48 Hours in Guatemala City

After leaving Mexico city on Sunday, I caught a flight some 670 miles south to Guatemala City, Guatemala.  Now, it’s fully understandable that you may not know much about Guatemala City, or for that matter – exactly where it is in a map.  So, let’s do a quick visual geography lesson, via the red circle below:

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As may be obvious, Mexico being to the north, and a slew of smaller Central American countries to the south.

Guatemala as a country has a hugely rich cultural history, being home to some of the most amazing Mayan ruins in other parts of the country.  The landscape is a lush green that’s incredibly apparent the moment you break through the clouds.

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Less than a marathon’s distance away from the airport/city is a towering Volcano…regrettably one that has a bit of gas…with ash.  It’s been puffing away for the past few years, but has picked up activity in recent weeks (notably, last week).  The last time it spewed significant ash, the airport and city were shut down for weeks, with some areas taking months to recover.  So, our trip would be as fast as possible to get the work done, before getting out of dodge.

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However, the volcano is really the least of one’s worries when in Guatemala.  As I noted above, the country is known for some incredible cultural sights.  But over the last 18 months, its also become known for being one of the most violent and deadly countries not only in the Americas, but also the world.

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The situation worsens on a near daily basis.  Attacks are generally divided into two groups.  The first, is against bus drivers (as an aside, all city/country buses are recycled US school buses).  As of earlier this week, there were 179 bus drivers killed this year alone here in the city – that’s practically one per day.  See, local gangs require bus drivers to pay a ‘security fee’ of approx $100 per day (often more than they make in a day).  If said fee isn’t paid, then grenades are tossed into the bus – usually killing not only the driver, but passengers as well.

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The second focal point of violence…is everyone else.  Unlike in Mexico and some other Central/South American countries where the point is to kidnap for ransom, the majority of the crime here is focused on getting a physical asset (such as money/valuables).  However, they are unafraid here to kill on the spot for something as simple as a cell phone.  Within the city – and country in general – you don’t drive at night.  You don’t walk at night.  You don’t go anywhere at night.  Even the locals I worked with said simply that “It’s not worth my life”.  Even daytime driving out to popular tourist spots must be done with an armed escort.  Simple trips like the short 5 minute drive from the airport to the hotel/downtown area are specifically targeted at night, with fake roadblocks aimed at carjacking.

Thus, as a resultant of what I just outlined – I didn’t leave my hotel.  Well, except to go via car to the office a few blocks away.  While in the US you would have walked that short 4-5 minute walk, you wouldn’t here.

On the bright side – I got in some really solid workouts.  The hotel had a pool, which was a huge plus.  Although it wasn’t a lap pool, it was big enough (about 23 yards).

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The only oddity was on one end, I didn’t have a fully flush wall – but rather one with steps and some hole thingies.  This made flip turns a very exacting science, as it really sucked to miss and get your foot in the hole in the wall.

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The hotel also had a great gym, it was packed with everything you’d find in a full rec center elsewhere.  In fact, even more stuff than some rec centers.  Like…random statues in the hallways:

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Though, it also had tons of equipment too – this is just a third of it:

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It even had a full spinning studio, which also turned into a Yoga studio, where they offered half a dozen classes a day.

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I however, spent the majority of my time on the bike and treadmill.  Sunday evening after arriving from Mexico I had a two hour bike to do…indoors…on a stationary bike…without a fan.

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Nothing that three episodes worth of Top Chef couldn’t fix though.  I also created my biggest sweat-lake to date.  I could actually create legit waves – yes, tidal action – if I pushed the water/sweat around.  Astounding stuff.

Oh, speaking of Top Chef – I did have one non-hotel meal here during lunch yesterday.  We went with some locals to a great little place that served Guatemalan food.  Good stuff!

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Tuesday before my flight I had another multi-hour bike-run brick.  The little gym man was wondering when I’d stop running, kinda looking at me like he was worried.  Sorta funny.

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(Sorry for blurry-cam, sometimes it’s hard to run/bike and take pics inside…falling off the treadmill at 5:54/mile would have been a serious failboat)

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After that, I headed straight to the airport, where I waited as it poured…again.  My plane was missing in action.

