Trip Report – Guatemala!

-Written by Cel and Steph

Some anecdotes and thoughts from our recent vacation in Guatemala City:

We went to a few electronics stores in Guatemala to see the costs of goods. After converting the local currency to Canadian dollars, an Ipad mini 16GB cost $100 more than in Canada! Keep in mind that wages are lower in Guatemala – the average wage per capita is around $2,800 (converted to CAD) according to one source I read.

The difference in video game prices were even more staggering. I saw Beyond: Two Souls for PS3 at $83. Playstation All Stars Battle Royale for PS3 was $56 – $20 here.

We later found some video game cafes in a pedestrian-based (roads blocked to cars) shopping area, and speculated that most Guatemalan gamers simply play there and pay hourly, like Internet cafe.

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Did you ever wonder what happened to North American school buses that get too old and beat up for kids to use? Probably you would assume they just got junked for parts. WRONG!

That is just the beginning of their saga. After faithfully ferrying kids to and from school for many years, they are driven down to Central America, and reincarnated as “chicken buses”.
ChickenBus

They are painted in vibrant bright colours, usually with pictures of Jesus or Mary plastered on the interior and/or exterior. All of them seem to have religious Spanish music blaring constantly. Due to their low cost (25 cents per person per trip), they are usually packed.  We had a two hour ride in which there was only enough seat room to have half our butts on the chair.

They don’t appear to follow any set routes or have defined stops. You flag them down, and tell the driver when you want to get off.  The operators are insane.  At one point, we saw some luggage tossed from the roof to a passenger, and the bus started moving within seconds.  We debated whether there was a guy still on the roof, and decided there couldn’t have been.  10 seconds later, with the bus picking up speed, a guy swung down from the roof through the open door and casually resumed collecting fares.

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When we travel, we usually sneak into a McDonald’s at some point to use the bathroom.  They are only for customers, but we never pay.  We’ve gone so far as to find discarded receipts to get the day’s code for opening the lock on the washroom.

In Guatemala City, they had an armed guard standing outside the washrooms (presumably to protect the tills).  We decided to buy a drink.

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We made it to the base of Pacaya, a volcano near Guatemala City.  The hike up was similar to other hikes, except for the horseshit everywhere.  The locals try to sell horse rides to unfit tourists who can’t make it up on their own.  These guys followed us for a good 30 minutes.  Some in our group eventually cracked.

When we finally got near the top, the jungle died out and it turned to volcanic ash and sand. Dust was everywhere, and the craters made it look like the surface of the moon.

Pacaya1

Used to be, you could go up to the rim and watch the eruptions up close.  Now there is toxic gas, so you can’t.   We found a lookout point and watched lava spew in the distance.

To get back to the capital, we hired a local farmer with a beat-up pickup truck. There was only one extra seat, so Cel had to sit on Steph’s lap. The farmer had five or six guys in the back of the truck, who he had to kick out before entering our gated compound to get to our hotel.

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We booked a half-day spa package at a local volcanic hot springs spa.  It was the most beautiful spa we had ever seen.  Great stone architecture, open-air design.  Lots of natural light – even the steam bath we were in used an opening in the roof rather than bulbs.

spa

SpaDay

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Guatemala is a country that gets relatively few visitors compared to places like Mexico.  It has a reputation of being unsafe, particularly in the capital.  We were in Guatemala City for a week and never felt unsafe, even when riding the local buses between cities.

Antigua was great when we visited, and all accounts say that Tikal is amazing, but we would recommend at least stopping by Guatemala City for a less touristy experience.

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