Orange Alert

“Are they joking?!” I asked my mom as we approached the airport. Somehow, somewhere between 8 am Wednesday morning when we dropped my brother off for his flight to New York, and 10 pm Wednesday night when I checked in for my flight to Guatemala, the security alert was “elevated” to orange. Fantastic.

Check-in was amazingly simple. There was no line. Literally, no line. I walked up to the counter and gave the lady my passport. She asked what was in the box (“a bike”). She checked the bike through, and told me to take it over to the ex-ray station. Carried my bike 10 feet. I hauled the backpack up on to the scale. Underweight (yesssss!). Checked that through, got my boarding pass and the spiel on 3-1-1 for carry-ons (three-ounce containers of liquids, in a one-quart clear plastic bag, and only one one-quart bag per passenger), and wandered over to Security.

Even in our security-crazed country, elevated defense alerts don’t mean a whole lot. I think if they had bumped it up to “Red Alert,” maybe we all would have been strip-searched and fumigated—that’s what they would have to do in order to elevate security any further. I couldn’t bring liquids through security anyway (emptied my nalgene in the bathroom ahead of time), I removed my shoes to go through the metal detectors (heh, apologies there), and I presented my passport no fewer than 5 times (check-in, security personnel numbers one, two and three, and upon boarding the plane).

The flight was uneventful. I was in the middle seat of row 8, between a 10 year-old girl speaking Spanish to her mother across the aisle, and a gringa-looking woman maybe about my age that slept the entire time. I tried to sleep, but I seem to be getting more afraid of flying as I get older (at the ripe old age of 21, eh?). I fell asleep for about 30 min, and then was woken up by turbulence. I thought that maybe 2 or 3 hours had already gone by, because everyone around me was filling out “inmigración” and “aduana” forms, but then they started serving refreshments.

I dozed a few more times, but every time the plane banked or dropped a bit due to turbulence I woke up in a cold sweat. With each gasp from me, the girl on the aisle giggled—she and the other passengers didn’t seem to be phased at all. What’s wrong with me??

The descent into Guatemala City was beautiful! The city is lined by mountains and volcanoes to the West, and you could see them ringed with mist as we came in. Off to the East are the flatter lowland areas, which were covered with thick clouds that turned orange and pink in the sunrise.

Inmigración coming in was a no-brainer. The lady glanced at my passport, gave me the maximum 90- day entrada, and sent me on my way. Exactly as I remember it from two years ago… although I’m not sure I even received a stamp then, because I was continuing on to Flores at the time. And then inmigración in Flores was closed for the night when I arrived! Hm… interesting contrast with the sterilized and medicinal-feeling immigration at O’Hare.

Baggage claim was a breeze as well… my bike came out in its box, and fully intact, right on the belt with the rest of the bags. I assembled it right there, much to the amusement of lookers-on, and then stood in line for aduana.

I expected a grilling on whether or not I was planning to sell the bike in-country, and then for them to search my bags and find my coffee and handful of cheap-o digital cameras and expect that I was running drugs or something. But I told the lady that I had never received an aduana card, and she had me fill one out right there attesting to the fact that I possessed no live plants or animals, nor was I carrying more than US$10,000 (gee, I wish!). She glanced at that, nodded, and moved on to the next person.

My flight landed at 6 am, a full half-hour early. I was hoping that the shuttles to Antigua would be running, but no such luck. I wandered on out to the parking lot, where crowds of people were waiting to greet their friends and family as they came out of customs.

In the mess, I spotted two girls with Canadian flag patches sewn to their backpacks wandering towards the parking lot and also looking a little overwhelmed. I went up and asked if they were Canadian. Duh. But I thought maybe they were Americans who sewed Canadian flags on their bags to try and deny that they were from the US, which—when you tell people you’re estadounidense– occasionally prompts insults and/or political debates over US policy. Oy.

And it also seemed like a good introduction—“Oh! You’re from Canada! Chances are pretty good that we speak the same language!” It turns out they were also headed to Antigua, and did not speak Spanish.

I hunted down a taxi for us that insisted that yes, my bike would fit in his trunk. Ooooh boy. Poor bike. I took the wheels off (“facilito”—really easy—I insisted to the crowd of doubtful taxistas that we attracted) and the taxista tossed the frame on top of the bags, the wheels on top of the frame, and then tied the trunk shut. Poor, poor bike.

The hour and a half taxi ride ended up costing US$10 per-person. And I made two new friends! Lauren and Kimia (hi girls!) are from outside of Edmonton, and are taking a break from school to learn some Spanish. They’re spending five months traveling through Central America, and are headed to a sea turtle reserve in a week to volunteer and attend Spanish classes. When they get their blog set up, I’ll include a link here! ☺

As we were leaving the airport, I made note of a Trek Store (yes, an official Trek Store—just like Two Wheel is opening in Ann Arbor) down the street where I can get a bike box for my return trip in April.

I had forgotten about the feeling of arriving in a new country… or a new city. I was really reminded of my first taxi ride in Santiago de Chile, the mixed sensation of being totally overwhelmed by the noise and the traffic and the speaking a foreign language- thing… and still completely curious and eager to get out there and start talking to people. Plus, there’s that somewhat surreal feeling when you see giant billboards advertising products or restaurants that are so common in your home country, in a completely different language and with completely different marketing techniques.

