Let’s Go To The Mall

In the spirit of Robin Sparkles, I think of this video from How I Met Your Mother every time we head out to a mall here in Guatemala, which has been fairly often. There are a lot of malls here and they are great. It is a good option to have, as there aren’t a tremendous amount of sights to see in the city. There is a zoo and a few museums near us which are in a decent part of the city that I know we will eventually get to. But beyond that, not much else. The historic city center has some sights, but being the historic city center in Zone 1, it is a high crime area that we will be unlikely to visit unless we go with a group arranged through the embassy and we certainly will not ever drive our car to the area.

The malls here are clean, very modern and filled with many familiar stores and restaurants. They all have secure underground parking that utilizes the best parking system I have ever seen. Every parking space has a light above it, that is either green or red, which makes locating an empty space so very easy. No trolling up and down the rows hoping to find a space. As well, there are signs that point to other parking levels with real-time updates showing the number of available spaces. Don’t want to hang out on level two looking for one of the 33 available spaces? Well, head on down to level three where there are 247 available spaces.

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It’s an impressive system that makes navigating through the garages a breeze. We figure that there is probably a lot of laundered drug money that has been put into these malls, because they are really nice. Just as nice, or nicer, than malls back in U.S.

Happy Birthday DiploTot

DiploTot turned one today and it has been quite a year. In this short time she has already lived in 3 cities – Houston, Falls Church and now Guatemala City. Sometimes the image below feels like ages ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday.

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What a year!

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Neighborhood Observations

As I have mentioned before, we are thrilled with our house and the neighborhood that we are living in. It is extremely safe and affords us the same conveniences we had back at home in terms of our ability to get out and walk with DiploDog and to take DiploTot out in her stroller. With a couple of weeks under our belts, here are a few things that have jumped out at me.

There are lots of runners, especially in the morning, and the vast majority of them are decked out in stylish, bright running gear. Grubby t-shirts and shorts or other workout clothes need not apply. Morning is also the time for car washing. These aren’t the owners washing their cars mind you, but the hired help (men), out at the curb, or backed out of the garage, with a bucket of soapy water and rubber rain boots on. I’m going to have to up my game here, as I am quite adept at going for extended periods of time (extended being months and months and months…) without washing the car. I think a lot of the cars are washed every morning, or at least several times a week.

Dogs. There are a good number of dogs in the neighborhood and it is not uncommon to see them being walked at various times throughout the day. The dogs are usually being walked by their owners, or if a larger dog, perhaps one of the male staff. What always makes us chuckle, however, is seeing all the little lap dogs out for their afternoon strolls, being walked by housekeepers in their work uniforms (typically a solid color dress with an apron).

Bodyguards. We take it for granted that one can be very successful and very wealthy back in America and likely not have to be concerned about the safety of one’s family. Kidnapping for ransom  just isn’t very likely. Here, as in much of the non-Western world I imagine, that isn’t the case. If one has a good deal of money, one could be at risk. A few times we have passed the playground near our house and noticed three bodyguards with earpieces stationed at the street, keeping watch over a young child and his nanny while they play on the swings. I have no idea whether this is the child of a government official, or perhaps a successful businessman, but I imagine wherever the child goes, there go the bodyguards as well.

Political Statements

It seems DiploDog has already found a favorite spot in the neighborhood to make her morning deposit – that would be the yard of the Venezuelan Ambassador. I suppose I can’t say for certain if she is attempting to make some kind of a political statement with this particular act, but I have to admit I get tempted to make my own by leaving it there.

Ironically enough, however, we’ve found that there isn’t much of a cultural imperative here to clean up after one’s dog when out walking, so if the deposit stayed, I don’t think anyone would think twice about it or be particularly annoyed. Being the good neighbor and conscientious pet owner that I am though, I still can’t just leave it there, so I bag it up and we head on our way to continue enjoying the pleasant mornings.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

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DiploDog finally made it to Guatemala City yesterday after a week-long delay thanks to the incompetence of the shipper we were using, Club Pet International. I’ll have more to say about them later, but to any Department of State employees who need to get their pet overseas, I most definitely cannot recommend them.

DiploDog flew out from Dulles on Wednesday afternoon and had to spend the night at the pet hotel at Intercontinental in Houston so she could board the first morning flight on Thursday down to Guatemala City. With DiploDog’s delay, she had now been away from us for an entire month, so needless to say, we were quite anxious to get her back. We headed to the airport about an hour before her flight was scheduled to land in order to meet up with the local customs broker we had to hire who was helping to get DiploDog out of customs as quickly as possible.

After meeting up with the broker, DiploMom handed over her passport to him (which feels very awkward to do, by the way) and he headed into the airport to await the plane’s arrival. At this point, the anxious waiting began. DiploMom commented that she felt more nervous during this waiting period than when she was heading in for her c-section for DiploTot. After all the snafus with Club Pet, we half expected the wrong dog to arrive or for something to have happened to DiploDog along the way.

