Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Banking Troubles in Guatemala

I wanted to update everyone with my experience and to warn people.

On November 16th, 2016, I used the Banco de América Central, BAC, "red lion" bank machine on Santander to attempt to withdraw Q2000 for our trip to Tikal. The machine froze and then said it couldn't complete the transaction. I did not receive any cash. However, the bank had debited the money from my account. Of course, when I went into the bank that's in the plaza just behind the ATM, they said they couldn't help me.

I contacted my bank in Canada and they filed a dispute. My bank at home in Canada is President's Choice Financial, a division of CIBC. (I love them!) They said it could take "up to 90 business days". When I didn't hear anything after about a month, I called and they assured me they were working on it. Another month, another call, another platitude.

Four months later... I just got an email from a manager saying they never received a response from the "foreign entity" regarding my money. HUH?? No response? What, are they just ignoring the request? I replied to her and asked her what else they can do. Another request? Contact someone higher up?
Well, it must be my lucky day because CIBC/President's Choice Financial is going to credit my account as a "one-time gesture of goodwill." YAY!! That was almost $400 Canadian. I mean, it's been gone so long, it's almost like it didn't exist anymore but it sure is awesome to get it back.

I must note that I've withdrawn money from bank machines in Guate a bazillion times without problems. However, having been screwed by several bank machines around town, I now exclusively use the ATMs in the Despensa. On one desperate occasion, I used the BI bank machine in the El Dorada Plaza and it worked. Whew!

This "red lion" BAC bank machine has ripped off other friends, plus the BI bank machine way down Santander by the computer store has ripped me off in the past. So avoid those machines!
BI bank machine ATM ABM cajero
BI bank machines are blue. 5B machines are yellow.
ATMs or ABMs are called cajeros in Spanish.
TIPS for using bank machines in Guatemala:

  • Try to stick to ATMs that are locked up at night so they are less likely to be tampered with. Avoid bank machines in little stores and on open streets.
  • Always inspect the machine, especially the part where your card goes in, to see if there's anything weird or flimsy, something that looks like it's been attached.
  • Cover the keypad with your hand when you enter your PIN in case someone is filming you.
  • Check your bank account online often. Alert your bank if you're traveling around a lot. 
  • Be alert! Watch for suspicious people before and after you use the ATM. 
  • If something goes wrong, be sure to get any printed receipts that come out. Take a picture of the screen, if you can. Go into the nearest local bank branch and talk to someone, even if it's just to get a business card and the number of the ATM. Contact your home branch immediately. Like really immediately!!

My PC bank card works only at BI bank machines. My TD Canada Trust bank card (with a Visa logo) works at almost every bank machine I've tried. The fees are higher on my TD bank at $5 per foreign ATM withdrawal, while PC bank is only $3.

Whenever I'm near bank machines here in Pana, I'm always on the lookout for tourists and foreigners frowning at the ATM. I've surprised quite a few people by offering to help. I'm sure one couple thought I was some sort of thief trying to steal their PIN or something but really I just wanted to make sure they got their money! Some bank machines have an English option and some don't, so it can be confusing. Not all machines accept chip cards, and even if they do, sometimes it takes a few swipes to get it to recognize it. Some ATMs just beep all the time. Some of them run out of money, especially on the weekends.

So good luck to all you travelers out there. May your transactions be low-fee and pain-free. 😉

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sounds of Guatemala

I love taking videos but due to my camera being dropped a few too many times, the audio on my videos comes out with a thump-thump-thump sound. So I wanted to link a few videos for you all so you can hear what Guatemala is like. Or at least what it's like from my little apartment in Jucanya. 😊

Every morning I wake up to birds singing, roosters calling, dogs barking, and a bread-seller honking a clown horn. (Click to listen.) I can hear the neighbours' kid crying, "Ma-MAH! Ma-MAH!" The old man gardener shuffles around throwing water on the plants. In the distance is either marimba music or Spanish pop music. Many mornings, it's popping fireworks too! (They set them off to celebrate birthdays.)

In the afternoons, it's the sounds of vendors walking the streets selling food and other things. "Pescado pescado pescado!" (Fish!) On the weekends, I can hear the thumping music from the party boats at the beach. Marching bands practicing, more dogs, and always roosters. The hot afternoons are often the quietest part of the day and the best time for napping.

