Guatemala City

T: Arriving in Cuidad Guatemala was a whirlwind. The first thing that comes to your attention is the mad, dangerous traffic.  The city is divided into Zones;  one drastically differing from the next. As you pass thru, you begin to notice extreme filth and poverty clashing with the next Zona’s plethora of well-dressed folk getting into their brand new Land Rover. (All the filthy rich Latin Americans seem to drive Land Rovers without exception.) This city is full of extremes. The one pleasantry melding the Zonas is a buffer of greenery- a nice touch in such a huge polluted metropolis. My bus pulled up in the early evening to the main terminal in Zona Uno, known as the dodgy, scummy area of the city. Uncharacteristically I felt a little nervous and the Lonely Planet’s description of Zona 1 combined with the gang of unsavory characters that had recently jumped on my bus and had sat next to me, didn’t help. I tried to maintaib focus as all I had to do was call a Couchsurfing host, who had offered up his spare room, once I arrived at the station. Of course, neither Erik nor I travel with cell phones and that certainly makes things interesting sometimes. I gathered my bags and, as usual at bus stations, was bombarded instantly with offers for taxis, hotels, gaseosos, drogas, marriage proposals and just about anything else you can think of. I held my head high, gave them my best ‘piss off’ vibe and made my way to a pleasant taxi driver casually leaning on his cab reading a periodico. This is usually my tactic. Always look like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going – do not engage the nagging, yelling hustlers. The lovely man offered his cellphone, sin puesto, and I was able to place a call to Rudhy, our host, who then gave my driver directions to a meeting spot and bargained the fee for me. I was pleased to have escaped the grips of the famously rough Zona Uno, unscathed, and was hoping Erik had a similar welcome to the city.

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Guate Eiffel Tower

Guate Eiffel Tower

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Turns out, Erik was sipping beer and eating comforting pasta alfredo at Applebees, his happy place, waiting for Rudhy to meet him – for the past 3 hours. Rudhy, we came to learn, has very good intentions but is quite a busy man – he provides Central American businesses and governments with cut-rate financing thru his connections with Asian banks. He had meant to meet Erik, but last-minute work, a call from me and the insane traffic had intervened. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long at the meeting spot (the corner of a mall) and was much relieved when he appeared just as the sun went down, rescuing me from the incessant whistles and unrelenting stares of passing Guatemalans. Oh, so the staring:  In every city, there are areas where you will be catcalled, stared at, offered drugs, giggled at by teenagers, yelled at by street vendors, touched by homeless people and approached by ex-cons proudly spewing San Quentin-learnt English and wanting to shake your hand. For us, nothing compares to the eerie feeling we had when being stared at by Guatemalans. Not because they are rude or mean, but because they can’t seem to break free of their trance-like state. In awe of us, perhaps? Or just coming down from their daily sugar high? Clearly, Erik and I stand out in a crowd with a three foot height advantage and we generally enjoy our celebrity status:  waving and joking with whoever is daring enough to entice us and trying to put on a little show for onlookers. We have loads of fun trying to make people break into a big grin. We think it’s hysterical when the ogles subside and the giggles come forth, but in Guatemala, it takes A LOT to break a stare (with most people). We aren’t exactly sure why this is. One theory we have is that perhaps in a country where a civil war ended so recently, its citizens remain on edge, ready for another attack;  still shell-shocked.  While in Guatemala, we tried our best to crack these stares and let the locals know we are just friendly people and its okay to smile back.

