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Where Not to Change Your Money

Money FlavorsThe worst place to change your money is in the airport. Think about it: having an exchange booth in the terminal is expensive. And you pay for it.

Recent guests asked me what the exchange rate was suggesting it was about Q6 to the US$. That number came from them changing some money in the airport. It is way off. The official exchange rate is 7.62 and has been between 7.5 and 8.0 for years. If you go to any bank (and have a US$50 or US$100) that is what you will get.

The “bad” exchange rates you will find by going into a local tienda with your US$ will be somewhere between 7 and 7.5. Coyotes on the street generally pay very close to the bank rates as long as it is for $50s and $100s. If you don’t know why I am talking about the larger bills, check out Locuras … .

Sunrise (or) Sunset

San Antonio SunsetIf you are going to stay on the lake, you have a choice of whether you will see a sunrise or a sunset over the hills. It depends on where you are on the lake. At out Bed and Breakfast in San Antonio, sunsets are the big event of the day. The photo at the left was taken by my daughter from the deck of the B&B.

Continue reading Sunrise (or) Sunset

Guatemala City “buying” trip

I recently had to make a trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. There are always things I want that are not available locally but I just don’t like the seven hours of travel to go to Guatemala City and back. Plus, bringing back a lot of stuff on the bus is inconvenient. So, I decided to take advantage of being in the city, buy things I need and have Rolando, the driver we recommend in San Antonio Palopó for our Bed and Breakfast customers, pick me up. Or more accurately, pick us up as my daughter wanted to experience Guatemala City.

Squash pie from Rey Sol.

Squash pie from Rey Sol.

I got back Thursday evening and stayed at Hotel Spring (as always) in Zona 1. Friday was “shopping for the B&B day”. I bought a couple of safes, a blender and some hardware store items not available in Panajachel. I also found a pawn shop a couple of blocks from the hotel on Saturday morning and bought a toaster oven/coffee maker combo for our Panajachel apartment and a convection oven for the B&B. A total success. And, I ate at Rey Sol, an excellent vegetarian restaurant in Zona 1. Continue reading Guatemala City “buying” trip

Banks say no to US$20 or less

The story is on decodeit.org and it is nationwide but how it works on the lake is what we care about. The Guatemalan government has told the banks not to accept US currency other than $50 and $100 bills. This makes no sense to me. Here are a few reasons:

  • Unless it has changed in the last month, the Cajero (ATM) at BAC in Panajachel gives you a choice of Quetzales or US$ — US$20.
  • The official currency of El Salvador is the US$. Lots of people travel between El Salvador and Guatemala daily. Most are not going to have lots of money.
  • As the owner of a Bed and Breakfast, customers paying cash who don’t live in Guatemala almost always pay in US$. Even if they were paying with a US$50 bill, that would mean I need to give them $10 change for our $40 room. What do they do with the US$10 bill?

Continue reading Banks say no to US$20 or less

Another Dentist Visit

While Rocio and her mother have had good luck with Dra. Lily, my good luck until a week ago was no dentist visits. Then, I broken another tooth. Last Friday Lily said “partial crown” and did the prep work and impressions. The options were:

  • Ugly one for Q800
  • Pretty one for Q1000

I picked the pretty one. I wasn’t concerned with pretty as it is way in the back but I figured having ceramic rather than more metal was a good thing. Rumor is that it will be ready on Monday. Continue reading Another Dentist Visit

Considerations for your garden

Starting SeedlingsAround the lake the weather is like what you would expect (minus the smog) on the good days in Los Angeles, California. The big difference is that is what it is like year round here. In general, expect the temperature to be in the range of 10C to 30C, day or night, whatever month of the year. January will be on the low end, April on the high end but that’s about it.

If you are living in the area you may wonder why there are particular planting times for crops. The reason is water. Most of the area does not have irrigation water so crops are planted such that the rain will happen when it is needed. (Note that in San Antonio Palopó there is irrigation water for all the rural land and what you find are crops, particularly onions, growing year round.) Continue reading Considerations for your garden

Blender parts

When I was first here I noticed that there were people walking down the streets selling blender parts. I thought that was pretty cool — until I needed a blender jar for a Sunbeam blender. Then I found out about reality.

The guys are selling parts for Oster, and only Oster blenders. Having a Sunbeam with a damaged jar and a Black and Decker with no jar, I was thinking it was time to buy an Oster. That is, until I was shopping for something totally different in Sololá. What I found was a place that has parts for all blenders. That even includes motor parts.

Where is it? Well, in the local custom of lack of addresses, it is on the main one-way street between the market and the park. On a corner maybe four blocks from the park. As I remember, one block before El Mismo Precio.

Regional Travel

While the primary reason I wrote this page is to help people get to our Bed and Breakfast, the information is useful for anyone traveling to Guatemala from points south. Once you get to Guatemala (City), “Buses to Most Anywhere” in our CDR transportation page should help you out. So, let’s concentrate on getting to Guatemala City.

