My Replacement Pack And Why The Economy Of Guatemala City Is Like Two Gay Dudes

I really need to work on the length of these titles.

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Man, I really need to work on the length of these titles.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the "new pack in my life" I want to do two things:

First, I want to thank everyone who donated to my GoFundMe campaign to help ensure I don't have to cut my journey short simply because I made one, albeit big, mistake in the first month of my journey. You guys are some cool-ass motherfuckers.

Second, I think it will do some good to touch on the economics of Guatemala City prior to my resupply efforts. Now, when I say that, I'm not referring to some kind of academic, research-intensive exploration of the factors which influence the financial health of the economy here. What I want to do is show the intriguing and sometimes frustrating state of affairs in the city.

Now, I want to make it absolutely clear, Guatemala IS a Third World Country – make NO mistake about it.

"What makes a nation third world? 
Despite ever evolving definitions, the concept of the third world serves to identify countries that suffer from high infant mortality, low economic development, high levels of poverty, low utilization of natural resources, and heavy dependence on industrialized nations. These are the developing and technologically less advanced nations of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America. Third world nations tend to have economies dependent on the developed countries and are generally characterized as poor with unstable governments and having high rates of population growth, illiteracy, and disease. A key factor is the lack of a middle class — with impoverished millions in a vast lower economic class and a very small elite upper class controlling the country's wealth and resources. Most third world nations also have a very large foreign debt."

"On the Topic of Developing Nations and Third World Countries:
Third World countries are for the most part poor and underdeveloped. In these countries, low levels of education, poor infrastructure, improper sanitation and poor access to health care mean living conditions are inferior. Due to this reason, the terms Third World and developing nation are often used interchangeably. However, there is no precise definition of "developing nation" either. While some organizations have their own definition of what a developing nation is, the World Trade Organization has no exact definition of a developing country."

While we can argue the clear difference between the origin of the term Third World and its currently accepted definition, the former is academic & therefore irrelevant to this conversation while the latter is of widespread use and an understood reference to mean developing nations. Fortunately this is MY blog so I can do whatever I want, including calling a chicken an elephant, and it really doesn't matter what you say.

“You know what? "Kilowatt-hour per sol" is a pain in the ass to say. I'm gonna invent a new scientific unit name. One kilowatt-hour per sol is… it can be anything… um… I suck at this… I'll call it a "pirate-ninja".”
– Andy Weir, The Martian

If I come across as spiteful or antagonistic in this post, it's because that's how I feel about this topic (and occasionally academia in general), so I'm letting you know it's only going to get worse as you scroll down. I don't get angry or annoyed by too many things, but one of those things is when something seems completely unnecessary and ridiculous.

This city seems to have an intriguing "situation" when it comes to the value of products and services. From what I have seen it's almost as if two different economies exist within each other (think of two men sixty-nining – they're definitely inside each other) – in a way, it's as if there is a third world economy and a first world economy which cooperate and compete simultaneously (like two men sixty-nining to see who can get each other off first while trying to hold back themselves, thereby pleasing each other while also feeding off each other (pun intended, obvi)).

Let me set the stage for what my life looks like in this city.

I am currently staying in a quaint three story hostel in "Zona 1" de la Ciudad de Guatemala, which is basically a ghetto – run down buildings, crime, poverty, etc… I've been advised by locals and visitors alike NOT to be outside after dark.

The hostel itself, however, is wonderful in my opinion.

I am currently staying on the third floor, in a dorm-style room with six beds (3 bunk beds), but I was fortunate enough to arrive during the slow season (according to the manager) so I have the room all to myself. The room itself is cozy and the beds are nice, with a comfortable blanket on each one, and three wooden lockers, each one being large enough to store everything I own.

17620317_10104680531199821_8942584685256149476_oClick on the image for the high resolution version

Well, everything I used to own…

There are two shared bathrooms and the water pressure is adequate, not to mention as a guest you are provided a towel and a small bar of soap (and you can ask for more of either when you need them – I've asked for a lot). There is a lovely terrace on top of the building with a small sitting area under a makeshift roof, from which I have a great view of the surrounding area as most buildings in this neighborhood are 2 stories or less. The hostel is made warm and inviting by the countless plants and flowers inside and outside in various areas throughout the building, not to mention all the comfortable places to sit and hang out (my "office" for example).

