19. April: The night drive to Guatemala City was quite comfortable. There were good, wide seats in the bus, enough legroom, air conditioning, smooth suspension.
Somewhere along the way the road gets hillier, rougher. It's getting warmer. Perhaps the driver has shut down the air conditioner to save power to drive uphill. They serve coffee and sweets, it's great service on-board! We finally arrive at the Linea Dorada bus station in Guatemala City Calle 16 at about 5:20 in the morning.
The bus station is behind locked gates, the gates opened up to let the bus in and closed as soon as the bus was inside. Outside, there are many people milling about along with many taxis and taxi drivers. A lot of them are trying to get our attention, but we don't bite.
We'd got a room reserved at the 'Chalet Suizo'. We checked the city map in the Lonely Planet to see how we could walk there, taking Guatemala City crime into account. It looked like a walk of only a few blocks, so we assumed we'd be able to walk it. We decide to wait in the waiting room of the small bus terminal till daylight, which should be in half an hour or so. At about 6:00 it turns daylight and we decide to walk to our hotel now.
Holding the LP in front of me, I guide us. The hotel is quite easy to find. I'm delighted that there is even someone at the reception to welcome us. Even more so, there is even a room available for us to check in right away! What luck!!
Chalet Suizo is a clean, airy hotel, with a middle courtyard area. We're upstairs, in a good, clean room.
We go straight into the shower after that long ride (the last shower was in our Tikal lodge, more than 24h ago) and relax in bed, really tired after the long bus trip. It must have been seven in the morning and we both were dead tired, but it was great! I immediately fell asleep afterwards and wake up at 9:40.
It's very difficult to for us get up, but we force ourselves and go to town.
We walk to the Palacio National (Presidential Palace). It seems they spent loads of money on this building, but architecture-wise it is so-so... we were so spoiled in Cuba! Entrance is free. I must deposit my bag but can take along my camera inside.
There is a painting exhibition with pictures of many contemporary painters inside. There are lots of naive paintings of daily Guatemalan life as well, which are quite interesting.
It's getting lunch time. There are some Chinese restaurants nearby according to LP, so we set off in their direction.
Conveniently enough, there are several Chinese restaurants clustered together on the same street, so we can choose. The ones recommended by Lonely Planet seem rather full and none too clean, so we look further. We find the 'China Hilton' just nearby, which looks clean, friendly - and - empty. Not having any people would signify that something was wrong but we decided to take the chance.
It turned out that the food wasn't really tasty. Pity.
Next on our list to see was the Museo Popol Vuh, having a good collection of pre-Colombian relics.
The museum was a fair distance away and, still believing the Lonely Planet author that taking buses in Guatemala City was the easiest and cheapest thing to do, we waited at a bus stop for a bus that would take us in the direction of the Museum. Asking for bus information was difficult, even bus conductors gave conflicting information. It turned out that Bus 83 to Aeropuerto was the bus to catch, so we waited. And waited. And waited.
So many busses passed us by, but none was the right one. There was no bus timetable available, and the bus destinations written in large letters over the windshield didn't ring a bell. I started scanning the map to find one of them but wasn't successful. It turned out that the bus stop for 83 for a bit further on, and soon enough, after waiting for a short time, the right one arrived.
Eventually the bus did reach the airport, not along the route we expected but by another one which didn't pass anywhere near the Museum! So now we were at the airport were back to square one!
Annewien was great, she didn't make a big fuss out of it but gently cajoled me into taking a taxi and asking the nearest one how much the fare would be. Taxis are expensive in Guatemala City, the driver wants 40Q, we bargain him down to 30.
The museum Popol Vuh is extremely neat, very modern, air-conditioned and new. It's had surprisingly few visitors. The presentation of the exhibits is in about 15 separate rooms, everything is extremely well laid out, the exhibits are very good and the museum would be high ranking by even international standards. There was a quiz about the exhibits (targeted towards competition-minded schoolchildren) which I wanted to complete. We did and won a small "prize" of two postcards. It was fun!
Just next door is Popol's sister Museum, Ixchel. This museum concentrates on textiles. It has a more hands-on style and you can try on various Maya hair adornments yourself, such as special ribbon-tying techniques (called "tocados"). There had a large exhibition of well-done, seemingly authentic oil portraits of many Maya tribes, displaying differences in clothing and adornments. They had a well-stocked gift shop and an exhibition of another painter with various nudes, mostly at the beach. We tried to get a book on tocado-tying techniques at the shop, but were unsuccessful.
Our time is up. We stop by a McDonalds by the way, have a pack of large fries and a large coke together and we continue on to the bus stop. Strangely enough, I was still inexplicably insisting on taking a bus, in spite of our problems in getting one that same afternoon! Without me realizing it, I guess this did cause a bit of friction between us at that moment.
Once again it takes a long time for the bus to arrive. We don't quite have a consensus what we should do next: go to the hotel or to an internet cafñ, Annewien would rather go to the Hotel. I felt that it was getting dark, and if we wanted to check our emails, we should do it now before the cafñ's are closed. We decided to quickly go to our room and then continue from there.
I somehow lost us on the way to the hotel (it turned out I was on the right track and just one street away from the hotel, but I felt the street was a bit too dark for us to be correct). I steered us around and we asked several times before we found Chalet Suizo at last.
We asked the guy at the reception where we could find an internet cafñ, and he told us that there was one just a block away. Luckily it was still open and we started checking our emails. The place was packed and communication was very slow. I tried printing some emails but the configuration of the system and of the remote printer was none to easy to set right and it took a bit of fiddling by the system supervisor to get it to work. I was regularly mailing my mother, the guys in my office and some other people. Madeleine from San Jose, Costa Rica has replied, saying she would indeed pick us up at the airport. She wrote us that we should stay put just outside the airport until she arrived. Well, that was great that she had replied so fast! I got replies from two team leaders to questions I had asked them. Gisela sent a rather dreary mail saying the Cuban love she had found wasn't one after all and that they had broken up.
The hotel receptionist had also recommended us a "very good" place to eat. We found it easily. It was in old Spanish colonial style and quite elegant. The interior of the restaurant somehow seemed quite foreign to Guatemala, such was the difference in style to other restaurants we had seen. They had prices to match, which we were not willing to pay, so we decided to just drink a beer and move on to look for another place. Even beer was unashamedly expensive at 18Q each, but they did present us with some sweets with hearts with the bill.
We walk on while Guatemala City was closing down.
We were lucky to find another rather unobtrusive and hidden Restaurant near our hotel. It had a Spanish style similar to the other restaurant, but they had acceptable prices and very good food. Great! Annewien and me discuss my situation at work over dinner and how to go about solving the problems.
On the way to the restaurants we had found a Salsa Disco which was just opening up. The owners beckoned us in, but the place was dark and empty, but there was music playing, so we decided to take a look in after dinner. We return to see whether there was more going in the meantime. There was just loud disco music blaring, so we decide to call it a day.