It was a strange flight. When we arrived at LA airport, we were asked to do a self check-in, and that our seats would be issued at the boarding gate. So, Jane went to get us seats, and came back with exit aisle seating. We were well pleased with the idea of our extra leg room, (you have to pay for them on any other airline) that is until the service desk kept repeating over the mike that they had exit seats left, would anyone like them? She did everything she could to try to get people to take them. Now we were worried – what the bleep is wrong with the exit seats?
Boarding was mayhem. Someone was in the quenue, in LA airport, with a dog. Not kidding. Where in the world can you take your dog into the plane cabin….on the flight to Guatemala thats where. I was losing confidence in the airlines less than modern operating procedures. We were nearly the last on the plane, and on being shown to our exit aisle seats, the male steward put his hand out and asked Jane for 40 dollars. Her face was a picture, I could see it flash through her mind – ‘thats why people won’t take them’ – but he was joking! So we took our extra leg room seats, no extra charge, still waiting for the catch….none. All we can think is that the Guatemalans think its tempting fate siting in this area. Before the plane took off a stewardess approached us to ask if we would help in an emergency. We nodded, not good enough, she told us we have to verbally agree to it.
Our Hotel in Guatemala City - not in the best neighbourhood...
Maybe the Guatemalans don’t like the idea of being useful in an emergency. Anyway we were on our way… We arrived at 5.30 am, knackered. We needed an ATM, and the only one the airport has was so well hidden we needed help to find it. It was at this point that we realised that no one speaks English. Janes Spanish is near non existent, and mine is a bit pidgeon. Oh shit. We got a bit of a fright as the ATM wouldn’t give us cash…shit…but releasing a few emergency dollars from a safe place we went to the exchange. To our delight the girl here spoke a little English, enough to tell us that the cash points do not give out money until after 8am – probably to reduce crime.
We managed to find a taxi and get dropped off at our hotel. Lets just say that Guatemala City is not pretty, and neither was our hotel. It looked nothing like the pics on booking.com, and it had a 12 year old armed guard at the door (doubling as the doorman – so our first impression was being greeted by someone with a sawn-off shot gun and a big smile – what would you think?), and none of the staff speak a word of English. Our room was….basic, but at least it was available at 6.30 in the morning! We put the ‘do not disturb’ on the door and climbed into bed, needing sleep not just for exhaustion, but to ease the stress 🙂
Typical Guatemalan street
When we finally surfaced for a walk out into the chaos, we went searching for an ATM and asked the desk clerk (in mime) where the nearest one was and off we went to find it. It’s not pretty here… and in some places you can see the aftermath of various earth quakes. At one point in our walk we met a lady and her child… she was talking away in Spanish until I told her “Lo Siento, no hablo espanole” (I’m sorry I don’t speak spanish), so it was back to miming and gesturing. With my pigeon Spanish I could make out the odd word eventually understood that she had lost her husband in the last quake when her house had been wrecked (which was in the process of being re-built). She showed us where to find the ATM, we would never have found it without her, and so we felt it was a fair exchange to give her something to feed the kids that day. I have to admit it was hard for me to see this woman with four kids living in what I can only describe as a corrugated box with some brick left in a wall or two… tragic. Howaay man it’s my first day!!!
Once we had got over the intial shock of the place we decided to have a mooch day…Our hotel gave us a ‘map’, but actually it was just a series of lines, with no discernable landmarks. we set out to look for the tourist information, and with the ‘map’ being of no use, got lost, then got led to an area we weren’t looking for by a ‘helpful’ local. We were going ’round in circles! So, walking past shops, offices and government buildings, all with armed guards in the doorways, we found ourselves back at the hotel….but we had a plan.
It's not ALL a warzone... although even the park had an armed guard!
Our third day turned out well. We took a taxi to the Premier bus company (I ain’t gettin on no chicken bus) on the other side of the city, to book tickets out of here! I felt happier already. we decided to walk back, as we had all day, and actually found a tourist office. Now we had a useable map! It turned out to be a really enjoyable day. Theres not much to see, but at least we knew how to get there, and we ended the day in a great little family run restaurant, the food was fantastic, and it was then that we realised that the hotel food was not a good example of Guatemalan cuisine – and was over-priced!
Guatemalan Church - note the razor wire!
Tomorrow we are on the road to Antigua,(at five in the morning!) and we are looking forward to getting out of the noise and pollution and into the hill country.