First day in Guatemala

It’s been a fun day today with a lot of new and interesting experiences. We left around six this morning to the Charlotte airport. Thanks again to Emily B. for driving us early having gotten only a little sleep. We checked in our things and prepared ourselves for another long trip. The first leg of the flight was horrible. We were stuck on another tiny plane with barely any room for carry on and less for your legs. The second plane was a lot bigger and much more comfortable. The reality of where we were did not set in until the plane was about to land. The landscape was different from anything that I was used to. from the air you could see hundreds of houses with rusted roofs, the volcanos, and the city scape itself. If that wasn’t enough, everything and everyone is 100% in Spanish. You have no choice. If you visit here and you don’t speak any Spanish, you are going to have a lonely trip. After going through customs and collecting our bags, we exited the building and were greeted to a wall of people holding up signs with different names on them. I found my name on one that read “Art Martines to Antigua” and were given a ride by a rather quiet early thirties man who was very polite but not interested in having a conversation. 

Looking out at Guatemala and filling out customs forms
We rode this one

I’m not really sure how I can even begin to explain our drive from Guatemala city to Antigua because I have never experienced so many things at one time. First of all, the vehicles on the streets emit so much pollution it’s jaw dropping. Cars that we drive here in the United States that are considered relatively eco friendly emit the same black smoke as giant trucks–it’s a really amazing thing to witness. Second, everyone in uniform has either an AK-47 or a giant semi automatic shot gun. Gas stations have armed guards with either automatic weapons or shot guns. Mc Donalds has an armed guard. Third, if there are any traffic laws here in Guatemala, it’s hard to tell what they possibly could be as people just do what ever they want on the road. It works in an odd chaotic way. People swerve in and out of traffic, a random person runs across the highway, motor cyclists cut people off, and the whole time police are standing on the side of the road every now and again watching all this go by. Then there are the chicken busses. These are the old school busses that we no longer use here in the US that are shipped down to Guatemala and then souped up and used as public transportation. However, this public transportation is a little different as these things will stop anywhere for anyone at any time. People get out of the front and the back and sometimes the bus takes off while people are still getting out of it. So naturally, we had to ride one. 

Before we went on the bus ride, we stopped at Hugo’s house where we will spend the next week. He has a beautiful house, and Alisa and I were both impressed. I wanted to take more pictures of it, I think I will wait till we are a little more settled. Hugo’s wife made us lunch and we talked for quite some time about what our plans our for our trip and what we should watch out for. I realized after a bit that I had left our guide book on one of the airplanes. At this point, we are flying blind here in Guatemala. Luckily, Hugo has a niece named Melanie who is in high school and was more than happy to take us on a tour around town. She took us to the chicken bus stop and the ride ended up being a lot crazier than I imagined it was. The payment system is the most interesting thing of the whole experience. Here’s how it works. You don’t have to pay when you board. You have to pay half way through the trip when the bus is crammed pack. Somebody walks through it and tries to collect money from everyone while they are all pressed up against each other. It’s really a quite amazing sight to watch. We arrived in Antigua around 6pm. I only had US currency, so the first thing we did was head to the

nearest back. The lines were long at the back (I guess we have that in common). After waiting about half an hour to talk to the teller, he told me that I needed my passport in order to exchange currency (I left my passport a Hugo’s house). So we headed back outside to try to find an ATM. The first one we found was not taking my card, so we got a little nervous. We found another ATM about a block away and I was able to get 300Q which is a little less than 40 dollars. We spent the rest of the evening walking around the town. Although it’s a tiny town, there are hundreds of people on the streets either selling things, shopping, hanging out at a bar, or trying to sell tours. We found a really old cathedral and walked inside. It was massive. We didn’t really have time to explore it or read anything about it. We plan on doing that Tuesday. After a few hours of exploring, we discovered that the book store we were looking for was closed. We took the chicken bus back to Panahachel and decided that we should return in the morning.

We returned to Hugo’s house and had a light dinner and talked for quite some time about what Alisa and I should do in the morning. We decided to walk to Antigua instead of taking a bus. There is a walking route that has little traffic and it’s very safe. There is another old cathedral on the way that we are going to check out before heading into town. I’m not sure what to expect when we are there, but I plan to take a lot of photos to share with everyone.

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