Thursday, December 11th ~ Drive from Coban to Guatemala City
Our week with Hugo had come to a close. A family of four had arrived the night before from Seattle and were taking our place in the SUV to start their own adventure. We had a wonderful breakfast with the newbies and prepared for our own long drive from Coban to Guatemala City.
Our driver for the day was Victor. A former body-guard for Mel Gibson over a period of four years, I’m sure he had many story to tell – that would be if I could understand Spanish better or he spoke more English. As it was, we made do fine with a word here or there, the occasional use of our Google translation app, and a lot of smiles and hand gestures.
When I asked if Mel Gibson spoke Spanish, he indicated that he spoke only a little Spanish but traveled with a masseuse who would translate for him – (at least I think that is what he said).
Having never spent any time in Guatemala City, other than a couple of overnights before catching early morning flights back to the states, or driving through on our way somewhere else, we welcomed the opportunity to see a little more.
With a population of 3.2 million people (as of 2012), this is the largest city in Guatemala and the capital of the country.
Guatemala City is actually the fourth city to hold the title of “capital”.
- Villa de Santiago de Guatemala (now known as Tecpan) was founded in 1524 by the Spanish colonizers.
- The capital was moved to Ciudad Vieja in 1527, due to conflict with the Kaqchikel nation. The current leader, Pedro de Alvarado (click on the link to read more about this cruel, vicious monster of a man) died on July 4, 1541 in a horse back riding accident when on his way to Mexico. To honor his memory, his widow (Beatriz de la Cueva), ordered the entire town to be painted black. This city was located at the foot of Agua Volcano, which at the time had a large lake on top of it. A short time later on September 11, 1541 tremors caused a fissure to open up, emptying the lake, causing mudslides, destroying the black city and drowning his widow.
“Ten years after being widowed, Alvarado married one of his first wife’s sisters, Beatriz de la Cueva, who outlived him. After the death of her husband, de la Cueva maneuvered her own election and succeeded him as governor of Guatemala, becoming the only woman to govern a major political division of the Americas in Spanish colonial times. She drowned a few weeks after taking office in the destruction of the capital city Ciudad Vieja by a sudden flow from the Volcan de Agua in 1541.” ~ Wikipedia
- The third capital was moved 4 miles away to Antigua. This city was almost completely destroyed by several earthquakes in 1773–1774 and once again the capital was moved. Antigua (meaning antique or ancient city), is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- The capital was moved to its current site, Guatemala City and was officially founded on January 2, 1776.
Originally on this site was the ancient Mayan city Kaminaljuvu, which dates back to between 1200 and 1000 BC. Occupied for over 2000 years, this city was eventually abandoned in the late Classic Period (600-900 AD). Modern day Guatemala City is built over many ruins with little or no preservation measures in place until recently.
The city is divided into zones 1-25, (with numbers 20, 22 and 23 missing) starting in the center and spiraling outward. Zone 1 is the historical center and where some of the key structures can be found.
“Addresses are assigned according to the street or avenue number, followed by a dash and the number of meters it is away from the intersection further simplifying address location. The zones are assigned in a spiral form starting in downtown Guatemala city.” ~ Wikipedia
The National Palace “was the most important building in Guatemala and was the headquarters of the President of Guatemala. The building is the origin of all the roads in the Republic, and has a spot known as Kilometro Cero (Zero Kilometer). It is actually a museum and is also used for important acts of the government.” ~ Wikipedia
The city has modern sections like you might picture in any large city in the USA. Tall banks, high-rise apartment buildings and shopping complexes. There are excellent museums, large parks, and good public transportation.
But there is also an underbelly to the city, where crime is rampant and corruption is a way of life.
La Limonada is an urban slum area located within Guatemala City. According to slumdoc.com:
“La Limonada (The Lemonade) is the largest slum in Latin America outside of Brazil. 60,000 people are crammed into a steep ravine one-mile in length. Police do not enter and when there’s a murder, gov’t officials responsible for investigation refuse to go in.”
Here is a very short clip to introduce this area to you.
After enjoying a late lunch at a restaurant frequented by local business people, we spent our final hour wandering through the Artisan Marketplace which is right next door to the airport.
Victor dropped us curbside, unloaded our suitcases from the SUV and then it was time to say “goodbye” once again to a country we love dearly.
Guatemala is a country of great contrasts. Extreme wealth, natural beauty that surpasses all expectations, exotic birds, colorful fabrics, a Mayan people who will warmly welcome you and proudly share their cultural heritage, coffee and banana plantations, volcanos, beaches facing both the Atlantic and the Pacific, spectacular high mountain lakes, historical ruins to explore, jungles and rain forests.
They are also a struggling third world country in need of more infrastructure, sanitary systems, improved healthcare and education for their poor. The government is corrupt and they have one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world.
But even with the ongoing struggles and problems, the people of Guatemala are what keep me coming back time after time. Guatemala has become my drug of choice.
Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful to have had another memorable time in Guatemala. We have returned to this beautiful country more times than to any other, and it has become like a well-worn shoe – comfortable and warm. I’m already looking forward to our next visit…