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Fortunately, it finally showed up across the way and I was good to go.

Hopefully at some point in the future the local situation in Guatemala will become better, allowing me to come back and actually see what is I’m sure an amazing country.

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(Quick administrative note: For those eagerly awaiting the Timex Global Trainer review, I’m close – but a combination of very-limited time on my part, and waiting on a few final updates from Timex is holding things back…almost there!)

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12 Comments

  1. Yikes Ray! Glad to hear you made it out of there safely…

    I’m surprised given the choice between a spin bike or an upright stationary bike that you chose the stationary bike. I know spin bikes have no computers on them but I’ll take one of those over an upright bike when I travel any day of the week. They just feel more like riding a bike to me.

    I hope you got hazard pay for that job!

    Reply
  2. That really is too bad you couldn’t get out of GC and hit some of the surrounding areas. I spent two weeks in Antigua a while back – beautiful!

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  3. A good place to go back to near Guatemala that is much safer is Belize..specifically Ambergris Caye. I think you’d fit in well there – lots of scuba diving, water taxis and bling’d out golf carts as the main method of transportation on the island ;)

    Reply
  4. Wes

    dude… you wouldn’t even catch me on a plane like that, much less to a country like that. You’re braver than I thought ;-)

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  5. Wow. I will definitely have to reconsider putting Guatemala on my list of possible honeymoon locations!

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  6. Can I just tell you how INSANELY jealous I am of all your recent travels? It must be nice!

    Also, I can’t wait to hear your final review of the Timex Global Trainer. I’m looking at purchasing either that one or the Garmin Forerunner 305 and it’s probably going to be your reviews that sway me one way or the other.

    Reply
  7. I spoke to my father about your other post on Mexico City. He’s Mexican. He told me that generally kid nappers don’t touch foreigners down there because for one, even if they did kidnap you they wouldn’t know who to call, or communicate with you, and second the favorite victims are those that come from well known wealthy families which have patterns, like going to the market every week at a certain time. Any way, I’m not sure how much weight to give me fathers take on the situation, but I wanted to know what you think.

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  8. Two hours on a stationary bike with no fan. Nuts.

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  9. That’s too bad that you weren’t able to really get outside. My parents lived in GC for a year when I was in university…late 90s. I had a chance to visit once and it was definitely a beautiful place. Back then you had to be worried about being on the roads to the ruins as it started to get dark, otherwise that was mostly it.

    By the way, loved your story about them closing the road to cars in MC for a few hours on Sunday for cyclists and runners. Awesome!

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  10. RunningChez

    Sorry to hear about your impressions. I have been living in NC, but originally from Guatemala and have started following your blog for a couple of months.

    You are correct, the country has become very dangerous, even for local people and it is sad, like LittleRachet stated, Antigua is beautiful and we have some other places that are magnificent.

    The war against drugs in Mexico has actually pushed back some cartels from MX into Guatemala and other Central American countries, and we need a government that can clean that up.

    Hopefully we will be able to get this done, like Colombia did and by that time, I will encourage you to go back and see some of the great things Guatemala has to offer.

    In the meantime, keep writing as for us newbies your work is really appreciated

    Reply
  11. Wow, glad to hear you safely got your training in.

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  12. Vaclav

    Hi man,
    reading this about Guatemala City I am quite surprised. I spent there 4 years working in the city, left home to Europe last year and although it’s not as safe as in other parts of the world also it’s not that bad. During a day I walked on the streets without any problem, of course without carrying visibly cell phone, camera etc. I ran 4-5 times a week, even at night around the streets, no problem. We were travelling around the country a lot with our small kids, without any armed gorillas, no problem. Even the local people tend to exaggerate, they use cars (the richer ones) all the time, and they are brainwashed by the media day after day about how dangerous is the country. So, with some precautions (you can’t go everywhere, shantytowns are to be avoided) you can circulate without being robbed or attacked. And I am not sort of a brave man and was not the only one who was doing the same. So for the next time you get there.
    Cheers!

    Reply

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