© 2012; 2005 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Diane Redfern. Information
Note: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated. Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

Befriended in Guatemala City

Patrica, outside the National Theater, Guatemala City, overlooking the Cathedral.

Patricia and I stood on a nondescript street lined with flat-fronted buildings in keeping with Spanish styling. I reached through the grilled entrance at Posada Belén, rang the doorbell, and announced myself when a voice answered from within.

"Hola Diane! Welcome!" beamed a jolly looking fellow who unbolted the door and motioned us inside. We followed him into a small inner garden and reception area.

"This is very nice!" pronounced Patricia, observing the antique decor with surprise etched on her youthful face.

Grand Tikal Futura Hotel, Guatemala CityI had only just met Patricia two hours before in the lobby of the deluxe Grand Tikal Futura Hotel where she was manning the tour desk and where I had spent two luxurious nights following a 6-day tour of Guatemala's western highlands. My budget wouldn't stand for more luxury, so I consulted my guidebook and selected the Posada Belén for its price and location in Zona 1, Guatemala City's historically significant district. This is where budget travelers tend to congregate, but Patricia had seemed dubious about the place.

I intended to get myself oriented with a city tour and ask the guide to let me off somewhere near Posada Belén. Alas, I had already missed the daily tour, Patricia informed me. Then, one word led to another, and she amazed me by saying "I finish in one hour. If you wait, I'll go with you."

With assurances that I would not be putting her out, I was both pleased and grateful to have an insider's help negotiating the chaotic, bus-choked streets of Zona 1. We spent the afternoon looking around, then, on leaving, she gave me her telephone number and instructions to call if I needed any help during my stay.

How kind!

Sometimes You Just Want to Be Where
Everybody Knows Your Name

Like most visitors, I figured two days would be long enough in Guatemala City. I'd check out the historic district, visit the main museums, then return to Antigua, a pleasant town only 45 km to the west. Seven days later I left Posada Belén only because my home bound flight on TACA was scheduled to depart.

Why forego the clean air and desirable atmosphere of Antigua in favor of the smog and traffic of Guatemala City? As the song from that venerable TV show, Cheers, goes: "Sometimes you just want to be where everybody knows your name."

Posada Belen Inn Museum, Zona 1, Guatemala CityI felt comfortable and secure at Posada Belén. A converted 19th century family residence, the inn is an assemblage of basic small rooms set around a central kitchen, dining room, and a tiny open-air garden furnished with greenery and several resident turtles. Owners Francesca and Rene Sanchinelli have acquired over 300 Mayan artifacts and tastefully incorporated them into the decor.

My bathroom wasn't as spotless as I like, and it did take me several days to figure out how to get a hot shower, but those grumbles paled against the friendliness of the staff and the steady stream of interesting guests I had the pleasure to meet while there.

Every day, I had amusing, sometimes inspiring, conversations with other guests.

Kurt, a handsome Swiss, early into a two-year sabbatical, was in quite a quandry when he arrived at the inn as he had already lost track of his wife during a disagreement in Miami. E-mails and telephone calls zapped around the world, and he finally heard from her – she was in Brazil! Last I heard they were reunited once again back in Miami.

Silvia, Rosa, Nuria, and Beatriz were pretty young women from Spain who were all doing a stint of language teaching in the United States. With time off over the Thanksgiving break, they flew to Guatemala City, arranged for a car rental, and drove off La Antigua to climb a few volcanoes.

Ross, from Cincinatti, was a solo traveler who had a day to himself before joining up with a tour group (single-friendly Explore Worldwide Ltd, 15-days US$1,250 (2005 prices) plus US$22 per day for a single occupancy room).

Tom and Ingrid had sold their home, left family and friends in Toronto and were beginning the search for a different, more spiritual lifestyle. Intrigued by the mysteries of Mayan culture, they had decided that Guatemala was a good place to start their quest.

Otto, from Norway, stayed a day or two while waiting for his fiancÚ from Seattle to arrive.

Reintje, Reino, and Wiepkje, from The Netherlands, arrived via Mexico City. They were all advocates of international child welfare programs and, as such, had each sponsored/adopted children in developing countries, including one in rural Guatemala.

Frank and Susan, from Seattle, had been "chicken-busing" their way all over Guatemala. It's a cheap (pennies per mile) and adventurous way to get around, though not always comfortable – sometimes they had to stand for lengthy periods. Susan spoke fluent Spanish, which helped in plotting their way and making the right connections.

Each of these travel acquaintances made only a brief stop-over in Guatemala City. They were all anxious to get to the countryside. Some of them, I met a second time as they passed through from here to there. The inn is only blocks away from bus stations with service to all of Guatemala's important tourist destinations: Tikal, Xela, Antigua, Coban, Rio Dulce.

The staff at Posada BelÚn was invariably cheerful and helpful. Maria kept the room tidy and did my laundry. Eduardo, who speaks fluent English, offered a guided walking tour for about US$20 and was a willing helper with directions and advice for solo walks.

Each day, after a leisurely breakfast, either Rafael, Juan, or Nilo would see me off on my solo walking excursions. You can buy everything from clothing (both traditional and modern) to toys to electronics along the sidewalks of Zona 1, and the Central Market (Mercado Central) has, arguably, the best prices in the country for Guatemalan crafts.

When I returned, hot and dusty, after several hours of breathing traffic fumes, tripping along bumpy sidewalks, and jostling among crowds of shoppers, one of the trio would greet me at the door with a welcoming smile. I'd shower and snooze then emerge to meet the day's new arrivals about dinner time. The food was always good – I think it was the cauliflower soup on day one that really hooked me on the place.

If a taxi was needed, as on the day I went to immerse myself in Mayan history at the Museo Popol Vuh, one of the staff would stand with me outdoors and practice Spanish/English while I waited for the taxi to arrive. Their English was on a level of my Spanish so we got on laughingly in that respect.

When all is said and done, great travel memories have more to do with the people you meet than the destinations themselves. And everyone I met in Guatemala City gave me cause to linger longer.

If You Go To Guatemala City

Orientation

Guatemala City is divided into zones with Zona 1 being the heart of the city, the historic center. The main thoroughfares are 6a Avenida running south and 7a Avenida running north. The tourist office, INGUAT (Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo) is located in Zona 4. Zona 10 has the Zona Viva (lively zone), noted for upscale hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. La Aurora International Airport is in Zona 13.

Information

INGUAT Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo.

Accommodation

Attractions

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