Guatemala bus

Being a columnist for Points in Case, one must be prepared to be deployed anywhere around the world at any given moment. Be it to quell a rebel uprising, learn every dick joke possible in an obscure Scandinavian dialect, or simply pleasure every woman in Estonia (again), I have to be ready for anything. Because when I get the call, I have to drop everything (figuratively, of course. If I dropped my computer, then how would I write this? You're silly) and go. And about a month ago, I got the call.

I was at the airport when my cell phone rang.

"Hello, you've reached the president," I said, confidently. Security eyed me suspiciously as I preemptively removed my pants.

"No I haven't, this is clearly Cole," said the familiar voice of PIC Editor in Chief, Court Sullivan.

Guatemala has recycled U.S. school buses that drive all over for no more than a dollar or two. And yes, you will probably have to sit next to a chicken. "You've seen through my clever ruse," I said, baffling several TSA agents as I gave myself a thorough pat-down.

"Yes. Yes I have. And since prolonged exposure to you in any form presents a risk of both increased stupidity and feline herpes, I'll cut to the chase."

"I appreciate your candor," I said with a steely resolve.

"You don't know what that word means," he said, sounding quite tired.

"Not even a little bit," I nodded.

"Right, well, anyway, I got my bank statement in the mail today, and I noticed several very interesting purchases."

"Well, Court, you're an interesting guy. I'm sure you make many interesting purchases in your day to day life," I said, squeezing a whole tube of KY jelly onto myself in preparation for sliding through the X-ray machine. They always wind up X-raying me.

"How did you get my credit card, Cole?" Court asked, clearly already tired of talking with me.

"Whatever do you mean?" I said, flashing a knowing wink to the nearest TSA agent. Which in hindsight, given that I was half naked and clutching an expended bottle of clearly marked anal lube, might have sent the wrong signals. Butt signals, that is.

"There are charges for a Delta flight to Guatemala, a beekeeper suit, eight whips, leather chaps, and a one way ticket to Thailand."

"You have many varied hobbies, it would seem."

"Dammit, Cole."

"Ok, ok. I may have borrowed your card that one time I stole it from you. But in all fairness, I only bought the ticket to Guatemala. Although I may have given your card to fellow columnist Casey Freeman when I was done with it."

"Why did you say his name like that, and how—"

"I'm gonna write an article while I'm down there, so you can just write it off as a business expense, right?"

"That's not—"

"Well, I've got to go, it's about to be cavity search time. Talk to you later!"

I hung up and pulled on my rubber gloves.

* * *

Guatemala is indeed a third world country, but it's gotten a lot less murder-y in the last decade, so it's becoming quite a destination for backpackers and people who really hate vacationing in places without Dengue fever. If you ever decide to take a stroll down there, here are some things to keep in mind.

Everything is Insanely Cheap

The national currency of Guatemala is the quetzal, which, disappointingly, does not rhyme with pretzel. But, perhaps to correct this slight, the exchange rate is wonderful. When I went, the rate hovered at somewhere around 7.7 quetzals to the dollar. And this is awesome. You see, some countries have rates where sure, you're walking around with a thousand whatthefuckevers in your pocket, but all of the prices equal out to something similar to what you would pay in America. Not so, here. Even in more touristy places you can get a private room with ensuite bathroom for under ten US bucks. Wanna go cheaper? Dorms at hostels don't usually go for more than four USD. Want some food? Do you have a dollar? Maybe two or three? You can get a meal. Want some food that probably won't somehow give you syphilis? You can get that for just a couple bucks more.

In my very first article that I ever wrote for PIC, I discussed hitchhiking, and how absolutely boss it is. Throw that information out of the window. Right now. Print out that article, wad it up, light it on fire with your mind, and throw it out of the nearest window (note: disregard this information if you happen to work on a submarine). Hitchhiking in Guatemala is not only pointless, it's not free. It's not customary to pay more than it would take to chip in for gas money, but it's still expected that you pay a few quetzals. So for the same price, if not less, you can just get a chicken bus. Now, unfortunately, these are not buses that are hilariously shaped like giant chickens, but rather recycled United States school buses that drive all over the nation for no more than a dollar or two. Really. Yes, you will probably have to sit next to a chicken. Or more likely stand, since this is how many of the locals get around, so they tend to be really crowded. Be prepared to squish.

Most things in the country follow the general "cheap as fuck" line of thinking, provided that you use some common sense, realize that you can haggle for anything, and generally try to act as not white as you can.

It's Easy to Meet New People

This is going to sound kind of racist, but only because it is, but when you're in a country where most people aren't white, and you want to chat with someone in English, just look for the white people. No, I'm not saying "avoid brown people," nor am I saying that— hmm, well, I'm probably not going to come out on top in this, am I?

White or not, my main, totally not racist point here is simply that English helps bridge the difficulties sometimes associated with talking to people. Now, I'm a fairly socially awkward person. Like, to the point where if I mispronounce a word, or stumble through my words while talking to a waiter or waitress, I get the sudden urge to wait until they aren't looking, slip out of the building, run away crying, and then burn the tri-county area to the ground. It's a problem. I bring this up, other than as a desperate plea for help, to point out that when you're in another country, and you hear someone speaking English, they suddenly become immensely approachable. This tends to go for most people, and not just the hopelessly antisocial.

"Oh, hey, you speak the language of my people. Let us socialize."

