Guatemala City, search for Tourist Office
7. April (Saturday): We wake early, since we need to find a new hotel to stay. The Holiday Inn is a tad too expensive. We also need a tourist office to book our further travel within Guatemala. LP lists the official tourist office to be just a few blocks away from the hotel so we check out of the hotel, deposit our bags at the porter and set off on foot in search of the tourist office.
Most towns and cities in Guatemala have a nice way of naming streets, they don't have names but rather numbers. In towns based upon a grid layout, the roads in one direction are called 'Calles' and those perpendicular to them 'Avendidas'. So if you can count, you should be able to find your way around town. But then Guatemala City has the added complexity of 'Zonas', it's divided into zones, each of which has it's own street-numbering. Furthermore, there are some diagonal streets as well
Well, to cut a long story short we didn't find the tourist office, it had moved, and a travel agent gave us some information and an info-book about Guatemala which was quite helpful, with lots of hotel addresses all over Guatemala. He said since today was Saturday and also nearly Easter (Semana Santa), the only tourist office open would be at the airport.
We decide to walk to the airport and that was a bit of misjudgement, since it's quite a long walk. Luckily Guatemala City has a bit of elevation (1000m) so it wasn't as burning hot as in Havana.
Reaching the airport we try to enter the arrival hall but the security man wouldn't allow us saying it was reserved for arriving passengers only! Annewien managed to convince him to get someone from the tourist office to the door and when he was there we explained that we'd like to go to the town of 'Antigua Guatemala' tomorrow and we'd like to book a room there. He was off and booked us one. He said we could take the shuttle bus from the airport tomorrow. He also booked us a room in Guatemala City for the night.
We then took bus 83 from the airport into Guatemala City to take a first look at the town and get a bite to eat. The bus was slow and it took ages to get to the centre.
We walked around a bit and decided to eat in a local restaurant which looked friendly. The food was ok and strange (I didn't really know what I was eating) but service was good.
We then continued to Plaza Mayor, which is enormously large, in the centre of the city and caught an Easter procession starting from the church there. The people were carrying large floats on their shoulders with religious figures on them. A brass band with a drum played extremely sombre music and they marched to it.
We hung around the plaza, having a beer and looking at the short, funny Guatemalan Mayas and the goings on (ice cream sellers ringing their bells, a man selling brightly coloured, flavoured ice).
Afterwards, we decided to get our bags from the Holiday Inn and check to the hotel which we booked. We waited at the main road at the place where we expected a bus to arrive but no number 83 arrived. This was the first of a number of length frustrating failures to catch this bus line. Eventually we took a taxi to Holiday Inn and fetched our bags.
We tell the driver to continue to our other hotel and now he starts saying how bad it is, it's in a bad part of town and he knows a much better hotel for much less money. I should have known NEVER to trust a taxi driver who tries to recommend something, but he said it so convincingly and looking at the area where our hotel would be, we decided to go his way. He led us a bit out of town to two hotels. The first was full and the second had a room without any windows for quite a steep price. Well, that's what you get! I was quite mad at the guy and even more so at myself, since in my uncertainty I hadn't asked him about the additional cost and he was now asking for a hefty supplement. I don't accept this and we manage to agree on a lower fare.
We deposit our bags in the room and set out around the corner to a small fast food restaurant. The place has a man with a shotgun guarding it. We have some beers there and then return to our room.
By now it is dark.
As we turn the corner, I notice a pickup with about 10 men carrying weapons taking the corner and stopping hard just in front of us, cutting off our way. The men leap out and surround us!
They tell us to drop our bags and to put our hands in the air. Seeing they are dressed like police, I'm not too nervous, but you never know what mischief they're up to! They tell us to put our hands in the air and they're all carrying shotguns. They start body-searching me for weapons and a policewoman does the same to Annewien. They want to look in our bags but then soon notice that we're harmless tourists and they let us go.
Annewien was quite shaken by this event and needed more than one cigarette to calm down again.
Back at the hotel we buy a map of Guatemala and need to pay the room in advance. The receptionist was the first Guatemalan I noticed saying the typical 'ah-hah', which is uttered in a nasal, melodic (low-high) and humble manner and is a universal substitute for 'yes' and 'ok'.
Our room is terrible! It's small, no windows, somehow grubby if not really dirty. It's warm inside and I request the remote control for the air conditioner. It's just on the takeoff lane of the airport and throughout the night I feel that we were just going to have a Boeing land on our bed. Everything was vibrating!
This was to be the worst hotel room of our entire trip, by far.
I sleep on and off through the night.