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Published: June 28th 2010
(Day 811 on the road)
Should we visit Guatemala City or not, that was the question we were faced with in Ilapa. We were back in Guatemala after our short visit to the ruins of Copan in Honduras and had just climbed a small volcano here, and were now deciding where to go next. On the one hand, Guatemala City was roughly on our route west anyway. On the other hand, the city is notorious for its high crime rate, and most travellers simply avoid it if they can. In the end, we made the decision based on the good old traveller motto - which has become my absolute favourite for reaching any kind of decision on the road: "Why not?"
And of course it was a good choice to say it up front. If I have learned anything on this trip so far, it is this: Doing things is almost always better than not doing things.
Whilst Guatemala City wasn't the prettiest or most interesting city in Central America, it was certainly it's biggest, with a population of 2,3 million. But we managed to find a lovely hotel with a very personal touch and a great inner courtyard,
right in Zona 1, the heart of the city, and settled right in.
Entering the city we were at first a little weary considering all the bad press Guatemala city constantly gets (we were even debating if taking a local bus was safe), but we soon felt at ease, realising that it was just another city. Maybe posing more threat than you average big city, yes, but all the same not being overly crazy if we just kept our wits about us.
We spent a few days here, including a lovely day at the zoo and some less lovely but necessary time in the city's glitzy shopping malls to replace Tino's broken camera. Incidently, he ended up with almost the same camera as me - a Canon Ixus 120 since a few people now have asked me which camera I use.
And of course we did what is always best in a city, namely simply walking around more or less without aim to get a feel for the place. Whilst it didn't blow us away, it was certainly pleasant enough (the central plaza was great, see the panorama shot at the top of this entry!). It was
also interesting to observe Guatemaltecan people with money, a sight that we never saw up 'till now in the countryside. And how strange to be in a city that is named after the country (or is it the other way 'round?). Imagine the capital of France being France City? Strange. And a little confusing at first, as bus drivers to the capital will just call out "Guatemala, Guatemala", with me thinking "hang on a second, aren't we in Guatemala already?". Weird.
A few thoughts on the issue of (over-hyped) crime all over Central America: I am getting really upset about the whole topic by now: No matter what we read (guidebooks, government's travel warnings) or who we talk to (local people, other travellers), the story is always the same: Don't go there, don't do this, be extra careful here. The amount of time Tino and I are spending discussing if we should do this or go to that place are enormous. And I am starting to get sick and tired of it all.
Yes, Central America is more dangerous than elsewhere (though why exactly I haven't quite understood yet - other poor regions of the world don't have
any of these problems; is it simply a mentality thing?). Yes, people get robbed and murdered here. Yes, there are more private security guards in the country than police (including one at almost every shop, not just banks or jewellers). And yes, in many shops here the employees serve you from behind bars for their own protection. But no, over the past month and a half since I arrived in Mexico, I haven't had a single dodgy experience anywhere, neither in big cities nor in the notorious border regions where the drug smuggelig is taking place.
What I do have however is a constantly worrying voice in the back of my head, resulting in me not being able to enjoy my travels the way I want to and the way I am used to. Whenever we are sitting down and deciding where to go, there is always the topic of how safe the place is. I find that Tino and I are spending a considerable but ultimately fruitless amount of time worrying about the whole safety issue, to the point where we leave things out altogether. Or we worry ourselves sick beforehand (Guatemala City being a perfect example), only
to find out once we get there that the place is perfectly safe and all the worrying was for nothing - yet again. Just like last time, when we promised to be more relaxed and weren't for some reason. Until we sit down again to make our next plans: "Uh, but I have heard really bad things about San Salvador, that's where we have to be really careful - maybe we should just skip it?".
So, from now on, I have decided to ignore all the over-hyped, over-the-top warnings and simply travel the way I always have. With open eyes, an open mind, common sense, and an adventurous spirit. Not in constant fear.
Next stop: Antigua (Guatemala).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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