Guatever!

GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA: July 19-21

Leah: Before heading on to El Salvador, we opted for some R&R back in Guatemala City so we could do absolutely nothing for a few days, enjoy constant hot water and clean sheets and spend some more time with Jonathan. Our overnight bus from Flores plopped us into town at 4:30 a.m., but we waited in a cafe until the more refined hour of 7 a.m. when we could have building security verify with Jonathan that we should indeed be allowed to enter. Showers and naps quickly ensued, after which we caught up on email and blog work until Jonathan returned home from work.

The plan for Thursday evening was to head out for some Korean food with his friends Sophie and Stefan. Of course we were down, having never partaken of Korean BBQ. Besides, why not do it up in Guate, where apparently there's a rather sizable Korean population. We all piled into the car and our new friends graciously spoke in English to us, which was helpful since I had a barrage of questions I wanted to ask to ameliorate my understanding of the country/city and would have butchered them in Spanish. Even our hosts weren't entirely clear on where this restaurant was, but after quite a bit of swearing and James Bond-style vehicular maneuverings, we pulled in ready to sate our appetites.

As Steve best put it, this place was legit--nothing was in Spanish and Jonathan had to text his friend to ask what we needed to order. Various salads and dipping sauces soon arrived and shortly thereafter the Nicaraguan waitress arrived with strips of meat for the grill, which we flavored with garlic and jalepenos. As we ate I asked about the treatment of the GLBTQ population in the city and if stigmatization is a prevalent problem; while Jonathan, Sophie and Stefan agreed that GLBTQ individuals themselves are treated fairly and not looked down upon in general, there seemed to be some disagreement as to if the lower or upper classes were more okay with the idea of their children coming out.

Stomachs full and me still peppering the locals with questions about gay rights, prostitution, AIDS and human trafficking, they decided I should see for myself; we hopped back in the car with the intended destination being the red light district. Soon the otherwise deserted streets (even cars can't park on the streets here), lit only by eerily faint street lamps, revealed ladies of the night on every street corner, plying their wares. Our hosts revealed that while it's illegal here, nobody really bats an eye and the women still suffer the same risks in terms of injury and death as they do anywhere else.

We then turned a corner and Jonathan pointed out a love hotel, popular not only with sex workers, but philandering spouses, executives, and even youth in their teens-20s who can't bring a partner home because most still live with their parents until around 30 or when they marry. It was a two story U-shaped building, with the entire first level dedicated to individual garages, an ingenious design for anonymity. Apparently you pull in to any available garage with your chosen lover, and once inside there's a button on the wall to close the door behind you, thus concealing your car from prying eyes on the street. You then ascend a staircase to the second floor, pay an attendant for the room and then do your thing. Jonathan said they can be the busiest (noticeable by how many garage doors are closed) at lunchtime during the week with all the business people, secretaries, etc. Just another reason it pays to hang with locals in the know!

Fascinated, we drove on to Zone 1, the historic heart of the city, that also used to be/is slightly dodgy but is undergoing a revitalization and also houses many of the newer bars and clubs. I should share at this point that I rarely drink anymore, even at home, and I couldn't tell you the last time I went out to a bar or club (at the ripe age of 30 I'd rather be nestled in my PJs by 10 p.m. than readying myself for a night on the town).

However, our entourage, now rolling 6 deep with the addition of another friend, Coskies, was soon bar hopping with the best of them as Steve and I were made to sample a local (and potent) liquor known as Quetzalteca. We wove in and out of establishments, sometimes walking down a totally deserted street only to then enter a narrow doorway spewing light and music onto the street, as our bodies uncontrollably swayed to match the rhythms and energy. The last place was perfect and as we entered the live band was playing Pink Floyd on bongos and a percussion instrument resembling a cheese grater called a wiro. They alternated between American hits (LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It" even made an appearance) and obvious local crowd favorites, with everyone singing along, dancing and drinking the night away. We left around 1 a.m. and went back to Jonathan's to talk and chill about 2, at which point my body rebelled against the various vices I threw its way and I had to succumb to sleep.


Friday morning heralded a horrific hangover, and I didn't roll out of bed until noon. I'm so glad we had the experiences we did the night before, especially since Steve and I wouldn't have ventured out on our own to see the nightlife, but I'm ready to revert to my minimal drinking ways. Steve was hurting a bit too (and Jonathan had gone to work at 7:30 a.m.--how, I don't know), so we made our way to the local mall for some lunch in the food court and swung by the grocery store for some toothpaste, sunscreen and other needed sundries. Then it was back to the apartment, where we decided to lounge in the building's salt water pool, complete with awe-inspiring panoramic views, optical illusion stone tiles and stunning reflections. It was blissful and serene and we had the place to ourselves--the perfect hangover antidote. That evening brought 8 of Jonathan's friends over for pizza, conversation and general revelry; I even discovered that I attended CU-Boulder at the same time as one of his friends and that we probably crossed paths based on our majors. We picked up some travel tips on El Salvador and everyone expressed concern and outrage over the recent Batman movie killer in Aurora, Colorado--my birthplace and a city not far from where my family still lives. Pretty subdued evening, but Steve and I still plead fatigue and turned in at 11 p.m. while the others carried on.

Saturday brought a lazy day around the house, watching the helicopters swoop in to land on the helipad on top of Jonathan's building before we made our way with more friends to a divine ceviche restaurant. The portions were nothing short of gargantuan, the heaping bowls overflowing with shrimp, squid, conch, octupus, mussels and fish, all deliciously fresh and drenched in lime juice. Afterward siesta time, since Jonathan would soon be playing host to another evening gathering of epic proportions. With our onward bus tickets in hand for El Salvador, clean laundry packed in our bags (I'd been wearing the same pants for over two weeks) and a fond farewell to Jonathan and Guate, our next country awaited.


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