An intersection in the middle of a sea of corn is not where I should have jumped off the bus.
Arrival into Xela was a little interesting. I tried to take the advice of my guidebook (below), but things didn't work out as planned (I should really stop expecting them to).
Leaving or entering town, some buses make a stop east of the center of town at the Rotonda, a traffic circle marked by the Monumento a la Marimba. Getting off here when you're coming into Xela saves the 15 minutes it will take your bus to cross town to Terminal Minerva, a dusty, noisy, crowded yard in the west of town.
I told the driver and his sidekick that I was interested in departing at that particular point, and asked if they'd let me know when to get off. They understood, and several hours later (it was only a 90km trip, but the chicken bus isn't the fastest mode of transport) I was being whisked off the bus with a handful of other locals responding to the Rotonda proclamation.
I was prepared to get off the bus and grab a taxi to the hotel I had in mind, but in as long as it took for my brain to process that something was wrong, the bus had sped away in cloud of black smoke. As I looked around I saw that I was at the intersection of three major roads—in the middle of nowhere. There was your typical food vendor, a couple of people hanging around in different parts of the crossroad, acres and acres of corn, and me.
I stood there for a few minutes and tried to work out my options. Occasionally a chicken bus would slam on the brakes as it entered the oddly constructed intersection long enough for me to read its unfamiliar destination. I eventually found a useful local who gave me the proper direction to head in for Xela's main plaza, and jumped on the first passing bus headed that way (part of me wondering what town I'd actually end up in).
I'll admit it, I'm intimidated by big cities in Central America. The past six months have traditionally found me jumping between small, friendly towns and villages no larger (or complex) than a suburban neighborhood. When my bus dropped me in the middle of a sea of dodgy, unlabeled streets, I was a little on edge.
I eventually found the hotel I was looking for, Hotel Quetzalteco. Unfortunately the place turned out to be the kind of uninviting, dilapidated hole you should only tolerate because you got into town in the late afternoon on the cusp of a thunderstorm, and really want to unload the pack that had been crushing your lap (on the bus) all day.
I'm hotel-jumping. I went out hunting for a new place to stay this morning, but wasn't particularly successful. There's options here, but many are too expensive, unsafe, or trashy (sometimes a combination of the three) for me to feel comfortable at. I tried to get a room at the empty Concordia Hotel/Guest House, my top choice, but the surly teenage boy there watching World Cup (by himself) wouldn't give me a room—or the prices—until someone with authority was around (or at least that's what I'm getting through his quickly spoken Spanish). I went back at noon (when he said to return), but then he told me maybe 5:00—little punk.
I think I'm overpaying slightly for this Q$35 room here at Hotel Horiani, but at least it has a nice hot shower (with good pressure), and a way for me to put my own lock on the door. I'm going to give Concordia another shot in the morning.
It would seem I can't enjoy a whole lot of the nightlife in Xela; both hotels I've stayed at have told me they go into lockdown at 11:00—if your out, you're waiting 'till morning to get in.
I honestly thought I was mentally prepared for the rainy season, but the weather makes it practically impossible to do anything after one or two o'clock in the afternoon without getting drenched. Nights and mornings are cold in this region; I wore a sock hat to bed last night. I'm dreaming of lying out in a warm, sandy beach.
On The Upside
Walking around town today has eliminated the shady first impression the town gave me yesterday. I did my typical exploration thing: memorizing streets and landmarks, sauntering through markets, dodging cars, and walking down alleys.
The Internet access is cheap here, possibly the cheapest I've encountered. It gets as low as Q$2.50 (US$0.33) per hour if you know where to look.
There aren't any tourists here, but there are a handful of gringo students attending local Spanish schools. I happened to walk by a bar near the main plaza last night that had quite a few of them, and was stopped in my tracks at the sound of great improvisational jazz, and a gorgeous twenty-something singer from Oregon named Rachel (with a voice that matched her looks).
Aside from hunting for the best hotel option, I'm also on the lookout for a clean, inexpensive dentist. …But first I need to figure out how to say "regular cleaning" in Spanish.