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Naturally, we were a little worried about security for the motorcycle in the big bad city, so when Rudhy pulled up to his gated community and let the 24 hour security guards know we would be staying awhile, we sighed with relief. Rudhy’s house is tucked away from the madness in one of several wealthy neighborhoods built up on the mountains surrounding the downtown core which are also, thankfully, a few degrees cooler. Built in handsome minimalist Spanish colonial style with traditional Guatemalan touches, his house is spacious, very comfortable and felt like being in a Boutique Hotel (complete with King sized bed and bathrobes!) Not to mention the adorable full-time maid Yolanda, whom Rudhy directed to tidy our room, help with our laundry and cook breakfast every morning- although we tried to politely decline – they both insisted. We have encountered maid services at private homes, hostels and nice hotels in Central America, and have heard horror stories about the treatment of maids, most commonly by the upper class. Rudhy knew this to be true but he treated Yolanda more like an assistant and a friend. He explained that he personally provided Yolanda with family health benefits, rent stipends on her house, takes her and her kids shopping for clothes – all this on top of her wage of $1000. (Most maids in Guatemala make $250/month). While we were there, he even hired a lawyer to spring Yolanda’s husband from jail after he’d gotten into a drunken fight with Yolanda’s father! It appeared a very symbiotic relationship and Yolanda worked efficiently to be available for anyone’s needs and seemed genuinely happy to do her job. She even peeled the skin off each grapefruit segment every morning! Towards the end of our stay, Rudhy mentioned Yolanda’s birthday was the next day and he asked if I would cook a special lunch for her before he took her on a shopping spree. Of course, we were thrilled to have the chance to give back and while Erik took her out for a spin on the back of his motorcycle (her first time on a bike) I whipped up a feast for all of us. She seemed quite touched but still had a tough time not getting up to clear the table.

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Rudhy offered to take us on a day trip and fancy dinner in the colonial city of Antigua, a 45 minute drive from the city. We awoke early, packed our one set of fancy dinner clothes and were ready. Yolanda packed us lunches and we set off but when we hit the highway, Rudhy mentioned he had a quick errand to run. He had just remembered it was the birthday of his ex-girlfriend’s mother. This woman was apparently still quite upset with Rudhy when a year earlier, he broke up with her daughter (she thought they would marry) and began dating men. So he needed to amend this and decided he was going to find her the best flowers his money could buy: orchids to be precise. After we drove to several florists and were now into this “quick errand” for over an hour, we finally found a huge garden center with suitable orchids. I helped Rudhy pick out the most striking colours while he enlisted several shop employees to create a basket bouquet. It was quite an ordeal with women picking out ribbons and bows, and young men filling the basket with the best soil available while Rudhy shouted orders. At one point Rudhy had all four employees at the center, as well as myself, running around doing his bidding. This took another hour and then of course we had to deliver them to the house. Although Erik and I were a little frustrated, hungry and gob-smacked at the total cost of the bouquet ($300), it was a sweet gesture and in the end, she phoned to thank and forgive him and we made it to Antigua before the sun went down.

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Antigua is a spectacular, charming place surrounded by volcanoes, mountains and a never-ending mist in the distance; the quaint town has a very ethereal feel. All the buildings are Spanish colonial and superbly restored; the ancient cobble-stone streets adding wonderful character. It’s quite magical and mysterious. We began our tour with a cup of highly recommended street ceviche, which was simply incredible. The fresh fish are kept in portable coolers and your cup is made-to-order, tossed with jalapenos, lime, salt, tomatoes, onion and, to my surprise and delight, worcheshire sauce and served with a packet of saltines. We toured the streets and stopped next at Finca Filadelfia, the most visited and famous coffee farm in Guatemala. Unfortunately in all of Central America, almost all of the excellent coffee beans are grown for export and most locals haven’t even had a taste of the high grade coffee grown in their own country. This finca, however, does a fabulous job of keeping it all local as well as providing its visitors with a luxurious atmosphere to enjoy while sipping a fresh cup of its finest coffee. I had assumed I would come across the best coffee in the world on this journey but have had to search hard to taste locally grown and exceptional prepared coffee. Commonly, good beans are burnt in either roasting or brewing, and sometimes the coffee is of the instant variety. I have learned to always ask before ordering, “Es la café instantanio o fresco?”

