Posted by: Jack | November 7, 2007

Guatemala – Antigua – The First Time Around

While riding to Antigua in a taxi, the driver informed me that October 20th (that day) is when Guatemalans celebrate the overthrow of dictator Jorge Ubico in 1944. Among other things, this meant that my traveler’s cheques would be useless for the next two days as all banks would be closed.

Anna and I planned to meet at a little hostel known as La Casa Amarillo (The Yellow House) and as I walked in the door, sure enough, she heard my voice and came running out to greet me. After three weeks apart and a full 24 hours of travel it was a very welcome reunion.

As this hotel was at the only address I knew in all of Guatemala, I had told the airline to deliver my bag there when it arrived. Since only one flight comes from LAX each day, we chose to stay the night. Having checked in, we were invited to enjoy the complimentary breakfast spread. Although not truly representative of typical Guatemalan cuisine, the mix of very fresh fruits and sweet breads were excellent. Coffee however, left a little something to be desired. While the country produces a great deal of coffee, their economy practically insists that every bean gets exported. At least nine times out of ten, the coffee served down there is instant…and weak…and the “milk” comes from a powder as well.

Unfortunately I was instructed by United to remain at the address I provided as I would have to be present to sign for my bag if it showed up. I was also informed that my bag might come on another airline so it could arrive at any time. So basically I was supposed to spend my first day sitting in the tiny hotel.

We took our chances and walked around town a bit but the weather was cool and wet so we found ourselves back at the hotel soon anyway. While on the town we tried a number of times to call the airline and check if my bag had arrived and in the event that it had not, to ask them to just hold the bag there until we could pick it up. Pretty much everyone in the country has a cell phone now and they’re super cheap but when it comes to landlines, the infrastructure just isn’t up to par. Trying one number after another and paying for every call, I could only come up with a message, in Spanish, saying that the number was not in service. Not having my bag was disappointing but not being able to do anything about it went way beyond aggravating.

That evening we found a little restaurant offering a spaghetti dinner special. For less than $3 we had our choice of a wide variety of sauces and a mojito to wash it all down.

The following morning, after a tremendous Sunday brunch at the hotel, we tried yet again to contact the airline and check on my bag and again had no luck. The plan for the day was to head to Cobán which meant passing through Guate anyway so we decided to just stop at the airport and take care of it in person…and hopefully walk away with my pack.

We grabbed a chicken bus — the informal term for the public transit buses, pretty much all of which are retired U.S. school buses, by far the cheapest way to travel — and set out for the capitol city. To get an idea of the situation on these buses, consider that generally each seat which was originally intended for two children, is packed until it eventually contains three or four adults. Also consider that children basically don’t count so if a woman is traveling with three children there can be four adults on a two-child-bench as well as three children sitting/standing on the woman’s lap. And the whole idea of keeping the isle free as a safety precaution would only be met with laughter if it were ever suggested to the bus driver or money-taking assistant. Eventually a bus with a posted maximum capacity of 40-50 persons will easily contain 100+ passengers.

After navigating the Guate street markets in the rain and catching another bus to the airport we found that United is only open from 4 am until 11 am each day. It was already well past noon. We were eventually able to coerce a representative from another airline to check the baggage manifest and found that my bag had not arrived. Not wanting to stay in the city we basically just gave up on the pack and decided to head for Cobán. In addition to money and travel documents, I had my flip-flops, one pair of pants, one t-shirt, one sweatshirt, one pair of boxers, a camera, sunglasses and a sack of juggling balls.

Still having no way of cashing traveler’s cheques we luckily found a hotel that would exchange some dollars. Thus we were able to buy some modest snacks and two tickets to Cobán on what is referred to as a first class bus. Basically this means that you get to reserve a seat and, in theory, the bus doesn’t stop every five minutes to pick up more passengers. The sun set a short while before we reached Cobán and we checked into a cozy little dorm-style hostel called San Juan Acala. It hadn’t been the greatest of days but the little cakes we bought for the bus ride were quite tasty.

Blue Line on the Progress Map

At this point you may be asking, “Where are all the pictures?” Don’t worry, they are coming. It was rainy and gray thus far and my focus was on getting my pack so the camera didn’t even come out of it’s case until we reached Cobán.

Next: Cobán to Semuc Champey

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Responses

  1. […] Next: Antigua to Cobán […]

  2. […] Guatemala – Antigua – The First Time AroundWhile riding to Antigua in a taxi, the driver informed me that October 20th (that day) is when Guatemalans celebrate the overthrow of dictator Jorge Ubico in 1944. Among other things, this meant that my traveler’s cheques would be … […]

  3. […] Guatemala – Antigua – The First Time AroundAs this hotel was at the only address I knew in all of Guatemala, I had told the airline to deliver my bag there when it arrived. Since only one flight comes from LAX each day, we chose to stay the night. Having checked in, we were … […]

  4. […] Guatemala – Antigua – The First Time AroundWhile riding to Antigua in a taxi, the driver informed me that October 20th (that day) is when Guatemalans celebrate the overthrow of dictator Jorge Ubico in 1944. Among other things, this meant that my traveler’s cheques would be … […]


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