Friday, April 3, 2015

From Canada To Guatemala

Wow. April 1st, 2015, was the day we went from Barrie, Ontario, Canada, to Panajachel, Solola, Guatemala in just 16 short hours!
Yeah, little bit of sarcasm there. It was 16 looooong hours. But worth every second.
Here's the rundown of our journey. Brace yourself, it's long!
Baggage! Including Willow.

4:30 am -- Woke up in our hotel in Toronto and packed up quickly.
5:30 am -- Caught an airport shuttle to Terminal 3.
5:50 am - 7:00 am
Arrived at Terminal 3 and proceeded to jump through an immense amount of hoops. I was baffled! It seemed just as we finished with one security checkpoint, we were at another. And it all seemed to be completely ineffectual, as the only person who even glanced at Willow's papers was the Delta check-in lady.
Checking our baggage was bizarre as we got all the tickets at the Delta desk but then had to take them to another place to put them on the belt... and a separate place to put Bert's guitar and my blue tote on a belt. (They went through a big x-ray machine and the lady asked what I had in the tote. I said, "My computer" and she nodded and that was it. Off it went.)
Passport control is automated now. You stick your passport in and then pose for a picture. Press some buttons and off you go. Turns out, I pressed the wrong buttons because I didn't claim my cat, but when I got to the security guy who looked at my passport, I told him and he didn't care. He didn't even look at my face, I don't think.
There was one security checkpoint in the middle of this mess where a guy at a desk just put his hand out. No signs, nothing. I'm like, "What do you want?" Gave him my passport and boarding pass, while struggling with all the other random slips of paper I'd already received. Not even sure why he was there. He didn't seem sure either.

Oh, the luggage fiasco. I thought I was so smart and had prepared to pack my computer in a blue tote that I had measured so carefully. Yeah, well, I neglected to measure my widescreen monitor and it didn't fit in the tote! I found this out, oh, about an hour before my sister was picking me up to leave. So I had a little meltdown and ended up packing it my backpack, then putting all my clothes in a spare suitcase I happened to have not taken to Value Village. When Bert and I got to the hotel, my sister helped us to repack our suitcases and the monitor ended up in Bert's nice new suitcase.
Anyway, what did that end up costing? An extra $125. I know! Shocking! You see, you get one free carry-on bag, but I had Willow, so I didn't get a carry-on. You get one free checked bag, which was my backpack. Then I knew I had to pay $40 for my tote with the computer in it. The third checked bag, the one with all my clothes in it, that was the $125.
But I thought of it this way: I was spending $125 to go shopping... for my own clothes. Ha! Or probably a better way to put it, if I had $125 to spend, could I have bought equally nice clothes in Guatemala to replace the ones I left behind? No, probably not.

Anyhoo... on with the story.
7;00 am Boarded our plane and had a wonderful flight to Atlanta. Clear skies, no problems.
9:20 am Arrived in Atlanta and walked the entire length of the concourse to get to our other gate. Of course. Couldn't have been Gates A1 and A3 or something. Had to be A3 and A29. *sigh*
9:50 am Boarded a slightly bigger plane and had a lovely flight to Guatemala City. Bit cloudy but still some wonderful views. Got a turkey sandwich... oh yeah! By the way, the Delta onboard safety video is kinda funny! Watch it!
12:10 pm Central American time (2:10 pm Ontario time) Landed with a resounding THUMP in Guat City after buzzing the tin-roofed barrios by mere meters. Stepped off the plane and were hit with humidity! So warm!! :)
The Guatemala Airport (Aurora) was nice, new, and confusing. We had filled out forms on the plane with information about who were were, where we were from, and what our intentions were (Tourismo!). The customs guy just took them, ran our passports through a machine, then stamped us for 90 days. He didn't even ask about Willow. So we moved to another section of the airport that seemed to be where you declared items. One guard was distracted by another traveler, so we walked up to a lady guard. She was chatting with her friend, barely glanced at us, took our yellow copies of the form and we walked through. No one asked us questions, none of our bags were checked. No one even noticed Willow, I don't think!
12:30 pm Walked outside of the airport doors and were (as expected) accosted by people trying to "help" us. We avoided most of it, but I did give a U.S. dollar to a rather persistent and friendly helper, and Bert gave all his Canadian change to a Mayan girl. Thankfully, we soon met Raymundo, our amazing shuttle driver, who was holding up a sign with my name on it.
Mad-crazy traffic and winding roads.
Guatemala is not for folks who get car sick easily. 
 12:30 pm to 6:30 pm Drove from G.City to our new home. Raymundo was amazing. He navigated the hellish traffic of Easter Week (Semana Santa) through Guatemala City, up up up and up the mountains to Chimaltenango, where we crawled for EVER in bumper to bumper traffic, then curving-turning-winding our way around more mountains until the intense downward drive from Las Escualentas through Solola to Panajachel! He even drove us right to our door at our apartment, which is a few minutes drive past Pana towards Santa Catarina.
We were truly blessed to have him as our chauffeur. A normal 3-hour drive took twice as long due to Easter traffic and he maintained his calm. Bert and Willow were total troopers. I was too tired, dazed, and excited to be upset about the long drive. There was so much to see! I will try to highlight some of the most outstanding observations I had.

It was hard to take pictures out the window, sorry.
I wish I had more shots of the beautiful countryside we drove through.

If I had had any Quetzales, I would have bought some!
It's weird to see palm trees next to pine trees.
There is garbage all over the place. Also pollution.
There are no traffic lights anywhere. There are traffic cops who whistle and use hang signals to direct traffic at the worst intersections, even in Guat City. Madness.
Random cows and goats are tethered near patches of grass.
Lots of dusty, dirty people working hard.
Every now and then, a dude riding a horse bareback.
Sexy ladies dancing can sell anything.
Everyone riding a motorcycle or moped was wearing an orange vest. Not everyone was wearing a helmet. Bert saw a dude with a toddler sitting in front of him, just bombing along the road.
Traffic laws are for ... well, anyone not from Guatemala.  :)
When we were stuck in traffic, people were walking down the center line selling fruits, nuts, and water. Smart!

We didn't arrive at our new apartment until it was just past sunset, so we didn't really get to see the lake. However, the drive through Pana was AWESOME. The first thing I thought of was: this is just like Niagara Falls... but in Spanish. Lots of music, lights, people, and open air shops. A total party! I guess Semana Santa is the biggest holiday of the year here, and everyone is really having fun.

Our new landlady and landlord met us when we arrived, as well as our two newest and bestest friends, Greta and Jack, the "guard" dogs. Our landlady had made us chicken soup and bought us fruit, coffee, eggs, and tortillas. So sweet! She gave a few tips, and then left us to crash into bed.

A Great Southern Epic Adventure was had by all! I will end this post now, but I promise to post more about our amazing apartment, and the crazy-fun first day we've had in here in our new home in Guatemala.
The first Guatemalan food I ate. Ha! Muy delicioso.

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