Hostal Estacion Gerona TerraceClick on the image for the high resolution version

There is also a wonderful little kitchen, accessible to all guests. The manager, Ambrosio, cooks breakfast every morning before 8 o'clock, which has been either pancakes with fried sliced bananas (my favorite, and being cooked as I write this) or a small omelet with fruit and a couple rolls. Both breakfasts are typically served with a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. The internet, with only a few small hiccups, has been great, and has allowed me to be incredibly productive in my writing, my studies, and my work.

And what is everything above costing me in this strange dichotomy of economies?

Just under 70 quetzales, or $10 USD.

That's it?

That's it!

I get everything above, including breakfast, for the equivalent of only $10/night.

And what about security, you ask, given what I said about the area it's in.

Not a problem.

No one can leave or enter without management knowing about it. To enter the building you ring a bell and the manager personally unlocks the front iron grate door, and to leave the building the manager has to personally unlock the front door – he's super friendly as well so I usually tell him where I'm going or he asks. On top of that all the rooms have locks and when you leave the building you hand over the key, and when you reenter the manager gives you back the key.

If you're concerned about safety, your concerns are handled here.

Once again, for only $10/night.

What about food? Breakfast is handled, right? So how about lunch and dinner?

Well, the area I am in seems to be a hub for street vendors. Seven days a week I can walk out the front door, make my way a couple blocks over, and wander through block after block of street stalls and food carts lined up along and on the sidewalks.

Guatemala Street Market

Here is a sample of what I eat everyday, typically around 4 or 5 in the afternoon:

  • One piece of fried or grilled chicken (one breast, thigh, or leg) topped with a mild salsa, served with rice, refried black beans, and homemade tortillas (no joke, you can watch the girls working there make them).
    Price: 10 quetzales, or $1.36 USD

  • Three el pastor tacos, topped with a cilantro-onion mix, sauteed onions, sliced radish, and your choice of salsas, ranging from a mild verde to a hot picante, served with a slice of lime.
    Price: 10 quetzales, or $1.36 USD

  • Pollo y papas fritas, aka chicken and french fries! This one is junk food for sure, but man is it good. All they do is put a piece of fried chicken on a styrofoam plate, cover it in papas fritas, and cover THAT in mayonnaise and ketchup. I've only had it once because it's just an unnecessary amount of delicious crap.
    Price: 10 quetzales, or $1.36 USD

  • There are food carts that serve different kinds of phallic meat (hot dogs and chorizo from what I could ascertain) in sandwich form. You tell the street food cart operator which piece of meat you want, he cuts it up, throws it on the heated surface, brushes some marinade (I'm assuming that's what it is) on it and then toasts a 6 inch roll on the same surface nearby. Once the meat is cooked and the bread is nice and toasty he places the meat inside the roll and covers it in the same cilantro-onion mix the taco carts use, and then douses it in ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and (I believe) an avocado-based salsa. In the same line of thinking as the pollo y papas fritas, I've only had it a couple times because of the amount of bread and sauce, but fuck it's good.
    Price: 7 quetzales, or $0.96 (get extra meat for another 4 quetzales – the chorizo sausages are on the small side)

  • Lastly, you can pick up produce and related snacks for almost nothing here. I regularly buy 3-4 avocados for 5 quetzales (that's basically 1 avocado for less than a quarter) and these sweet, savory rellenitos de platanos (fried, mashed plantains (almost in the shape of a twinkie, but more natural looking) stuffed with sweetened refried beans – don't you dare knock it before trying one – they're fucking amazing) for 1 quetzal apiece. I usually buy 5, have a couple, and then offer the rest to whoever I run into between my room and the kitchen over the following day or two – it's a super cheap way of always getting on humans' good sides, not to mention that here the generosity is returned ten-fold.

