Exploring Guatemala City

By early afternoon on Friday I had finished all the laundry and Richard had completed the laying up checks on Morphie.  But he’d noticed that there was standing water on the stern rail which means, as the scuppers are definitely clear now, that Morphie isn’t properly level.  So he reported this to the boatyard asking them to sort it out before we left.     In the meantime we packed up our apartment and returned to Morphie with the vacuum packed (clean) items that we were leaving on board.  We said our final sad farewells – and were just taking down the ladder when the travel lift operator said he would be back shortly.

Goodbye Morphie

So Richard waited – while I returned to the apartment to do some pizza bites to share at the cruiser’s happy hour.    And he waited and eventually at just gone five o’clock Morphie was lifted up, rechocked and buckets of water were chucked over to ensure that no water remained standing.  The guy was very careful and we were particularly impressed that the marina responded to our concerns so quickly.

But, of course, this meant that we were late for Poppy’s birthday party.    We quickly got ready and headed off to NanaJuana – by which time the kids had attacked the huge piñata and we missed the fun although I did get some chocolate.   Poppy was happy with her little birthday presents and I got a lovely cuddle in response.   We settled down watching the kids having fun and enjoyed our last night with our fellow cruisers even being treated to a beautiful final Rio Dulce sunset.  All too soon it was time to go and say our sad farewells….  

Birthday girl Time for cake Party underway Time for cake 2 Beautiful sunset

Saturday morning we were up at six and got ourselves sorted – I did a quick tidy up – and we waited for our transport.   RAM marina sent us a driver to take us to the bus station free of charge but we were expecting a car not the truck that turned up LOL.   Never mind, we arrived at the Litegua bus station in good time.

The bus turned up on the dot of eight and, hurrah, it was an Especial Plus version which was pretty comfortable.  We had great seats at the front although we couldn’t see the movies – which didn’t matter as they were in Spanish anyway – and the guy opposite us snored loudly throughout the whole journey!!!    We stopped about three hours into the trip and grabbed a burger and food for later – having learnt our lesson on the previous journey.   And, of course, this one was really fast by comparison and we arrived into the outskirts of Guatemala City at around 2 ish – got transferred to another bus and were taken to the next terminal – and had to wait for the other bus to come which had our luggage.   All very confusing and worrying and I got quite stressed especially as everyone on our second bus was going to Antigua and we weren’t – but Richard pointed out this was a ‘gringo only’ bus.   I really couldn’t understand why we couldn’t identify our luggage and put it on the bus with us rather than it having to go separately.   It was all very strange….   But finally we were reunited with our luggage and tried to hire a taxi to our hotel.   The first taxi wanted a fortune – then he dropped it 20% but still too much – so we asked around until we found one at a better price.

We finally arrived at our hotel and checked in quickly and smoothly.    And our room is absolutely huge.  Lovely!  Nice views from the 10th floor too.

Hotel room 1 Hotel room 2

View from our room

After recovering from our trip we ventured out about five – and were told it was safe to walk for two blocks in any direction but beyond that, not a good idea.   OK, we can do that.  So we wandered off and were surprised to come across a Hard Rock Café, Dunking Donuts, Burger King, McDonalds all within this small area.   Hmmm…not what we had expected at all!    We just wanted a drink so avoided the Jack Russell burger place – yuck don’t fancy them!


Continuing to wander around we found ourselves faced with a police cordon and a road block with something clearly going on down the road with ambulances in attendance and everything.  Richard was all for going to see what had happened but, fearful of all the hired guns that protect every business around here, I wasn’t having any of it.  

Finally we found a little sports bar which looked attractive and went in – we ended up drinking Coronas as they didn’t sell our preferred Guatemalan beer and enjoyed watching the world go by.  

Bar selfie

Then the heavens opened.  We waited for the rains to stop before heading back to the hotel.    What I hadn’t realised earlier was that the pavements in this Viva Zone are made of a kind of granite which are treacherous when wet – and, of course, I’m only wearing flip flops with no tread of any kind.    I did the limbo quite a few times almost hitting the deck but got saved by Richard’s strong grip pulling me back upright.    Absolutely crazy design!   We ended up walking in the road trying to avoid getting run down along the way.  

Back to the hotel and we sat in the bar watching GB winning gold on the track – well done Mo!  Then we went to the hotel restaurant and enjoyed the ambience of the (fake) rocky wall and waterfall.    We were pleasantly surprised by the excellent quality and presentation of the food. It turns out the chef is French….

