There’s Never a Problem Until There’s a Problem

By Lucas Vidgen

Despite what grandma told you and the urban myths that hostel daredevils love to recount, the majority of visitors to Guatemala never experience serious problems.

There are no statistics, but if there were, it would probably be that 95% get in, around and out without dramas. Well, maybe not. It would probably be 94.8%, just to make it look convincing.

Which is not to suggest skipping through Zona 2 waving $100 bills around – just that maybe we can tone the whole personal safety paranoia down a notch.

       The number one source of that paranoia are State Department Websites. They love to collect gory incidents and ‘disturbing trends’, but rarely delete them, even when the problem gets solved. So that list just keeps getting longer.

      There’s a bit of number fudging going on, too. The US State Department reports that “Since December 1999, 41 American citizens have been murdered in Guatemala” but makes no distinction between tourists/visitors and Guatemalan-born nationals who went to the US, gained citizenship and returned to meet their untimely demise. Nor do they note that the majority of those 41 fell into the second category.

       All that said – as any kitten dangling helplessly from a branch will tell you – Shit does sometimes Happen. And when it does, the guidebooks are right for once – resistance is stupid. Your mum can send more money, but she’s kinda powerless to help with gaping knife wounds.

       Reporting a crime is…well, problematic in Guatemala. Cops are short-staffed, underpaid and, unless you’re willing to hang around to testify, unlikely to secure a conviction, even if they do get lucky and catch the culprit.

      INGUAT barely rates a mention. Dealings with Guatemala’s tourism department are about as satisfying as a post-haircut Metallica album, even for minor queries. Something complicated like reporting a crime is likely to look like way too much work.

       It’s a measure of just how little tourist assistance INGUAT provides that a few years ago they set up ASISTUR, a separate division dedicated to providing such assistance.

ASISTUR rocks on various fronts, their toll-free 24 hour hotline (1500) being just one. They also have English-speaking representatives in every department and can help with everything from police liaison to transport, logistics and medical services in extreme cases.

       They also keep track of tourist-related crimes, study trends and allocate dedicated Tourist Police to trouble spots.

       So there you go. We hope you have a safe and happy journey. But if something goes wrong, remember this number: 1500.

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