We were nearly out of money so Donna had Shannon move some insurance policy money from savings onto the credit card. We had to go to visit the bank in Guatemala City to withdraw the money so we could continue shopping. It was, as always, an interesting bus ride as we careened around the mountain roads hoping the driver was having a good day and wanted to get home that night. We had left early enough that we arrived at the bank in the mid-morning. We walked into the bank, went to the window, and handed our credit card to the teller. Soon he came back and said, “Sorry, but you don’t have enough cash on your card. Is there anything else I can do for you?” We had no idea what to do! We knew Shannon had put the money on the card, and told the teller so. “It hasn’t shown up on it here in our records yet. It should be on by tomorrow.” So, here we were in the capital city without any money. Then, we had the idea to go to the American Embassy to see if they could help in some way. Perhaps we could just borrow a couple of dollars to get a meal and a cheap room to stay the night.
The US Embassy
When we arrived at the embassy it was still morning. We showed our passports to the guard and were allowed to enter. As we walked into the foyer we saw a sign on the door that directed us to listen to the message on the red phone to the right before entering the building. Although I can not recall the exact words it said, the essence of the message was, “THE COUNTRY OF GUATEMALA IS UNDER COUP! YOU ARE ADVISED TO LEAVE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! HURRY, RUUUUNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!” We thought, well that’s nice but right now we don’t even have enough money for a meal! We hung up the phone and walked in through the double glass doors and over to the reception desk. “Good morning! How can we help you?”
We explained the situation with the money not showing up on our account yet and that it would be on the card tomorrow because the daughter in Maryland had put money in the account and we just needed to possibly borrow just enough to get a meal and a cheap room overnight and that it will be okay to pull the money out in the morning after which time we would be happy to come back to the embassy and pay them back! You can keep our passports as collateral.
“Okay, please have a seat and we will call you shortly.”
We took a seat and waited. People, all dressed in very nice clothes, came and went. They were quickly processed, without having to wait, and escorted deeper into the embassy by smiling workers. We sat. We looked at our clothes realizing that we looked like hippie travelers. We waited. The receptionist was relieved by another lady as she went to lunch. We waited. She returned from lunch. More people returned from lunch smiling and laughing as they went back to work. I asked if they had forgotten us? “Have a seat. Someone will be down shortly.” We waited. It was nearly closing time for the embassy when a young man came down the stairs and walked over to us. “At last,” I thought. With a pleasant smile, he handed us a little slip of paper and said, “Perhaps you could have your family wire you some money through the Western Union. Here’s the address. Have a nice day.” And with that, he turned and walked back up the stairs.
A Place to Sleep
We were in shock. We had wasted an entire day thinking that our country would help us when we were in need. I guess not. Well, at least not unless you are “dressed to the nines” and well connected.
We walked out of the embassy disappointed. But what to do? We did have a credit card. I guess we would just have to find a room that would accept a credit card! We scoured the Lonely Planet guidebook and found a room not too far away. It wasn’t terribly expensive but certainly in a higher price range than we would normally spend. It was lovely with a very private flower garden. We put our things in the room and locked up leaving to find some food. After not eating all day, we were hungry! We wandered around the downtown area looking for a place that would take a credit card.
The restaurant was quite large with a dancefloor and booth seating all around. The decor was white stucco reminding me of Mexico. We asked a restaurant worker if they accepted credit cards and we were relieved when they said yes. The room was practically empty except for a booth that was next to the booth where the waitress seated us. Three people occupied it, an older gentleman sitting with a large woman with very heavy makeup and a young man across the booth facing them. The woman reminded me of Tammy Fae Baker of 700 Club fame, it wasn’t her. As we looked at the menu, the older man began to strike up a conversation with us. “Hello! Where are you from?” he asked in perfect English, but with a beautiful Spanish accent sounding a bit like Richardo Montalban. We answered and he invited us to join them in their booth, we accepted.
As we got seated, the older man told us he was a billionaire florist, that the young man was a journalist for the newspaper, and the ‘lady’ was his whore for the evening. He was really quite charming and was chatting up Donna. Before long he asked Donna to dance, and while she normally doesn’t dance she accepted. Then the ‘lady’ grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of the booth to dance with her. The journalist watched all of this, I believe, giggling to himself. While the billionaire was gently guiding Donna on the dancefloor, my ‘partner’ was less so, pulling me this way and that while grasping three of my fingers tightly as she spun me like a top!
Fortunately, our food arrived and we excused ourselves back to our booth to eat as the feeling in my fingers returned. After a bit, our new acquaintances said their goodbyes and we ate our meal in peace.
As we left the restaurant and started back to the guesthouse we could see armed soldiers stationed on most street corners. We walked through a square and the were more armed soldiers. As we walked down a side street we saw a young man lying on the sidewalk. What was he doing? Was he all right? We walked over to check on him. There was a metal plate next to him and he had his arm down a hole. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yes! I’m just trying to turn my water back on,” he replied. “There! Would you like to come in? It’s not safe on the streets at this time of night. We can talk there.”
He got up and brushed himself off as he motioned us into his flat. The small flat was sparsely decorated but clean and tastefully done. He was a Frenchman living with his Guatemalan wife who had not arrived home yet that evening. We asked him about the situation in the city. It seemed like there were military people everywhere on the street corners with machine guns. He explained that the government kept changing new governing factors that kept failing, triggering another coup and that marshall law was in effect. Marshall law meant that if more than three people gather it could be considered a conspiracy. All of the people could be shot. It was about this time that the wife arrived home and realized we were talking politics. She got very pale and told us we needed to leave now! There were too many of us gathered in their place!
We left. The streets were quiet and deserted except for the military men on the corners as we returned to the guesthouse.
Excitement for Breakfast
In the morning we checked out of the guesthouse, went back to the bank, and withdrew the money. For breakfast, we had seen an “American Donuts” shop and thought that might be fun. We ordered a couple of donuts, and some coffees, and found a place at one of the tables. Suddenly, there was a very loud boom just outside! Everybody ‘hit the deck’ diving under tables for cover! We did the same. Slowly people looked up and began to retake their places at the tables. It was only a car backfiring. We finished our breakfast and caught a bus back to Panajachel.