Guatemala has a terrible crime problem—or at least the perception of a terrible crime problem which is supported by seemingly credible statistics. I don’t think of myself as a worrier, but the first few weeks I laid awake at night waiting for a man with a machete to hack through our door. These feelings, thankfully, lessened over time.
It helped that I crafted an alarm system. Each night, I leaned an empty five-gallon water jug against the door, propped in place by one of Pat’s size 13 Chaco’s. I slept secure in the belief that the sound of a crashing water jug would awaken me.
Then a week before our departure, someone posted a warning on the Guatemala TripAdvisor forum. A friend of the poster, it seems, had driven into San Marcos on the dismally maintained mountain roads (which caused me to question the story’s veracity). Just shy of the village, four armed men approached the car. The driver drove straight at the gunmen and escaped. I read the account to Pat. “This can’t be true, right?”
“Well I have read about that kind of stuff, but I hope not Julie. That’s the route we are taking out of here.”
Enter emergency planning mode.
Pat and I agreed on what we would accept to lose in this scenario (his camera equipment, which was too big to hide, plus cash and our lone credit card). And what we would try to save (our passports, an ATM card, his photo cards, and our cell phones). I placed both of our computers into my small computer bag which I would tuck as inconspicuously as possible under my seat.
“Let’s buy duct tape,” I suggested, “I’ll tape our passports to my thigh,” I’m not sure why I thought this was a credible plan given I don’t know where to buy an envelop on Lake Atitlan or an ink pen much less duct tape. I tested alternatives–a series of “Do you see anything wrong with me?” questions as I stuck my ATM card in my bra and my cell phone in my underpants.
And so went our last week in San Marcos.
I decided once gunmen walked out of the woods, I would sneak the package of priority items from my purse into my underwear. (In the event any of this matters, I planned to wear a dress.) In my purse would remain enough items (cash) to please the thieves. Once we made it onto the highway, I could relax.
Climbing up and over the mountains from San Marcos to the village of Santa Clara, the view of Lake Atitlan is spectacular–expansive. The view symbolizes our time here. When our kids were little, they smudged their hands and feet all over the car windows. In certain light, all I could see were tiny footprints. Other days, nothing but a beautiful, blue sky. My view of Lake Atitlan was the same–at times beautiful, at times smudged.
No sooner had I commented on the vista, when the Dramamine took hold. The next time I opened my eyes, we were on the highway to Antigua. My purse and priority items had slipped onto the floor of the van.
I am not, I have learned, an intrepid traveler.
Before I go on, I need to make a point. Guatemala is a beautiful country. The Guatemalans are lovely people. I, on the other hand, have issues.
We are in Antigua for eight days in a hotel which I booked one particularly smudgy day when I began to question the prudence of a three month stay in Guatemala. Between airline change fees, lost rent, and replacement rent, leaving early was prohibitively expensive. Instead, I cancelled our plans to go to Tikal at the end of our trip (the promise of howling monkeys had lost its allure) and booked a too-expensive-given-I-am-retired hotel in Antigua for the Holy Week processions.
Last night, Pat left for the evening to photograph purpled cloaked congregants floating in clouds of incense, massive floats propped onto hunched backs, and elaborate carpets crafted of dyed sawdust. I know that because I looked through his photos this morning.
Last night, I sat in the fabulous hotel courtyard. Seven rooms surround a lush garden. A line of Cypress trees, thin and tall enough to be super models, wave in the breeze. Under the overhang around the periphery are clusters of sitting areas: sofas, stuffed chairs, and coffee tables.
I curled up in an enormous chair and read for three hours. At times, I could hear the steady beat of drums and smell the incense as the procession passed mere steps away. Most of the time, all I heard was the tumbling of water into fountains.
This hotel is my paradise. I plan to spend most of the next eight days in the courtyard—reading and writing. (To keep some perspective, a luxury hotel here is no more expensive than a Marriott back home.)
For the first time in nearly three months, I am completely relaxed. There’s nothing more that I care to see. I’m ready to head home—just not yet.
Categories: Central America