Arriving in Guatemala is like coming home, in a way. It is a place that is very familiar, and while there are always changes that I can notice -- a store that has closed or opened, a street that has been paved or relandscaped, much remains the same. The same young woman at the counter of my favorite coffee shop in Antigua, Fernando's Kaffee, for example, who served me my latte this afternoon. There are always loose ends from the last trip and new beginnings.
The day started out in the capital, where I arrived last night. My first flight left late, leaving me with not much time in Mexico City's airport between flights, but the second flight, even though it left a few minutes late, arrived early. This morning I was waiting for a friend to bring me my car -- I had discouraged him from trying to come last night to meet my flight at 11:00, but decided to try and run some errands. LIke reactivating my phone and exchanging money. It is now hard to change money in Guatemala City, because of money laundering associated with narco-trafficking. The last time I went from bank to bank to bank without luck - -they all said that they only changed money for accountholders -- until I finally found one that would exchange my money.
First breakfast at Café Leon, a beautifully furnished café on 8va Avenida (8th Avenue). It is filled with men in designer suits -- a combination of businessmen and politicians (some women among the business group at a neighboring table) and it has a the feel of a place where there are many many regulars. The business group at the nearby table were giving speeches and taking photos. The breakfast was fine -- I prefer tortillas to the bread they serve at Leon, but I like the coffee and the wood paneling.
Then off to deal with phones and money. Life in Guatemala is not really possible without a functioning cell phone. So I got a new chip and a new number, and then off to get money. I went to Banrural, the rural development bank, which has changed money for me in the past, except they would only change $200, and since they couldn't find me in their computer even though I have changed money there before (not at that branch but other Banrurales), they were going to make me wait on another line to get authorization. I had already waited on one line, but luckily a friend was with me, and he has a Banrural account, and so they changed $200 for him (I had intended to change most of my money so I wouldn't have to bother with it again).
I left a message at the hotel for the friend who was bringing the car, in case he arrived while I was out, but decided to try and reach him to see where he was so I knew if I could do some more errands. No answer after several tries, so I called his daughter and found that he had changed phones, and finally reached him on the new number. The car was still in the shop, probably ready that afternoon, and he would come to bring it to me later.
I don't spend much time in Guatemala City but I like the Centro Histórico -- a Guatemalan version of Jane Jacob's sidewalk ballet. Musicians serenading passers-by on Sexta Avenida (6th Avenue), the pedestrian street, shoe-shine boys and men in Parque Central, the man who brings a small flock of goats and sells fresh goat milk straight from the animals, women in traje típico selling lottery tickets or food from large baskets or basins covered with cloth, well-dressed and coiffed professionals rushing off or dawdling over their coffees, ordinary workers standing at the corner waiting for the light, the slump of resignation already evident in their shoulders by 8 a.m.