Internet in Guatemala, What!?

Let’s just say that the lack of internet in my life has provided me with one of the largest life lessons; “stress doesn’t make it any easier.” Exercising patience is my new motto.

For the last 2.5 months I have not been able to really work. As the primary bread winner for my family, and living in a foreign country with limited opportunity to network, relying solely on my existing contracts and relationships, I require internet for my survival. We require internet for our survival.

1 month of that time was at Casa de Joyce in San Marcos and it was a frustrating mess of dropped and inconsistent service. We had upgraded the service to the highest package available,  but it was rendered useless over the last month (other than a few sporadic uploads and downloads here and there) during the rainy season. This was expected, but also wildly frustrating. (I should note that we are lucky TIGO 3G works regularly and were doing a lot of work from our phones by using it as a wifi hotspot).

Then we moved to Patziac. For a monster set up fee and a monster monthly fee, we were under the impression that we would actually be able to get some level of service. How wrong we were.

So, about a month ago – about 15 days after being patient – I started reaching out to Mayanet, who is our service provider and documenting every time the internet went out. We had about 3 days one week without internet, 1 of those days due to power outages at our house. The last 2-weeks have been an in and out series of “power outages” in San Pedro (I quote it because we look out the window and there are lights, but apparently our internet has its own power?), and a series of other excuses why we don’t have internet:

  • Reason 1: The weather (i.e. clouds) are interrupting the signal
  • Reason 2: A pinch in a wire bringing internet to San Pedro*
  • Reason 3: Power going out in San Pedro, “The infrastructure in San Pedro is messed up and old”
  • Reason 5: The backup system he installed and we paid for (meant to kick in when the normal internet goes out) runs out of money
  • Reason 4: He doesn’t know

Below is an overview of where we are to date. We have spent everything on the left and are committed to the Monthly Payments. Do we move forward with the new Pana Plan? Do I follow through with the My Plan? For a reference, here is what we are paying in monthly rental costs, improvements, etc. so it seems absolutely insane to virtually 3x that cost by adding in a permanent internet structure. But, it is one idea, and may end up being our only one to get consistent service.

The below portrait is a visual of  what our gorgeous house is going to end up having added to it, in order to support our internet need that Carlos has outlined through the Pana Plan. It is terrifying and locks us into this property. But it is a very intriguing and interesting visual. 
Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 1.59.50 PM

While I am not an expert, for shits and giggles, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I called TIGO and had a fantastic conversation in English with a sales rep there. We discussed some opportunities and it might be a potential to work out a situation with the TIGO company.

Funny story though: We don’t have an address here, so when the rep asked me what it was, I had to explain that we are our own little space, no street address, no street, etc, we have a walking path and water! So, he asked me for my coordinates. If you are planning on coming for a visit, you can now search by coordinate:

Area de Uso Multiple Cuenca de Lago Atitlán
14.731739, -91.226821

Casa de Patziac
Jabalito y Tzununa
Panajachel, Solola

Hell yeah. Surviving in Guatemala!


*I complained so much and Mayanet called the internet provider so much that the company Claro (yuck) actually ended up looking into the problem. It was effecting tons of people. What?! No one seemed to have a complaint except me? Crazy! I guess people just expect intermittent internet service in emerging countries.