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At the coffee farm we changed into our nice clothes – which hadn’t seen the light in quite some time – and made way to, as Rudhy declared, “the best restaurant in all of Guatemala.” Panza Verde certainly did not disappoint. It happened to be Mother’s Day so the restaurant was jam-packed and was serving a set course menu. Rudhy is a frequent and valued customer, so when he called ahead and spoke directly to the chef to special requested escargot (not on the Mother’s Day menu) they had no problem bending over backwards to accommodate.  He also procured his favorite table, with a perfect view of the pool, terrace and live jazz band. After we ordered, Rudhy took us for a tour of the grounds, which are both architecturally intriguing and elegantly decorated. Erik was inspired and snapped plenty of photographs of the old colonial mansion and its grounds. The restaurant/hotel was up for sale, and Rudhy knew the layout well, having recently considered it for a home. (He ended up putting an offer on a restored mansion spanning an entire city block, complete with ten bedrooms, 4 gardens and quarters for Yolanda and her family). The meal itself was out of a Top Chef finale. I savored each bite and had not one complaint – well, only that I wasn’t able to decipher how they’d executed everything so perfectly. I must assume the kitchen staff consists of several red seal chefs. It was a decadent meal, which of course Rudhy treated us to, and it wouldn’t the last. That was one of two trips to Antigua with Rudhy, and the second was just as brilliant. We sipped imported beers and expensive cocktails at a few fancy bars and sampled a couple more posh restaurants; there is no shortage of superb dining opportunities in Antigua. We walked thru famous Casa Santo Domingo, a former monastery, destroyed by earthquakes but now a grandiose sight since converted into a plush hotel and museum. The large property still includes parts of the monastery and church, winding ancient tunnels and weathered, creepy underground and outdoor crypts. The new additions were just as interesting; a chocolate factory, hand-made candle and ceramic shop, modern & classic art galleries (photography, sculpture, paintings), lush spa and garden area complete with Parrots. Casa Santo Domingo is representative of Antigua’s remarkable combination of historical marvels and contemporary ingenuity.

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During these two weeks, we spent plenty of time resting in the confines of Rudhy’s house but sometimes drove to the posh mall to see how rich Guatemalans spent their money, or on busy days we searched endlessly for motorcycle tires in the appropriate size. And a couple times, Rudhy took us out to one of his choice food joints in the city. Rudhy isn’t afraid of much and can surprisingly hold his own among the gang members, drug dealers and corrupt police officers; which he once proved while ushering us to one of his favorite seafood places in seedy Zona Four. Naturally, he pulled up right out front, parking where he saw fit, as from what we saw, he could usually get away with doing what he wanted. This time, though, a police officer stopped him and told him he would be ticketed for “trying to run down a food cart” (which of course, didn’t happen). He sort of smirked at them, in a “try-me” kind of way, knowing that they were out to rob the rich Asian guy in the SUV and he was not having any of it. After a few minutes chatting to the police, we all just walked away and hoped his car would be there, un-touched when we finished dinner; none of the machine-gun-toting fellas outside the restaurant looked too thrilled to have us in their barrio either. When we sat down, Rudhy explained that the restaurant is the very best for seafood, and ordered several dishes promptly when the waitress arrived. He then let out that the restaurant is actually owned by a gang kingpin – but the food outweighs the risk of entry and there is rarely a problem. It was, truthfully, quite tasty lobster, crab and giant shrimps and we saw once again that you never know what to expect in this multi-faceted city.