After what felt like an eternity, but was actually a pretty short amount of time after the plane landed, the broker came wheeling out DiploDog’s crate and we ran out to greet her. DiploDog was very excited and was attempting her usual excited “squeaking” but not much came out as she was hoarse, I suppose after having squeaked her head off over the course of the past several days. At this point we had quite a crowd of locals gathering around trying to see the dog in the big crate. I had forgotten that the crate would be zip-tied and I had left my pocket knife back at the house. DiploDog was getting quite anxious to get out (for multiple reasons as we will learn later) and we were trying to figure out how we were going to get the ties cut.

Fortunately a taxi driver that had come over to check things out had a pocket knife that he handed over for me to use. With DiploDog freed, I attached her leash and we got ready to get back to our car. DiploDog was pretty excited to be out and was pulling a good bit. We navigated across to the other side of the arrivals area with the broker behind pushing the crate. Not long after reaching the other side, DiploDog stopped to take the longest pee I have ever seen, right there on the pavement. It must have gone on for over 30 seconds. No wonder she was extra excited to get out of the crate! We felt bad just continuing on, but there wasn’t any way to really tend to the mess.

With that out of the way we kept the train moving and worked our way up the ramp to get us back to the level we needed to exit and get to our car. Halfway up the ramp, DiploDog pauses again and squats to take a big dump. Well she’s two for two at this point! Fortunately we were better prepared for this and were able to get a poop bag out of DiploTot’s diaper bag to tend to the business. I imagine after all of this DiploDog felt much better. Poor thing, who knows how long she had been holding in. I’m not sure what the broker must have thought about all of this, bit I think he might have been a bit thrown by it all.

We finally got to our car and got everyone loaded up and got on our way back home. We breathed a huge sigh of relief as the entire process was a bit stressful. The airport wasn’t a totally sketchy place, but we felt a bit vulnerable since we had to bring more stuff with us and had extra cash and both of our passports. With all the activity surrounding DiploDog, it was easy to get distracted, which is what thieves are looking for.

DiploDog took the house quite well and got busy exploring every room. This is going to be a great setup for her and I am thrilled to have a yard again and to not have to ride an elevator down to get outside whenever she needs to do her business. With the awesome weather, she is going to get plenty of walks and there is also a great nature area in the neighborhood with some paths that meander down in a ravine-type area, so lots to sniff and explore.

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The tile floors are great for cooling down and she’ll likely get to take a dip in the pool this weekend. It is great to have the entire family back together after all of these weeks and DiploTot also seemed happy to have her friend back as well.

Driving

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Making the adjustment to driving around in the city hasn’t been quite as difficult as I initially thought it might be. One has to be pretty aggressive out on the road, but coming from Houston, this hasn’t been a problem. What has made navigating around most difficult is either the lack of street signs, or signs so small that they are impossible to spot before it is too late.

Our first real driving experience was a couple of weeks back when we drove out to a Walmart, which by the way, didn’t feel all that different from the Walmart at Dunvale and Westheimer, given that at both, Spanish is essentially the only language heard. We got out there with no problems thanks to some great directions we got from a woman at church, however, getting back is where we ran into some hiccups. I thought I was in the lane that I needed to be in, but suddenly, thanks to the aforementioned lack of signs, we found ourselves exiting to the left, when we needed to be one lane over continuing straight ahead.

This nice little detour placed us off of the main road and into Zone 7, which is a zone that we most definitely did not want to find ourselves in. We were completely turned around and initially had no idea what direction we needed to go in to get back to the main road. One could say that the area we found ourselves in was a bit sketchy. DiploMom later likened it to an episode from Homeland where a caravan was navigating through the streets if Beirut. Thankfully we generally were headed back in the right direction and were able to spot the main road that we needed to get back to. Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable 5-10 minutes. We ended up retracing our steps all the way back to the Walmart to then turn around and head back.

This past Friday we were returning home from dinner at the mall at about 6:30 (just as darkness was setting in) and got turned around in what should have been a fairly direct route back. We weren’t in a bad part of town, but found ourselves heading out of the city with no obvious places to turn around. And then it decided to start raining. We finally managed to turn around and were able to determine what street we were on. It was a street we knew, so we then knew we just had to keep going back in the direction we had come from and that would eventually get us back to were we needed to be.

A solution to some of these driving issues? I found out where I can get an SD card with a map of Guatemala for my Garmin GPS. The map is $120!! but after these two experiences, I know I need to put my male pride aside and buy the map. I am getting more comfortable getting around and it is easy to feel like I won’t need the GPS, but it will definitely be needed when we eventually visit Antigua and Lake Atitlan and it is good security if we get turned around in the city. I even have a nice mount that won’t have to sit up on the dashboard so as to not attract unscrupulous eyes when we are at stoplights or stopped in traffic.

Pajamas

[dropcap style=”font-size: 45px; color: #549eb9;”]D[/dropcap]iploTot likes it when she gets to stay in her pajamas all day long. And she still loves her Hello Kitty water bottle that her aunt gave her. One of these days there might actually be some teeth in that mouth.

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