Trip Start Sep 02, 2006
35Trip End Sep 01, 2007
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Nevertheless off I went with a few dollars in my pocket and an e-ticket in my hand. My first impressions of Guatemala City were really good as you fly in past tree clad mountainsides. However, my second impressions were that it was pretty much a pit.
By all means come to Guatemala but I wouldnīt recommend spending anymore than the minimum of time in the capital. The rest of the country I am sure is much nicer (though I have yet to explore much of it - thatīs for later) and Peten in the North I know is much, much nicer as this is where I have spent all but my first day of in Guatemala.
Well back to the first day and my Guatemala City experience. I got in at 1pm and with the bus taking about 10 hours it was too late to go there that night so I decided to hang around and see what the city had to offer before getting a night bus north to Flores.
He was an ex-US marine, called Jason aka Jay-Jay, who now lives in Guatemala teaching bodyguards how to handle firearms etc (or at least he said so) and anyways he was the first person I found who spoke anymore than hi in English so I was more than happy to believe him and in compensation for his more than pleasant and colourful company I bought him dinner and his bus ride home.
After my relaxing (?) time in Chicago I was really tired and as far as I could see Guatemala City did not have a lot to offer so the bus station seemed the best place to be. I actually met a nice Guatemalan and Panamanian guy there and a couple of fiery hot Chilean girls who were also going to Flores. However, sadly for me not on my bus - darn it!
One of my main reasons for visiting Guatemala was to learn Spanish and it is a ton of fun too. However, starting off it looked rather problematic as I was told when arriving in Flores that the school where I was meant to go had burnt down the week before - joy!
plus 3 sons - Jorge, Wilson and Jimmy- they were just so nice and welcoming. A couple of times I wasnīt exactly crazy about the quality of the Spanish teaching, however they made it all fantastic.
I was initially going to learn Spanish in the South of Guatemala. As lots of people do that many of the locals apparently often speak English so I thought full immersion was a better route to go. My family donīt speak any English so this was good as it forced me to speak Spanish to them, which I did get better at but they speak way too fast for me to understand a lot of it.
The place I stayed was basic but clean, though I never saw any sign of anyone else taking a shower. The food was extremely basic. Black beans and tortillas for nearly every meal. Meat (other than hot dogs) was rare and I got most of my protein (and cholesterol!) through eggs.
Saying that Emilio was a good guide and took me on some afternoon activities around the area. All for the grand price of zero - my kind of price. We went canoeing, visited some limestone caves and a Mayan archeological site called Motul. It had some interesting Mayan carvings, however most of the fun occurred getting there and back.
Getting there we rode through some farms with some real cowboys with lassoes to boot. I was transfixed on these when we rode by a young kid and a dog at the side of the track.
Or rather the other 3 did and when I passed the dog silently bounded up to me and tried to bite me. Little ba$tard.
Fortunately it was only a warning bite and did not break the skin, however it did give me a shock as funny enough I am still not all that keen on getting rabies. I do not have any signs of it however I have started to sniff dogīs bums, though I think this is just a phase I am going through...
On the way back the bike I had broke down and I ended up having to wheel it back the last 5km. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I needed all the fitness training I could get for a 5 day trip into the jungle to see the ancient city of El Mirador.
Not wanting to (a) get stuck in this mud and (b) being $hit scared of what was lurking in this pond, I positively skimmed across it. Nevertheless my feet were more than a tad moist after it.
This was easily the most difficult dayīs trek of my puff, however I really enjoyed it as it was amazing to see how hard you can push your body when you really need to. Plus I got the extra enjoyment of motivating (read: bully) one person who looked like he was not going to make it.
El Mirador itself was the main Mayan city from something like 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. when it moved to Tikal (which hopefully I will be visiting when I come back to Guatemala after a couple of weeks in Belize).
If you are really interested in archaeology then by all means go, however you then might want to do the same as Mel Gibson and visit it by helicopter. Apparently his visit was his inspiration for his new film īApocolypticaī (sp?).
My other memories of my initial foray into Guatemala were:
(1) The family I lived with barely can afford food however the good news is that they do have cable. So I got to see a Chicago Bulls game and the Superbowl. Well I suppose the first one is good news L
(2) There seems to be really nothing much written in English in Guatemala - only Spanish. (Maybe in the south where there are more tourists). So in that way it seems like China - however in every other way it is so different.
