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Guatemala City

“Guate,” or Guatemala City, has a less-than-great reputation; however, the city does have the potential to be a fruitful place to live.  Within walking distance of the school are three large malls, several grocery stores, a fresh produce market, a bowling alley, and a collection of good restaurants.  Also, the school is on the city’s 101 bus route, which takes you to all the best places in town: Zona Viva, a series of restaurants, bars, and shops; Cuatro Grados Norte, a new pedestrian area with outdoor seating and weekend markets; and Zone One, the historic district that houses Parque Central, the presidential palace, artisan stalls, and arcades (Great deals on DVDs!).    In addition, OLC has a team in a local soccer league and is involved with Camino Seguro and Las Manos de Christine (local educational NGOs that work with impoverished children in the city).

Where to eat . . .

Several restaurants are within walking distance of the school (5 minutes or less).
If you exit OLC and go left, La Pradera (a large mall/shopping centre) has a big food court with a plethora of fast food joints, including Mexican, pizza, salads, sandwiches, bagels, chicken, burgers, and coffee shops.  Before reaching La Pradera, to the left, there is a McDonald's.   A little past La Pradera and across the street, there is an open-air shopping center with a couple of nicer restaurants, i.e. sushi and Mediterranean food.  Should you wish to just buy some groceries, La Pradera also houses a large grocery store, Pais, where you can get just about any product you desire.  

If you exit OLC and go right, you will find a bakery across the street, several tiendas (little stores), and some comedors (small, local eateries).  Specifically, if you take the first right off of 20 Calle (the street on which Oxford resides), there is a much frequented comedor, Karen's, midway down the street on the left (It is both a store and a restaurant).  In addition, beyond the couple of blocks of tiendas and comedors lies an enormous PriceSmart, which has a little sit down fast food place, as well as an ice cream stand outside.

Often, because classes tend be slim around lunchtime, a group of colleagues, or at least a couple, will most likely be headed out to eat, so you can always throw yourself at their mercy and beg for companionship.  Most of the Oxford staff are fairly accommodating and friendly.

Where to get supplies . . .

Much like food, teachers also often need supplies, and Oxford is aware of this.  So, we have strategically situated our school amongst a conglomeration of useful stores.  To the right, a few minutes beyond PriceSmart, one can find a full-sized Office Depot with all the amenities any office outlet anywhere would have.  Additionally, and to the left of Oxford, La Pradera has several book stores (some, though limited, English books available), as well as a kid's shop on the penultimate floor.  Lastly, in the open-air shopping center (with the sushi and Mediterranean restaurants), there is an art shop called . . . something. 

For long hauls . . .

Should you find yourself with larger pockets of vacant time, a bowling alley/pool hall (Fun Plaza) is across 19 Calle from La Pradera.  Just beyond La Pradera, on 20 Calle, World's Gym can cater to any fitness needs you may acquire.  Then, if you choose to brave the buses, there is a bus stop just down street from Oxford, where you can hop on the 101 and, within minutes, be at a fresh fruit and vegetable market or Cemaco (another mall with a sort of Wal-Mart like shop at the center) or Proceres (a huge, very modern mall with nice open areas to sit or eat).  Just behind Proceres, Zona Viva is a bit of tourist hotspot, with clean, safe, pedestrian-friendly streets, nice shops, and gobs of restaurants and pubs.  If you stay on the bus a little longer, when turns onto La Reforma (a big avenue in the heart of Zona 10, there is a park (the median) that has some nice trees and paths to walk on, and it also includes a large plaza with benches and arches and such (Obelisco).

Bus Route 101

While some caution is required when using the local buses (don't carry anything more valuable than a cheap cell phone and don't get on after dark), the 101 bus is relatively safe and very useful to those without vehicles.  You can catch the bus either at La Pradera on 20 calle or outside PriceSmart on 20 calle, both of which are only a couple of blocks away from Oxford.  The bus fare, no matter where your destination is, is between one quetzal and one-and-a-quarter quetzales, depending on the day and time, and this bus takes you to just about all of the places one would want to go in Guate.  So, without further adieu, beginning with the destinations closest to Oxford, this is what's available:

  1. The Produce Market: Only a short ride away, maybe 2-3 minutes, there is a fresh vegetable and fruit market, where any and everything grown in Guatemala can be bought for little to nothing.  To get to the stand, simply watch the right side of the bus until, just beyond a church, a green building appears. 
  2.  Cemaco/Los Proceres: These two buildings are basically large, very contemporary, i.e. U.S.-like, malls with food courts and stores for just about anything you want or need.  Cemaco itself is a big Wal-Mart-like warehouse with everything from bedding and furniture to kitchen supplies to camping equipment, as well as an Ace Hardware.  Los Proceres offers some pretty little areas for window shopping and some familiar restaurants, such as Hooters; furthermore, the mall actually opens up in the back and leads you straight to Zona Viva.  Getting to Cemaco takes about 3-5 minutes, and the bus actually turns at the corner upon which the mall sits, and for Los Proceres, stay on the bus about a minute past Cemaco and it will be the monstrosity of a building on your right.  (Walking from one to the other is also a very viable option).
  3. Zona Viva: Zona Viva is one of the few spots that the Lonely Planet mentions as tourist-friendly in Guatemala City.  In fact, there are quite a few hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops to explore in this area.  The neighborhood also boasts some pretty pedestrian streets without shade and trees and manicured sidewalks.  St. Martin's is a good place for breakfast.  Cheer's is a good place to watch a ball game (soccer, NFL, NBA, college football) or play pool.  Rattle-and-Hum is a pretty nice bar for hearing some music, eating free peanuts, and chatting.  To get to Zona Viva, you can either walk out of the back of Los Proceres and wander the sidewalks, or you can wait until the bus passes Los Proceres (it will immediately turn right onto La Reforma Ave.) and get off anywhere over the next couple of blocks.  Zona Viva is the neighborhood on your right.
  4. La Reforma/El Obelisco:  Should the fortune of nice weather come about, there is a "park" in the median of La Reforma, the street just beyond Los Proceres.  Basically it is a strip of grass and trees and the occasional statue or fountain, nice enough, with sidewalks on either side and sometimes crisscrossing through the middle.  Within the park, you will find El Obelisco, which is basically a large plaza with benches and columns in the middle of a roundabout.  While it sounds a little strange, this wouldn't be a bad place to spend some time outside on a nice afternoon.  All you have to do is get off the bus at the same you would for Zona Viva and it's in the middle of the road, La Reforma.
  5. Cuatro Grados Norte:  Cuatro Grados Norte is a pedestrianized area with a large selection of restaurants and bars, as well as places to shop.  On the weekends, people set up market stalls and sell handicrafts and such.  Again, another area in which you can stretch your legs a little and enjoy some sunshine.  Getting here is a little trickier, as you can't see it from the bus.  You must watch for a Taco Bell on your right, near it, the bus will most likely stop by a convenience store, 24, and just beyond that store is Cuatro Grados Norte.  It takes about 10-15 minutes to get there.
  6. Zone One: Stay on the 101 past Cuatro Grados Norte, the bus will wind around a bit, eventually taking a hard right around the Department of Justice building and then an immediate left just past it, after which it will stop a couple hundred meters down the road at a very modern-looking bus stop that resides at an intersection.  Cross the street (go left) and follow the stalls that line the sidewalk.  This encompasses a lot of area with a lot to do.  First of all, there are miles of sidewalk shops and stalls to buy clothes, 10Q DVDs, bags, sunglasses, and everything else imaginable.  Basically, as soon as you get off the bus, the stalls begin.  You will walk a few blocks until you see a Burger King on the left, at which time you turn right, following the endless procession of stalls.  After walking this route for five or ten minutes, you will (past a small, raised park on the left and a fairly large church on the right) see a big arcade on the right hand side, complete with a movie theatre.   If you continue beyond the arcade, in about another five or ten minutes, you will reach Parque Central, a large square with bushes, walkways, and a large fountain in the center.  The square also borders the Presidential Palace and rather impressive, old cathedral.  On Sundays, the indigenous people set up stalls to sell traditional clothes.  If you walk to the area, behind the cathedral, there is a massive underground artisan's market  and fruit and vegetable market.  To get back to Oxford, simply follow the road back to Burger King, only this time you will keep going straight (you won't turn off this street), past Burger King, through another vegetable and knick-knack market on the sidewalk.  Cross the large road following the vegetable stands (there is a bus station on the right, which you pass) and continue along the sidewalk (now with a fence and no stalls) and soon you will reach an overpass where people are congregated to wait for buses.  Here, you can catch the 101 back to Oxford.
Camino Seguro/Las Manos de Christine/The City Dump

Strangely enough, Guatemala City's garbage dump is quite an attraction and one that few people probably venture to see.  The dump is the largest in Central America, and it functions as a work site (gathering recyclable material) for a large amount of people, who also live in it.  The dump has victimized thousands of people with unpredictable landslides and fires, so in the early 2000s, the Guatemalan government made it illegal for children to work in the dump, creating a large problem for the parents who could no longer work and care for their children at the same time.  Enter Camino Seguro, a school dedicated to providing these impoverished children with a place to be, hot lunches, and educational reinforcement.  Las Manos de Christine is an organization founded by Oxford's own Bryant Hand, and the program is focused on introducing these children to English, with the goal of eventually helping them to reach a fluency capable enough to afford them the opportunity to go to university.  From Antigua, one can take an extensive and informative tour of the city dump and Camino Seguro, or if you inquire at Oxford, Bryant or someone from the staff can help you arrange to take the tour from Guatemala City.

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