8 Day Countdown to Guatemala #travel #Guatemala #Antigua

It’s getting closer.  My nerves are steady but emotions running a little on the high side. My WTF beard continues to grow. My psych practice is closed – temporarily.

The travel nurse at Kaiser assured me that my vaccination for Typhoid fever is still effective from the shot I had before going to Guatemala about 2 years ago. And of course, I’m equipped with  Malarone to prevent malaria in case I’m going to “mosquito infested areas.” The nurse was emphatic —  I need to start taking the medication a day before entering  areas where ravenous mosquitos congregate and to continue taking the medication, even after I’ve left the area, until the all the Malarone is gone!

The nurse supplied me with 16 pages (yes, count them) of medical information, instructions and precautions for Guatemala. I’m to use insect repellant containing DEET (highly toxic!). There are guidelines on when I should call for help. I’m to wear protective clothing and to even consider bed nets to avoid mosquito bites which carry Dengue, Zika, and other lovely things, and what  symptoms to look out for. I have details on the Guatemala-specific medications I’ll be taking and their potential side effects.

Not surprisingly, there’s a whole section on “travelers diarrhea.” As such, I’ve been given an almost mandatory prescription for Azithromycin, a heavy duty antibiotic, in case things get especially bad with cramps, and worse (TMI?), otherwise I’m to be well-equipped with Imodium.  I was even given a detailed map outlining the areas where malaria is present. On this handy map, Antigua, my home base, appears to be just 1/32 of an inch from where mosquito precautions are required. Of course, I hope that none of these insatiable mosquitos living in the adjacent areas are planning any trips to Antigua for free Vegas-style buffets!

I can imagine these smug mosquitos’ having a chat:

“Hey Mack, how’s it going?

“Hi Miles, pretty good but man am I stuffed!  I just ate”

“Really, where did you go?”

“I ate at the Huxley Griffith”

“Wow, how was it?”

“Delicious! Man, that place really must like dark chocolate. Boy was it tasty”

“Cool, I’ve been meaning to try it.”

“What part did you try?”

“I think I was near the neck but I hear the ankle is also tasty.”

“Hmm, I’ll have to try it. I’ll go there now.”  Buzz you later.

“Later, man.”

Enough of that.

I’ll be arriving during Guatemala’s rainy season which runs May through October. In fact, since it’s close to the equator, Guatemala really only has two seasons: wet and dry. A majority of the rain is supposed to fall in September (average 9 inches) and October (average 5 inches). November also tends to be  wet but by December, it’s supposed to dry up. I’ve heard it can be torrential at times. Plus October is peak hurricane  season. That could be interesting.

So the other day, I ventured out to REI to find some (hopefully inexpensive) water-proof shoes and a lightweight rain jacket. Both were on sale so I bought them. Maybe I’m overdoing it. Maybe all I need are those one-dollar ponchos that come so neatly wrapped in tiny rectangular packages. So I ordered a supply of those too from Amazon. It’s cheap insurance. Did you know that you can return anything at REI for up to one year, even if you’ve worn them!? Like shoes?? Who knew?

I’ve been checking the iPhone weather app a few times a week.

Antigua Guatemala weather from iPhone weather app

It seems to be stuck on only one setting – rain and thunderstorms every day until further notice with daytime temps in the mid-70s and nighttime temps in the high 50s. Not too bad.

I’ve also checked the U.S. State Department website to find the latest travel advisories for Guatemala. It’s not the safest place on the planet. (As if L.A. is??)  I probably shouldn’t have checked. It felt like the time I was googling my incessant cough, cold and achy symptoms and concluded that I had some horrendous disease with just months or days to live. Yes, the Guatemalan government is corrupt. (I feel like the pot calling the kettle black.) And yes there are certain areas to avoid. For example, from my previous trips, I knew that once you fly into Guatemala City, for the most part, you don’t hang around and probably don’t come back until it’s time to go back to the airport.

Guatemala is currently at Travel Advisory Level 2 (“Exercise increased caution” due to crime) as of July 27, 2018. There are four levels. It was actually worse when I was there last January when it was at Level 3, “Reconsider travel.” Of course, I had no idea then although we knew to be very careful. The machine gun armed guards at some of the restaurants and places we visited gave it away. Some areas of Guatemala are still at a Level 3. Guatemala is divided into 22 geographic entities called Departments. Antigua is in the Sacatepéquez department which is currently at a Level 2. I’ll check out the situation more once I get there.

I’m told that the devastating and deadly eruption of the Fuego Volcano has settled down.

We had  actually seen Fuego having much smaller eruptions both times we were in Guatemala. I’ve got some great photos!

Eruption of Fuego Volcano,  January 2018; Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

During the eruption last January, Antigua was inundated with volcanic ash since it’s only 9 miles away. So, I’ve ordered a supply of breathing masks (N95 rated for volcanic ash) just in case. Yes, I brought them last January as well since I knew that Fuego had been huffing and puffing for a while and threatening to go off.

At the U.S. Embassy’s suggestion, I’ve enrolled in “STEP” (Smart Traveler Enrollment  Program). That way, the U.S. Embassy is aware of my travel in Guatemala in case of an emergency, natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. The embassy can also help family and friends get in touch with me in an emergency. I’ve also been receiving periodic updates on the safety concerns in Guatemala as they have come up. So far I’ve received two, both concerning some civil unrest in Guatemala City.

We happen to live near the Guatemala Consulate so I went there the other day.  I had a nice chat with one the officers there.  He assured me that tourist areas are safe but there are clearly areas to avoid.  So I will.

Since stealing ATM card information seems to be a national pastime  in Guatemala, I’ve opened a separate bank account specific to my trip to Guatemala with its own ATM card. That way, I can keep a small amount of money in the account and if my card gets hacked, my other accounts won’t be compromised.

Am I worried. Not really. Am I still going? Yes. Remember, I was at the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s an hour before the tragic shooting. L.A. has its issues as do most places.

I never would have imagined that this sabbatical would have taken so much planning and preparation to pull this off. There are so many moving parts. Oh yes, I even bought a travel guitar at my favorite guitar store, McCabe’s. Now, it’s time to pack.