Oh! To all of the people that doubt the sanity of someone who wants to bike in a “third-world” (not my term) country… I counted six—SIX—lycra-clad roadies on the highway up to Antigua, dodging the crazy traffic. Whoo boy, that was some climbing they were doing!

The taxi dropped us off at L+K’s hotel, and even helped me haul my backpack and bag of bricks (er—books) inside. The hotel folks and L+K were really nice too, and let me leave my bike in the lobby and my bags in L+K’s room.

From there, we took off to see the sites in Antigua and find some food. L+K had been traveling for 24 hours (one heckuva long layover in L.A.—ick) and I was freakin hungry after turning down the unappetizing “snack mix” and cookie TACA offered for free.

We asked about getting local currency first. There have been some problems with the ATMs, in that they have no money (or run out very early in the day). We really lucked out, and ended up being the first in line for an ATM. They put a limit of 1000Q (quetzals) on withdrawls (7.53Q to US$1). I only took out enough for the week, but plan on stopping in Huehuetenango (fewer gringos trying to change money, smaller population in general, hopefully equaling more cash in the ATMs) before going to San Mateo.

Right next to the bank was a cute looking café (Café Contesa) offering lots and lots of coffee drink varieties. Very luckily, L+K are big coffee drinkers as well! ☺ Hooray! The café also offered delicious-sounding breakfast options and a lovely courtyard seating area, we naturally we went in.

It turned out that all of us ordered huevos guatemaltecos—scrambled eggs with tomato and onion, homefries, toast, and a fruit salad. Aside from being very, very salty, they tasted absolutely delicious after hauling my over-packed bags through two airports. The coffee (all three of us got café Americano—just “regular” coffee) was also quite good.

I was a little concerned about my lodging arrangements for the evening, so we headed back to the hotel and used the internet so I could check my email. The place I had emailed about rooms was a bit out of town, and sometimes provided rides to people coming from Antigua.

Nothing from the Earthlodge about rides up, so we decided to go to the market (Thursday and Sunday are market days in Antigua) and see where the buses left from.

We wandered around a bit and checked out the tourist-oriented artesanía. There were some really cute skirts for sale—if only I had an inch of spare space in my darned bags!

I asked around a bit for buses to “Aldea el Harto” (about 11 km outside of town, and where Earthlodge is located) and people seemed really confused. Well, first off, there’s no “r” in the name. Apparently I got that wrong! Secondly, they pronounce the “h” in the name. I don’t know if that’s typical or just a regional thing? I always thought that the “h” sound was generally silent (ie: hola, hijos, hablar).

I found a guy who claimed that the bus to “Aldea el Harto” would be leaving in about 1 hour. Geez, I bet he was thinking “stupid gringa!”—or maybe he was just trying to be friendly and didn’t want to give a negative answer (which is sometimes seen as rude). I’ll stick with the latter.

So—we headed back to the hotel so I could collect my things and head out. On the way, we stopped at a store selling “Claro” SIM cards (I learned that a SIM card is not, in fact, a tarjeta de SIM as I translated it, but rather a chip de SIM or sometimes chiplet, pronounced “cheep” and “cheeplet”). I unlocked my phone before leaving home, so I can put any SIM card in it, wherever I go, and have a local number. Pretty sweet, eh?

The woman in the store was very nice and put up with my trying to figure out what the most economical option for calling the US would be.

See, I’m bad at math. I can’t add in my head to save my life. And that’s in English! I never learned to add in Spanish. That stuff they say about math being a universal language? Only if it’s in writing! And here I was trying to translate what she said into English numbers so that I could even start to figure things out. Finally, I decided on the 20-minute (local) SIM chip and an add-on card good for about 30 international minutes.

So I have a cell phone here! If you want to make an international call… my number is 5445- 2683. I’m not absolutely sure what the country code is, but I think it’s 56…

Just as I was leaving L+K’s hotel, my cell phone rang. I had called and left a message with Earthlodge right after I got my phone, and they were calling me back! Drew, one of the owners (the other being his wife, Briana) was in Guatemala City all day renewing his passport. He’d be swinging through Antigua to get his car, and could pick me up then. Sweet! No hauling my bags of bricks across town to the buses!

So I left my bags in L+K’s room again, and decided to take a little break up on the rooftop patio while they showered and napped. I called home (hooray!) took some pictures (they’re okay—I’ll blog them when I have wireless access and am not paying by the quarter-hour!) and got some reading done.

We grabbed a quick lunch (it was about 3 pm)—L+K got really yummie looking chile relleno (Lauren) and chicken fajitas (Kimia). I wasn’t all that hungry, so I just had coffee (I think it was NesCafé—aka: ni es café).

L+K were really wonderful again and helped me haul my shtuff to the Parque Central, where Drew was going to pick me up. Apparently, he’s running on Latin American time (as is everyone here…) and was about 30 min late. Eh, not bad.

I said goodbye to L+K, and we arranged to meet up at the fountain tomorrow at 12 for coffee and lunch.


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