Guatemala City- "Get in, get out!"

Panajachel, Guatemala

I first heard of Lago de Atitlan one night about five years ago during a phone conversation with a friend I’ve known since kindergarten. The picture he painted of this beautiful lake in the highlands of Guatemala both intrigued and frightened me. I know, how can a place laced with such natural beauty have such a violent past? “Get in, get out!” His words echoed in my mind as we booked the airline tickets and searched for transportation to the lake. This is happening, we’re going, let’s do this!

The day before our departure from Puerto Vallarta, I tested + for the VID. Turns out we’re not doing this, we’re not going and it’s not happening. I endured the “come what may” and finally received a negative test. Ten days after our original departure date we arrived at the airport at 3:30 in the morning for our 6:00 flight. Leaving nothing to chance. 

I talked to the shuttle driver in Guatemala who told me there was a national protest going on. Seems the taxi, tuk-tuk and collectivo drivers weren’t too keen on paying for driving insurance so they set up strategic roadblocks throughout the country.

I hate saying this but I was a little anxious the morning we left because of my fear about the safety in Guatemala. And now everything had to go according to plan and on time in order to avoid protests. WTF!

Here is how the story goes....
We arrived in Guatemala on Tuesday after Jim’s never ending bout with Covid; and we only had forty minutes to deplane and get through customs to meet our driver in hopes to avoid the roadblocks from the protest and being stuck in Guatemala City. Thankfully everything 
went smoothly and we were on our way to Panajachel.  About two hours into the trip Mario, our driver, found out the roadblocks were up, so we stopped at a little place in Patzicia to eat. My stomach only allowed me to eat a half cheese and lettuce sandwich and a few fries. 

As we left the restaurant, Mario informed us that we were going to walk through the protest, past the roadblock, to the other side where his son would pick us up. That was the moment my stomach started to hurt and all I could say was, “What are you going to do with your van?”  

On the outskirts of Godinez, 22 miles from home, we approached a line of never ending parked cars. Mario proceeded to drive past them for a good two miles and all I kept thinking was the road rage this would cause in the states. He then received a call from his son and said we are going to have to wait it out. He parked, rolled down the windows, shut off the car, took the keys and told us to relax and left walking toward the protest. 

I had to hand it to them. There was literally no way around the semi’s, trailers, or in some situations just a bunch of stuff piled in the middle of the road, or just tons of people chillin. 

The company we originally booked through informed us he wasn’t going to be able to pick us up. However he did get in contact with one of the most nefarious drivers in Guatemala. OK he wasn’t that bad, actually a nice guy once you get to know him. Which we did during the four hour roadblock we were stuck in. 

The protest was non violent and only time consuming which no one seemed to mind. People were walking around, sitting on coolers on the side of the road, laying in the grass, eating, drinking, kids playing, music and laughter. It had the feeling of a tailgate party. 

After the second hour, I had to go to the bathroom. Now I am fine with going on the side of the road, but there were people everywhere, so off we went toward the protest.  We saw Mario and he pointed toward the roadblock. I really wanted him to go with us because it may be peaceful here but what's it like up there? It was peaceful and BLOCKED. We had to crawl under and around blockage to get to the other side. 

Once on the other side we were met by 30 plus young male protesters, all who appeared to have been day drinking and playing some futbol. Jim starts walking straight toward them and I ask him what he is doing and he smiles and says I am going to practice my Spanish. Really, you think now is a good time to practice your Spanish….. Donde es el baño…ummmm…por…… ummm mi esposa…….we never found a bathroom, but did find an old tractor bed that worked fine.  

After four hours of waiting and a long day of travel we arrived at our place and I wasn’t feeling all that great.

Four hours later, in a shuttle van full of flies we’re on the road again. Two Km later we arrived at another town. Vehicles were turning around, hauling ass from the very place our driver was so impatient trying to get into. Slowly moving to the front of the line, we’re met with a black leather jacket, billy club wielding fellow who tells us to move aside to let traffic pass. I put my real phone away, pull out the burner in case we get hit. We didn’t get hit. Eventually dove into the parting seas of the black leather jackets. Thirty minutes later I’m tracking our progress on Google maps. We’re meters away from our AirBnB. I pay the crazed, lunatic, dedicated driver and make it home. Our home for the next three weeks. 


The next three days were no doubt painful for Alisa. Turns out she ate something, somewhere that caused an inferno inside her belly. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t move and any hint of the scent of food sent her straight to the bathroom. Time to find a hospital. Luckily the receptionist spent more time learning English than I had learning Spanish. Booked an appointment. We had two hours for her to gain enough strength to walk, talk and not pass out in the outdoor waiting room. 

Jim decided we were going to check out PanaMed, a hospital that serves the locals and the neighboring villages around the lake. Not knowing what to expect made my stomach burn even more. Jim called and made an appointment for noon.  When I arrived I wrote my name, phone number, and birthday on a sheet of paper, along with a long list of other names and waited outside with everyone else. 

At 12:25, I was being examined by Dr. Garcia. He ordered blood work and IV fluids and within minutes the nurse had the IV hooked up and my blood drawn.  I was moved to one of the five rooms to rest and wait for the results.  About a half an hour later Dr. Garcia went over all of my blood work and treated me for Salmonella.

The hospital visit was needed. She was dehydrated, couldn’t eat and needed a little bit of those IV goodies to combat the funk going on in the tum tum. It worked. The professional staff went to work, drawing blood, inserting IV’s and all the other regular doctor stuff. All the while I was regretting not getting travelers insurance. This is going to cost a fortune. Just as I shove that thought down, they decide to move her to a private room while we wait for the blood test results. Once the saline solution has been depleted, it's time to leave. Turns out they won’t take out the IV until you pay. This is going to hurt. I walked up front and was confronted with a bill I couldn’t believe. They said it was Salmonella and suggested we don’t eat near the lake.

I blurted out, “So that’s less than $100 USD right?” I couldn't wrap my mind around the care, treatment and professionalism given at such a low cost. Unreal. 

I spent five hours at the hospital being cared for by a compassionate nurse who spoke no English but was excellent at her job. A very knowledgeable doctor who checked on me numerous times, offered Jim lunch, gave us his email and phone number, assured me to reach out to him if I have any questions. I learned after, that the hospital has five doctors on staff who all specialize in different areas and support every patient. The hospital was immaculately clean and equipped with modern medical supplies.  The entire hospital staff was kind and helpful. I never had to show any ID or fill out any paperwork.

Today was our first real day out, it was slow, but felt good. A good ass kicking of Salmonella can really make you appreciate your health and make you watch what you put into your body, at least for now.  

We finally headed down to the lake where we walked around and found a great spot that overlooked the lake and other villages. I found my appetite and ordered some delicious Nachos and Stella. Before heading home we needed to find a bottle of scotch otherwise I don’t think Jim would make it through another freezing cold, dog barking night. After a conversation with a ten year old on the different types and costs of scotches, we headed home to enjoy our Johnny Walker, while watching the sunset from the loft.

Alisa regained her strength and got her appetite back and on Saturday she was ready to venture out. I didn’t want to see the lake without her. I wanted that to be our experience, not just mine. So that morning we took a tuk tuk, straight to the lake. Thank you, Sergio, for giving us both the inspiration to view your majestic Lake Atitlan, it really was about the journey not the destination. But now that we’re here, I’ll have a few Gallo’s for ya!



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