Hotel restaurant

This morning, Sunday, we were up early and enjoyed the huge breakfast buffet before meeting Fabio, our tour guide.   He took us on a drive through different zones and we learnt a lot about the city and the country more generally.    A violent past and present with dictatorships, military take-overs, a long brutal civil war and Fabio was grateful that they were now in a democratic period – although he despaired over how cheap life had become; the scourge of the gangs; widespread corruption; and the poor living conditions in the favelas.    The private security business is the largest growing business in Guatemala with armed guards at almost 90% of all businesses and many private homes too.   Guns are cheap and easy to get whether on the black market or through legal means.   Fabio believes in higher education but recognises the problems that poverty brings with many children working and helping their families instead of being in school.

We ended up going for a walk along 6th Avenue which is permanently pedestrianised.  We walked a number of blocks enjoying the sights of some ancient buildings – often marred by really ugly structures nearby – and watched the entertainment and listened to the music.   Walking around in family groups, shopping, eating street food, selling their wares, listening to music and being entertained is clearly how the Guatemalans like to spend their Sundays.

Guatemala 1 Guatemala 2 Guatemala 3 Guatemala 16 Guatemala 4 Guatemala 5 Guatemala 6 Guatemala 7 Guatemala 8 Guatemala 9 Guatemala 10 Guatemala 11 Guatemala 12 Guatemala 13 Guatemala 14 Guatemala 15

Moving on we went to visit the oldest church in Guatemala City.  The El Santuario de Nuestra Senora del Carmen was built on top of the Ceritto del Carmen hill after the Genevese penitent Juan Corz brought the religious image of the Virgen del Carmen from Spain and settled for years as a hermit in a cave.   After it was burnt down and rebuilt around 1620 they had the image stolen in 2001 but it was miraculously recovered in 2003 and it remains housed within the sanctuary. Eventually Juan Corz moved out of his cave into the tower that was built to house him.  The Church celebrated its 400 years in 2013.  The statues and the landscaping of the park obviously came later.

Coez 1 Coez 2 Coez 3 Coez

While we wandered around we saw a number of girls in beautiful prom dresses being professionally photographed and the rest of their family clearly in a party mood.  Well, it turns out, that 15 is the magic age here in Guatemala when girls are celebrated and given a ‘welcome to womanhood’ type party.    And this is what was going on.    Boys, on the other hand, are welcomed to manhood at 18.    Fabio told us that, particularly among the indigenous population, many girls were betrothed at 14 and had their first child by the time they were 15 or 16.

Sweet 15

The views across the city from the top of the hill clearly shows the mismatch of old and new sitting side by side.

View from hill 2 View from hill 1

When driving down the hill back towards the city we saw some slums – and Fabio confirmed that these people had come to the city having been driven out of the mountains either by war or earthquakes. They squat and build their homes on top of each other living in pretty terrible conditions – with many of them exposed to risks such as landslides.  You can only imagine what it would be like to live in such a harsh environment.   Hard to believe it’s 2016 sometimes.

Slums Slums 2

Leaving this area we then drove past the military building (now largely a museum) which was being patrolled by heavily-armed military police – and checked out the ancient Cadillac that used to belong to one of the dictator generals.   Nice!

Ancient car 1 Ancient car 2 Ancient car 3

Then we drove off to see a new development called Cayaluca.   This is another world.   Guatemalan and overseas investors have combined to create a new city within a city.   This has residential, commercial, retail space all built together around a large plaza in the style of a Spanish town.    It was a beautiful place – although still under construction – and was full of local tourists wandering around admiring this very exclusive new addition to the city.   We were surprised to see large brands like Starbucks and high-end retail outlets here.   Fabio liked it but thought it was a shame that people felt it necessary to live and work in such a fake, albeit safe, environment.  

Cayaluca 3 Cayaluca 4 Cayaluca 5 Cayaluca 6 Cayaluca 7 Cayaluca 8 Cayaluca 9 Cayaluca 1 Cayaluca 2

We then headed back towards our hotel in Zone 10 and came across a huge Pokemon event going on in the main road…queues stretched back miles. 

Pokemon crazinessArriving back we said our farewells to Fabio and thanked him for such a great tour.    Although we enjoyed the contrasts of ancient, modern, beautiful, ugly warts and all we really weren’t inspired by our visit.   But at least we can now say that we have visited the largest city in the whole of South America.

Jan & Fabio

Back in our hotel room now and going to head out for dinner again this evening.    Then it’s an early night as we have to be on the airport shuttle at five in the morning to start our next adventure.

Bye for now