Sep
20
2008
0

First day in C.A.

Rainbow Cafe

Rainbow Cafe

Sitting in a lovely cafe in Antigua with WiFi!

I think I’m really going to like Guatemala, as soon as I learn how to communicate. Everyone’s been friendly and genuine so far. Even the hustlers and touts – they’re not overly aggressive like I found in Bali or elsewhere. They’re actually friendly and helpful in addition to wanting something from you. At least the ones I’ve met so far…

A quick recap of the last 24 hours:

Dulles to Atlanta was quick and fine. Managed to stay awake during the 2 hour layover. Atlanta to Guatemala City passed quickly. Must have nodded off. Made it through customs and immigration no problem. It was like Europe – they hardly glance at you before stamping passport w/ a 3-month entry.

The airport was incredibly clean and modern. Spacious and spotless, it put New York to shame. The ATM was broken, so I exchanged cash at the booth.

Went outside to find a shuttle bus to Antigua. Lots of guys holding signs, clamoring for your business. Chose a reputable looking one who spoke English. $10 was the going rate, but I would need to wait an hour for more people to show up and fill the van. Or, I could go now for $20…? Said I would wait it out. We played this game for a while.. he assigned a kid to look after me and make sure I didn’t try to run off with some other company while he went to drum up business. After I made a few mock attempts at leaving, he returned with a couple (mother and son from Costa Rica who spoke English) who were also headed to Antigua. The three of us piled into a cab. Not sure what happened to the shuttle bus or if the hawker ever got his money. Maybe the cabbie gave him a kickback, but it seemed like there just weren’t that many tourists that day, so he gave up and just put us in a taxi.

The ride out of town was pleasant. We passed through some poor neighborhoods, but overall the infrastructure was better than I was expecting. There seems to be a healthy middle class here. Most of the cars are comparable to average American ones, the roads were quite nice and smoothly paved, and we even passed a fancy mall that looked like it could have been in Orange County.

After soaking up the scenery for a while, I got to chatting with the Costa Rican. We exchanged contacts, and he offered to show me around if I make down that way. He’s planning to come to New York in about a year.

The rain came harder and harder, and parts of the road turned into rivers. In America this would have been labeled a flash flood and made the news. Here, it’s normal for this time of year. The drivers took it all in stride, went slow, and pushed on through. After about 90 minutes, the 6-lane superhighway we were on suddenly turned into cobblestones. We had arrived in Antigua. It’s a lovely colonial town that’s been perfectly preserved, and is now listed by UNESCO, i think.

We stopped at the Costa Rican’s hotel, and while it would have been nice to stay in the same place as my new friend, it was more than I wanted to pay ($42). So the cabbie took me to one I had picked out of the book. Upon arrival, the guard questioned my idea that a hotel existed there. It was now simply a cafe with the same name, but he acted like it didn’t even used to be a hotel. Perhaps he was new in town. Or perhaps my book is really screwy!

So I proceeded to walk back across town to where said book listed several other cheap hotels. Although I had an umbrella, I was still getting pretty wet. Finding the first one on my list (no small feat, since none of the streets are marked with their names!), this hotel was also pricey. As I was walking to the third hotel, a guy came out of nowhere offering wonderful things at some hotel he was promoting. Having nothing to lose and pretty wet by this point, I checked it out. Along the way, he tried selling me on various trips, that I should really do my language school with him in Antigua rather than where I was going, etc. Like I said at the top, he was nice enough and even taught me a bit of Spanish along with the hustle.

Anyway, I didn’t like the look of the hotel he took me to, nor the next one. Although they were in my price range (100 Quetzals, about $13), the rooms were dark and depressing. So off we went to the one I was headed to before he sidetracked me. This one was perfect. Well, at least serviceable. A four-poster bed with en suite bathroom. Basic, but clean. Large window out onto the street (second floor). I don’t mind the noise, in fact I like being connected to the city in this way. Good people watching, too. There is hot water only certain times of day. Q150, or $20 a night. Not sure if it might have been cheaper if the tout weren’t with me.

It was about 4pm by this point, and I proceeded to pull everything out of my pack to let it dry. [Challenging, with 100% humidity!] Turns out my pack isn’t waterproof. I remember reading on some message board that packs don’t generally come waterproofed, but that of course left my mind and I didn’t do anything about it. I doubt I’ll be able to find waterproofing spray here, which sucks. Most everything is in individual stuff sacks, but those of course aren’t entirely waterproof either. Lesson two: I should have brought more plastic bags to wrap things in, like the books!

After exploding my pack, I knew I should head out to find food, since I hadn’t eaten in so long. But boy, was I tired. OK, I’ll just lay down for an hour, then head out. You guessed it – in spite of my alarm, an hour turned into 3, which turned into 5, which turned into this morning. After my 17-hour nap, I finally forced myself to get up. The hot water in the shower eventually came, which made me happy. After organizing things back into the pack (the rain had stopped, which allowed things to dry), I headed out in search of sustenance.

Antigua has become a tourist maven, so there are many cafes catering to people like me who want a big healthy breakfast at all hours of the day. The Rainbow Cafe is my new heaven. Amazingly good coffee, scrambled eggs, perfectly done bacon, a delicious black bean mash, toast, yogurt banana licuado, all for $8. And free WiFi to boot! [You don’t suppose it all tasted so good because I hadn’t eaten in so long and was just so happy to be here, do you??]

Although it was warm and sunny this morning, the clouds are rolling in and the temperature is dropping. Oh well, I wasn’t planning on doing much today anyway, just getting acclimated and chilling out. I got a hold of the director of my language school, and he’ll be sending someone around to pick me up at my hotel tomorrow. It’s either a 4 hour drive or a 2.5 hour drive followed by a 1 hour boat ride to San Pedro La Laguna, the small Mayan village where I’ll be spending the next several weeks studying Espanol. [If I could figure out how to get the tilde over that “n”, you know I would.]

A couple of technical notes:

The photos are not great quality because I’ve been taking them with iPhone (grammar courtesy of Apple) and posting them directly to the blog through the WordPress app. If anyone can tell me how I can get the photos from my good digital camera up to cyberspace, then from the cloud to the blog, I’d appreciate it.

Feel free to leave comments! It will be nice to see who is actually reading this stuff, and fun for us to keep in touch that way.

OK, I’m off in search of a SIM card.

A typically brightly painted ¨chicken bus¨

A typically brightly painted ¨chicken bus¨ - formerly American school buses

Typical street view in Antigua

Typical street view in Antigua

Horse and carriage still used

Horse and carriage still used

After church

After church. It´s common for families to ride in the back of pick-ups.

more photos:"Chicken Bus" parking lot w/ ice cream vendor

Fruit vendor

Fruit vendor

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