Rellenitos de PlatanosRellenitos de Plátanos, ladies and gentlemen

Aside from the amazingly delicious and dirt cheap food, you can find almost anything on the streets here. For example, since I was just mugged and lost a TON of shit, the first item I needed to replace was the small pack containing all the shit I lost – something I could throw a few items in to walk around with for a day. So I perused the street vendors, and while there are a metric shit ton of vendors selling backpacks, purses, and messenger bags, it took stumbling into just the right shop stocking the only backpack I was drawn to.

So, as I said, you can find almost anything in the street market.

But, the key word there is "almost" because as I scoured every block (as well as brick-and-mortar stores) I could not find a decent pen or notebook/journal for writing.

And so on that note we move onto the foundation of what is replacing the stolen pack.

IMG_2344Click on the image for the high resolution version

First, the new pack itself. I actually found it in a shop near the hostel I'm staying in, maybe two or three blocks away, right where the street market begins. I'm not certain, but I think it holds more than the stolen 5.11 tactical pack, not to mention the 5.11 Tactical Pack was $80 USD, and I snagged this replacement for 85 quetzales, or a little more than $11 USD. I had more confidence in the structural integrity of the 5.11, but I don't plan on stuffing this one to the max the way I did with the 5.11.

The most expensive item in this pack, and arguably the most important, is not shown because I'm taking the picture with it (though you can see the nice black case). A new 64gb iPhone SE was my second purchase upon arrival in Guatemala City, and this is where my frustration with the economy of Guatemala began. While phones can certainly be found in the street market and nearby shops, they are mostly old school phones and OLD Android phones. To find an iPhone I was told to check out the Oakland Mall in Zona 10, about 3 miles south of where I'm staying in Zona 1.

And here's when the two dudes sucking each other off comes into play.

To get down to the mall, I was instructed by one of my new friends at the hostel to take the metro, who had to go down into that part of town anyway to catch another bus out of the city so he told me he'd show me how to take the metro down there.

The city-wide metro buses cost 1 quetzal. Just $0.14 USD to take these buses that go all over the city, and they're not even the cheapest buses. So public transportation is SUPER cheap. But if I want to take a taxi from the mall back to the hostel, I'm going to pay upwards of 40 quetzales, or about $5 USD.

I can buy an entire meal for the equivalent of roughly $1 USD, sleep in a nice bed in a nice hostel with complimentary breakfast and wifi for $10/night, and take a bus almost anywhere in the city (as long as I know the routes, which isn't hard) for less than a quarter… but a taxi to go a couple miles in a few minutes is FIVE. FUCKING. DOLLARS.


But I digress… so I took the bus to the Oakland Mall in Zona 10, where you basically feel like you're in ANY major city in a first world country – nice cars, mediocre overpriced restaurants (think P.F. Chang's) packed with overweight, well-dressed white people (can you taste my disdain for this area, yet?), and most first world luxuries and conveniences you can think of (there's a Maserati/Lotus dealer in the same boutique-esque shopping plaza as the bookstore I visit). The only factor which reminds you that you are clearly NOT in a first world country is the strong presence of security. In the rest of the city it is commonplace to see la polícia and security walking around with shotguns in their hands – street corners in the street market, small shops, definitely banks, etc… In Zona 10, since it is an upscale tourist/business area, they don't have blatantly armed police wandering around, but the amount of security is obscene. Men in black suits guard the entrances to just about EVERY hotel, store, and restaurant catering to white people, and then are strategically placed throughout them, standing watch, like in the Oakland Mall, for example, which has 5 or 6 floors of shops and restaurants.

But I digress… again

As I said earlier, some products and services are as expensive or more so than a typical first world nation while others are dirt fucking cheap. Unfortunately, the iPhone falls into the former category with a whopping price tag of Q4,999. That is $679 USD… Guys, you can buy a BRAND NEW 128gb iPhone SE in the States for $499! I had to pay $180 more and got HALF as much storage!

Now, some of you might be tempted to say, "Rick, why don't you just get an Android, or pick up one of the cheap phones at the street market?" and to those who would suggest that, I say, "Before recommending I buy a different phone, try giving birth to and raising a child you don't want."

And if you have done that, focus more on the child and less on my phone preferences.

Cool? Cool.

