lot. The windows were steamy and it was so dark and rainy that he couldn’t see it until he hit it. It was funny!

I kindly got invited to Jose Roberto’s house and spend the night there. We got up nice and early the next morning, had breakfast and he took me to hte bus station where I got on a bus to Xela.

Before we parted, he gave me a present. Something he has had for a really long time and had decided to give to someone special. I was lucky enough to get it. He also said something very touching I had never heard before. I am extremely grateful for everything he did for me and hope I could return the favour one day. In a very short period of time he became a very good friend.

One thing that makes Guatemala so special are its people. Some of the kindest, most helpful,, modest and most generous and caring people I have met.

Again, thank you Jose Roberto for making this such an unforgettable experience!

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