And it works. I have honestly used that exact phrase above to approach people before. Hell, you make friends more often than you might think.

Or, at the very least, it's immensely useful for simple information gathering. Where are the cheapest drinks? (Everywhere.) Where are the dangerous neighborhoods? (I'm white. They were most places.) How do I get to this place? Why am I so lonely? No, you're weirding me out? Fuck you, I'll go be bestest friends with someone else?!

See? Questions.

So long as you're avoiding the more touristy areas, most of the people you meet will be fairly interesting, as usually only people with a couple of stories to tell wind up in Central America.

You Are Not "American"

This is more of a quick note then a real entry, but it's worth mentioning regardless. We live in "The United States of America," but that country is located in the continent of North America. And there also exists the continent of South America. Keeping up so far? No? Grade school failed you? Too bad.

People from Europe are Europeans. People from Asia are Asians. People from Australia are ridiculous. And people from the Americas are Americans. Not just the one country. Most people won't get offended. They realize that people from the USA calling themselves Americans is just what they do. But some people will get really pissed. Or at the very least will view you as a bit of a derp and maybe rip you off. I have yet to figure out what we're supposed to refer to ourselves as. Unitedstatesofamerican doesn't have the same ring to it. Ooooh! Wait! I've got it…

"I'm Canadian."

"I'm Belgian."

"I'm Brazilian."

"I'm God. Damn. Free." And a bald eagle erupts into the American flag above your head.

Try Not to Get Dead

Active volcanoes, dangerous wildlife, deadly terrain, just regular water, bus rides like rollercoasters, and honest to God, real life bandits are a few of the things you may wanna keep an eye peeled for while you're out for a jaunty stroll.

The first and most present danger you'll run into is absolutely all of the water. No, really. Don't drink the water. It's got tiny little robots in it that will devour your innards. Or something. It was never really explained in detail. Maybe it's wizards? It's probably wizards.

But regardless, make sure any water you drink comes from the firm confines of a plastic prison, or else all of your poor life choices will pale in comparison to the mighty cleansing about to descend on your anus. Also, you might get the plague or something.

Now, more people than I expected were concerned about me getting devoured by the native wildlife. More rooting for than concerned about, really, but I'm sure they meant it in a nice way. And while Guatemala can't hold a candle to the natural crock pot of batshit poisonous lunacy that is Australia, there are still dozens of things living there that can bring you down with a serious case of not being alive anymore. Fortunately for you, most of these things—snakes, jaguars, spiders, fish, snakes, and laser snakes—all live mostly in the jungle. So unless you're a jungle-dwelling, tree-climbing parrot counter (no, not a racist slur. Actually met a guy who did that for a living.), then in your day to day travels you have little to worry about. And yes, they have for realsies hospitals and everything to take care of you in case something does happen (you may be surprised by the number of people I know who are convinced that they still use leeches down there).

And you must also exercise caution when you make your way around the country, mostly because…

Transport is Cheap, But Can Be Dangerous

You can get to most destinations in the country with a couple of bucks and a few strategic handjobs, but be careful about doing so.

I mentioned a minute ago about bandits, and I wasn't joking. Now, the problem has been getting a lot better, especially in recent years, but the threat still exists. Doesn't matter if you're taking a bus, shuttle, or your own car. There is the slight possibility that you may be robbed. More than likely they'll take your money and let you be, but it's a trip ruiner and a pants shitter to be sure.

Again, this doesn't happen nearly as much as it used to, and certainly much less near touristy towns, but be aware. But hell, even if the bandits don't find you, the Earth itself might kill you. No, I'm not talking about the volcanoes. Those are closely monitored. I guess it's not so much the Earth itself as it is your incredibly impatient driver who seems to try to flop his dick in the face of physics as often as he can. Taxis, buses, shuttles, doesn't matter. It's real hit or miss depending on your driver, but, especially if you're going through any mountains, you may also get a complimentary rollercoaster ride with your transit. It can be quite fun if you can detach your sense of self-preservation, which is a bit easier when you realize there are surprisingly few road accidents there. Not much more than most countries at least.

You Can Get Mullet-Related Discounts

Okay, maybe this one only applies to one place in particular, but I feel the need to mention it anyway, because holy hell, mullets. If you ever find yourself in the town of San Pedro, on Lake Atitlan, and you find yourself in need of quality lodging whilst simultaneously hating your current hairstyle, then seek out a place called Mr. Mullets. It's an awesome enough hostel as is, but what really puts it over the top is oh my God mullets. The owner, Mr. Mullet himself (real name: Mr. Mullet) welcomes all into his hostel of warmth and drunken decisions. The prices are cheap enough that anyone can drunkenly wander in and afford like, four beds without much hassle, but if you feel like becoming a legend while you're there, you can get a room for free. And tequila. Plenty of that going around.

How do you become a legend, you ask? Why, all you have to do is let them shave your lovely locks into the physical manifestation of bad decisions, and you're golden.


All you need to do is have this conversation.

"I would like a mullet in exchange for—"

*The sound of a buzzer removing any chance you have of getting laid in the next month*

And there you have it.

Again, I am not making this place up for the sake of comedy. San Pedro is a gorgeous town with a surprising amount of stuff to do, so if you ever find yourself there, check out Mr. Mullets and the Hall of Mullet, where they display photos of everyone who has ever visited and received the blessed glory of the mullet.

Did I get a mullet? Of course not. Don't be silly.

Cole F.M. with a mullet haircut