While buying the phone, the store (iShop, an authorized Apple reseller) also had in stock the Anker portable batteries. Since I had lost the 10,000 mAh model in the stolen pack I picked up a replacement for Q399, or $54 USD, once again being stupidly expensive for a third world country since Amazon sells them for twenty-four-fucking-dollars… but not every hostel/country has enough reliable outlets, bus/plane rides can be too long without enough downtime in the connecting terminals to charge electronics, and the last thing any backpacker needs is to be in a tight situation in a foreign, potentially dangerous country with a dead phone.

I also snagged a SIM card from a local service provider (Movistar) so I could activate my phone. The SIM card was Q125, or $17 USD, and took quite a long time to buy and the employee spoke no English so I'm not completely sure that I ONLY paid for a SIM card because I don't know what my phone number is, but I do know I have access to the 4G LTE data network – though I avoid using it for the most part because I'm not sure if my credit card is now "on file" with Movistar to charge me whenever they feel like it.

Note – As of May 26 I now know what my phone number is and I know what I paid for. The Q125 I paid was for voice activation, text messaging, and 3gb of data. Pretty good deal, except to get more data I have to physically go to a Movistar store and purchase a plan upgrade because all of my credit cards get declined when I try to make the purchase over the internet, which is the same problem I've run into when trying to book bus tickets online, so it's probably something I should figure out… soon.

Having lost my Kindle when I was RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF DUNE I felt naked and alone. 

Just kidding – but I did need something to captivate my attention until I could get another Kindle shipped to me.

So I picked up a copy of the first book of Game of Thrones for Q100, or $14 USD, and I asked for a recommendation for a good book to read in Spanish which led to me picking up Casi un Objeto for Q70, or $10 USD.

It actually took me a while to decide on Game of Thrones because books are also stupid expensive. For any new-ish book you might find at Barnes & Noble for $10-$20, you're going to pay the equivalent of $30-$50 here.

For a book.

Now, I'll agree that the value we get out of books is far more than what we actually pay for them, but there's something to be said for getting comfortable with paying very little and getting a lot, and I have grown EXTREMELY comfortable on getting a lot for very little when it comes to purchasing books on a weekly basis in the States.


I got nervous when initially the only decent journals I could find (Moleskine or Paperblanks) were sold at the Sophos bookstore I visited earlier in the week because any of them would have been sold in the states for $10-$20, but at the Sophos bookstore were listed for Q210 to Q460. Guys, that's $28 to $62 USD…



Get over yourself, Guatemala! You're pretty, but you ain't THAT pretty…

Fortunately, I found a – no joke – a Dollarcity store (for the grammar Nazi's out there – yes, that is how they format the name) on my walk home which sold journals with build and paper quality on par with Moleskine for only Q24, or roughly $3 USD.

I definitely bought two.

In addition, while I was in Sophos I did find a smaller, square-shaped journal (etcetera - you can see the name printed on the square black journals) for Q115, or $15 USD, that I've since been using for my daily Five Minute Journal entries (since my actual Five Minute Journal was in the stolen pack), making daily to-do lists, and tracking my daily finances. I even went back to buy another one because they are SUPER conducive to the above-mentioned daily tasks – three pages for each day: the Five Minute Journal format fits perfectly on one page, if my to-do list is too long for one page then it means I need to put more focus into fewer tasks, and on one new page each day I write out the last 3-5 days of spending so I'm always aware of what I've spent money on over the prior few days.

Note – If you're intrigued by what I might write in my Five Minute Journal entries, go straight to my Patreon page and check out a publicly available sample I use to lure unsuspecting individuals into finding more than $3/month worth of value.

Now, to write in the journals I needed a pen of some sort, but as a writer I'm picky about what I write with (and what I write on, apparently). I'm a tactile person so I have strong internal responses to the way certain things feel. Writing with a shitty pencil on crappy paper grates on my soul (you know, like ALL writing we did in elementary school), while writing on nice paper with a smooth, soft tip pen provides this sensation of oneness with the paper as long as the pen tip is in contact with that beautiful white surface. That feeling blesses me with the desire to write forever. Unfortunately, my right hand doesn't feel the same way after an hour. (Maybe ambidextry is worth exploring now… I'm going to need a different journal for that. (As of May 21 I am now working on that))

So, what do I like to write with?