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Rudhy often went on about different organizations he and his company donated too and one day we went with Rudhy to visit his pet project, a huge orphanage that he funds completely out of pocket. He has been supporting this orphanage since early 2009, when he caught wind of the government appropriating the majority of the funding; a common problem with these types of projects in the third world. When Rudhy took over, he purchased surrounding land, increasing the size of the existing facility 20 times. Beyond the one poorly-built, bunker-type structure, he constructed several more administrative buildings, living quarters and play areas. When Rudhy took over the facility five years earlier, there were 120 orphaned or abandoned children looked after here. To date, the orphanage houses over 900 kids. Most were found left on street corners or pulled from abusive families and a large number have severe mental and physical ailments, sometimes the result of abuse. The children that live here range in age from infants to pre-schoolers, to teenagers up to the age of 15 when they ‘age out’ and have to leave; usually a very traumatic and difficult transition. The original structure remains separated from the rest of the facility by a steel wall and serves as the home and school for the 13-15 year-old group of troubled teenagers and ex-gang members. The orphanage is a full-time care facility for these kids, where they are housed, educated and forbidden to exit the closely guarded 12-foot razor-wire topped walls unless on chauffeured outings or school field trips. Although it looks and feels very much like a prison, the prevailing view is that the children are infinitely safer within the confines of the complex than being the victims of predators on the streets.

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We stopped at the grocery store en route to purchase bags of chips and juice for the kids (Rudhy usually brings Coca-Cola but we could not condone this, so we asked he buy orange juice). When we arrived, children of all ages greeted us, touching our clothes, asking questions; starving for any bit of attention. We spent time handing out the snacks and joking around with some young boys (all of them calling us “Mami and Papi”). Then we peered into the nursery for newborn babies, cared for affectionately by multiple full-time nurses. We stopped outside another facility, specifically for children with mental and physical disabilities where Rudhy wanted to check up on a recently admitted little boy who was found badly abused, with one of his eye balls hanging out of his eye socket. He had been operated on and seemed to be recovering well, but we all welled-up thinking of what this poor child had gone thru and the battle he will face for the rest of his life. Continuing, we peeked in the window of a classroom of little girls aged 4-6 and they got very excited so the teacher invited us in. They referred to me as “princessa”, as they smoothed my blond hair, poked at my face and asked to touch my nose ring. It didn’t take long before Erik and I were picking them up, swinging them around and having a blast – it was certainly sad for everyone when we had to leave.

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On the drive home Rudhy mentioned he had a yet to solve one problem with his program and asked for our input. He provides each child the opportunity of fully paid college/university education;  but in five years not one teenager has taken up this offer. “They all want to be bakers, butchers or shop keepers,” he said, dumbfounded, “I can’t understand why they don’t want to become lawyers or doctors!” We suggested he implement a career counselor for kids at least by the age of fourteen, a year before they “age out”.  Set weekly appointments with each child to figure out in which field they may excel, discuss job options, take them to job sites and teach them the importance of further education;  just as we do in other parts of the world. Being raised in a closed compound has obviously made these children extremely sheltered and has likely led to institutional syndrome no different to long term prisoners. They don’t know how to interact with adults or to be adult themselves in a work or higher education environment. Therefore, falling back on easy, low-paying jobs and not careers. Rudhy agreed a career counselor could very well be the ticket so we hope he is taking measures to set this up. Coming from a wealthy family where education and success are taken very seriously, we could understand why Rudhy was having trouble relating to the aspirations of poor and traumatized orphans. Luckily for these kids, he is dedicated, with the financial backing and will power to help them in developing a future for themselves. We had many fantastic and out of the ordinary adventures with Rudhy and are very grateful he opened up his world to us. Never was there a dull moment in Guatemala City.

