An early start from London, we had a 6:30am pick-up from Vics place. The city had decided to give me a typical send off with grey skies and rain falling, probably a little harsh but I’ll leave it rest. Our flights out were straight forward with a 5 hour stopover on Miami where it was 28 degrees! The final 2hr 40min flight into Guate (what the locals call Guatemala City) while a lot quicker, was a real drag! Cel and I were desperately in need of sleep and the tight seats in the plane weren’t going to afford us much of this. Eventually we touched down on the tarmac at Guatemala City airport, the captain told us it was a comfortable 23 degrees outside at 7:30pm.
The crew at Quetzalroo were at the airport doors to meet us, we took the van through the outskirts of town, taking in our first sights of Guatemala. The city seemed to be relatively alive with people wandering the streets – probably on their way home from work – there were definitely a few police vehicles around so we knew we were not in safe city paradise. This was further reinforced when we were pulling up at a set of lights and once of the guys from the hostel leant forward and locked the vans sliding door. All precautionary but not something I’d ever witnessed in my travels to date, so at least I knew I was getting into new experiences!
Quetzalroo Hostel is in Zona 10, where many of the financial institutions base themselves so you could say it was in an upper class area. The hostel itself covered 3 floors of a 9 story building, we checked into a private double room for $35US a night. It was fine, with brightly coloured orange and red walls a double bed and that was about it. Our first port of call was a shower, then bed to try and sleep off the last 20 hours of being awake.
Guatemala City – Day 1
Our plans had been to chill in Guate for a few days, to get some sleep and make a plan for our time in Guatemala. In the morning we went and spoke to the hostel owner, Manuel, who sat us down and talked us through our options and gave us plenty of advice on what to do and where to go – so essentially we let him plan our trip for us as he’d done it all before and was an advocate for Guatemala!
The rest of the day was spent checking out the city, which according to plenty of sources is very dangerous with theft, kidnapping and murder. Manuel decided to show us around the historic part of town, nice guy that he is, and we got the impression that although you wouldn’t want to walk around at night holding a Digital SLR camera in the air, it was relatively safe with most people just going about their day to day business. Admittedly, probably coincidentally, Manuel happened to spot a guy who had been arrested by the police for theft. We wandered through the main cathedral of the city, religion is hugely important to most countries in Central America, with the majority aligning themselves with one religion or another. Next stop was the market, which strangely enough had to be built below the cathedral because the archbishop at the time didn’t want the market obstructing the view of the cathedral. As usual, the market gave us a good taste of the Guatemalan culture with people selling goods, fresh fruit and vegetables and cooked food for lunch. We stopped at one of the food bars and sampled our first Guatemalan food, not that I can remember the name of them now, but they were pretty much a taco / enchilada type deal – really tasty and fresh. I washed it down with a local beer Gallo, with Cel, being the gluten free junkie she is, opted for the local brew Coke Zero.
Our trip home was made via Manuel’s mum’s house, so he could pick up his baby and wife. Their place was out in area that had plenty of trees and it wouldn’t have looked out of place in NZ. My guess was that it was a pretty well off area. The inside of the house was impressive and they had views over the city and out to the volcano Pacaya (which we may end up taking a trip up later in the journey). Quite a contrast to the slums that we had driven past on our way out there, which Manuel told us is the largest slum in Central America.
This morning we’re taking a mini-van from the hostel up to a place called Lake Atitlan, where we’ll probably relax for a few nights before making our way a little further north into the highlands to Xela (or Quetzaltenango) our home of learning Spanish.
Final thoughts on Guatemala City, it’s a bustling city with all the normal problems – pollution, traffic and crime. Does it feel dangerous? No. It might make you feel a little more aware of your surroundings but that’s pretty much par for the course in any foreign city. We’re happy with our two nights here but we’re ready to move on and experience the beauty of Guatemala.
Hi to all the Fry and Dewe families, we’re all safe, having fun and thinking of you all.