Back in the States I ONLY used Sharpie pens. To be clear, I'm NOT talking about Sharpie markers – they started manufacturing PENS in the last few years and they are simply euphoric to write with on nice white paper, but go through ink like Trump goes through staff. You take the good with the bad. I'll sleep on the floor, fast 2-3 days per week, forego the use of soap and deodorant with rare exceptions, and wash my clothes in the shower, all for the sake of conserving funds, but if you tell me to use a cheap phone and write with shitty Bic ballpoint pens on the sandpaper-like, recycled paper pages of composition notebooks I'll put my butterfly knife through your throat and remove your vocal cords.

Got it?


Let's move on.

(I told you I was feeling feisty writing this piece.)

After spending a month in Latin America I have yet to find Sharpie pens anywhere, so I was getting nervous and placed an order of a dozen to be included with the other shit I ordered from Amazon to my mom's place in order to replace what I lost.

Then a friend at the hostel told me about an art supplies store near the mall where I picked up my iPhone, and said if ANY store in Guatemala City is going to have nice pens, Faber-Castell would, and man was he right. I walked into this absolutely beautiful little store with gorgeous pens displayed under glass, markers and pencils of all colors and sizes on low slung shelves lining the walls, and some of the most beautiful sets of colored pencils I've seen in a long time – there was a part of my soul I haven't been in touch with in years begging my mind and body to pick up a box of pencils and a sketchpad. One of the employees knew exactly what I was referring to when I mentioned the Sharpie pens and brought me a cup filled with Faber-Castell pens for me to try out. He handed me a pad of paper and a brush point India ink pen with a 0.3 mm tip. As soon as I touched that pen to the paper I knew I had to buy them. For Q20 per pen ($3 USD) they're not much more expensive than Sharpie pens, which are typically $7-$10 USD for a pack of 4 when you find them in brick-and-mortar stores back in the States.

Faber-Castell was actually the store I went to before being directed to Sophos (by the same employee who showed me the pens) and while Faber-Castell didn't have the journals they did sell small pocket sized sketchbooks so I picked up a pack of two for Q28, or $4 USD (the small red and grey booklets in the picture).

Before leaving the states my friend Josh strongly advised me to carry a knife, not with the intention of using it, but to simply show it in the event I am threatened and to rely on the fear of lethal force to intimidate the other side into backing down. After arriving in México the thought of buying a knife never left my mind, but I didn't think too much of it being a priority. I guess 4 little fuckheads in Tapachula can be grateful for my procrastination. I spent some time in the street market over a couple days browsing the various stalls before finding a couple with smaller switchblades and knife & sheath sets. I haven't browsed the bigger knives much because I was trying to conserve the cash I had on hand until my replacement debit card arrives (man I took so long to finish this post – I definitely have a miniature sword now, as seen below, which I snagged for Q110, or $15 USD), but I shuffled through all the switchblades trying to find something that at least functioned (most of the blades are damaged and do not deploy all the way upon pressing of the button) before giving up and then stumbling upon the balisong. As soon as I found it I had to have it. The little girl running the stall wanted Q90 for it, but I talked her down to Q60, or $8 USD.

Fucking negotiator!

Balisong OpenClick on the image for the high resolution version

Miniature SwordClick on the image for the high resolution version


Note – I have since acquired two more butterfly knives to practice with.

I also picked up the sweet little utility knife for Q20 ($3 USD) so I always have a fork, knife, and spoon on hand. It was literally the only one like it I saw throughout all 5 or 6 blocks of the entire street market. The stall owner wanted Q25, but I wasn't going to walk away from it just because he wouldn't let it go for less than the equivalent of 3 fucking dollars.

Next up!


In the 5.11 Tactical Pack I kept 3 RXBars and 2 cans of sardines in the event I would be without food for an extended period of time, so I snagged a couple bags of nuts and a couple large cans of sardines in tomato sauce. They were priced fairly at Q10/bag for the nuts ($1.36 USD) and Q9/can for the sardines ($1.23 USD).