Shopping in San Pedro La Laguna

Today, we had a very fully packed adventure with lots of collection and general housekeeping items to get off our list. We met around 7:30 with our the gardener Mario who also cares for Isle Verde Hotel. He came to help us plan out our stay and to show us around the Passive House we are living in. It was fun because the information and planning was conducted via hand gestures. He literally doesn’t know anything more than “Hello” and “Thank You” in English and we hardly know anything, so it was quite entertaining. I have decided that everyone should learn Sign Language in the 1st year of life. It is truly the only International form of communication. Thanks to our wonderful friends from the Zen Center Josh, Leah and Josiah we are able to understand the principles behind effective gesturing. The best two pieces of the visit with Mario were receiving a TIGO stick (see the post on the Chicken Bus to find out the significance of this stick) and hiring a nanny / housekeeper. For the nanny / housekeeper we have agreed to pay Q.80 ($55) for 5-days a week for 8-hours a day. This equates to ~$220 a month. I think we both fell over when we found that out. Iza will spend the mornings with her daddy while our “Chica” (as Mario refers to her) cleans and does our laundry by hand. She will then switch over mid-day to watching Iza so Kurt can get some things done. We are excited because she knows absolutely NO ENGLISH and this will force us to learn it. Ana (our landlord) has known Mario for years and trusts him, so we trust him with his selections. His wife Marta and their little 3 year old are coming tomorrow to help set up our new “Chica” and assist with hand gestures (we assume). After our meeting we bustled off to Santa Cruz’s main dock to get a water taxi to Panajachel. Now, we are not just able to walk out our door and down the street to catch our taxi or subway. We have to brave the woods, cross the waterfall and head through many walking paths weaving our way down through the jungle. There are a few other gates and paths along the way, but this is definitely a desolate, single line walking path. Our 20-minute walk ended on a soccer field crafted in a big open space. Of course it was in very poor condition, but nonetheless it was ready and waiting for a patron to play and had two goals and two team boxes. We walked through the field ended up on what used to be the main road. Now the road is under water by about 12’, so we walked on the 2-board plank (maybe 24” wide, rickety and slippery from too much rain) which is elevated around the perimeter of the Santa Cruz lake front. As we walked and looked to our left back at the land, we were sad to see the beautifully tended gardens and original stone walkways inaccessible due to the water height. It is a world beginning to go underwater and nearly every house (there were only 6) had a team of masons building retaining walls for temporary protection from the inevitable. This path took us to the main embaracado which actually sat on a road with tuk tuks and a truck. There was a tiny fruit stand and another 2 more hotels. We saw signs for Spanish lessons available and spent some time talking to some people. It looks like it is roughly $7.50 per 1 hour session with a 1 on 1 teacher. Part of why we came to Guatemala was to learn Spanish, so this is a very important piece of the journey. It was fun to talk about the possibilities of having 6-weeks here to work with the same teacher and really get somewhere with the language. We got on the boat to Pana and after 10 minutes of waiting and finally losing patience I said, “What’s the hold up?” Again was the answer that we needed 10 people to go (so 8 more). This boat had more room, but with just the two of us (Iza doesn’t count) on the boat, I was not encouraged to keep waiting. Just as I was about to lose it on the guy (I am still trying to remove my high-octane spirit from my mind), another boat pulled up going to San Pedro. We decided to take the alternative to go to another town which we heard had a Health Food store owned by an American (low expectations, but excited nonetheless). We jumped on and we were off. Pana is about 30 minutes or so by boat and should cost around Q.10 ($1.20) or Q.15 from Isle Verde, so our expectation was that this might take a few more minutes. At around 50-minutes of transport I started to get antsy. It was beautiful to see the homes and Kurt and I were able to check out the homes that we had seen on AirBnB and to see some of the other homes which are not mostly under water. It is decided that if we stay we will have to buy deep in the hills and anticipate being on water front property in the next few years. It took about an hour or so in total and Q.25 per person to get to San Pedro. WOW! So much more than we expected. We were on the local boat which stopped anytime someone flagged them down at any private or public dock. We now know we need to get on the fast boat. When we got off we headed up the steep hill to the top which took us to the Mercado which is an open air market. Mostly tomatoes which was odd, but there were still vendors. We decided to have lunch and then head out in search of our goods. Of course the lunch spot that we wanted to find didn’t come up on Google, or at least Google couldn’t figure out how to get there even though it had a dot where it was meant to be located, so after wandering around in circles we took a tuk tuk. We ended up going back up and around to the market and heading back down through the calles (avenues). We were literally 1 block off when we got the tuk tuk, but the driver took us on a ride without our knowledge. 🙂 It was humorous when we got off. The restaurant was in a very european set of connected alley’s which created an intricate walking path with incredibly cool cafe’s and bars. Lots of wifi options are available and several Spanish schools. This town is very large and apart of the mainland, so there are lots of opportunities here for working – if I want to take the slow boat to China and back to get here. We found a music shop after lunch and scored Kurt an acoustic guitar for $55 and a real Xylophone for Iza (she likes it, but I love it). Then we went and did our shopping at the market getting tons of rich looking veggies and the essentials like beans, chickpeas, rice, spices, etc. We found also toilet paper, trash bags and tupperware at the Supermarket across the street. The term Supermarket in this case is used as a loose term for a 20’ x 20’ tienda (small store) with a variety of packaged products – mostly processed crap. We knew we wanted to go to the Health Food Store, but again we had very low-expectations, so we wanted to get at the least the essentials prior to going since it was right by the dock. The one item we didn’t find on our list was a cutting board. We went to a million places and asked with no luck. At this point there was a shelf-life with Iza. She is in this new whining phase where she screeches at the top of her lungs and then goes “Huh, huh, huh, huh. Bluh, bluh, bluh” and then screams again. We can’t wait for her to tell us what is actually going on in her head. So we get to the Health Food Store with little time to spare and it is nearly 10’ x 8’ wide. There is one metro rack through the center and a rack on the left and a wooden spice rack on the right. There are a few tables and a pastry case out front. We started looking and almost cried. This deserves its own post, stay tuned. We got back on the boat and while we had originally planned to go to Panajachel, we had gotten most of what we needed, so we decided to head home. While on the boat we meet two very nice Americans staying at Isle Verde and one was Puerto Rican who spoke Spanish. He communicated where we were going (as did I in my Spanglish) to the boat attendant. When we got off we were expected to pay Q.25 / head and he and his partner only had to spend Q.20 / head. I said, “What?!” in a very annoyed manner and Kurt said, “Its the English-speaking up charge honey.” I didn’t fight it. We set off for our journey to our home, we managed to piece together our new kitchen and Kurt started a fire. We had our first proper day and now night in our new home. It was brilliant. We feel home and happy here.

