Saturday, July 17, 2010

Adventures in El Centro (City Center) Guatemala CIty

We ended up having to go to El Centro as they call it (downtown business district as we'd say) a few times during our trip. There are certain times of the day that you don't want to be headed in that direction, mainly the morning and afternoon rush hours-which seems funny, because judging by the line of cars headed into or out of the city at those times, no one is rushing anywhere.

In addition to smoke from nasty exhaust systems (the first few times, I kept the windows rolled up, as time went on, my lungs adjusted and I was able to keep the windows down and enjoy the breeze and smog) coming from the buses and ancient cars still on the road, I was surprised by how many people are crowded into the city. I am pretty sure Guatemala City has around 2 million inhabitants, and if I stuck around long enough I probably would have seen my fair share of them. Another thing I noticed, people, especially men, like to sit around in parks and watch other people go by. Parks seems to be a social gathering point for friends, young lovers, people looking for love, and everything in between. If I had more time, I would have enjoyed sitting on a bench and done some people watching myself.

I could never go hungry in Guatemala City, there are food vendors everywhere-from little cornerside lunch stands, 5 star restaurants, comedors (dining rooms) to people selling stuff out of the front room of their homes-it seems everyone is selling something to eat. However, on a somber note: There ARE people going hungry there. Many people live in such extreme poverty that getting just the basic 3 daily meals is a struggle. There were handicapped beggars, children beggars, and elderly beggars. We kept quetzales on hand for those occasions-FYI a quetzal is worth about .12 our money, and hubby or myself or even Deja would hand out quetzales to people needing help along the way. Not everyone got money though, because hubby felt that those that were able to work could in effect do something to earn their money, while the elderly or people without limbs could not. It was hard to pass the street beggars, but most people in the city continued on-walking right past them. Of course, me being white, with blonde hair and blue eyes we were standing targets for every beggar to come out of the woodwork and hit us up for money. Hubby took it in stride, and we both felt good about being able to help-even if sometimes we knew that we were being taken advantage of-it just seemed to come with the territory.

Here you will see a guy getting ready to make Shukos. Shukos FYI are kind of like hot dogs with lots of different toppings-the guy in the photo was setting up his stand for the lunch time rush, and I have to admit, it smelled amazing. No, I did not get a chance to try one-one thing I had to watch out for was vendors selling food that didn't use Agua Pura (purified water). I had made the mistake of ordering from a vendor that didn't, and paid the price for several days until I decided to take my prescribed antibiotics given to me for exactly that purpose. On a good note, I did lose some weight along with my trips to the bathroom. When you see the sign Se Vende Tortillas a los 3 Tiempos, (like the one in the photo above) you know that you can buy your tortillas from this vendor for morning, lunch or dinner-hot and ready to take home to serve with your meal. Since I can't make a decent tortilla, that definitely sounds like an option I would take advantage of. (But my mother in law, as well as all of hubby's sisters and nieces make tortillas-so I doubt I would have to purchase them anywhere else) In the photo, this person is selling tortillas from the front of their home, a few doors down you can buy chiles rellenos, and yet a few more doors down you can buy some tacos. But don't think all of these home sales are licensed by the Department of Health, because most likely they are not.

One thing I do have to mention is that if you DO decide to purchase something from the market, a street vendor, or even cook in your own home-be prepared for flies. At first, I was so grossed out by the tons of flies landing on the food and crawling around that I didn't want to eat. But after a day or two of not eating, I decided what the heck. I mean, we've heard plenty of times about rats in fast food restaurants, and we really don't know what goes on when they are cooking our food at those 5 star restaurants either. Unless you cook it yourself, you cannot really be sure how it is prepared. I did manage to look for vendors that were a bit more sanitary though, and those that had their food covered with tin foil or saran wrap were more likely to get my business than those that did not. Flies even showed up at my mother in law's house, and I begged hubby to let me buy some of those fly strips but we never got around to doing so. Most homes there do NOT have screens, so there is the open window, with bars of course for security-and that is it. Flies and other insects just happen to drop on in, and I told hubby that as soon as we start building our vacation home there I will be looking at screens on the windows-Deja is highly allergic to mosquito bites, and as you can see by the photo, they gave her quite a welcome in her first few days of being in Guatemala. Check out the pic of her arm... all swollen and red. And look at my friend, the mutant cockroach-lucky for me, he was on his back and unable to turn himself around. My mother in law came in and squished him for me because I was too chicken, lol. And I thought June Bugs were huge! Ha, they got nothing on these huge roaches.

The city is a bustling, urban place full of sights, smells (and not all of them pleasant) and people of all shapes and sizes. You will see rich and poor, intermingled and going on with their daily lives. Well-dressed businessmen out for lunch break, buying their favorite food from a local street vendor. Shoe shine boys working diligently while their customers sit reading the local newspaper, La Prensa Libre. Even as you wait at intersections, vendors will come up with something they are trying to sell, or start cleaning your windshield in the hopes they receive a handout. Because the World Cup was going on while we were there, the vendors on the street were selling souvenirs of the different teams, and there were tons of contests and promotions at the fast food restaurants. There were TV's in every business (store, street corner stand, even McDonald's) as all were glued to the World Cup games. It seemed whenever "GOOOOOOOAAAALLL!" was announced, business would stop and everyone would turn to the TV to see who scored. (yup, while waiting for my Big Mac at McD's I even had to patiently wait until people returned to their registers to order...)

So this is part 2 of my adventure... stay tuned for more pics and part 3 soon!

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