You hear some good stories over a pint of soapy lager on a Thursday evening at O’Rileys Irish Pub in Antigua, Guatemala. It’s a time to get an ear to the ground before the lights are turned down, the music turned up, and the solid wood bar top is transformed into a dancefloor for 15 Guatemalan girls dressed to the nines, and three Englishmen doing their best to keep up.
There’s the stories about getting fleeced by cops on the way home last weekend. Then there was the thief who was strung up and burned alive in a neighbouring province by a gang of vigilantes. And perhaps more worryingly the one about the Japanese tourist who either photographed or picked up a child a couple of years ago and was killed by the villagers of Todos Santos Cuchman. All are more believable when you see an incident happen yourself.
Guatemala City is not a place you want to spend any time in. A brief internet search suggests that the City was the third most dangerous city in the world last year. Baghdad, Iraq, was fourth.
We rolled in completely unprepared to navigate through the city to Antigua. By the time we had the car pointed in the right direction, it was rush hour, the streets were packed with madmen, and it was starting to get dusky. When a motorbike two lanes over from me stalled as he was switching into the lane next to me, I took the opportunity to hit the gap that had opened up in front of him. A red late-model Volvo raced through inches from the truck as I did so. Shit that was close I thought. With hunched shoulders I rolled down the window and took a big look behind to make sure no one else was flying through. As I did, I saw that the stalled motorbike was parked in front of the blue BMW behind me. Another motorbike was on the passenger side of that car, with a third on the driver’s side. All had guns – the driver’s side biker was tapping his pistol again the car’s window. All the bikers were moving their heads quickly side to side, looking for police. When I stupidly met eyes with the bandito in front, he glanced over to the passenger side bandito and gestured towards the truck with a tilt of his head. My heart sank. Well this is it I thought. I made like the red Volvo and started weaving through tiny gaps in the traffic, keen to get some space between the bikers and my American licence plates. As we approached a fork in the road ahead, I could see the three bikers racing up in the lane behind me. Here we go. Just as I swerved into the exit to the right, the bikers went left, the front motorbiker nodding his head towards me. We still had an hour left before we would be out of the city, and it was getting darker, but I haven’t felt so relieved as I did in that moment for a very long time.
I’ve spent the last month doing a Spanish course in Antigua. It is a wonderful city, and was difficult to leave. There is a certain end of the world feel to the place. There are regular earthquakes, and the skyline is dominated by three large volcanoes, one of which is active. A lahar from the closest, Agua, destroyed Guatemala’s first capital in the late 1700s.
I ate three meals a day with a local family that hosts a rotating cast of Spanish language students. Three fellas in particular became very good friends, and our separate townhouse became a social focal point for other students. From our terrace most nights we watched Fuego erupt, or a spectacular lightning storm lighting up the sky. These storms are spectacular – they never fail to impress.
Sofia and I went our separate ways about a month ago now. Travelling with another person can be enormously stressful, although many couples do it successfully. In our case unfortunately it didn’t work. This will be my last post on this blog. If you’d like to keep up to date with my travels, I’ve started a new blog here: http://porquenowhere.wordpress.com/.
No te preocupes, bro.