I’ve been to Guatemala before but my experience arriving in Guatemala City this time was one for the books.
The Copa flight was uneventful, as it should be. Once I got to customs, things changed quickly. I was pulled over so a customs man could check my luggage. Already unusual, he only wanted to check my suitcase, not my other bag or my purse. He proceeded to take every single article of clothing, appliances, books – everything – out of my suitcase. Then he went through my new notebooks that I bought for my Spanish classes. They were brand new notebooks with nothing but blank pages. He unzipped the zipper at the bottom of the bag and searched through the wheel mechanism. He opened my vitamin bag and fingered them before taking a glucosamine capsule, opening it and tasting the powder. If I wasn’t so mad by then, I would have told him that it was strong hormones and that in the morning he would have breasts but not penis. I gave him written prescriptions for all my medication knowing he had no idea what he was looking at. By now I am fuming and he still wasn’t done. Next, he called the drug dog over – TWICE!! It’s the same dog that I had been standing next to during the entire ordeal, now going on about 10 minutes. And he still wasn’t done. He took my passport and starts to walk away and I asked him where he was going. So he stopped and decided just to write down my passport information on some kind of paper. Then he began shoving my stuff back in my bag. That’s when I stopped him and repacked myself.
I’ve traveled to Russia, China and several Middle Eastern countries and have never been treated like this. It was ridiculous and infuriating. I wanted to take pictures or video, but they probably would have introduced me to Guatemala’s jail if I did.
So what was so interesting about this one bag? No idea. But certainly not a Welcome to Guatemala. No wonder half of their population is trying to get out. So as I exit customs, I take a deep breath and move on to the next step – getting to the homestay.
Luckily the driver was still waiting since I was definitely the last person to leave customs. He was sent by the school to take me to the home. The ride was $40 and split between two people. When we got to my homestay, I gave him $20. I found out later that he was getting paid by the school and said that I had only given him a tip. That was corrected immediately and he will no longer be working for the school. Second strike, Guatemala.
I applied to stay at a Level C home, which was suppose to be an upscale colonial home including private bath and internet. I arrived at a run down house with no hot water. To use the sporadic internet, I had to stand near their front door in the yard. My room looked like a hostel and the windows could not be opened. The woman that owns the place was extremely nice but this was not going to work. After a cold shower and a few attempts at using wifi, I called the school and they arranged for a much nicer place.
All of this occurred in the first 3 hours of my arrival in Guatemala. Not a shining moment for a country who could really use tourista dollars and a little help with their reputation for corruption. Guatemala’s first family has been implicated in getting payments from a drug cartel and the head of the cartel was just found guilty in Miami.
I am writing this three days after the fact and things have improved immensely. The school, Don Pedro, has been great and my teacher, Claudia, is amazing. She has so much patience and knows when to shift to another activity before my brain explodes. After 3 days of class, I can already see the progress. Sarah, my homestay landlady is very helpful. She speaks no English and forces me to use Spanish, even correcting my never-ending mistakes. For the last 3 days, everything has been the smooth experience that I was expecting.
Next post – Spanish progress!