Suitcase and World: Guatemala, here we come!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guatemala, here we come!

When I fall asleep tonight, it will be in Guatemala!!

The SuperShuttle arrived bright and early at my house this morning – 3:30am to be exact.

By the time I arrived at Reagan National Airport, it was around 4:30am. Soon and his brother, Valiant, had already arrived and checked in. Before the van pulled up at the terminal, Soon had already text me to warn me that the check-in line was VERY LONG. Luckily, the flight didn’t leave until 6:15am so I had plenty of time.

Sure enough, the line was a mile long but was able to use express check-in and bypass the line. Got my backpack checked in and then met up with Soon and his brother to go through the security check which we all breezed through.

Yes, it's early in the morning and they would.....
We had a little more than a hour to wait before we board the plane. There were a few places open for breakfast but I think it was a bit early for all of us so we just sat and chatted to bide the time.

....rather be in bed than in the departure terminal.
At around 9am, the plane landed in Miami and as soon as we entered the departure lounge, we headed in search of a place to grab a quick morning bite before catching the next flight to Guatemala City.

When the pilot announced that we would be landing shortly, I leaned over to look out the window. What I saw were the lush green mountains of Guatemala. This is a very hilly country!  I don't know why but I was expecting flatter terrain.

We landed in Guatemala City at about 10:30am local time. We entered what looked like a brand spanking new airport - it was actually a pleasure to stroll through it.

Still tired but excited to finally be in Guatemala.
By the time we made it through immigration and customs, where for some reason, they wanted to x-ray our luggage, it was just before 11am. If his flight arrived on time, my brother would also be on Guatemalan soil by now. I figured we would have to wait for about ½ hour before we would meet up with him outside the departure terminal.
With our luggage in hand, we headed outside. I had arranged for transport to the hotel in Antigua so our immediate task at hand was to find the driver who would be holding up a sign with my name on it. Our eyes scanned the crowd but we didn’t spot him so the brothers and I decided to split our efforts – they would keep an eye out for the driver and I would keep an eye out for my brother.

Bro, ready to go after a long red eye flight!
They spotted the driver before me but it wasn’t long before I spotted my brother. With a quick round of introductions, we stood and waited while the driver went to retrieve the van.

It was only now that I was able to realize how sunny and warm the day was. I shed my jacket – it was nice to just be standing around outside with just a tee shirt on. I’m hoping all our days in Guatemala will be like this.

A short wait and the driver pulled up in a mini-van. We threw out luggage into the back and piled ourselves inside. It would be about a 45 minute drive to Antigua. Along the way, we could see Guatemala City. Like any other city in a developing country, it’s both modern and poor. Surprisingly or maybe not surprisingly, there were American fast food chain restaurants everywhere – McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have all invaded this Latin land of tortillas and tamales. Pollo Campero, the Latin version of KFC, were seemingly on every street block. And of course, the famed Guatemalan chicken buses, crowded the streets.

At some point we hit the outskirts of the city. The van was on a two lane road, winding its way up the mountainside. One switchback after another…..we made our way uphill for quite a long time. The landscape was brownish green as this is the dry season. Houses and other establishments dotted the hillsides.

Soon, the driver veered off the road onto a cobblestone street. We had finally arrived into Antigua! Bumpety, bumpety, bumpety….we were heading to the hotel. The streets are narrow and lined with townhomes painted in bright colors – yellow seemed extremely popular. In anticipation of the upcoming Semana Santa celebrations, purple flags and banners were hung up everywhere – from windows, doors and balconies.

On our way to the hotel, we passed by La Merced and the Arco Santa Catalina. I recognized them from all the pictures I had looked at while planning this trip. We would have a better view of both later on in the day. 

We pulled outside a nondescript building.  The driver ran the doorbell and someone answered.  We and our luggage were quickly ushered inside.  What welcomed us was a pair of beautiful courtyards.  We had finally, truly, really arrived.  Bienvenidos a Guatemala!!