Rumors and real perils live side by side in Guatemala. The first words I learned were derrumbes and lodo –respectively, rockslide and mud. Driving from the capital felt wild like Texas before seatbelt laws when c’boys could pop a chilled six pack on the seat of their pick’em truck, shove the petal to the metal and come on. Except that this land is not flat, far from dry and speed is not usually an option. Up in the highlands, it is sixty miles and three hours to Guatemala City.
All souls are living on a shifting drip castle of volcanic pumice. This country is not only subject to world class sinkholes, the ground beneath the main roads routinely washes away leaving single lanes to fringe yawning barrancas. Sometime the roads get covered in rubble andcrews arrive with sledge hammers and chisels in order to reduce the boulders to gravel. Or they bring shovels to disinter the chicken busses. This place is so slide-y that whole mountains can end up in your living room and the gritty soil tends to deck this walker.
In Jucanya, from my second story window, I overlook a calle just wide enough to accommodate one truck or two passing tuk-tuks (golf carts) and in this barrio the alley-like callejons are narrower still. However, my relatively upscale lane boasts hexagonal paving stones with a rounded crown to force the run off to either side. This does not mean that there is drainage; it just means that if the rain is moderate, you might be able to walk down the center and not soak anything higher than your ankles. Tonight, under the blasting street light, I can clock the foot traffic favoring one or the other of two competing bodegas and, beyond them, are endless 8’ walls like the one that encircles mi casa. Most of these battlements have broken bottles embedded on top.
In the department of Solola, there is apparently no zoning, nor immanent domain nor any discernable building code. Houses are built anywhere and, even when cinder blocks are used, 90 degree angles are rare. Meanwhile, moustache twirling politicians can earn themselves extra payola by allowing tottering developments to wobble above unsuspecting pueblos. In the recent storm, 90 people had to take refuge at the gym until they could repair to their inundated homes. In that fiendish rain, a giant rock broke free and flattened a residence “permitted” on a Mayan sacred site. The story went around that the only reason the profane owner-builder did not perish was because he was in jail — on child molestation charges. This afternoon, after another very impressive storm, a woman pointed out a new cataract that had opened up to the left of the wide swath that the offending boulder had rolled down. She and I waited to cross the rivers racing down Calle Principe and watched misty clouds form under the newest waterfall.
Last Sunday, the police called a town meeting regarding “security.” Due to poor attendance, the session was so late starting that the slim crowd was going to seek shelter from the afternoon rains. At last, the Captain declared over very loud speakers that the Police are no longer corrupt. He went on to say that the department was amazed that no one reports any crimes. Meanwhile, officers circled the church yard in their large four wheel drive trucks. Those patrolmen who did not have the luxurious vehicles stood attentively in snappy black uniforms until the Captain revealed that the reason for the meeting was their concern about narco-traffic. And, in conclusion, urged all present to help by reporting drug users.
The following day, some of my friends who own a restaurant told me that they had been robbed and their ambient music laptop had been taken. They eschewed the police and, instead, sent their sons to the local “fence” ransom the machine. And, yesterday, an unflappable source told me that there was news of gangs from el Salvador attacking Gringos after dark. She told me of a time when a tuk tuk had been ambushed and the passenger ran away to call the police. They were very sympathetic over the phone, but, told the frantic caller that they could not come because they had no gas in the prowler.