Day 48: Guatemala City - Panajachel (1)

Guatemala City Travel Blog

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Guatemala City is not a nice city. The city doesn’t pretend to be nice, it doesn’t want to be nice and it probably won’t ever be nice. It is one of the most dangerous cities in the world and not many travellers actually visit the place. True, you can’t really avoid it, as planes and buses have the tendency to stop here, but most people leave the city as soon as they arrive, and rightfully so.

The main reason for not being nice is because the city is said to be very dangerous. Well, the whole country is supposed to be dangerous, and so far we hadn’t really noticed much of that. But apparently Guatemala City is a place where people are getting robbed, killed or both en masse. A few days ago I was reading a national newspaper with some statistics. So far this year 82 people have died in Guatemala City alone. 61 of those were people between 15 and 30 years of age. 95% of these were killed by firearms and 40% of those had been mercy kills in the head.
And I am talking about the year I travelled here, at the actual time of travelling, don’t get me wrong, it was the year to date. The statistics had been measured between 1 and 22 January 2003!!!

We arrived at 4.30 in the morning at the bus station, and a guard at the station asked us where we were going. We wanted to leave Guatemala City right away (as everybody had advised us) and travel straight on to Panajachel. The guard advised us to stay indoors until sunrise, as it would be too dangerous. As if to add extra weight to his words he positioned himself in front of the door, shotgun in his hand ready to fire. And nobody could leave, nor could anyone enter without showing a bus ticket. Boy did we feel safe now.
Around six o’clock the city seemed alive enough to take a taxi to the other bus station, from where the first bus to Panachajel would leave at 7. The guard hailed a cab for us, and escorted us to the car, telling us to keep the luggage with us on the back seat and not to put it in the trunk.
The driver brought us to the other bus station, but it seemed the bus had already departed. He consulted a guy working at the station, and they both decided we couldn’t stay here to wait for the next bus, as it would be too dangerous. Instead he drove us to the head office of the bus company, where the next bus would come within half an hour.

And indeed, less than half an hour waiting in the cold later a bus appeared, bearing the destination ‘Panajachel’. Perhaps I should explain Guatemalan buses. Basically there are two types of buses, luxury buses, like the one we had last night, and normal buses. The luxury buses are the type of touring cars that you see everywhere in Latin America, most of them comfortable enough for an overnight journey. The normal buses are basically old school buses from the US and Canada, which have become obsolete in those countries and replaced for newer models, and have been dumped in this country under the guise of charity. These buses are often painted in bright vivid colours, and if possible adorned with messages addressed to the great Lord. Because more often than not people travel these buses while accompanied by their entire livestock (chickens, pigs, et cetera) these buses are often aptly called ‘Chicken buses’.

Once again we were warned that our bags would not be safe anywhere apart from on our laps. And even then we had to put our arms through the straps and not let go of the zips. While the buses are waiting people are walking in and out all the time, and while most of these people are just salesmen selling food or junk, it seemed perfectly logical that bags can easily sprout legs and walk off on their own on these buses.
But it was so hard to believe all the horror stories. The people were so incredibly friendly, and kind. They were really worried about the wellbeing of tourists. 99% of the Guatemalans find it awful that there is so much criminality.

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