I just returned from traveling to Antigua, Guatemala. It was a “God thing” and I’m so thankful to Jesus for this great opportunity. I can’t post all the pics I took there, but wanted to blog with some of the beautiful pictures I took and share what happened while I was there. So I’m writing a Guatemala blog series here for you at BethJones.net.
God did amazing things there. You can read my first blog, My trip to Antigua, Guatemala, here.
This is Blog #2, The Guatemala grocery store and the street market. I share about the traveling requirements to enter Guatemala, how I got around there when I wasn’t walking, and how even shopping in a foreign country can be such an interesting, rich experience. Be sure to check back here for more blogs and pics of this incredible trip.
The Coronavirus pandemic has tragically impacted our entire world, and has been frustrating for “world nomads.” For months this year, the USA’s and Guatemala’s borders were closed and began cautiously re-opening in fall 2020, but with restrictions for airlines, restaurants, stores, street markets, and more.
To travel to Guatemala, you don’t have to quarantine when you get there, but you must present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test to show the airline employee (s). These requirements may change when you book your flight (or drive there or go by ship). I didn’t want to do the test, but that is what I had to do in order to travel there.
Presently, this test must have been done within the last 72 hours. I drove an hour to a medical clinic in Lamar, Missouri, to get a rapid results test done. They have the results within 15-20 minutes, giving you the piece of paper with your results to take with you. I didn’t want to chance taking the test and then not having the results in enough time, and not be able to go! (The regular lab test can take several days or longer.)
For my flight to Guatemala, as I showed my ticket and my test result, the airline’s employee at first told me, “This isn’t the right kind of paper.” After he consulted with several other staff, and I calmly waited (for once!) for God to move on my behalf, they finally decided it was fine, and stamped the red “okay” on my ticket!
The airlines’ staff made announcements in both Spanish and English (and on the planes, too). I was relieved about this, as I’m not yet anywhere near fluent in Spanish! I could pick out a few words here and there when they spoke Spanish! I plan to continue my Spanish lessons. It made me realize how immigrants in different nations must feel.
The medical clinic did the nostrils’ swab (instead of the throat swab or a blood test). I was swabbed in both nostrils with something that looked like a long Q-tip, and it seemed to only take a few seconds. It was uncomfortable, but not painful (I have very low pain tolerance, so I was glad!). This clinic requires that after you arrive at the clinic and call the staff to tell them you are there for your appointment, you wait in the parking lot in your car. They don full protective PPE to administer the test.
I winded up waiting over TWO hours, because apparently they had a new girl working and she forgot to tell the nurses/lab technicians that I was there! The staff apologized profusely, but after testing me, the results were ready in about 20 minutes and they immediately gave me the paper for the airlines and the officials at Guatemala’s border. (I normally fly Delta, but flew with American Airlines for the first time on this trip).
The good news is that I did NOT have to pay for this test, as many people do ($75 to $150). It is the Lamar, MO, clinic. The state of Missouri covered the test’s cost for me. All I had to do was fill out paperwork and show my Missouri state driver’s license for the staff to make a copy of it, and then the nurse/tech did the test on on me in the truck, which took only a few minutes.
The test was one of the most important things on my to-do list for traveling to Guatemala. The others were booking my flights, getting my accommodations there (read my first blog here about the beautiful Air BnB that I booked), and finding a way to get around Antigua where I was staying, when I wasn’t walking.
I hired a driver, Allan, who my Spanish teacher Elvia uses and highly recommended. Allan and Elvia were amazing to me, and Elvia is an awesome Spanish teacher! While I have so far to go, I recommend learning at least a little Spanish before traveling to Guatemala. Elvia offered for her and Allan to pick me up at the airport when I arrived, and to take me back to return home. Getting to my Air BnB from the airport was one of my biggest concerns about traveling there, and this was so good and generous of them.
Elvia said that while many people (tourists and locals) take Tuk-Tuks in town (a 3-wheeled little car that is like a very cheap taxi), she didn’t feel it was safe to take all the way from the airport in Guatemala City to Antigua, where I’d be staying. I had thought about renting a car at the airport to drive there but Kim emphatically said NO! She was right. The traffic is very bad in Guatemala City and the people drive crazy there!
Elvia thought an Uber or taxi might be too expensive to take from the airport to Antigua, so I decided to hire her driver Allan and he drove me around Antigua the entire week wherever I needed to go, when I wasn’t walking to town (only a few blocks). I appreciated this SO much! Allan’s driving prices were reasonable.
I did get to ride in one Tuk Tuk with Kim and Stan toward the end of my stay. It is a 3-wheeled car that is like a cheap taxi. Personally, I thought it was fun to ride in one, and Kim said I needed to experience it at least once. However, riding on the cobblestone streets of Antigua in one is very bumpy, so I wouldn’t take one if you had far to go! But if you have a lot of packages in your hands, and you absolutely can’t get an Uber or ride a chicken bus, I’d go for it.
Kim said the Tuk Tuk drivers tend to over-charge the “gringos” (foreigners, Americans), and she will barter with them over prices to get a cheaper one!
