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Guatemala: guerrilla & corruption but so lovely

July 22, 2009

Chichicastenango_masks

eXplorer has moved and is now named ‘Wild About Travel. I hope you’ll continue to follow me @ www.wild-about-travel.com

I visited Guatemala in 1996, when the guerrilla was still in place although about to be terminated. That is to say a long time ago and things changed since then. There’s a lot to tell about Guatemala, and a single post is not enough. So today I will tell you about guerrilla and corruption and how to (possibly) manage them. Because although things are changing over time, violence and corruption are to a certain extent integrated to most Latin American countries, where democracy is frequently precarious and can easily be swept away. Notwithstanding, Central and South America are beautiful and really worth a visit being full of coulours, traditions, history and breathtaking landscapes.

Guatemala was part of a trip that was supposed to include Mexico, a quick visit to Copan ruins in Honduras and Belize (I can tell you right now that I could not visit Honduras. Being used to the way we calculate distances in Europe, I was unable to imagine what 200 km mean in those countries). I entered Guatemala from Mexico, by bus, and this was already an experience. The  Mexican bus had to stop 500 m before the border and this had to be crossed on foot. Once crossed the border, there were a couple of huts. In the first one, a military guard was checking passports, with a highly suspicious attitude. After having completed the passport check, you had to pass through the second hut. And there the fun started. Another military guard, with charming manners, told me that “a donation was not compulsory but would have been highly appreciated”, otherwise there were good chances that my baggage would be searched very soon.

Indeed, I wasn’t carrying anything special, apart some dirty T-shirts, trousers and underwear… However, I knew about this practice and was afraid that the military guards might have thrown some drugs in my baggage during the search. Therefore, I asked what would be an “appropriate donation” and I paid. This practice (don’t know if still in place) was called “la mordida”, that is to say “the bribe”.

Signs of the guerrilla, the power and the corruption of police and military officers were visible under many circumstances. Travellers were strongly advised against trekking on the volcans, since there were high risks to be caught by the guerrilla, hiding in the tropical forest. In Antigua I ran into two guys claiming to be “tourist police” and “advising” me to stay in a specific hostel (which was not bad indeed). Altough not officially, back in 1996 Antigua was under a sort of curfew after dusk. Empty city, almost no lights in the streets. Going out at night was possible, though, but with great care, and never alone. Overall, I remember that everywhere you could feel the presence of the police, corruption, violence.

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Though the climate was not easy, I loved Guatemala and after years I still have a lot of beautiful images in my eyes. I specially remember the incredible colours, the eyes and the deep look of the indios, the magic atmosphere on Atitlan lake and the wonders of Tikal ruins.

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