(3) Overall I am quite happy that Guatemala is a safe place, however compared to Asia - which is super safe - I know I will need to be more vigilant. Especially in the dodgy areas around bus stations and at night always, always take a taxi.
I donīt know how he does it (drug money probably...) but they have just built a football stadium (which has the best view ever) and must hold nearly 2,000 people - the same as the village itself! Plus they are building a Water Park!
(8) The father of my family was murdered 10 years ago. Or at least I think he was murdered as the person who told me dragged his thumb across his neck when telling me.
That didnīt seem to indicate to me that it was death by natural causes.
(9) When I say my family they spoke no English thatīs actually a lie as the youngest son - Jimmy - loves īlucha libreī or rather WWE wrestling so could recite all the names of the wrestlers. We therefore spent many, many hours communicating through the global language which is WWE.
Jon - he is a big fan of Shaun Michaels and DeGeneration X - as you are I am sure.
(10) The typical Guatemalan build I would describe as stocky. Or as the literal Spanish translation says...short and robust. Being chubby, or even fat, is for some people an ideal shape as it shows they have more than enough money to survive on.
(11) Donīt rely on ATMs in Guatemala as there arenīt that many and most of them seem to be empty of money. Not exactly meeting there intended purpose.
I heard an interesting rumour this was because they were changing the design of notes and so were letting the current notes run out, however I doubt that. I just donīt think they can be arsed to fill them.
plus the BEST EVER marriage photo, and I do mean EVER!
(13) Mi espanyol is no muy mal ahora (translated - my Spanish is not very bad now). Though my grammar still remains shocking...
After 3 weeks itīs actually better than I thought it would be. I can read and understand a fair bit. However, understanding others is very difficult - they talk too fast. After another 6 months I am hopeful it will be passable.
(14) Ricky Martin is coming to Flores however I am going to miss it as I will be in Belize. Damn you Emily for visiting me, I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I am making for you ...
Also it seems easy for people to get guns as there are gun shops which masquerade as being for animal hunting. However, last time I checked a pistol was not the best weapon to shoot a bird!?
You often see people walking around with a pistol stuck in their jeans. Clearly the Wild West is still alive.
(16) Nearly all the tourists I have met are from the US, with some from other Latin American countries and a smattering from elsewhere. Makes a change to Asia where they seemed to all be Israeli or Dutch.
(17) Apparently the locals in San Jose have a mixed view of tourists as there are a few ex-visitors from the US who (presumably unbeknown to them) have their own ready made Guatemalan family (minus of course the absent father).... You can actually see this from time to time and in fact one little girl just walked past and is way too pale to be Guatemalan - probably of Minnesotan descent.
I think he appeared in at least one of the īManīs Lawī Miller Lite adverts and he has a book out. Undoubtedly he is a really interesting however he did say one really odd thing.
He told one of the girls how he was a īliving inspiration to othersī. Ok in part he maybe is however who says something like that about themselves?
(19) Meeting a few locals in the early afternoon who started speaking to me and offered me some Scotch whisky. I thought I was pouring one of them a large measure and me a small one but the sneaky git switched the cups and I had to neck a treble. After this we got on famously, however they kept asking me to get them a job in the US or Scotland.
At one time all 4 of them asked me if they could work for me! Nice guys, however I donīt at this moment have a great deal of need for 4 welders...
(22) To catch small fish, some locals use the rare (or for me at least) method of electrocution! They drop some electric coils into the water with some pieces of tortilla for bait and presumably zap them every so often. Being more than aware of the physics of water and electricity mixing I did not hang around to see this for my own eyes...
(24) Continuing with the theme of chickens - my family used to have a few of them, however when the eldest son graduated from high school last October they had a big party and ate them all. They havenīt been able to afford to replace them, so as a parting gift I gave them enough money to fill their chicken coop.
I had hoped they were going to buy them before I left however apparently there is a man who comes around selling chickens and roosters once a week. But he comes on a Wednesday and I left on the Tuesday!
(25) Jungle Tip #1 - Do not leave your underwear hanging up to dry anywhere ants may be able to climb too.
I did and then actually experienced īants in my pantsī and they were the biting variety too. I got 3 bites on a especially private area...
(26) When you get fillings in Guatemalan they seem to be mostly gold fillings. It is like walking around and meeting Goldie every 5 yards! Puts a smile on my face every time.