Guatemala City (why you say goodbye, I say hello?)

Trip Start Dec 11, 2004
Trip End Jan 11, 2005

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Sunday, December 12, 2004

2:40PM(local time)
For the first time Jim and I begin to discuss our trip plan. Keep in mind, we land in Guatemala City in about twenty minutes. Hopefully Jim's been reading his handy Lonely PlanetŪ guide, Central America on a Shoestring. I've been sleeping.

Not knowing local transportation options, we defer a decision until we de-plane ("Just In Time" itenerary. Dr. Deming would be proud). The only thing we do know, we'd prefer not to burn a night in Guatemala City if we don't have to.

The airport at Guatemala City isn't much different than many small town America* airports. We wait in a semi enclosed space. A tractor drops luggage containers. Workers line up bags for retrieval. Unlike large airports, there are no stainless steel carousels to make the airport seem sterile and impersonal. Inside the rerminal we notice a crush of people on the second story interior balcony. Apparently this is where friends and family wait for returning travellers.

We quickly debate whether the 'cajero electronico' (ATM) would be a good idea. The airport exchange rate may not be the best (We don't know this, but we suspect it). We decide having local currency (Quetzals) outweighs a poor exchange rate. It's not clear whether the machine is denominated in Queztals or US Dollars. We decide 300 of whatever denomination will give us enough money in either currency to tide us over but not exceed the daily withdrawal limit. We get a bus schedule from the information center. The next and last bus out of town departs in 30 minutes.

We grab a cab. But, like the guide cautions, we first make sure it has a medallion. We throw our bags in the trunk and... the engine won't turn over. Our driver gets out and begins to push. We look at each other thinking, "This ain't the US", & help push. The engine sputters a few times and we're on our way.

Our driver asks our destination. We tell him and he pauses. I'm pretty sure he was assessing his options because after briefly furrowing his brow he says, "When you pay me, pay me in the car. Not in the street. The neighborhood at the bus station is not safe."

At the bus station, we learn the bus will be late. Since American Airlines feels a meal isn't necessary between Miami and Guatemala, we ask if there's a restaurant nearby. We're directed to a 'hole in the wall' where the patrons and employees assess the gringos that have entering their establishment. We order fried chicken and it is delicious. In US bistros it would probably be called as 'free range' chicken. Down here it's probably whatever was in the front yard this morning.

We board the bus for our six hour trip to Rio Dulce at 5:00PM. We have been travelling for 26 hours. It will be Thirty-two hours before we even begin looking for a place to lay our heads for the night. Total time spent in Guatemala City: Two hours.

*By the way, Central and South Americans don't particularly appreciate when "yanquis" refer to the US of A as "America". I'm pretty sure they find "United States" off putting as well; since it is not the only group of states to have united nor is it the only America.
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