8 days in Guatemala: Observations & Occurrences

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This is a collection of the thoughts I jotted down in my phone during my recent week-long solo trip to Guatemala.

In taxi from Guatemala City to Antigua (day one):

  • The city looks super run-down
  • Gas stations every few hundred meters (why?)
  • There is a Walmart here, which makes me irrationally upset.

In Antigua (days one and two):

  • Cobblestone streets
  • Everything is outdoors! All the cafes, restaurants, bars, and even hostels all have a large outdoor space.
  • The fruit is super ripe
    • The bananas are AMAZING!! They taste different from American ones. They’re richer and sweeter and I’m obsessed.
  • Non-dairy milk isn’t as common here
  • It’s weird not having to consult with anyone about anything
    • It’s good because I can do whatever I want, but bad because I don’t know if I’m making the right decisions (e.g. buying a bag from a vendor for $9… I probably paid way too much).

In Tikal/Flores (days 3 & 4):

  • Met a British girl who lived in Japan (Nakameguro) for 5 years on my sunrise tour!
  • Howler monkey peed and almost pooed on me in the jungle -___-
  • Snakes, toads everywhere
  • Saw a weasel, toucan, wild turkey, and spider monkey
  • Had my sunrise tour guide (Abel) set up a shuttle to take me from Tikal (the national park) to Flores (island town where buses go). Ended up being just me and him in his personal car. A bit sketchy but he was a nice guy so I trusted him.
  • Got stopped at a checkpoint on the way to Flores. Police looked through my luggage and at my passport. They asked me what day I arrived in Guatemala and why I was there. They were unfriendly and it was a little scary. I asked Abel what that was all about and he didn’t really tell me. I think it’s probably about drugs though.

In Lake Atitlan (days 5-8):

  • Feels really safe here. All the locals are very kind, and all non-locals are hippie, nature-loving and unthreatening backpackers
  • Night 5: First time I felt lonely this trip. I was on my way back from dinner, and I got stopped by police. They condescendingly questioned why I was alone. I kept telling them that I’m traveling alone, and that’s why I’m alone. But they just kept asking me and asking me, and finally at the end they told me I shouldn’t be walking around alone at night (it was like 8 pm so it wasn’t even late). I said, “OK thank you,” and walked away. I felt like crying; the police made me feel like a loser, like of course I should have friends to walk around with. (This was the low of my trip.)
  • Mayan kids are SO CUTE!!!! I loved meeting them walking around the towns and attempting to talk to them.
  • Mayan art is beautiful
  • The lake water is really warm
  • The boat drivers who take you from town to town are a little insane; they go as fast as they can with no regard for how choppy the water is. It’s like tubing, except you didn’t ask to go tubing and you’re getting thrown around on really uncomfortable seats.
  • The lake is truly magical; it’s so relaxed, the locals are incredibly kind, and the backpackers I’ve met here (more Santa Cruz than San Pedro) are so open and warm. I can see why people end up staying here for months and months.
  • On bus ride back to airport: saw a cow grazing on top of a building!!


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General observations about the country:

  • Locals will hop in/out of shuttles from the side of the road at any time. Shuttle drivers pick them up, the passenger will say where they’re going, and then when they’re getting off they hand the driver a couple dollars. Very relaxed– even teenagers do it.
  • Guatemalans are generally very friendly and helpful; I never felt ashamed to ask how to get somewhere or where something was.
  • Infrastructure of all types is very flexible here: schedules, tickets, prices, etc. are never really set in stone. It’s good because it makes it easy to bend rules and get around easily, but it’s hard because it’s not something I’m used to. I’m used to set prices that don’t require haggling, set schedules and set procedures of companies I’m dealing with.
    • Not sure which I prefer: A culture where nothing is clearly laid out, but everyone around you will readily help you figure things out (Guatemala), or a culture where the systems are set and information is readily available, but people aren’t as friendly or helpful (USA).
  • Supermarkets aren’t as common as they are in the States. There are a lot of ‘tiendas’ or small stores, but these don’t sell any produce, just snacks and drinks. Most people buy their produce and meat at outdoor markets, which I found really interesting. It makes everything a lot more local.
  • The Guatemalan landscape is so diverse. There is farmland, mountains, volcanoes, huge lakes, rivers, etc. The scenery while driving through the country always varies so much, it’s beautiful.
  • AMERICANS DON’T TRAVEL ALONE. And those who do travel are in groups and are rare. Almost every other foreigner I met was from the UK, Australia, Scandinavia or the Netherlands. The only other Americans I met were university students studying in Guatemala. This makes me wonder why Americans don’t travel as much as Europeans… I may explore this further in a future post.
  • Dead frogs everywhere (WHY?)
  • Stray dogs everywhere
  • Public urination is common and normal

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