Guat's Up, Amigos?
Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
217Trip End Ongoing
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In the end it was Mario's confident and persistent approach that got us onto the plane: "According to my online research, it is allowed. We'll take our chances, surely they'll let us in", he said in his authoritarian South African accent. So we waited them out and forty five minutes later they eventually let us board. Good thing we were at the airport early!
We arrived at Guatemala City airport after an uneventful 2.5 hour flight and set our clocks back by one hour
My Spanglish had to get to work right away because not even the tourist info lady could speak English! She directed us through the crowds, across the road, into a dark parking lot and up an escalator to "Departures". Good thing that directions in Spanish is my strong point, just ask Analia and Dom! ;) Once outside we negotiated our way through the crowds, sidestepped the taxi touts with a casual "no gracias", and acted like we'd been there a million times. We knew exactly where we going! Yeah, right!
We finally found the well-hidden ATM, drew some Quetzales (Ket-sa-less, abbreviated to Q) and enjoyed our first taste of Guatemala cuisine (albeit fast food called Pollo Campero, KFC's local equivalent). This was mainly to get change for the public bus. Our "online research" said that the bus journey to Pension Meza was 1Q, the equivalent of 1 South African Rand (R) and just over 8 British pence.
Again we needed directions to the bus stop that was nowhere near the entrance, again we had to confidently pass and ignore the touts and down a set of stairs to the road. But there were two stops with buses going in opposite directions and no info boards. How do I ask this in Spanish? Especially since we didn't know the bus number. But our fellow passengers were eager to help and seemed amused by us. We must have been a novelty with our huge packs and being the only gringos (foreigners) taking the bus.
Before long the bus arrived, loudly belching fumes. We climbed onboard and asked for "dos personas para zona 1" and took a seat. They were essentially kitchen chairs welded down to the floor and it filled to the brim very quickly. Plus there were very few landmarks and branding outside shops. It's a good thing the city is designed on a grid with numbered streets and avenues, including Zero. But that's no good when you can't see the road signs because they're small, the bus is so high and standing people are blocking the view. So again, we had to ask the driver to let us know when we get there, pushing through the masses to get to the front.
After a 45 minute journey the bus driver indicated to us (we think) and shouted something that sounded like our street so quickly popped our packs back on and hopped off at the back. As the fume cloud cleared, we struggled to find street signs. Again, we had to ask for directions because it seemed we weren't really near where we needed to be. A tiny lady obliged. In fact, now standing alongside the locals we realised that many were really short. Mostly those of Mayan decent. It was easy to stumble over someone because you didn't see them there. Um, what's the words for "excuse me?".
It had been tiring and stressful getting ourselves there but we had a huge sense of achievement. Mission accomplished! We finally made it to Pension Meza, a cheap hotel with small rooms and shared bathrooms opening onto two courtyards where people chill.
We ended up staying in Guatemala City for a whole week. This despite the fact that Lonelyplanet website readers voted this city number 1 in a list of Least Favourite Cities in the World. What an accolade! They described it as "big, dirty, dangerous and utterly forgettable". We weren't expecting much so we were unlikely to be disappointed.
Why then did we stay so long? Tune in next time to find out!