The beach life was quite nice, but too many days in paradise led young Jim along the inevitable path to boredom. After too many days of the same, “the special” turns into the new normal, and Jim didn’t have time for that. Even the lobster tail dinners for $12, including drinks, couldn’t keep this deal-seeking vagabond around forever. One last breakfast on the beach – eggs, fruit, coffee – made all the better by a table in the sand and palms wrestling alongside the beach.
With a tip of the hat, Jim waved good-bye to the fine island folk and their relaxed pace of life. Perhaps I’ll be back after I’ve learned to sit still. He walked to the dock and awaited one of the large water taxis that pass every half-hour. Sitting on the dock Jim struck up conversation with one of the locals waiting on the bench next to him,
“Just another day in paradise, eh friend?”
“I wouldn’ no any diffrant buddy, but is good, yea, got t’go to da nex island to catch more o dem lobsta for ya tourists,” the man paused, “cuz you been eatin’ all da damn lobsta ev’ry day eh boy!” said the man laughing.
“Well yes actually, all week, each night and thank you for that!”
“Well ya shuur do like yer eatin’, ya still got some breakfast in dat beard!”
Embarrassed Jim wipes his beard and bids the man farewell as he boards the water taxi. How do I ALWAYS seem to get egg on my face!
Skipping across the water, Jim is filled with a new found excitement that only the discovery of new locations can bring. Well, new for Jim anyway. He certainly wasn’t an explorer and his planning skills for a legitimate exploration into truly new territory would surely leave him stranded and dead within days–maybe even hours depending on the local wild life. Needless to say Jim kept up his unplanned adventure by accepting the first invitation for a ride out of town that came from the many locals swarming him for business as he stepped off the water taxi.
“I’ll getcha there for $10!” said a man standing outside of a yellow/rust colored sedan.
“I accept. But I haven’t even said where I’m going yet. It’s far. It’s in another country, can you even drive across the border?” Jim said.
“Well, no, but I’ll getcha to da border for $20!”
“You said $10!”
“Now it’s $20! That’s too far!”
“You said $10, I agreed, it’s not my fault your jalopy gets 2-miles to the gallon. I’ll just go with that guy over there, his car is less rusty.”
“Nah dat guy, you can’t trust that guy. I’ll do it for $15.”
“I’ll pay $12 and nothing if your ride dies along the way.”
With that the two negotiators stepped into the old rust bucket and were off with a colossal back fire and the sound of the many loose pieces of the car rattling together. The car may have been old, but it was still fast – at least it was fast when the brakes didn’t work, and thank God they didn’t, although Jim was back on the main land, the whole country still drove on island time. You’d better Belize it. The roads were covered with potholes, slow driving could be considered a good tactic; however, the brakeless jalopy seemed to glide across the hole-ridden roads as if flying, and at some points it was. The car flew into a big stash of bushes and small trees and miraculously came to a stop. The paint job actually received quite the improvement, and only minor dents were observable from the emergency stop.
“We gone have ta stop here so I don’t smash none dem people by da border,” said the unfazed taxi driver.
“Agreeable! Here is an extra $3 tip for making good time, maybe you can work on those brakes too!” Jim slammed the door and gave thanks for another successful journey in the third-world.
Brushing through the boarder Jim hires the next leg of the trip to the nearest bidder. He seemed to find a good deal that involved a tuk tuk, to another tuk tuk, to a bus, to a shuttle, to a tuk tuk again that somehow still ended up in Antigua, Guatemala in the same day! All for one low price from the cute girl holding the “Tour Company” sign in hand-written painted letters who was standing on the corner. Jim thought he understood the deal, received his tickets and was off to the races. The initial two tuk tuk rides were just as exciting as his Belizean taxi ride, however, their brakes worked fine, they were just maniacs behind the wheel. After several near death experiences and a brisk introduction into Latin American driving, Jim was happy to step on to a big bus and be the one bullying the tiny tuk tuks and other small fries of the road. Jim fell asleep for most of the 9-hour bus ride and arrived in Guatemala City at 10 P.M.
The bus station in the city is not in a great neighborhood, in fact it is one of the worst zones in the city. Jim quickly gathered this by the many stares the lone gringo at the station was receiving, “Porque el gringo loco esta aqui en este hora? Es peligroso!” Unfortunately however, Jim’s Spanish didn’t allow him to even understand these remarks. As he walked toward the main road outside the station to look for his shuttle, Jim saw a pack of motorcycles approaching rapidly. There were two people on each bike and upon closer inspection, the rider on back held a gun in each hand. Jim was no expert on guns, but he could tell that they were automatic weapons – he instantly turned around and ducked around the corner. Peering from around the corner he realized that the heavily armed moto gang was actually the local police force. The fact that the guns were actually owned by the police did little to comfort Jim, if the police had guns like that, what did the gangs have?
Frantically he ran from shuttle to shuttle waving his ticket around, each driver just shook their head and motioned that he did not have the correct ticket. Walking back into the bus station Jim finally came across an English speaker, “you shouldn’t be here gringo, where is your shuttle? Step away from the entrance, it isn’t safe out there!”
Jim gulped and tried to explain that none of the shuttles seemed to know about his package deal ticket. The man examined the ticket and laughed, not a great sign. He then proceeded to start yelling at each passing van, “ANTIGUA, ANTIGUA!”
Finally a van stopped, Jim flashed his ticket and both the driver and helpful new friend laughed out loud. “Dinero gringo, dinero.” Jim happily paid up and then heaved a sigh of relief that the whole van could hear. Crises averted, and still cheap. He would make it to Antigua after all.
After arriving in Antigua, however, the story did not improve. As Jim never planned, he hadn’t made any reservations for a hostel. He walked from hostel to hostel, block to block.
DAMMIT JIM! YOU’VE REALLY DONE IT THIS TIME, YOUR FIRST NIGHT IN GUATEMALA AND YOU’LL BE SLEEPING LIKE THE BUM YOU REALLY ARE … IN A PARK!
Preparing a game plan of how he would fend off any overly curious roommates at Hotel le’Parque, Jim suddenly saw a hostel door open that had previously been locked and had ignored his knocking. The host smiled at the dejected and terrified looking traveler and ushered him inside, she had just enough space and allowed Jim another mulligan on his poorly-planned travel extravaganza. How many more of these would he receive?