Thursday, November 26, 2015

Post Office Run-Around & My First Chicken Bus Ride

I ordered a few things from Banggood in China several months ago. Like June 10th, actually. On July 17th, I was excited to receive a letter from the post office regarding my parcel, until I realized that it was telling me the parcel was held up at customs in Guatemala City.

Thus began the Post Office Run-Around!
First, I followed the instructions on the paper and emailed the customs office an authorization form and a copy of my passport.
I waited a few weeks, then went to the post office to ask. They said it could take three to four months. MONTHS.
I waited several more weeks, then emailed the customs office. They said to go to the post office again. I went there, and they said they couldn't help me, that they "don't do that anymore". At least that was my impression.
I emailed the customs office again, and they said to come to Guatemala City. I told them I couldn't, so they said go to the agency in Solola. I decided to try the SAT office here in Pana first, but after passing the letter around to everyone in the office, they also told me I had to go to Guatemala City. ARGH!

So finally yesterday I got around to going up to Solola as directed by the customs people to see if they could get me my parcel. Bert and I wanted to take a pickup truck because we thought it would be a nicer view, but after waiting at the stop for 10 minutes, we got bored and jumped on a chicken bus. My first chicken bus ride!
Chicken buses are so much more colourful than regular buses. :)
Important questions and answers about chicken buses:
1. How did we know which bus to take? The ayudante (helper) stands near the bus yelling out the destination. "Solola Solola SoloLA!" It's quite musical. :)
2. How much was it? Q3 per person each way.
3. When did we pay? We paid after the bus was moving. The ayudante collected the fares. 
Other things to remember about chicken buses:
First of all, school buses are NOT comfortable. They're built for children. So our knees were jammed up against the seat in front of us, and on the first bus it was solid metal. I have bruises. Owies. The ride back was a bit better as the seats were padded.

Second, they're not kidding when they say they pack the buses full! There was one woman and four children all piled into the seat in front of us! And people were sitting with half their butts in the aisle.

Third, yeah, it's a bit scary but we kinda just crossed our fingers, toes, and hearts that we would die quickly... or not at all preferably. I'm sure the bus drivers are quite experienced and competent, but they just are more... let's call it "bold" than most people are used to. Add to that a winding narrow road on the side of a cliff with few guardrails and oncoming traffic that isn't obeying laws either, and it seems a miracle that more accidents DON'T happen!
Before the bus left, this guy walked thru selling drinks, and another man walked thru selling fruit. 
Here's a three minute video of us going up the hill out of town. It's totally beautiful in real life, but the glare of the sun on the lens and the contrast between the dark interior of the bus and the bright exterior made for a crappy video. Oh well. I guess you'll just have to come down to Guatemala to experience a chicken bus first-hand!
(Jump to 2:53 to get a quick glimpse of a cascade and the lake!)

Arriving in Solola, we were dropped off at the main park. It was so lovely! Reminded me of the central parks in Antigua and San Cristobal. Bert was saying that Pana needs something like that. I agree! Although, actually we do have the lovely lakefront area to hang out at. Perhaps a bigger park down in that area would be nice, with benches and picnic tables crafted by Bert and NJP! :D
The Solola Museum at the central park.
Xmas tree sponsored by Gallo beer!
I had looked up on a map where the post office was in Solola, so we headed in what I thought was the right direction. A few minutes walk uphill, I asked a storekeeper just to be sure and he waved me on up the hill. We were considering taking a tuk-tuk but I felt like it would be more of an experience if we hoofed it. *puff puff wheeze wheeze* Solola is steep!

We reached the top of the hill and found the market. So big! We gawked around there for a bit and then I asked a french fry vendor where the post office was. He said, "Down the hill at the park." What? I didn't want to believe him, so I asked someone else and they said the same thing! We had walked to the top of Solola for nothing. *sigh* At least it was a cool place to visit and view the volcanoes.
See the museum tower waaaaaay down the hill? That's where we started.
The huge market in Solola. Cars and trucks were driving through here. It was massive and all covered and organized, not like our crazy blankets-on-the-ground market in Pana!
We walked all the way back down to the park and strolled around the perimeter, snapping photos. Three-quarters of the way around the square, I asked for directions again. "The other side of the park."
So guess where we ended up? About 10 feet away from where the bus dropped us off! Yeah, if we had just turned left instead of right, we probably would have seen it.

Having finally reached our destination, I went inside with high hopes... that were totally shattered within two seconds! I could barely understand a word the young guy behind the counter was saying! A group of Mayan women were giggling at my ineptitude. Eventually, I realized that he was telling me to come back in a few minutes when another lady returned to work. Ah! Okay!

She did arrive shortly and I have to say, she was the most helpful person I've met so far! She listened patiently to my bad Spanish and read the wrinkled letter I had brought with me. Then she called the number on the form and talked to them for several minutes about what to do. They gave her another number to call, but by that time it was past 4pm and no one was answering. Foiled again!

So what she said to me was that any post office should have done what she was doing for me. (What??? I could have done this in Pana?? Grrrr....)
She also said that my package may or may not still be in Guatemala. (I didn't quite understand that part. Where would it go?)

Because the second office was closed and she couldn't proceed further, she asked if I could come back tomorrow. I told her I couldn't, so she said I should go to the post office in Pana and tell them to call her directly to work this out. How nice! She was genuinely trying to help me solve my problem. Amazing!

So at that point, there we nothing else we could do, so we just hopped on the next chicken bus outta town and went home. After a very speedy, very jerky, and very brief ride back down the mountain to Pana, we treated ourselves to gringas and ice cream to celebrate our safe return!
(Honestly, it was fine and I would totally take a chicken bus again. Cheap and easy.)
Big church in Solola.

1 comment :

  1. Really! OK ~ I'm game for Chicken Bus Ride next time!! ~ suz