On the Chicken Bus to San Lucas

The buses resemble a semi-truck with spiked wheels and Harley Davidson branding. They are a step up from Chicken Busses, but still have similar purposes. This morning we set out for an adventure seeking a TIGO stick (wifi card) which we have been told are out of stock in the whole country of Guatemala. The place we were headed was Centre Commercial Las Puertos which is in San Lucas (on the way to Guatemala).

So, here we are on the bus, ready to leave on the adventure and the bus is full (or so we thought), with each seat taken by two. Then we leave the “station” and head out through Antigua and we stop 4 more times before we exit through the village. Now we were definitely full (or so we thought), with 3 people to every seat. As we start out heading towards Guatemala City we stopped another 10 or so times with people trading in and out of the bus. At the max capacity there were people sitting on each others laps and people standing in the nonexistent aisles. Sometimes the bus hardly stopped when it picked up someone… it kind of slowed and then all of a sudden there was someone new on the bus.

This wouldn’t have been so bad, but with a baby it totally sucked. Iza was having a meltdown and trying to nurse the entire time which made it so much worse. My nipples are in shambles. But when she looked up, she was having a full on fiesta by herself. The music matched her spirit with a Mexican band on the radio blaring the entire time. Kurt even noted that at the beginning of the drive the music got turned up.

This was not just a simple drive! It was a winding and elevation changing ride with lots of twists and turns leading to the entire bus shifting and all of us with it from one side to the next. Hysterically awful – so awful it actually was funny.

We figured out we missed our exit when we ended up in Guatemala City traffic. A full hour instead of the estimated 25 minutes we were told. We get to another mall Milefloris and jumped off… a little nervous to do so, but definitely knew we couldn’t wait to get to the center of Guatemala City before jumping off. This mall was certainly sorted and it looked like King of Prussia. By this point Kurt and I were hungry, thirsty and bitchy. Iza was flailing her arms so you can imagine she was definitely not a happy camper. We walked around for a minute a Kurt said, “Let’s go.” I insisted we stay and we ended up finding a TIGO shop and then a few kiosks. Everyone said we were ‘Shit out of Luck’ regarding the stick.

We hit a taxi defeated (only after a lovely juice break at Saul – a UK clothier in Guatemala), but wanting to still get to San Lucas to carry out the remaining components of the journey. We went to the taxi stand at this very high-end mall and for Q.130 ($15) we got to the next mall. So much for our saving money. The bus to the mall was Q.20 for both of us! (like $1.50). Ha.

We get to the Mall in San Lucas and head into the shop. We wait forever and ended up seeing the lady and she says they don’t have any either. That the whole country is out. Awesome. I am starving by this point and had really lost interest in the whole experience. We went to the grocer around the corner and got avos and chips. As we walk out the door we both looked at each other and said, “How do we get back?” There was not a single taxi in sight and we were on a massive road. A little scary. Two drivers honked at us and just past an antique shop this guy was kind enough to show us the right direction to the waiting area (only 200 yards away so we were excited). We got to the place and a bus arrived. We hoped on.

The bus was already packed and so while I was offered a seat, I chose to stand and hold Iza. Truthfully the idea of not having something to hold onto again and trying to accomplish sitting in the least conducive environment to doing so, did not feel appealing. So, I stood. We got back in expert fashion in under 15 minutes and we were happily ready to retire from our Chicken Bus journey.

All we got in 4 hours of our journey were avocados and chips. Hardly worth the adventure, but the experience is of course priceless.