After my first seven weeks living in Guatemala City, I’ve got something to say. We’ve all been lied to. Every day. From the news media and even from our government.
Guatemala City is dangerous. You shouldn’t go there. Even the U.S. State Department has had it at a “Level 3” travel advisory and just this week (because of our good friend COVID), they’ve raised the travel advisory to a “Level 4 – Do Not Travel.” Seriously?
I didn’t even notice anything different in the last week with one exception: the President here put out an order to stop the sales of alcohol at 6:00 PM (it was previously 9:00 PM) to try to prevent people from congregating at bars and restaurants. Maybe the State Department should have put out an advisory: “If you’re going to Guatemala to drink, drink early like the locals are now doing.”
I have friends who are traveling here (and others who decided not to) who sent me the State Department travel advisories ahead of planning their trips. “Is it safe to be there, Francisco?” I laughed. I’ve been living here for seven weeks. I get up and go to work every day like everyone else does. I do take precautions. I’ve been told by my friends locally: don’t walk around with valuables (like a laptop or an expensive camera). They say I’ll probably be fine most days, but if I do that consistently over time, there is always a chance of being mugged and having a valuable stolen (and mostly because I’m a recognizable foreigner). So when I walk around outside, there’s nothing more on me other than my phone, ID, a credit card, and a small amount of Quetzales. I take Ubers almost every day, almost always by myself. They are safe and cheap. I have taken them during the day and taken them at night.
Are there parts of Guatemala City I will not go? Yes. Are there parts I will go but not by myself? Yes. Absolutely. But I would say the same things about Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles… shall I continue? In some ways, I’d love for someone to rate the safety / danger level of U.S. cities the way our State Department rates the safety level of foreign countries. You’d never want to step foot out of your house.
In a recent conversation with one friend, he told me: “Every place I’ve traveled is fine as long as you have common sense!”
But you see that’s just it. Our government today coddles us to such a degree that we are like children. Our “leaders” or the bureaucrats making decisions like these travel advisories don’t believe in our ability to have common sense. And you know what, maybe a lot of people don’t. Maybe the advisories are good to a degree. I have reviewed them plenty of times before travel and they have informed my decisions. But that might be well in the past – because now that I have seen a travel advisory of “do not travel” to Guatemala, where I have been living comfortably for the past seven weeks, I have lost trust in what they have to say.
When I put this information on social media this week, one friend who lives in the U.S., but who is from Italy, showed me what the U.S. State Department says about Italy right now. It’s at the same Level 4 – Do Not Travel. The fine print gives a reason why: TERRORISM! What?
On one of my most recent episodes (#91) of the Agents of Innovation podcast, I had on a longtime travel vlogger named Dan Vineberg, who is from Canada. At the end of the interview I asked him if he still believes in a mission statement that was listed on his website, that his “deepest belief is there are good people all over the world, and travel can bring us all closer together” and that his “life’s mission is to share this message.” He said yes it was, even after a year where most people could not travel due to the pandemic.
Dan added something after that. He said, “The more we can expose ourselves to other people and other cultures, the more we understand that we’ve been told a lie: we’ve been told the idea that most of the world is dangerous or not a good place to live … but the more you travel the more you realize there’s beautiful places everywhere… There’s places with honest people and decent people and hard-working people and everyone loves their kids and everyone loves to go watch a sports game on the weekend or call their mom or celebrate the holidays with family. The human experience is universal and I think too many voices have been trying to make us forget that simple fact. But that fact is true and if you travel with an open mind, you’ll see it.”
I have observed exactly this in Guatemala City and the other 22 countries I have traveled to in my life. While people have their local customs, traditions, and other ways of living, universally there are a lot of constants in the human condition. As I write this on the fourth floor of my balcony in the middle of Guatemala’s Zone 10, I am observing just this. I see a kid riding a bike with a backpack on. I’m watching people shopping at a market. I’m watching hundreds of cars commute to and from work or wherever else they might be going. It’s a busy, bustling city. And the weather is absolutely fantastic. They call Guatemala “the eternal spring” because the weather here is mostly in the low 60s to the upper 70s every day. I notice when it gets a few degrees colder, the local Guatemalans put jackets on and start complaining that it’s cold. If the weather gets a few degrees warmer, maybe into the 80s, they start complaining that it’s hot today. Don’t walk. You’ll sweat. I laugh. Man this is an incredible place.
So far I’ve comfortably documented some of my first observations of life in Guatemala City in several YouTube videos, including the large amount of new construction in Zone 10, where I’m living.
One person who has watched some of my videos commented, “Amazing. All the writeups I’ve seen have been that Guatemala City is a high crime area. Between what you’ve shown (and youtuber Curtis Moe who just moved there last month have shown), it is really beautiful and no more crime than any other city. Thanks for showing me the true Guatemala City.”
If I do nothing else here other than expose the lies and reveal the truth, I will have done a great thing being here, for Guatemalans and for my friends back home in the United States and beyond. I’ve attended birthday parties, walked in parks, visited historic sites, taught classes at a university, had meetings in coffee shops, hung out at cigar lounges, watched live music, and attended birthday parties of friends of friends. Life here is as good as life anywhere.
I’m also not going to shy away from the truth. There is much disparity in wealth here in this country. I’m going to get into that a little bit later this year, as I hinted at in my recent articles in The Orlando Local News and at American Action News. But like I said at the top of this, every city and country has its ugly side. But many have much beauty in the people, places, and culture. If there’s something this past year or so has taught me, it’s how quickly fear can paralyze us. Every day comes with some level of risk. So I’m not going to pretend that by traveling somewhere you are definitely going to be one hundred percent safe. You’re not. But if you want to sit home in your cave and consume the information others are packaging for you, you are free to do that.
However, if you are into connecting with people and experiencing the world rather than being told what others think of the world, then I encourage you to travel more – or at least to seek advisement from places other than the legacy media and your government. Otherwise, you’re missing out and potentially falling for the misinformation and the great lies we’ve all been told and somehow many still believe.
A version of this post originally appeared on LivingOurFloridaDream.com on April 23, 2021