Tina's Travels, Part I: Guatemala City

It's hot, dirty, and exhilarating. No, it's not your favorite Pornhub search, it's Guate in all her notorious glory. The city sings of commerce, of Quetzales in mid-flight, spurring indigenous ways to surface in networks of wooden shacks with zinc roofs. Women wearing huipil skirts transgress the city in vamped-out school busses, painted brightly with flames and adorned with chrome bull horns. They seem anachronistic next to the opulent shopping centers and secluded urbanizations, guarded by heavily armed security and an overpowering sense of superiority. One thing is for sure here: the middle class is inexistent.

El Palacio de la Cultura en la Plaza Central / Culture Palace in the Central Plaza

You can't step foot into Guate without hearing of systemic corruption. Everyone knows who the real patrones are - los narcos y políticos living in their castles in the sky, staring out at a gradient of stars and city lights twinkling from every valley's crevice and volcano's edge. My Guate guides happened to have access to this kind of view, a privatized and privileged place somewhere along the Carretera a El Salvador, a road that winds above the city in gentle curves that caress the mountainside. Our mission was simple: avoid the suffocating traffic that consumes every possible route through this concrete jungle. To do so, you need one thing: a residential sticker granting you access to the back-roads occupied by Guatemala City’s wealthiest.

 

Vista desde la Carretera a El Salvador / View from El Salvador Rd.

On either side of the road is dense forest or a massive stone wall, surely concealing someone's manor. Now and then my hosts would light-heartedly point out the gated entrance to the home of a friend, an infamous drug lord, a corrupt politician, or a prosperous family. I can only assume their nonchalance over the national tragedy was due to desensitization of living there themselves. We sped by in awe at the culmination of such wealth and privacy; in Guate, it’s rare to have both in the same place. What should have taken us three hours of inhaling car exhaust took us thirty minutes with a spectacular view. Even time can be bought if you know the right people or have enough plata. Unjustifiable in beauty, as much as in pain, Guate explores the extent a people goes to reach safety in the wrath of misplaced power.