After wandering for about 40 minutes and discovering that there is no ATM which is easily accessible at the Guatemala City Airport I was finally able to convince a driver to take me to Antigua with the promise of payment on arrival if he’d stop at an ATM.
The drive is a mixture of feast and famine. Winding our way through the various Zonas of Guatemala City you see up close and personal the abject poverty that affects many in this Capitol City but even within these poor communities, the strong pride is evident. September 15 is Guatemalan independence day and all over people are selling flags and hanging them from cars, out of windows and off their person. It’s a sea of blue and white and I look forward to seeing how this country celebrates its independence.
As we make our way up into the hills I converse with my driver in my halting, half-forgotten Spanish asking questions about the areas we’re driving through, some of the signs on the road and the purpose of the parade of children we had just passed. He delights in telling me all manner of things and I catch maybe 25% of what he says. For the rest I just nod and smile or shake my head and frown, depending on his cues. One of the cuter sites we see is a block-long section of parked cars with people standing in front of them selling puppies. Each car has a different breed and it’s like looking at a giant puppy park. Their cute puppy faces bring a smile until I realize that if they don’t sell it’s likely that nothing good will happen to them.
It’s easy to tell when we get to the expat areas. The sprawling developments are sparkling clean, perched on the side of mountains which command imposing views and are behind 12’ high compound walls guarded by men with automatic weapons… If there’s one thing we Americans are good at it’s blending into the local background. 🙂
The final drop into Antigua is a series of sweeping turns through a lush jungle that occasionally falls away into deep valleys. Signs of recent rainfall are visible all along the route as piles of fresh dirt piled on the side of the road. At this point, I’ve not heard about the landslides that killed several dozen people only 20 miles to the north of where I was driving – that’s probably a good thing.
Antigua is as I remember it. A curious mix of old and new with bright Coke signs hanging on pockmarked pastel ruins. The ache in my tooth intensifies as we hit the famous cobble stone streets and the shocks on the cab prove that they’re not up to the task of a smooth ride on these ancient streets. After a brief hunt for a working ATM my cab driver deposits me on the doorstep of the hostel which will be my home for the evening and with a cheerful “adios” takes off in a cloud of black exhaust.