The Top 4 Reasons Living in Guatemala is Amazing, but Terrifying

By: Sky Lohse

When people ask me to describe living in Guatemala, I usually start my explanation with some variation of a story describing adventure.  The rendition is entirely based on the audience- there are things that my mother, and grandmother for that matter, would rather not know.   Most days, living in Guatemala feels like paradise, and I catch myself wondering how I got so lucky.  Other days, however, when people are passing me on a one lane road on the right and left, it is like we landed in Mad Max, and I get concerned about what life choices I’ve made that have led me to this point.  It sounds like a punch line, but it’s real.  I don’t have enough fingers and toes for the number of times I’ve wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.  This top list is dedicated to those moments, when Guatemala is equal parts terrifying and amazing.

1.       Transportation

In Guatemala, if you are willing, you can get anywhere for next to nothing, which is amazing.  There is always a willing driver that will let you stow in the bed of his pickup, or a Chicken bus, or tuk tuk nearby.  That’s all well and good, but listen- before you hit the road, you need to make sure that you are right with Jesus.  As I drive through the mountains, either to Guatemala City or the coast, I think, “Wow, there is nothing more magical than driving through the mountains as the sun begins to set.”  It is usually at that moment that I get passed by a chicken bus on the left, or the right for that matter, and on a curve- out of nowhere.  People here are not afraid of oncoming traffic.  If you are on the highway at all, your life will flash before your eyes.  I have seen people literally soil themselves. 

Stats Observed and Experienced From the Last Ride in Chicken Bus:
Stops - 18
Pickup Soccer Games - 11
Most People in a Seat - 5
Violations of Personal Space - 3
Violations of Bus Manufacturer's Safety Policy - innumerable
Waterfalls - 2
Buttons Fastened on Driver's Shirt - 3
10 ft Confederate Flag - 1
Make Out Session in the Seat Behind Us - 22 mins
Men in Girl's Jeans - 3
Bags of Charcoal on Lady's Head - 7
People Crammed into the Bed of 4cyl Datsun truck - 32
Teeth in the Mouth of Drunk Guy Yelling at a Tree - 4
Spectators for Ayudante's Indecent Exposure - 76
Craps Given by 8yr old Standing on Top of Chicken Bus Holding Nothing but a Rope- 0

2.       Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Guatemala is thrilling for the outdoorsman.  We have hot springs, and two coasts from which you can enjoy the ocean.  We have mountains, rivers, and valleys, and the list goes on.  If you are looking for the land of eternal Spring, where temperatures are around 60 degrees everyday by noon, come to Xela.  If you want to sweat out all hydration and become a raisin, go to Zacapa.  We literally have something for everyone- paradise found.

I, myself, am a hiker and pass my weekends in the mountains, or hanging out at an abandoned beach.  It is an amazing feeling, realizing that you will not be bothered by the sight of another human being for hours- or days if you wish.  I live the introvert dream.  But in the same moments where you breathe in the fresh air, and think, “I can’t be bothered with a call because I am in the wilderness and have no service,” terror strikes because you realize your setting is basically the beginning of every horror film where brains are sucked out, or action film where folks are kidnapped pronto.  If something goes wrong, no one would find you.  Not ever.  I oscillate between awe and terror so quickly and often that I’m lucky my heart hasn’t given out.  I’m like a little kid that screams when they are surprised but keeps asking for more. 

3.       Street Food

We have tacos and garnachas (said to be made of dog), and hot dogs, and cotton candy, and basically everything else delicious sold on the street.  It is amazing, because anywhere you are, you can probably walk ten feet and find a snack.  For those of us who have low blood sugar and lean toward the hangry side when we have the munchies, it is ideal- and delicious- and cheap.

However, “animalitos” or amoebas in your stomach are not, and they basically catch a free ride on everything here from mangos to garnachas to tacos to exactly-what-you-are-craving-at-this-moment.  And should you escape amoebas this time, rest assured that some kind of fungus has taken root in your gut.  Eating the greasy food is not what is terrifying, nor taking the risk of amoebas and infections.  It’s the symptoms that get you every time- and you’ll probably be on a chicken bus.  Need more specifics?  Envision projectile everything.  Everything.

4.       Logic

Finally, while living in Guatemala is at times, reminiscent to being dropped into Mad Max, it’s also like living in a version of Alice and Wonderland where up is down or whatever you please.  I find that the only times I get really frustrated, is when I am expecting people to be logical and act accordingly.  “But it makes sense,” isn’t really regarded as a reason for doing anything, especially in a more efficient manner.  This is amazing, because you can basically talk anyone into doing or making anything for you, without in depth questions or details.  Anything can happen in Guatemala. 

However, the lack of logic is also terrifying.  Case in point, there are walking bridges over the highway, which people choose to use as a means of shade for when they run across the road.  There’s the guy riding on the top of a tanker with the “warning: flammable” signs, smoking a cigarette, and the chicken bus companies that invest in pimping the bus with LEDs rather than fixing the breaks.  I think my favorite though, is the clusters of electrical wires that hang precariously low to street in webs that looks as if they were spun by a spider with a serious amphetamine addiction.  They are especially exciting during earthquakes as they spray spontaneous fireworks.

Living in Guatemala is an amazing, terrifying adventure.  You will not regret visiting the country where nothing works, but everything can be fixed.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSky Lohse is an American expat living in Guatemala. Blog description: I live and work in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. My blog is about my everyday life and navigating the culture differences, while enjoying the unique experience of living here. I love it.
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Contest Comments » There are 9 comments

Giuseppe wrote 4 years ago:

Sky, love your post and hope that you win! Your voice, your sense of humor while keeping it real always having me coming back for more. I hope others take a look at your blog and your work with the Shoe Shine Boys. Hugs Giuseppe

Olivia wrote 4 years ago:

I love your blog and look forward to seeing your beautiful pictures and hearing about the ways you are enjoying your days in Guatemala! Hopefully one day I will be able to join you on one of your adventures. ~Liv

Tim wrote 4 years ago:

I can testify to the intestinal hitchhikers you speak of in point 3. I too have had that experience and can only liken it to an extended version of a colonoscopy prep! Dad

Chazi wrote 4 years ago:

Sky , your blog discrives Guatemala so well, I know I share a lot if your stories , but every day I look forward to read your blog ! Have a great holidays

Mom wrote 4 years ago:

You always make me laugh! You've bloomed where you've been planted in Guatemala, and you've done justice in promoting the thrill and adventure of that beautiful country.

Catherine wrote 4 years ago:

Good lord, what a place! I can see a From Dusk til Dawn style movie as I read your blog. Makes my expat experience in the US seem so lame - although I did survive a trip to Harlem recently...

John Galt wrote 4 years ago:

It's amazing to see how many people can fit inside a chicken bus. This is a fairly accurate representation of how hectic chicken buses can get from the inside. This made my day when I read it!

Gramma wrote 4 years ago:

If I hadn't been there I would have said.....Nah, it can't be happening. Your invitation to G and your parents' gift was priceless. The pre-G instructions, especially about personal hygiene after relief, were graphic and helpful and followed almost every time. You are a winner!

Danilo wrote 4 years ago:

Hey Sky, like I posted on FB, I can relate, having had a flat on my bike fixed in the middle of nowhere for 10 bucks...pinchazos are everywhere.

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