E: Our Couchsurfing host in Guatemala City was a businessman named Rudhy. He proved to be one our most interesting hosts to date speaking eight different languages very proficiently and revealing what it is like to run a company that provides funding for multi-national companies and some countries. Rudhy had a very global upbringing being born in Indonesia to Chinese and Japanese parents. He spent years in the Neteherlands at boarding school and then went to University at Cornell. As well as speaking all of these languages, including both Chinese dialects, he also speaks English, Spanish and German. Truly impressive. We were very thankful for his beautiful villa situated within a gated community on a steep prominence high above the city. The ride into the city was surprisingly calm and enjoyable. The weather was perfect and warm with not too much of a breeze. The distance from Rio Dulce to Rudhy’s suburb is more than half the width of the entire country, but thanks to the well-engineered section of the Pan-American Highway here, I made the trip in under 4 hours.  Pradera Concepcion, the area that our host wanted to meet us is in the SE of the city just beyond Zona 10. My bike was barely limping along after the abuse it took on the El Mirador trip;  the rear brake pedal was being held on with a combination of tie wire, duct, and electrical tape, the steering column assembly was super loose (needing a special wrench to tighten up), the headlight was blown, and the skid plate had been torn off on the last day in the jungle. Also, the monoshock which had blown apart in Chiapas was still super slack and in this condition made the bike extremely unstable, especially when loaded down. My back tire was nearly bald again and the front tire was also starting to wear with cracks developing around the knobs in the tread and could stand to be replaced.  In other words, I was in desperate need of a mechanic. I did some Google searching from Rudhy’s place and found that there was an actual Kawasaki dealer in GC. The website said they did service as well, but having visited the so-called dealers in Guadalajara and Merida, I knew that service probably meant they sell riding gloves and maybe some oil. Later in the day, I received and e-mail from Phil who had arrived in Guate a few days earlier and said both his and Jayne’s bikes were at the Kawi shop and they seemed on the level. I was invigorated by this news on a very deep and profound level. It had been seven months since I’d come across a proper mechanic with a proper shop and proper tools.

My girlfriend's new 80's hair

My girlfriend’s new 80’s hair

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I made an appointment the next day and when I showed up at their showroom, I was greeted by Klaus, a German-Guatemalan.  He took me downstairs and I was delighted to find a clean, modern-looking shop which already contained four other KLR’s including Phil and Jayne’s bikes, Jugs and Cricket. I was also enthused to see that Klaus rode the same year and colour bike as mine. Klaus and his mechanics were so unbelievably helpful. He spoke to me knowledgably about the problems and even offered to sell me the stock skid plate from his bike as he’d replaced his with an aluminum after-market one. The guys popped out the thermostat because the bike had been getting really hot in the stop and go traffic. They had all the rest of the parts that I needed with the exception of the monoshock. Klaus offered to order this from the states and said he had a Miami post office box where he could have it sent and they couriered to Guatemala City for around $100. I was beyond happy. I had looked into getting the shock while in Mexico which would have involved a 3 week wait and I would have paid twice what it sells for in the states. While the mechanics were doing the work, I left to run around the city and try to find some new tires. There were a wealth of automotive shops throughout adjacent Zona 4 and 11. I was amazed when I found the stock Bridgestone 17 x 130 rear amongst a pile of a dozen or so tires at one store. Unfortunately I couldn’t locate a suitable front tire and had to settle on a knobby 21”. Both tires were under $100 apiece so I figured I’d done well. I got a taxi and raced back to the Kawi dealer hoping they could change out both tires before the end of the day. When I got back after sitting with the knobby in the cab, I was having serious second thoughts about running an off-road tire through the rest of Central America. I spoke with Klaus and he understood my concerns. He generously offered to take me in a company truck to some other specialized motorcycle shops that he knew of. At shop #2, I found the popular Shinko 80/20 tire that received good reviews on the internet. The store owner wanted $160 for it though which is double what it costs online. I managed to talk him down to $130 bucks if I paid in cash. I was a bit choked at how much of a mark-up the guy put on it but was very grateful for Klaus driving me around and didn’t want to take up anymore of his time. Still, after we left the shop, Klaus insisted in driving me back to the original store and waited with me while I returned the knobby front tire. I can’t remember ever getting this kind of service/help anywhere in Canada. Klaus made his guys stay a few minutes late to ensure that both tires were put on so I didn’t have to come back the next day. Back in Klaus’ office he totaled up the bill, not including the monoshock which I’d have to return for in a couple weeks, and showed me the cost on his computer:  74,65. Feeling confident that the price was in Quetzales which would work out to about $900) I quipped, “What, in American dollars, no problem!”  Klaus responded, yes in dollars. I was completely floored. They’d had 2-3 guys working on my bike for around 6 hours and the whole bill with parts and labour came out to $75!!! As I knew, the Kawasaki dealership was owned by Grupo Los Tres which is a huge syndicate in Guatemala. They own Audi dealerships, Volvo, BMW, Toyota and others. I reasoned that the Kawi dealership wasn’t hurting for profit. New KLR’s retail here for $9,000US, a $2,500 mark-up on the cost in Canada or the US. Klaus, an obvious motorcycle enthusiast, seemed super stoked that he was able to help out riders coming all the way from Canada and it appeared he did so all the time. I’m pretty sure he just charged me for the parts and ate the labour. What an incredible guy. The gesture was incredibly appreciated as I was expecting to shell out several hundred dollars to get the bike put back together.

