After spending my first NYE on an epic beach in Santa Catalina, Panama one of the cooler surf towns I’ve come across, I found myself on a plane headed to Guatemala for a month. The reason I’m going to Guatemala is simply because I went to the Copa Airlines website and looked for the cheapest special they had running for the New Year. Round trip to Guatemala for $189, sold….
All I really knew about Guatemala was that they got some sweet Mayan temples, big volcanoes, cheap Spanish schools and a fairly dangerous capital city where a number of backpackers had told me they’d been robbed. As it was just me and my trusty backpack traveling to Guatemala I decided I better not spend too much time in the capital alone and just head straight to a touristy town called Antigua. Unfortunately I have a handy knife that I like to travel with so I had to check my backpack on the short flight across Central America. Planning to hop a bus directly to Antigua from the airport the only thing that could force my hand into spending time in Guatemala City would be if they lost my best friend (my backpack).
Standing in disbelief as the last of the bags from my flight emptied onto the baggage claim, I realized my backpack was still in Panama. Approaching the baggage counter with my fingers crossed another flight would be here soon I was told to return to the airport in 7 hours to claim my backpack. To make matters worse the only things I had in my daypack were the expensive things I didn’t want to break or get lost in my luggage, including a Laptop, Camera, Ipod, Kindle and Cell Phone. Not willing to waste 7 hours in the airport and thinking 10am probably isn’t the most common time to get robbed I tightened my jaw, asked a cab driver if he thought I would survive a walk around the city center and set off.
Feeling cold air for the first time in 6 months I was dropped off at a fairly run down town square with some older, but fairly interesting looking buildings. Putting on my hardest “Don’t fuck with this Gringo” face I started wandering around the city. I quickly realized my blond hair and blue eyes were a beacon for attention and feelings of discomfort began to arise immediately as it seemed every single person within a 3 block radius was staring at me. Although there was a large presence of police force equipped with menacing looking AK-47s, they seemed to give me the same unwelcoming look as all the others. Not enjoying my time I decided I needed some information on things to do for the day that didn’t involve the feeling of cold gun metal to my head and all my possessions being taken away from me. I found an internet café and whilst searching for info on the city a seemingly nice Guatemalan man told me where the tourist center was. He offered to walk me there as he said it’s a bit dangerous to wander around alone and even paid for my internet bill as I still didn’t have any of the local currency.
An older man who was quite a lot smaller than me and not threatening in any way, he insisted on talking me on a little walk to see some churches. As we began to enter some neighborhoods that did not look like the type of place for a gringo I kept repeatedly asking him if it was safe for me to be there. He kept pointing to devious looking, homeless people saying at this time I won’t get robbed, but after 4pm that’s the type of guy that would rob me. Not sure if that was supposed to make me feel comfortable or not I just went with it and got to see a good deal of the city. I couldn’t decide if this guy was trying to get something from me with his kindness or was just genuinely being a nice guy. After telling me to only eat chicken in this area of the city as it is widely known that vendors sell dog meat disguised as beef, he took me to a decent looking restaurant.
After telling me he was an out of work school teacher and watching this guy’s teeth literally keep falling out of his mouth he told me that he didn’t have enough money to eat at this nicer place. As meals were only a few bucks, I offered to buy him lunch and a beer to thank him for his nice tour that didn’t end with me getting robbed. Instead of lunch he asked if I could pay for some chicken for him to bring to his family that weekend so they wouldn’t think he was as bad off as he was. He told me the chicken would be about $8 at a local market near the restaurant. Feeling a little deceived, but realizing this dude could really use the money more than me I bought him a beer anyway and told him I would buy some chicken for him as a new year’s present. I ate my meal to the clicking sound of his broken teeth secretly praying that my backpack would make it this time.
After paying for my meal I realized it was time to return to the airport and I offered to just give him the money so he could buy the chicken himself. All I had was a 100 Quetzal (Guatemalan currency) note which is about 15$ and the restaurant wouldn’t make change so he walked me to a bank where we could get some change. As we entered a sketchy little strip mall he told me just to give him the money and he would run in and do it quickly. As I absent mindedly gave him the money he promised he would be back and took off into the mall. Still not totally trusting this man I followed him into the mall. Passing a hair saloon the entire staff of middle aged woman ran out trying to grope me, cat calling and telling me how beautiful I was. Trying to escape I ventured further into the mall where an angry looking man dressed in civilian clothing with a huge shotgun was walking right towards me quickly. My heart began to race and I truly felt scared so I scampered out of the mall as quickly as possible. Hiding in a little corner I realized that this was probably the most uncomfortable I had ever felt in my entire life. Not even caring about the money anymore I started to walk away to find a taxi. Just when I began to walk away the man returned with my change, thanked me profusely for helping him out and flagged a taxi for me.
Fortunately my backpack was at the airport, but the last bus to Antigua had left so they told me I would need to return to the city center and catch a chicken bus later that evening, but it was very dangerous so to be careful. Not wanting to set foot back in the place especially after the 4pm time where I would get robbed I haggled a taxi guy to $20 to take me to Antigua directly….
Written by Alex Vere-Nicoll