Many people use the “chicken buses” in Guatemala to get around to different places. They are public school buses from the USA and Canada that are painted wild colors, used as cheap public transportation. They are called “chicken buses” because people can bring their chickens on board! I didn’t take one of these, but it is an option for you.
Comparatively, a Tuk Tuk and a chicken bus are the cheapest transportation, while Uber is more private and comfortable to ride in. There are also taxis, shuttles, and companies that offer private transportation. I did ride via Uber with Stan and Kim a couple of times from their house to Antigua. They were there within minutes, and can take you practically anywhere that you need to go.
You just order a ride on the Uber app on your phone, the driver tells his or her name when they pull up and you tell them your name, and then you get in and go! I loved it, and plan to use Uber next time I travel to Antigua, Guatemala. (I installed the app on my iPhone and they sent me a code via text to set up the service. You can also install the Uber Eats app.)
Many locals also drive motorcycles there. I was surprised to see most people did not wear helmets for their own safety. Kim told me that she has seen an entire family of 4 or 5 people, including children, ride on one.
Others walk everywhere. The second day of traveling there, Allan and Elvia picked me up early in the morning to take me to the grocery store and the street market for me to buy a few groceries for the week: yogurt, fresh fruit, and creamer for my coffee (the coffee was supplied at the Air BnB), and bottled water. Later I discovered the Eco Filter in my room was filtered water, and I could use that. It tasted fine and I did not get sick.
I tried two new fruits in Guatemala, one called Nispero that tastes somewhat like a pear, and another exotic-looking, red, hairy fruit called Rambutan that Elvia loves. To my surprise, she didn’t even wash off the fruit with bottled water and ate one right there on the spot! I tried it later (after washing it!). It was very good.
I mostly ate yogurt and fruit throughout the week, and I ordered tacos from Tacool twice. Kim and Stan took me to a Guatemalan restaurant, Rincon Tipico, where I had delicious chicken, roasted over an open fire, and little potatoes in garlic, herb, and other spices, that were roasted and so good.
Kim ordered the well-known soup/stew pepian, made with chicken at this restaurant. It can be cooked with chicken, beef, sausage, or a combination of meats. She thought it was okay (she doesn’t like chicken very much), but she had tasted it before from a friend cooking it, that she said was very tasty. Corn tortillas are often served with a meal; it is like their bread.
The restaurant served a special kind of red tea or a lemonade to drink, which was tart and very good. I love their colorful table cloths, placemats, napkins, and the cute pottery dishes, which Kim said they also often use for cups.
Stan and Kim also cooked me breakfast and chicken tacos with guacamole for a small dinner party with friends, when I stayed with them at their home a couple of days toward the end of my stay. Next time, I plan to try more restaurants with Guatemalan fare!
The grocery store looked like ours here in America and was very clean with polite staff. The only difference was that a staff person takes your temperature to make sure you don’t have a fever and you have to sanitize your hands before entering the store and getting a cart. Many of the fruits and vegetables are also wrapped in plastic wrap.
Just FYI, some of the grocery stores have armed guards for security. I had watched videos on YouTube about Guatemala before traveling there, so I was aware of this. But it is startling!
Something amusing at the stores is that the employees tape together random items, like toilet paper with a cooking spoon! I laughed when Kim and Stan showed me these items. I guess anything to sell something!
I highly recommend washing ALL fresh fruit and veggies, whether from the grocery store or the street market, in BOTTLED WATER or the Eco filter water when you get back to your house, hotel, or Air Bn.! You can get parasites and sick if you use the tap water.
The grocery store and the street market that I went to with Elvia and Allan was called La Torre in Jocotenango, where Elvia and Kim live. Grocery stores are called supermercados and the street markets are called mercados de calle. Little stores are called tiendas. There is an amazing supermarket called La Bodegona in Jocotenango that I loved and wanted to spend much more time in – they seemed to have everything, like a Walmart superstore, only better!
Elvia bartered for me at the street market, such as for avocadoes, so I wouldn’t get “gringo” (foreigner, American) higher prices.
To my surprise, at the street market the vendors don’t refrigerate eggs, cheese, or meats! I asked Elvia a couple of times why the meat didn’t go bad (bacteria, etc.). She just said they bring “fresh meat” there every day and refrigerate it when they get home!
To my shock, I even saw a pig head at the street market and gasped. Elvia and the vendor laughed at my expression. Why someone would want a pig’s head is beyond me! Gross!
The street market was huge and a little overwhelming for me. But despite the pig’s head and all the vendors, it was quite interesting. You can probably find just about anything there to buy!
It was not crowded as usual due to Coronavirus, but there were still a lot of people there. They sell new and used items. Kim has found bargains with good used clothing. One time she found a women’s designer fashion outfit, brand new with the tags still on them, for just a few dollars!
I noticed one man at a vendor booth with a stack of old, used shoes to sell. It made me sad that he was doing that to make a living. Please pray for the people of Guatemala. Many lost their jobs during the Coronavirus pandemic, and they were already struggling financially.
Guatemala is like a different world. It is beautiful and sad at the same time. In my next blog, I’ll share about the churches and the ruins (with pics) that Allan drove Elvia and me to around Antgiua, and she showed me around. Many of them have been destroyed by earthquakes, but are amazing and still beautiful.