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A couple weeks later, when Tanya and I were in Panajachel, Klaus e-mail and said my new shock had arrived from the States. I took a two day trip into the City to get it installed and also to (hopefully) pick up a package that Tanya’s mother had sent to a friend of mine in Guatemala City, three months before. It contained some necessary motorcycle and camera parts, as well as other necessities not readily available in Central America. The package never arrived at my buddy’s address and we reasoned it might be at the main post office in Guate City. The Kawi guys were happy to see me and we joked around for a few minutes. I noticed that there was a brand new 2012 KLR in the back of the shop with the engine case split apart. I looked over at Klaus in horror and asked what had happened. He calmly told me that he had a customer with an old model KLR and he didn’t some engine parts. It would take too long to get them sent from the factory, so to assist their client, Klaus ordered his guys to split opened the engine on a brand new bike. Who’s ever heard of anything like this in their life?!? This guy went above and beyond good customer service. While my new after-market and delightfully beefy shock was being installed, I ran over to the post office in Zona 1, to try and locate my package. Upon entering the office this is what I saw:

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I would have laughed my ass off if I hadn’t spent so much time on the phone and through e-mail trying to track down our package. Canada Post didn’t have any information and that all they knew it had been received in Mexico four days after it had shipped. Beyond that trying to get any information is like looking into a black hole. It is incredible to think that every package sent anywhere in Guatemala simply arrives at this office and goes no further. No notification is sent out. No one from the shipping country lets you know packages don’t make it outside of the main post office. Sure enough, after 10 minutes of looking, the staff came up with my parcel. Unfortunately and almost tragically, Tanya’s mom had put my friends name on the parcel (as we’d given to her) but my name wasn’t on it, therefore they wouldn’t release it to me despite the fact that I had the original shipping receipt, the address, my friend’s name, of course. I was beyond frustrated and through a bit of a fit, saying that they’d had my package for three months and why hadn’t it been delivered directly to the address it was shipped to. Of course, as I well knew, there is never any point in reasoning with civil servants in Latin America. It’s like smashing your own forehead against a wall of broken glass. I lied and said that my buddy was out of the country and could I just get him to send an e-mail saying it was okay to release the package to me. They said this would work, but he needed to provide photocopies of his driver’s license another piece of ID, and a scanned letter including my name and passport details with his signature. I hadn’t been in touch with Alvaro in at least a couple weeks and I was really hoping I could track in down as I was due to head back to Panaj the next morning. I left the post office and immediately went to an internet café to e-mail Alvaro and see if I could get the documents the post office required. I sent both Alvaro and his wife a message through Facebook but didn’t get a reply at all that day. I was stressing a bit and was extremely hopeful I would get in touch by the next morning as I wasn’t planning on staying in Guate an extra day.

