By Adam from Happiness Plunge
Guatemala is known for its nice people and its high crime rate, especially in Guatemala City. In one weekend I got to experience both extremes. But there is a funny twist to experiencing its high crime rate…
After volunteering for a week at Maya Pedal in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala, it was time to head to Honduras.
But along the way, why not visit the capital? I had heard how dangerous it was, but after visiting 49 countries and never really having a bad experience, what was the worst that could happen?
Confusing Arrival In Guatemala City
The chicken bus I took to Guatemala City dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. Using my awesome (it’s not awesome) Spanish, I asked a guy who got off the bus with me where the city center was.
The truth was, I didn’t have a place to meet my couchsurfing host as he hadn’t written back to me with where to meet. But I figured the city center is usually a good place to meet.
The local guy, Pedro, explained where I had to go to take a bus to the city center. I didn’t understand what he was saying, but I watched his hands and I planned to walk down the street as instructed, turn right, and then ask someone else since the sign language became less clear after that.
Pedro realized I had no idea where to go. I also had a gigantic backpack that screamed tourist as loudly as a flashing light and siren scream police car. He asked me if I wanted him to accompany me to where I needed to go. I didn’t think it was too far away, so I agreed.
15 minutes later we arrived at the TransBus station! Along the way, he told me how dangerous the city was. He used to live in New York and he said that Guatemala City is a million times more dangerous than New York.
We even climbed up a highway overpass. I didn’t hear that part during his explanation or I might have just grabbed a taxi from the start. Instead, my glutes got a serious workout courtesy of said gigantic backpack.
When we got to the bus station, he walked with me to the gate and, as I’ve experienced in many other countries, this was the time where the local help expected to be rewarded.
So I reached into my pocket and pulled out enough money for a small meal. But he flat out refused. I was so thankful I even asked for a picture so I could remember the nicest guy in Guatemala City.
He reluctantly agreed. I then tried to give him the money again, and he refused. He gave me 30 minutes of his day and pleasant conversation and expected nothing in return.
What a great way to start at trip in this supposedly danger-filled city.
Fast forward two days.
Thwarting Robbery With A Magic Weapon
I spent my last night in Guatemala City with someone I met via Couchsurfing. We were meeting for the first time and I was really exited to meet Connie. She is a journalist and I looked forward to talking about the media, her work, and publicity in general.
Connie picked me up in front of the Palacio Nacional in the center of the city. She spent the weekend near the beach and was not dressed for the cool nights of Guatemala City. We went back to her place so she could change.
We talked as she inserted the key into the door of her building. All of a sudden a motorcycle pulled up next to us about 7ft/2m away. He said “buenes noches” or “good night” in a friendly way. I assumed he was a friend of Connie’s and completely switched gears into Practice Spanish Mode.
In Practice Spanish Mode I never interrupt since that would be rude. I focus intently on the speakers and do my best to decode what they are saying. If I can’t understand anything, I invent my own ridiculous subtitles to stave off boredom and make myself feel better about still being so bad at Spanish.
With Practice Spanish Mode in full swing, I stared at the motorcyclist as if it were a staring contest. He spoke extremely fast and with a very low volume. I couldn’t understand anything he said.
My attention span was approaching funny subtitle territory, when all of a sudden I saw a second motorcycle go by and I heard Connie scream. She was a good 30ft/10m away and running like an Olympian.
The motorcyclist in front of me was no longer a friend of Connie’s, nor motorcyclist. He was a robber! And the second motorcycle was obviously part of his team.
It was kind of strange to have a paradigm shift like that in an instant. Not really knowing what to do, and given that my instincts proved about as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane up to this point, I ran after Connie without looking back.
Connie ran into a restaurant diagonally across the street. When I got there, the owners were already running to close the gigantic metallic gate to protect us (and them).
Connie was shaking and close to hyperventilating. At this point, I still really didn’t know what happened. They called the police and they surprisingly showed up in less than five minutes.
Connie explained that she heard him say, immediately after he said buenes noches, “Dame tus chivas.” Well, to me Chivas is a brand of Scotch and a Mexican soccer/football team.
Apparently, in Guatemalan slang chivas is the same as cosas, or things. So he was telling me to give him my things. But it doesn’t matter. I didn’t hear him say this anyway.
It was nice to know, however, that Connie bolted immediately and literally left me in the dust the whole rest of the time!
Looking back, the robber could only have assumed that I was deaf, had cajones made of steel given the unafraid and unflinching stare I gave him, or was paralyzed by shock.
I prefer to think option two prevailed in his mind. In reality, my bad Spanish saved me from handing over my backpack (which had my computer, Kindle, passport, and other important stuff).
Connie apologized for the lopsidedness of her fight or flight response. We think my lack of action disrupted the timing of the teamed robbery. Connie running away and screaming probably didn’t help either…
Had the robber had a weapon, obviously I would have known immediately what was going on and I wouldn’t enjoy telling this story.
We still went out and had a nice time that evening. We chose to forget what happened, which wasn’t too difficult for me since it wasn’t at all traumatic for me during the incident!
In the end, I had a great time in Guatemala and I would go back in a heartbeat. What happened to me could happen anywhere in the world.
I choose to remember Guatemala for its nice people, especially the nicest Guatemalan in the world who helped me find my way upon my arrival to Guatemala City.
Also read: What to Do in Antigua, Guatemala and 10 reasons to visit Guatemala
Bio: Adam Pervez is an engineer/MBA who achieved the life he thought he wanted most – working in renewable energy and enjoying the high quality of life available in Scandinavia. Then he realized he was living someone else’s dream. He figured out what his passions were and how he could live a life incorporating all of them.
He took the plunge into a happier and healthier life and hasn’t looked back since. He blogs regularly at Happiness Plunge and has a Facebook page. You can follow his corporate tool to nomadic idealist Happy Nomad Tour there as he tries to leave each place a bit better than the way he found it through local volunteering.
6 thoughts on “Experiencing the Best and Worst Guatemala Has to Offer in One Weekend”
Looks like an interesting place to visit. Might have to put it on my travel wishlist!
Hi Adam. That’s an interesting place and experience I have to say. You’ve experienced such the upside and downside in one day. But I think, at most of the place, of another country beside our homecountry, it’s really dangerous to go out at night since the locals know we are tourists, and it’s really like giving them chances to do something bad.
I think visiting Guatemala is one of those bucket-list, must do experiences. Love Antigua :).
Hey Adam, if you visit Guatemala again let me know, I could give you a ride. I recommend you to stay in Antingua, Atitlan or Xela. Those are safer places than the downtown. Thanks for sharing your experience.
It is always hard me to read the constant negative articles about Guatemala so I was delighted when your story had a positive ending. It is true that parts of Guatemala are dangerous (as do all countries have their dangerous areas) but overall the country is beautiful and the people are friendly and welcoming. I lived there for over two years and continue to visit and take groups of people down to visit throughout the year. Guatemala is in many ways more home to me than anywhere else. It is good that people know of potential risks and live in the moment, but as far as high amounts of random acts of violent crime, it’s just not the case in Guatemala, especially not with tourist. I hope people who perhaps are hesitant to visit, give Guatemala and it’s neighboring countries a chance! Guatemala changed my life and I am dedicated to helping improve its global reputation!
(I am still laughing) – ok, first of all (LOL) I am glad nothing happened to you! I guess this is the first time in life when you are thankful you don’t speak the local language.
Ok, seriously – you managed to turn a misadventure into a story that is actually pleasant to read. Thank you!! (more laughing!)