By the Numbers

Trip Start May 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Saturday, June 17, 2006

There is a significant difference between the populations of Guatemala's first and second largest cities. Guatemala City, the nation's commercial center, is packed with about three million people. Quetzaltenango, with fewer than two-hundred thousand people, is a distant second but serves as an important commercial and cultural hub of the Western Highlands.

Population isn't the only difference; these two cities are worlds apart. G.C. is sprawling; seventeen "Zonas" divide the city (both literally and figuratively) into an array of cosmopolitan expanses and impoverished barrios. Modern skyrises and office buildings cast shadows over neighboring shanty towns. Glittery shopping malls show American blockbusters on 20 screens. Droves of locals chatting on cell phones pour into these malls to purchase the latest fashions, meanwhile the city's seedy criminals carry out dubious deeds in nearby allies.

Quetzaltenango (more commonly called by its Mayan name, Xela, pronounced "Shay-la") couldn't be more of a contrast. Xela is graceful in its design and ability to handle its few hundred thousand residents. Its scale is manageable, yet the city offers the cosmopolitan comforts and attractions of other large cities - a glut of nice hotels, performing arts theaters, fine cuisine, street fairs and a healthy nightlife are all within a short cab ride. Some visitors aren't thrilled with Xela's climate; at about 8,500 feet, the nights can be chilly and most days see a robust dose of rain. But the sun invariably breaks through, and when its rays strike the surrounding volcanic peaks, its as beautiful as anywhere else in the country.

Xela has other fine points - the central park is fantastic; there are plenty of opportunities for nearby outdoor excursions; and, perhaps most all, Xela has earned a reputation for its Spanish schools and is rapidly becoming the center of Guatemalan Spanish language education.

I spent a week in the city, studying Spanish by day, exploring and socializing by night. The entire experience was quite incredible, but the affordability of traveling here is what struck me most.

Guatemala is rumored to be cheap, yet I was surprised time and time again at the abundance of urban amenities and the affordability of these amenities. Since the majority of you are reading from the not-so-cheap cities of San Diego, San Francisco or New York, I decided to take specific note of some of Xela's best values.

So here they are, by the numbers....

$3... the cost of 1 hour of Spanish language instruction given by a university-certified, native speaker.
$35... the cost of the same service in San Diego.

$1.20... the cost of breakfast at my favorite restaurant.
6 ... number items included in that breakfast (scrambled eggs, black beans, bread, corn tortillas, fried bananas, coffee)

$ .60 ... cost for 1 hour of Internet in Xela
$6.00 ... cost for 1 hour of Internet in Belize

120... miles between Guatemala City and Xela
5 .... number of hours by first-class bus
$4 ... cost of that trip

3 ... the number of ice cream scoops in the "Cono Triple Colosal" (colosal triple cone)
2 ... average number of cones consumed per day
$1 ... daily cost of the Cono Habit

The list goes on, but you get the gist. It's been said that the value of something is defined as its benefit divided by the cost of attaining it. Xela, then, has offered more value than any other destination along this crazy trip.
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johnb22 on

Re: Thats a lot of Cono
Hey man, got any Cono, man? Come'on man, I'm hurtin!

Yeah it's pretty wild. Speaking of brightly colored buildings, Sis, just wait till I get off my butt and update the post on Antigua. I'm sure Moms told you a little, but more to come of course.

Back to truckin!

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