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Palacio Nacional

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The area where I had chosen to stay was near the airport and there were a number of hostels – a far cry from than most areas which cater to backpackers. The area was extremely rough looking and had all the telltale signs:  razor wire, crumbling buildings, gangsters. The neighbourhoods consisted of 6 or 8 square block gated communities. Basically there was a perimeter fence around a group of houses and a security guard with a machine gun posted at the gate. I had the hardest time finding the hostel I’d reserved because there are no signs anywhere and the street the hostel was on was completely encircled within one of these compounds. I finally found the place and checked in. It was alright except for the price. $30 for one person for the night is exceptionally expensive by Guatemala standards – I guess that is the price of security in Guatemala City. I had an extremely hard time finding anywhere to eat dinner. There was nothing in my neighbourhood beyond some filthy tiendas and fried chicken stands all monopolized by neighbourhood thugs. I decided I was better off leaving my compound and riding into the business district. But finding a decent place for dinner proved just as hard here. There was a smattering of extremely upscale eateries which I wasn’t really looking for. Despite riding around the main downtown core of Guatemala City for an hour, I couldn’t find any just regular-type restaurant for dinner. I finally had to settle for a Hooters Restaurant, if you can believe it. This was seriously the only option to get something substantial to eat for under $20. I tried finding Alvaro on Facebook chat again but he wasn’t around. Decided to chill for the night, have a few beers and not worry about the elusive package or the retarded Guate civil servants for the rest of the night. The waitresses were nice enough but they were a bit awkward and definitely not the most attractive girls I had ever seen. Definitely not of the same caliber of voluptuousness or suggestiveness as our Hooters girls back home.

Antigua at night

Antigua at night

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No return message from Alvaro the next morning but thankfully as I was having my breakfast, he showed up on Facebook chat (Really loving my new powers of connectivity through FB!) I explained to Alvaro that the post office needed him to e-mail his permission and some ID info to enable me to pick up my package. He said he wasn’t sure if he could help me at the moment because his son was ill and he was at the hospital. He said that he was really sorry but he wasn’t able to leave the hospital. Of course, under these circumstances, I totally understood and told Alvaro not to worry about it and to look after his family. Considering I’d been waiting for this package for three months and the Guatemalan postal service hadn’t lived up to their responsibility of delivering the damn thing and considering the contents were greatly needed, I decided to ride back to the post office and get my damn package by any means necessary. I parked my bike (probably illegally) right outside the front door and stomped up the stairs. When I got to the desk, the same 8 ninnies were all there again running around moving peoples parcels to and fro. I again presented the delivery slip with all the information including the tracking number. I said that I wasn’t able to get in touch with my friend but could I at least physically see that the parcel was there and I would come back later. Of course, just this simplest of requests took conversing with four different people behind the counter. Finally a young kid in the corner punched the info into a computer and scampered off into the wilderness of parcels surround him to see if he could retrieve my box. After about 10 minutes I was floored when he re-emerged holding the parcel. He set it down on the floor a few meters from the counter and looked at my paperwork again. I made an impassioned plea to get them to release the package. I had a copy of the original delivery receipt from Canada. I had Tanya’s ID which shows her last name – the same as the sender (her mom). I showed them the address of the recipient as well as a print out that I made of the e-mail correspondence between Alvaro and myself where he said I could have the package sent to his house. I also went through a list of the contents of the box which I said they could open and verify. After three more people looked at all the documentation, they made they made the robotic decree that they could not give me the package. This is when I lost it. I hurdled myself over the counter and grabbed the package. One of the women screamed, a security guard burst into the room and leveled a shotgun at me. I threw the package back onto the floor and whipped out my jack knife. There were now eight or nine people standing around me shouting in a frenzy including the man with the gun. I plunged my knife into the box and ripped open the top. I started throwing the contents around the office. “Mira!” I shouted. “Mi lente de cámara, un llanta por mi moto, grande sandales para mi, una tarjeta con mi nombre, tampons para mi esposa!!!” Another gentleman walked into the office while chocolates, toiletries, socks and tampons where being thrown about the room. He must have been one of the jefes because he asked some of the post office employees what was going on. He took stock of the situation and saw how crazed with frustration this large white man was tearing apart a package amid thousands of other undelivered packages. He told me to be traquillo and started to help me put the items back into the box. He took a document that the young man was holding, put his signature on it and said that I could take the package. Thank Christ! Sometimes unorthodox methods are the key to dealing with the mindfuck that is Latin America.

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