Friday, July 16, 2010

Pics from Guatemala-Part 1

When I arrived in Guatemala City this past June 17th, it was pretty late-due to no fault of our own, a thunderstorm in Miami delayed our flight by almost 2 hours. As we passed through the airport, I wondered where the people were...albeit it was late, but apparently there have been some changes and friends and family members now have to wait outside in the pick up area for their loved ones to arrive. With no seating that could be seen, I wondered how my in-laws had been able to stand for almost 3 hours straight, while waiting for us to finally show up. There were no signs outside showing flight status, so they had no idea what happened to the plane or why we were arriving so much later than originally planned.

The first thing I noticed was the heat... it was humid and it was supposed to be winter! Seeing native Guatemalans with long sleeves and jackets on made me start sweating profusely, granted I usually don't wear a jacket myself until its 40 degrees out anyways, lol. The second thing I noticed... the air quality. In addition to the humidity, the air was filled with smoke and the smells of very bad exhaust systems. Apparently Guatemala does not have the same laws we have in regards to emissions control-or if they do, they certainly are not enforced. I noticed vehicles that would have been sent to the junk yard years ago still on the road, and seat belts are not enforced-and neither are car seats for children. I observed whole families piling into ancient autos with kids sitting on parents laps, moms breastfeeding in the back... and no car seats whatsoever. Even my own brother in law had his 4 year old son on his lap as we headed to their house... and in my mind I just kept thinking "We are SO going to get a ticket for this." Even when we were stopped on Ruta Atlantico by one of the (in)famous roadblocks on our way back, the soldiers carrying very big guns didn't give the overcrowded 4 Runner or the obviously unbuckled occupants a second glance, they just peered in, and decided we didn't need to be searched further, and then waved us through.

As time went on, my lungs became accustomed to the pollution and smog in the air and seeing the chicken buses (old, retired US school buses) spewing smoke was old news. I never rode on one there, partly because we had a vehicle during our stay, but also because it was just too darn crowded... people were hanging out the door, on top, you name it, if they could fit, they were brought onto the bus. One funny thing I saw was when we went to my hubby's hometown. The road is very curvy, and ravines without guardrails are the norm. These bus chauffeurs (as they call themselves lol) drive like maniacs on these curves, and they had one very wild looking man on the back, hanging on for dear life as we rounded a particularly dangerous curve. The guy was shirtless, his hair blowing in the wind and a wild look in his eyes... unfortunately, the pants he had gotten from someone were way too big for him, and before our eyes (I covered my daughters lol) his pants began to slide down until they finally found a comfortable resting place around his ankles. The dude continued on for the ride, unable or unwilling to haul his pants back up, with only the gifts that God gave him. Lucky for him, I'd left my camera back at the house.

One thing you will notice is the paint jobs on these buses. Great care goes into naming your bus (either the name of wife, daughter, girlfriend etc... from what I was told people here name their buses AND even their cars or vehicles.) and the designs are amazing, from naked lady silhouettes on one side to the Virgin of Guadalupe on the other-each bus is different and those that ride them regularly pretty much know which bus they need to use to get from point A to point B. It helps (for beginners like me, lol)that the buses also have signs in the front stating their destinations.

The Ruta Atlantico is a major highway, and thousands of cars travel it daily to get to the city center. Not too far from where we stayed, there was MetroNorte, which is kind of a mall and entertainment center. Pizza Hut, Burger King, Pollo Campero and McDonald's are all close by. I felt right at home, lemme tell you. Now I like Guatemalan food and all, but if I was craving a Big Mac I knew just where to go to get what I needed. (trust me, hubby visited there several times for me) One thing I noticed of course, was the usual armed guards everywhere. Stores, pharmacies, you name it, if they can afford it, they have armed guards. When you enter MetroNorte, you receive a parking ticket-you keep that on you, and when you leave, you present the ticket to the attendant. Apparently it is supposed to be a theft deterrent, if the person that stole your car can't produce the ticket at the time they are leaving, then they are stopped by these big, burly guards. So, make sure you keep your ticket on your person (not on the windshield of your auto or in the car, you just might not ever see your vehicle and make sure you don't lose your ticket, so keep it in a safe place. I did not use a purse while in Guatemala, I am not a fan of leaving my purse or other shopping bags in locked locker while shopping in a store-so I just carried my money in my front pocket. Be aware that over there, if you take a purse into the store, (such as Walmart here) you will be required to check it into a locked locker which is guarded by a security guard. You will be given a card or a number, and upon leaving the store after you have made your purchases, you go to claim your purse and other items in the locker. For me, that was a huge pain in the butt the first few times, so I quickly adapted... more on that later.

Another photo on here is the Puente Belice, during the most recent Tropical Storm Agatha, this is basically the only area that had mudslides and damage in the area of the Ruta Atlantico. Looking at it, I can see why-hundreds of homes are built, or should I say, perched precariously on the edges of the cliffs and ravines. While the view is beautiful especially at night, I wonder how these people can live like this. I understand now, why countries such as Haiti (with similar building styles) suffer such a loss of life and so much damage to the infrastructure...just seeing these homes almost ready to plunge into the abyss was enough to make me a nervous wreck. I worry because of seismic activity, and of course mudslides. So many homes we saw are so very close to the edge or even hanging over a bit. The view is gorgeous, but I would rather have a home on solid ground, FLAT solid ground, than worry about plunging down the ravine at some point in the future. One thing though, is necessary, a car with standard transmission is a must when dealing with these roads. There is no way my automatic Mazda 3 could go up some of these hills-so it looks like learning standard transmission is in my future if I plan on driving on future visits to the family.

I have lots more pics and stories to tell, I will be posting as I can since this virus is still on my computer and it shuts my browser down at times. I will also be doing a few reviews, choosing winners tomorrow and sending out prizes. Have a wonderful weekend.


hondaray6 said...

What an adventure you had, Michele! Thanks for sharing your stories and pics...I'll be waiting for more! Glad you are back on flat ground! By the way, you can't fool me. I just know you got pics of the guy on the bus! You just don't want to share! ;-)

Michele P. said...

haha, I was thinking of stopping random men on the street and taking pics and then making a calendar "the men of Guatemala" but hubby wouldn't let me! I am sure I'd have a few buyers here lol.