Puerto Barrios, Guatemala
Maria, the Guatemalan woman who owns the hotel is sweet. She asks if we have a car and because we don’t, she offers to drive us to a nice restaurant to grab dinner. That’s so sweet of us to drive us out to the next town, we think as we calculate our quetzals for a ride back to the hotel.
The restaurant, named Maria something or other, turns out to be only a mere 4 blocks away, and straight off the main road. As we unload out of the car, she says, ok, now if you can’t figure out your way back, have the restaurant call me and I’ll get you. Maria Theresa is my name.
We’ll be okay, we say, and head into a brightly painted restaurant.
Inside, the Christmas décor gleams. There are two large rooms, both with ceilings adorned with inflated sun floaties and paper fish. Inside several tanks scattered about the place, there are what we can only assume are 1 lira and 1.5 lira fish. They swim about in a cramped tank, occasionally looking as though they are going to suck the scales off of each other. They look hungry. And we are hungry.
We settle into the front room, which is not air conditioned. The back room is completely freezing. The menus are handed to us and on the inside front cover, we see a life saver with a plump woman giving a thumbs up behind it (kind of a Captain Salty sort of image). At the table next to us, we see a plump woman digging into a mujarra a la plancha. We think we’ve found the owner!
A couple of Gallos (the local beer) and lime later, we are all in bright spirits once again. What a trek, we say to ourselves, and Phil and Sarah go into their stories about their travels around the world from diving currents off the Galapagos, to the reefs in Fiji, to getting married in the Garifuna villages in Belize where funeral processions are a 9-day drunken celebration of life, leading the human spirit to realize that it is dead.
We polish off about five gallos a piece, as well as enough fish, mariscos, chicken, rice and beans to feed a small army.
Satiated, we walk back to the hotel in a moderate drizzle making plans to meet at 8 the next morning for immigration services and a little bit of breakfast before the 10 a.m. lancha.
I wake up at 6 a.m. to a blowing fan. Damn I’m cold.
I mill around for a bit, writing and waiting for Cynthia to get up. When she does, there are strange noises coming from outside. Howls almost.
Listen, I whisper to Cynthia. Do you hear that? I think a woman is getting beaten up or something, It sounds like screaming. I am sketched out.
While Cynthia gets ready, I walk out of our room and hear someone singing “All the single ladies” in an adjacent room in falsetto, only slightly howling. Moments later, a young garifuna boy walks out of the room wearing bagging pants and a large belt buckle emblazoned with a marijuana leaf.
His name is Joseph, he says. Where are you from?
Los Estados Unidos, I say, and you?
Hopkins, he says, in Belize. He drums in a garifuna band. He has been here on holiday in Guatemala.
Was that you singing Beyonce? I ask.
Oh yes, you heard that? He laughs openly. You heard that?
Oh my God, Joseph. I say. I thought someone was getting raped and beaten. That was just you singing!
Joseph can thankfully take a joke and lets out a heart laugh. Man! He says. I like you. You’re cool.
When Cyn is ready, we head to the immigration office where we pay for our immigration stamps out of Guatemala and our ferry tickets for 650 lemps a piece. We each pay with 1000 lempiras, asking for our 350 change in quetzals. The woman sifts through her bag, which is filled with dollars, cords, Belize and everything imaginable, until she finds our quetzals and give us 100 each.
It isn’t until after we leave that I figure the exchange rate is 19:1 Lempira:Dollar and 8:1 Quetzal to Dollar. We’ve been marginally screwed.
We find a restaurant around the corner that is serving desayuno but Cynthia is feeling adventurous, so we venture down Calle 12 to a more central street. On the corner, there is a farmacia that is guarded by a militiaman with a shotgun.
I don’t know if I feel safer with or without him around, I say to Cynthia. Because no one will dare rob me with him standing there, but if he shoots, I’m right in the line of fire.
I am feeling slightly shady still, packing my passport, laptop and credit cards in my purse around my shoulder.
Cynthia seems unworried with her passport in the back pocket of her skirt.
I know you’re packing nothing, I say to her, but I feel like I’m packing everything. I feel a little cautious. Do you mind if we just head back to that first place that we saw.
Sure, she says, and we head back to a little mom and pop shop in the street corner, where, from the looks of it, the family is sleeping in a room adjacent to the kitchen.
A truck pulls up while we are sitting down into our chairs. For a brief moment, when we had seen it in the road, we had thought that perhaps there was a chance its intentions were malicious. But now we see that is a lively Guatemalan couple. They sit down next to us at the table.
Buenas, I say cheerfully. They wave and smile, ordering a coffee and some breakfast plates from the restaurant. Since the place did not have menus, I say “tambien para nosotros”. I just want to have whatever they’re having, which turns out to be a plate of chicken nuggets, fresh corn tortilla and frijoles and a plate of fried eggs, frijoles and tortillas.
A woman brings out from the back a big tupperware bowl of fresh salsa, full of jalapenos, fresh tomatoes and onions. The aroma is mesmerizing.
We enjoy a hearty meal and conversation with the couple, who it turns out, have three teenage children. They show us photos of their son. Because I collect coins from the countries that I visit, the husband even runs to his truck to see if he has any spare coins to give me. He doesn’t, so he asks the restaurant owner if she has any. She does, and so I trade her cordobas and US coins for a few quetzal coins. I am ecstatic.
It is 9:30 when we are finished and we have just enough time to gather our things from the hotel and go to the lancha.