In the evenings, I enjoy lots of lovely birdsong from the trees, plus kids playing in the alleys, neighbours laughing and talking, music playing from everywhere, dogs, dogs, dogs, and -- wait for it -- roosters! 😆

What I call the Guatemalan Robin. (Clay-colored thrush)

A video I found on YouTube of morning sights and sounds of Lake Atitlan. He appears to be filming in Santa Cruz, perhaps.

Marimba music. The marimba is the official instrument of Guatemala. Here in Pana, they have shows at Jose Pengüino's on Fridays and Saturdays.

A video I took a while back of the party boats at the beach in Jucanya. The announcer guy is so strange. They're incredibly loud, with the most insane party music at early hours of the day. Not for me. 😖

And of course, music! The workers at the river play the best old-time mariachi music, the chicken buses often play 80s pop music (ABBA, Phil Collins, even Rick Astley. I'm not even joking), stores sometimes blast Latin pop music from giant speakers set out front, and the bars compete with each other at night for who can deafen you the most. It's an awesome cacophony and very much makes you feel like you're in an exotic location. I love it!
I'll link Enrique, cuz all his songs are super popular here, but be sure to check out any other Latin pop artists that are suggested by YouTube after you watch this. The great music truly makes Guatemala a rhythmic, upbeat, booty-shaking place. 😁

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Weather in Panajachel, Guatemala

People always want to know, "What's the weather like in Panajachel?"

All right, that's it for today's blog post. See you next time!

What? You're still here? You want, like, facts and numbers and graphs and stuff? Okay! Let's do this.  😁

TODAY'S WEATHER, March 7, 2017
I like Weather Underground. They have the most detailed info! Plus there's a CONRED weather station right in Panajachel so it's presumably real local weather. (Don't be fooled that it says Retalhuleu. It's a mistake!)

The above picture says rain but I'm looking outside and there is no rain in sight. This is a problem with finding accurate weather on the Internet. Sometimes you ask for Panajachel and it gives you Xela or, worse, Guate City airport, and many times it says rain and there's nothing. However, sometimes it'll be raining on one side of the valley and not the other, so ya never know.

Weather for this week. Sunny and nice, sunny and nice. The red line graph shows the daily fluctuation from cool mornings to hot afternoons. Every day!

How many different ways can you say, "Sunny and warm"? We'll see if the forecasted rain later in the month comes true!

This graph demonstrates how little the temperature varies. The difference between an average day in January and one in August is not much. Consistently nice temperatures! 

This is the bad news. RAIN. June to October, wear your rubber boots! Carry an umbrella always.Or just get wet. (Overlay this with the above graph of temperatures and you'll see that it's a nice warm rain.)

I couldn't find a chart to back up my observations, but it seems the rain usually starts mid-afternoon and ends sometime overnight. Even in the rainiest months, you can usually go out and get your errands done in the morning while it's dry, albeit muddy! Plus, the rains make everything so beautiful and green, and make all the crops grow, so you can't really complain. 😊

From WeatherandClimate.com:
A lot of rain (rainy season) falls in the months: May through October.
Panajachel has dry periods in November through April.
On average, the warmest month is May.
On average, the coolest month is January.
June is the wettest month.
February is the driest month.
One thing that I didn't get a chart for is wind. It gets pretty darn windy here in December, January, and February. Combine that with it being the dry season, and you get a lot of grit in your eyes!

Look! I made a chart! Isn't it pretty??

Today's forecast: lovely with a chance of stay-indoors-for-a-wee-bit.
Coming from Canada, I find the weather here just awesome. It's hot enough in the day that I feel like I'm in the tropics, yet cool enough at night that I can have a hot chocolate before bed. It's not really humid. I find the wind exhilarating. And the rain is temporary and not much bother if you plan for it.

Now for a confession: I miss snow! Yeah, I really do. But only a little bit. I need maybe just a week or so of it, then I'll be happy to be back in Guatemala.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mayan Ceremonial Circle Altar

A short video showing the Mayan ceremonial area with a circular altar. Lovely location, right next to Lake Atitlan and in full view of the three volcanoes. I'm sure the location has ancient significance but the altar itself is quite modern, made of bricks and mortar. I like the carved faces and symbols around the edge. Super cool.

If you're in Panajachel and want to see it, go across the river to Jucanya and down Calle de Los Salpores to the beach at the end. Turn left and walk walk walk walk past the decrepit basketball court and the boat yard and the playground of painted tires. Eventually, you'll see it on your right, can't miss it!
Afterwards, keep going and turn left up the sharply inclined alley. At the top is the beautiful cemetery, which I blogged about in this post from 2015. Enjoy!

P.S. Can you believe it's MARCH??