Bus Station in Santa Elena

Everybody makes mistakes. We do. Like the time we got robbed by guys with machetes in Volcán Agua, Guatemala. Or when we got mugged in Panamá City.

We like to think we are wiser now. But sometimes, things are simply out of our control.

From Flores, we decided to go to Guatemala City, the capital. It has the terrible reputation of a dangerous city, where people get shot and murdered on a daily basis, where city buses are off-limits and where most areas, notably zona 1, are just not the place to be.

Guatemala City—simply known as Guate to everyone—is a long 8-to-10-hour bus ride from Flores. Options were limited right after Christmas because so many locals travel, so we ended up buying tickets for the 9 a.m. bus. Right from the start, we knew we would only get there around 5:30 p.m., right after sunset. Not great. But that was the best solution—the other option was the night bus and then we would have to worry about robberies.

The thing is, in Guate, schedules are merely a suggestion. For instance, when we went to Tikal, we were supposed to take the 8 a.m. bus, which turned up at 9 a.m. Everything is like that. Food in restaurants, for instance. God forbids you go to the restaurant when you are hungry, because no matter what you order, it will take an hour to get some food on the table. Even eggs at breakfast. Even local non-exotic dishes of pollo and arroz. Ideally, you should place an order a couple of hours before actually being hungry.

Anyway. At 8:50 a.m., the two stupid gringos we are were waiting for the 9 a.m. bus. Which showed up at 10 a.m. Which then proceed to drive to the bus station in Santa Elena and idle there for another half hour.

We knew we were not going to make it to Guate before late.

On top of that, we got the shittiest bus in the history of shitty buses, complete with fragrant bathroom smell and musty seats, and insane driver who uses the breaks only when he really has to.

Around 4 p.m., the bus pulled out into the parking lot of a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Food time. We were happy to get some drinks and sometimes to eat considering we hadn’t eaten yet—remember, we were the dummies waiting for the bus to come at the hora inglés—but we were wondering how much longer the trip was going to be. Especially considering the last part was uphill—Guate is in the highlands.

Well, it took a good 3.5 hours. By the time the bus entered zona 1, where the station is located, it was pitch dark and the streets looked empty. The bus terminal hadn’t changed either: it’s about the size of a bedroom and as welcoming as Dante’s Infierno.

So we did what we had to. We grabbed our bags and walked to the nearest hotel, a couple of blocks away.

Yes, walked. In zona 1, by night.

We made it fine. The hotel actually had rooms—phew. We didn’t have a plan B.

To eat, we headed to a cantina next door. We picked a few dishes and ate under the watchful eye of a bunch of locals drinking and playing cards who probably wondered what the hell was wrong with us and how we ended up here.

So here we are, in Guate, in the infamous zona 1. Thrill seekers. That’s us.


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  1. Tulsa Gentleman December 29, 2011 at 2:44 am

    Thrill seekers eh? Well good luck and be careful. It is dangerous to travel the way you do but I know you are both careful and lucky. Take lots of pictures and don’t forget to report on local food. That’s always interesting to me.

    1. Zhu December 30, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      Will do! I´m always taking pictures of the best dish!

  2. barbara December 29, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Hi Zhu & Feng,

    We all choose our thrills and I guess that there is something very exciting for you guys to push way past your “comfort zone” to explore Guate.No sermons, I promise. Just wishing you both safety.

    I am sure that you guys can defend yourselves,if needed. Zhu will whip out her Chinese Kung Fu moves and crush those dudes on the ground. 🙂

    1. Zhu December 30, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      We are now in Antigua, much safer and much nicer. Not sure if my yoga training can help for self-defense though 😆

  3. ristinw December 29, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Wow! Everyday is a new adventure and the minibuses you mentioned about are like roller coasters to me! >u< Be safe and happy!

    1. Zhu December 30, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      Yep, pretty much like a long long long rollercoaster ride!

  4. Neeraj January 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    These are the times you will remember when you’re back at home … and in the office! 🙂

  5. Cynthia January 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    You had me scared that something bad was going to happen!It’s nice when dangerous place do not live up to their reputation 😉

    1. Zhu January 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      I think we were a bit lucky though. But then, Honduras was actually worse!

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