While I don't wear it often I do make sure I wear deodorant on transit days when I'm moving from one city or one country to the next, or when I'm going out to a bar or decent restaurant. Half of the vendors in the street market sell toiletries so it's just a matter of finding the vendor who will go to the rock bottom price. Similar to my affinity for nice pens and decent paper, the only deodorant I've worn for the past 5 or 6 years has been Old Spice Original, which is hard enough to find in the States sometimes, so while I tried my darndest to find it here, I relented and found the closest scent I could, which is why I'm officially a #fuckboi by proof of purchase after picking up a stick of Axe "Anarchy" deodorant.

Ok, so I'm also a stickler when it comes to my soap, and for the past 5 or 6 years have only been purchasing Dove for Men+Care moisturizing bar soap (because it's 25% moisturizing cream and I was used to washing my face every hour when I was in an office environment so I didn't want the skin on my face drying out and cracking all the time as it would with frequent use of regular soap in a cold dry environment). So after scouring the street market and a grocery store I relented and picked up a bar of Palmolive soap with olive and aloe. I also don't use soap much when I shower on my travels unless the hostel provides it so it's been a week since I picked it up and I haven't even opened the package.

Man, who knew I was such a little girl when it came to my toiletries?

We ALL did, Rick… We ALL did.

Speaking of being a little girl, one of the most annoying situations I can find myself in (literally more annoying than being mugged and having to replace my shit) is having a hangnail I can't bite or something under one of my nails that I can't reach. So you bet your titties I searched high and low in Guatemala City for a decent set of clippers, cosmetic/bandage scissors, and tweezers. Unfortunately the tweezers are fucking garbage anyway, as most are anywhere for God knows why, but whatever, I have them now and my sanity can rest assured the next time one of my finger tips pisses me off.

I don't know why I didn't buy a Zippo before I left, but I also searched high and low for one of these and managed to find it in an "outdoors" store downtown (ironically in the most upscale area of town… fucking white people), BUT not only did the store NOT sell Zippo lighter fluid, the employees had no idea where to even find it. Go figure. I guess I can at least freshen up on my Zippo tricks before I set something on fire.

EDIT ~ The flint was so small it fell out already… #qualitycontrol

EDIT EDIT ~ I found a kiosk in the same plaza as Sophos and the store I snagged the Zippo that sold flint, fluid, and extra wicks. Day is saved.

Now, how about the "healthcare" system of Latin America?

While I can't speak for the medical side I was blown away by the professional side. In all my years in the states buying new glasses went something like this:

Make an appointment with my optometrist. If I'm lucky the appointment is that same week, if not then it's a week or two weeks out.

Show up for appointment, go through the routine exam, pick out my frames, and then watch in amazement as one of the office assistants creates a 30 page outline of itemized expenses. For one exam, and one pair of lenses with nice, clean frames I would spend $200 out of pocket and who knows what my insurance was billed (I mean, technically they know, I just never gave enough of a shit to look).

Finally, maybe a week would go by before I could pick up my new glasses.


Contrast that to Guatemala City.

I was walking through Oakland Mall and I noticed a little store called Optical Center, one of a few similar eyeglasses and sunglasses stores in the mall, and like any such store in most major malls around the world.

I walked in and asked them how much an eye exam is considering I don't have insurance.

1 hour later I was walking out of the store with a brand new pair of prescription lenses in Armani frames and a receipt for Q1,485 (aka $203 USD). No insurance. No appointment. No we'll-have-your-glasses-ready-next-week BS. I needed glasses, and I got them. End of story.

Literally, though, that's the end of this story.

That's the funny thing about life – it's not all happy endings and pretty tied bows, sometimes shit just ends in the middle of a story. Sometimes your story, or the story of someone you love gets cut short, so try not to stay mad at people you love longer than it takes YOU to calm down and realize there are more important things in life… because you never know when the day will come when that person doesn't make it home.



Shout out to Amy Lyn Michaelis and Markiavelli Jensen for being my first Patreon Heroes, helping me to share my journey with all of you! 

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