I had developed one obsession and that was my love of indigenous cultures and their art. To me their culture was wrapped in symbolism and mystery. I had read numerous books about the Mayans and other indigenous cultures.
I have made two trips to Guatemala. The 1st trip was for the experience and the 2nd was totally business. My first trip to Guatemala was because I wanted to visit the Mayan culture that I had read so much about. This article is about my initial experience. It occurred during a time when Guatemala society was still turbulent because of the military control of the government. My second trip I went on business and the atmosphere in Guatemala had totally changed and was less turbulent.
At the time of my initial trip, I had an office on Union Street in San Francisco, and the woman who had the leases for the offices encouraged me to take the plunge. She also had a friend from Guatemala and gave me her telephone number to contact; to help calm my jitters.
So I called her. She was from Guatemala and had just returned with her husband from a trip to Lake Attilan. She told me that it was very dangerous to go. That during their last trip, she and her husband were robbed by bandits who had surrounded their car. The bandits had lots of guns and really intimidated them. She told me it was dangerous to go, but I went anyway.
When I arrived in Guatemala City, the first thing I noticed was the armed guards standing in front of the retail stores. And I was told that it was for my protection. I left Guatemala City and headed towards Lake Atitlan, an area known for the numerous Mayan villages located on the shores of the lake. You could tell you were entering “Mayan Country” because each villages was surrounded by cornfields, which is considered sacred in Mayan traditions. I also noticed the Mayan women sitting out in the open alongside the road, weaving their intricate designs into beautiful fabrics. Lake Atitlan and the numerous Mayan villages that were located on the shores of the lake were very peaceful and beautiful. And you would catch glimpses of the Mayan women hand washing their clothes in the lake. There were numerous tourists visiting the area also.
After spending a few days at Lake Atitlan, I decided I wanted to see more of Guatemala and I took a bus and headed further into the interior to explored some of the villages. During the trip, I also met a woman from Belgium who was using the money she received for an art grant to travel. And we decided to travel together for safety. So we hopped a bus and headed further into Guatemala. Riding the bus took us away from the tourist areas and into the areas that were populated by the farmers. And every man that climbed on the bus carried a large machete that they used for working in the fields. When they entered they were required to lay their machete in a pile at the front of the bus. So a pile of huge knives were rattling as we rode along in the bus. But no one seemed to pay any attention to our presence.
We headed all the way up to the Guatemala border with Belize. At the border the police searched our belongings and I was standing and watching the police and warning my new friend to watch the police to “Make sure they do not plant drugs in our backpacks”. When the guards heard me say that, they just laughed and they quit searching our bags.
Getting from the border to the next town was a bit of an unusual experience. There was a taxi, but this taxi was a pickup and all the workers climbed into the back of the pickup with their machetes. I preferred that area, rather than sitting up front with the driver, because my escape would be easier. And the day laborers looked non threatening as they jumped in the back of the truck. In fact they, seemed tired and exhausted from their work and barely noticed my presence.
Once we crossed the border the scenery changed. The atmosphere was more Caribbean than Mayan and we immediately found a place to rent and began strolling through the villages. At this point, I was not feeling safe, so we struck up a conversation with a male student from the Netherlands. He was very easy going and polite and the three of us decided to band together. After strolling through the village we all three went back to the hut that was to be our accommodation.
That night we slept in a tropical hut, but I was unable to sleep. I was wide awake all night and I could hear the dogs in the distance continually barking. So I lay there, all night, listening to the sounds. Sometime during the middle of the night I saw the vague shadow of our door open and I jumped up and started screaming and threw myself against the door. I woke everyone up and they wondered what was going on. The next morning we found that all the cabins had been robbed.
I decided I had had enough and head back to Guatemala City and my flight back to the USA.