Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Panoramic view of Zona 14 in Guatemala City, as seen from an apartment balcony

Before I proceed, I must recommend you visit this excellent blog-radio station: Mesa Pública, which offers talk and cultural radio in English, dealing with entrepreneurial and social issues in Latin America, especially Guatemala.  It is a great source to check out what is going on in different arenas of the region.  To check it out, click here.

View from balcony, building in Zona 10 (the area known as "Zona Viva")

What's current these days here?  The same as last time I wrote, the Barreda-Siekavizza case. Now they know that the suspected murderer, Roberto Barreda, was provided with funds all these years by his wealthy parents.  He would travel from Mexico, where he was living in not-so-much-hiding, to Belize, where he would meet with his father or the family attorney to receive the funds. Nothing surprising in all this.

Think about it, though. If this is an example of how the parents raised this son, nothing surprising in how things worked out in the end.  The trial promises to be intensely covered by the media. There will be no respite ...

View of buildings and mountains from a balcony on zona 14

Also, the new thing with thieves and social media.  Facebook is periodically awash with cellphone photographs taken by Guatemalans of guys in motorcycles mugging somebody in a car during peak traffic times.  This is a common occurrence and all of us have been victims of it:  being held up while in a car, the target of the muggers' interest being our cellphone.

The purpose behind people circulating these photographs is to beware of the guys in the motorcycle or the raise awareness about the increase in that type of robbery in certain areas of the city.

View from balcony, building in Zona 14 (A block away from Avenida de Las Américas)

A recent article titled "Latin Americans Combat Crime with Smartphones and Social Media" speak of this phenomena across the continent:

"In Latin America, where violent crime rates are six times higher than in any other region, and where most residents have reported distrust in the state's ability to fight crime, several communities have taken to social media to boost security, say analysts."  In order to read the rest of the article, you can click here

View of the famous Avenida La Reforma (Zona 10, Guatemala City) as seen from a balcony

This has dovetailed with a second phenomena: Naive and moronic thieves taken pictures of themselves with the stolen smartphones or laptops and posting them on Facebook, making their identification and capture much easier.  The drive to "perform" a lifestyle on social media is such, that criminals seem unaware of the ways in which that will cross into real life to bring them to trouble.  All this, of course, compounded by the general lack of strong and effective police action and the widespread impunity for crime that characterizes many of these nations.

 Walking through lovely Mexico City.

Which is why I love Mexico City. Or el DF as it is more commonly known. People feel so safe in Mexico City! They walk around with expensive cellphones and laptops, they wear their jewelry openly and women feel safe to walk their dogs late at night.  At least, that was my impression when I stayed in the areas of Colonia Roma, Condesa and Polanco. But I digress.

 View from inside apartment in zona 14: the balcony and neighboring buildings

Most of the photos of this post are from pictures I took from building balconies.  We like rooms with a view.

We've been on the hunt for another apartment for months, even as we love the one we currently inhabit.  The Hard Rock Cafe across the street has made life untenable.  Our specs for another apartment are a balcony, space for two cars, guest room, plenty of closet space, at least 2 full bathrooms, and reliable security.  Most apartments have most of what we want but not all, or else, are ridiculously expensive.

View from a balcony, Guatemala City

What is ridiculously expensive? Well, given the average rental prices for city apartments, 900 - 1,500 US$ for a narrow apartment with a very small kitchen is ridiculously expensive in my book, no matter how trendy and cool the area and the building.

A lot of buildings offer pools and gyms, but the apartments are small and dark.  Or have only one and a half bathrooms. Or the closet space is nil. Or parking space is very limited.  Or are completely out of the way from anything interesting. Or are completely furnished, but the furniture is not to my taste and anyhow, I much prefer my own stuff and don't want to get rid of it. 

Pool and gym are often included, but the apartments may be narrow and/or dark

Because we travel so much and there is a lot of break-in crime in empty houses, we prefer an apartment. Because we have a lot of stuff, it has to be ample. Because we are total city rats, we reject the suburbs and gated communities, which we find utterly boring. No, we're not the barbeque-with-the-neighbors type, no.

Anyhow, there are many empty apartments in our building right now, in the area known as "Zona Viva", and there are currently about 2 or 3 apartment-office complex buildings being constructed close by in the same area.  With the abundance of empty apartments and the new addition of hundreds of units more, one wonders what is going to happen to the local real estate market.

Still, we are not in any hurry to move, and we wouldn't move if it were not for the blasting noise from the Hard Rock Café and other nightclubs around.  We can wait for better prices.  And better spaces.

View from inside an apartment in zona 10, in the area known as "Zona Viva"

We do want somewhere where we can walk around and be surrounded by pubs, cafes, bookstores, small grocery stores, restaurants, green space, etc. Thus, our search has been long and mostly fruitless.  I wouldn't mind an old house with character in the Historic Center, but that has been another impossible goal. Just today we went to see another property there: it was dark, dingy, with the painting and tiles falling to pieces (and not in a cute "rustic" way), not enough car space.

And so it goes.

Are we asking for the impossible?

By the way, have you noticed the strong preference here for buildings made of red brick and white trim? Very uniform in that sense.  It is the same with fashion here, people all tend to dress the same.

Ah well. Something will come up, we hope. The search continues. I will keep you posted.

 Green area at an apartment complex


  1. Wow, 3 new blog posts! The last time I was in Guatemala City and we were driving by some of these new high-rise buildings, my host mentioned that many of them are half-empty, and she speculated that the building boom in the City may be fueled by drug-money laundering. What do you think?

  2. I hear that comment a lot and some of it may be true. I think there are two other things going on: 1. A kind of speculative bubble, because investors are betting heavily on people getting fed up with the suburbs due to the increasingly horrible traffic that just doesn't get better (and won't get any better for years, only worse). That is actually already happening, but most people returning from the suburbs cannot afford the prices of these apartments and/or can't stand the noise. And 2. Developers in Guatemala are very, very conservative and abhor to consider new investment ideas when it comes to building. They are not very innovative. So if the trend always was to invest in apartments in zona 10 and 14 because it used to be good, they are still clinging to that investment model and figuring that the slump may be a temporary slump.

    Interestingly, most of these buildings are occupied by expats from South America, the US, Asia and Europe. Because the economies in Europe and other countries are hard up, the call center business is exploding (and these are managed by foreigners), and jobs are easier to find here for expats than in some of their native countries, there has been an increase in the influx of expats living in these buildings. My neighbors run the gamut from foreign embassy staff, to business people from the US and Korea, to security contractors, soccer coaches from South America, etc. But obviously not enough (yet?) to fill up the buildings. Time will tell!