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Sent: 10 February 2001 02:02
Subject: Cold and Hot Welcome to Guatemala: Detained Again. Antigua: A Pleasant Surprise

Dear All,

I arrived in Guatemala on Thursday around noon. Guatemala Immigration gave me a warm welcome by detaining me for 1 1/2 hour on suspicion that I was an illegal using Guatemala as a conduit to attempt to enter the US. I should consider myself lucky considering what the ancient Mayas (they still account for 60% of Guatemalaīs population today) did to their enemies - chopping off their heads if they are nice, otherwise they cut your throat
but not letting you die too quickly, and then drag you up their pyramids as a sacrifice to their gods, and their kings engage in pseudo-sado-machoistic
sacrifices such as cutting a hole in their tongues and penises, and pulling a string across as a personal honor to gods.

Perhaps, to the Guatemalan Immigration, irrespective of what passport I hold, I am just another "el Chino". Since Day 1 of this trip, everywhere I have been called "Chino", although most of the time in a most affectionate manner - even by my hosts, so unlike the depredatory tone I tend to get in Eastern Europe when they shout across "Kitai" (Chinese in Russian). My ethnic origins, plus the unexpired American visa in my passport (I went to the USA a few years ago, and that was before the US Government abolished visa requirement for Singaporeans) made me a highly suspicious figure. After all, all the exotic visa stamps from Kazakhstan to Cuba and Panama probably makes me a look like either a human smuggler or a money launderer (I prefer the latter...). I was escorted by two stern looking officers to a room where a few nice chaps from Colombia, Syria and Paraguay were waiting for their turn to be dealt with. They hardly bothered to respond to my questions and concentrated (yeah, in a very, very relaxed manner - and driving me mad...) on putting my US visa page under various scanning devices as well as making lots of phone calls.  They finally released me after 1 1/2 hours with the greeting "Welcome to Guatemala!" - they finally bothered to speak to me in English after so long...

I took a taxi to Antigua, with the distinguished company of a Pentecostal Rhode Islander who tried to convince me of the glory of the Almighty, while
I enlightened him on the teachings of Buddha and Confucius, as well as true global free trade and how nice investment bankers are.

Madison County Illinois ?  No, Chicken Bus imported from rural America The Nomad in front of the Cathedral Fountain in the middle of the Parque Central: I hang around here everyday

"Do Not Be Scandalous" hotel notice

Prayer room in my hotel

Locals in their colourful dresses


To brave the volcano ?


After the experience at the Airport, the fresh atmosphere of Antigua came as a surprise. The first city founded by the Spanish in Guatemala, Antigua has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and volcano eruptions, the last in 1976. An UN World Heritage site, the city, surrounded by amazing volcanoes, is characterised by colourful Spanish houses (inhabited by locals so hard up with the place that they wouldnīt abandon it after every Big One - OK, it is indeed beautiful) and monumental churches, many of which are in a romantic state of the half-ruined. What makes Antigua the hub of Central American tourism is the liveliness of its unique mixture of Mayan Indian and Latino heritage - where else can you find locals colourful ethnic costumes walking around? In addition, the atmosphere was made more lively by the presence of a large number of backpackers as well as thousands of foreigners here to learn Spanish in the more than 70 language schools. For less than US$100 per week, you have one-to-one instruction, accommodation, 3 meals a day plus the company of lots of youngsters hungry for adventure, excitement, fun and all forms of hedonism!

No trashy resort package holiday makers who are not interested in local culture. Accommodation is cheap (mine at $8 plus attached bathroom, $3
without, plus a bit of excitement watching the exotic religious service my hotel owner conducts every evening - an unusual mixture of Christianity and
ancient Mayan past) and the weather is cool & sunny too. Lots of things to see and to do. Iīm trying to decide whether to do the lakes, volcanoes or Mayan ruins, probably all. My only complaint was the apparent lack of real Guatemalan cuisine... [Afternote: Found some nice Guatemalan places later.] Too many Mexican and Italian restaurants, plus Hamburgesa (even Burger King!), Chinese and Japanese. In any case, I have fallen in love with the place...

Today, I spent the day making various travel arrangements, plus spending a few hours in the capital, Guatemala City, by hiring a pickup truck for a few hours, for the price of an one-way taxi journey to the city - not bad for a non-Spanish speaker. Guate city is a disappointment - a typical huge third world metropolis with atrocious traffic jam, lots of slums and rubbish dump, although the Mayan Museum was interesting. Glad I did not stay there as I had originally intended to. 

Tomorrow, I will take an early bus to Lake Atitlan in the Highlands - thatīs a mysterious lake in the mountains, with colourful Mayan villages and even more volcanoes. Sunday I will visit Chichi market, another amazing place in the region.

OK I will write more. Wish me luck!



Antigua's Parque Central: Tourists, locals, village vendors and all congregate here everyday

La Merced

 Amazingly beautiful, isn't it ?

La Merced

I secured this pickup to go to Guatemala City

 The National Palace in Guatemala City

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Guatemala City

Guatemala City is full of Chinese restaurants

More of La Antigua Guatemala - The Streets of Beautiful Antigua

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