If you are traveling by air, there really isn’t anything additional to say. Just fly to GUA and you are here. If your destination is on Lake Atitlan, there are public shuttles, private shuttles and public buses to get here.

If you are traveling in Central America by bus, here are my suggestions (based on experience). There is nothing direct from anywhere further south than Managua Nicaragua. But, once in Managua, you have multiple options to get a direct trip to Guatemala City. While there are additional options, these three are the most popular.

  • Transportes del Sol — my favorite. Their terminal in Managua is in Bolonia, across the street from TicaBus. They leave Managua between 3 and 4AM. It is a 16 hour trip to Guatemala City with a quick bus change in San Salvador. Meals, more or less, are included. $75 one way with a discount if you purchase the return trip at the same time. Rates are 2 for 1 on Wednesdays. A great deal but if you are not two, be warned that the bus is usually close to full. Terminal in Guatemala City is the Crown Plaza Hotel. If you think you might want to stay there, the last time I asked the room rate was $146 for one person. And, no, I didn’t stay there.
  • TicaBus — they take an overnight stay in San Salvador. I did this once (on the Guate to Managua route) and it makes no sense to me.
  • Premium — Their terminal in Managua is a few blocks from the other players but still in Bolonia. For me, they seem to have an attitude and they are the most expensive. In Guate you end up in the yuppie part of of the city (Zona 10) so you have a choice of overpriced hotels.

Once you get to Guatemala City, if you are looking for a reasonable priced hotel, try Zona 1 which is the center of the city. A taxi fare from my bus to Zona 1 will be Q50 or less and expect to find hotels in the Q200 range. My favorite is Hotel Spring but there are lots of other options.

If you are heading to Panajachel, there are lots of transportation options.

  • Public bus — All public buses going west leave from “Calle 41. You can get there by taxi or take TransMetro to the Santa Cecelia station, exit left on the overpass, turn right when you get to the street and just follow the sidewalk. In a block the sidewalk will curve to the left (right before an overpass). Follow it and in a couple blocks you will be where all the buses leave from. While there are direct buses to Panajachel, any bus that goes to Los Encuentros will work. Change to a Sololá bus there and then change to a Panajachel bus in Sololá.
  • Public shuttle — It will cost form $25 to $30 and will stop in Antigua. What that means is that it will take longer than a public bus. Your hotel should be able to arrange it for you.
  • Private shuttle — Expect to pay Q600 to Q800 for your group. If others can arrange it, contact us at info@casasderocio.com and we will connect you with someone who can do the transport for you.

Hopefully this will help you get to your destination.

CoffeeThere is no shortage of coffee in Guatemala. You can find it at prices from about Q25 to Q80 per pound. But, what’s the difference?

The photo shows the two most common brands you find here. These are non-Gringo coffees. That is, they are what locals drink and you can find these two brands in most tiendas here. They are usually quite good and I have tended to drink the San Valentin. The bags are only 200 grams and you can find it for anywhere from Q17 in a yuppie store in Panajachel to Q10.5 in the public market in San Lucas.

Now, the reason I have the bag of León to show is because I was not really happy with the last bag of San Valentin I bought. It makes coffee the right color but seems low on flavor. It doesn’t mean I have given up on it but I decided it is better to drink the León for a while and then try San Velentin again.

The bag of León you see is 350 grams and cost Q26 in Chalo’s, a typically expensive place. Juana (Rocio’s mom) told me that León in the blue bag is very strong. I saw it when I bought the red one. It said “export quality” and, more important, it cost twice as much. Maybe “export quality” means that it is just coffee beans and while these are 100% pure puro, maybe that includes stems or leaves. 🙂

Another cost of living data point

So often I hear people say “it sounds as expensive around the lake as in Los Angeles or whatever. Here is just one more example of what you don’t see when you just look at the cost of a KwH of electricity of some canned food from Gringolandia.

A small metric screw fell off my motorcycle. Those amazingly common ones with a 10mm head and probably a 4mm thread. But, not having my VW spare parts kit here, I didn’t have one. Where I bought the moto, they farm out the service so they wouldn’t have one. So, I went to a motorcycle repair shop I had seen on Calle Principle. A guy who had a moto on a stand all apart set down his wrench and came over to help me. I told him I needed a metric screw and pointed to the hole. He came over, pulled off the line (the screw holds on a plate on the end of a hose that, I guess, is exhaust gas recirculation.

He called to another guy inside to bring him a screw. I missed what he said but the guy came out in 15 seconds with one. My guy grabbed a 10mm wrench, put the hose back on and put in the screw, tightening it with the wrench.

At this point, two or three minutes had elapsed. I asked he what I owed him. He thought and sheepishly said five quetzales. (That’s about $.70.) I complained that was too cheap and gave him the Q5 and rode off.