I woke up at 7 am because Gissel at to go to work at 8 am and obviously, she didn’t want to leave me the keys, as she didn’t know me much yet! Fortunately, She was living by a big shopping mall “Miraflores” which opened at 10 am but nevermind, I needed to catch up with work and other thing on internet, plus when you arrive somewhere, you always need a day to get yourself the basics: changing currencies, getting yourself a sim-card, make a plan for your road trip and much more!
After I had a fat breakfast at T.G. Friday, I got into to mall and luckily some banks opened at 9 am, but to be honest I was quite disappointed with their interest rate $1 for 7.49 quetzals. It was 8 something for $1 dollar, I got in the country. One thing to remember, Latin America has a very shabby banking system and everything is very slow, comparing to Europe and Northern America. I was convinced I could find something better downtown, so I left these banks and got myself a sim-card from “Claro”, as I could not find another operator in this Mall. I had the same operator in Costa Rica and it was working weird: sometimes, it was super fast, sometimes super slow, sometimes it wouldn’t work at all! (I guess it was because of the country, they don’t really have a great network either in Latin America) anyways, after wandering around, making some calls to 2 couchsurfers to meet, late afternoon, I decided to go the city’s main spot: “Plaza de la constitución” where there’s supposed to be some palaces, churches, and much more! I remembered Gissel’s advice, don’t take public transportation, because you’re gonna be in trouble with local thugs, drug dealers and stuff… The only reliable transportation in Guatemala city is UBER apparently. So, I called one, and I was happily surprised the UBER ride was so cheap: about $4 for about 10-11 km. Good times!
When I got there, well, it felt like a historical center with no maintenance: old buildings with no recent restauration, not accurately built paved square, street sellers trying to sell you whatever rubbish they have, poor people, poor kids running around, bumps, dirt everywhere… Not ideal! I started visiting the “Catedral Metropolitana” big beautiful Roman Catholic Church, two centuries old, I went to the Mercado Central, where you can find all different kind of local products: food, clothes, furniture, house equipment, there are even cantinas where you can have breakfast, lunch and diner. I didn’t buy anything yet, because I didn’t want to carry around in my luggage all the souvenirs for the next 3 weeks. I went down the “Avenida Colonial”, then again I was super careful because I spotted lots of pick-pockets, but nothing happened, fortunately. What really surprised me was all these soldiers, para-militaries, heavily armed security guys everywhere, like they were expecting a bank robbery or a “coup” anywhere, anytime! It was burning hot, pretty much the same temperature as Costa Rica, plus the cars pollution that was contributing to the local “global warming” effect. I went to many banks, I was shocked: each time, I was entering a bank, I had 2 security guys with shotguns and magnums controlling me thoroughly before letting me in and once inside, I realized their currency rate was a reap off, under 7 quetzal for $1! I came to the conclusion that the best currency exchange I saw, was the one in the mall this morning. I decided to go back there! But as soon as I got back there, I had a problem: I wanted to change $1,000, they changed only $500 because they told me it was the maximum amount I could change per month, as I was a foreigner! If I wanted to change more I would need to ask a Guatemalan guy who had already an account at this bank. $500 a month for a tourist! I mean, WTF? How can you even survive a month?! I called Gissel to help me but she said she had no account at this bank and it was the one with the best currency rate, all the others had stupid rates! So I thought, let’s leave it! I’ll come back to this bank tomorrow, looking different and I will talk to a different person.
We’ll see if I get lucky… I had to cancel my couchsurfing meeting because I was running out of time. Instead, I invited Gissel to the restaurant and she took me to “Paseo Cayala” : an American styled complex, which includes mall, restaurants and condos. It looked pretty much like these huge American Outlets, with all included. Gissel told me the apartments there, were $1 million minimum. Honestly, it was beautiful, well rounded, but, even if I had a million dollar, I would never invest that kind of money in properties in Guatemala. We found a nice Mexican restaurant, we sat at the terrace, we had a couple a glasses of red wine, tacos, enchiladas and a nice chat. Tomorrow, I’ll visit a bit more the city and I will catch up with my future couchsurfing friends)