Guatemala, Travel

Guatemala: Machete Paradise (part 1)

DISCLAIMER: This may be upsetting to some readers. To the moms reading this, don’t worry – we are safe.

A Brief History

No, this isn’t some sort of weird-Al parody. That would insinuate we are in gangster paradise, which we are not. But we are in machete paradise.

At its core, a machete is a farming tool. Useful for chopping trails through thick brush, variations of the machete are used by cultures and civilizations all over the world. While it seems in North America we simply use the machete for entertainment purposes, the machete is still a popular multi-tool here in Guatemala…and it’s a little unnerving.

Safety In Guatemala

After the rough start in Mexico City, we were wary of coming to Guatemala. It didn’t help that Guatemala is ranked “reconsider travel” on the US Travel Department’s website. Crime is, of course, a factor in the ranking system, but a large weight of it is the ability of the US government to intervein on your behalf should something happen. Only recently establishing any sort of political stability (following a 30-year civil war), Guatemala is struggling with widespread corruption, extortion, volcano disasters, and heavy drug trafficking.

Disembarking from our flight into Guatemala City, we leave the airport on foot for our hostel. We’re going to stay there one night to get our bearings before entering the logistical foray of making it to Lake Atitlan. The area surrounding the airport is zombie-apocalypse-grade deserted. Between our blue location dot on Google Maps and destination is a high concrete wall topped with razor wire and doorways shadowing guards with pump-action shotguns. We discover this wall encloses a small compound of hostels and hotels for both citizens and touristisas alike. Finally finding the front gate, the guard lets us through. At the hostel we are greeted by an incredibly friendly man from Belize. His impeccable English gives us the freedom to ask how quickly we can get Pizza Hut delivered….because we were not going back outside the compound.

Making Friends

In typical American fashion, we got (2) pizza(s) delivered. Eyes bigger than stomachs, we made friends with the various Latinos that were milling around by sharing our slices. They all accepted our offer graciously and were very thankful.

The following morning, we awoke to a text message from Hayden’s mom – “Call me.” A news channel ran a story that morning that a bus full of tourists was boarded, the driver shot, and the vehicle commandeered. Doing some research of our own, it turns out this has been happening since 2009 with over 900 bus drivers being killed at the crime peak in 2013.

Gangs are extorting the bus companies for money and if the company doesn’t pay, their drivers pay the price with their lives. We vowed to only take private transportation for the duration of our stay.

Author’s note: No ONE should have to worry about seeing their bus driver murdered on their daily commutes. Because the bus was full of white tourists, it’s suddenly newsworthy. This has been going on for OVER A DECADE. I know things are hot in the states right now surrounding immigration, but this is one example (of dozens I’m sure) of why people might want to seek better lives in the USA. Even during the latest Chicago night, I wouldn’t have ever worried about any sort of attack on public transit. Maybe we can make a little room in both our hearts and our country, hmmm?? Here are 12 great ways you can help refugees – not all of them involving money. 

Having made friends via pizza, we got a ride to the airport the next day and were escorted directly to the driver of a shuttle who would take us the next leg of our trip….into machete country.

To be continued ……

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