Travel Anecdote: That One Time, in Guatemala…
When we arrived in Guatemala City in March, 2009, it was sort of a series of ‘one thing after another’ sorts of incidents. Trevor’s backpack took a detour on the way down, and arrived two days after we did, necessitating a longer stay in Guatemala City than we had anticipated. Our hostel, while quite nice inside, was not in the best area of town. There had been a series of machete attacks in the city – not in our area, but not that far away – and everyone was quite riled up about safety. At the time when we went, there had been some tourist kidnappings, as well, and the government travel websites were fairly hysterical about the whole thing. We were a bit wound up.
Once we finally got our missing luggage, we decided to head to Rio Dulce, which had, at one point, been a contender for our wedding location.
We got up early to head out of town. A six hour bus ride got us to Rio Dulce with minimal fuss, though we stopped about seven hundred times to pick up people who flagged the bus from the side of the road. At Rio, we were herded to our hotel, where we booked into a little slat-sided cabana with a tin roof and mosquito netting like a princess veil over the bed. Everything was on stilts in the swamp, even the walkways, and overgrown with trees that we keep for houseplants back home – hibiscus, dieffenbachia, philodendron, and others I couldn’t identify.
We had a fun horseback ride with a guide who didn’t speak any English, but who had no trouble communicating anyhow. We walked on a rickety suspension bridge 15 m (45 feet) over some jungle canopy, went up a lookout tower, and washed up in a little man-made pool…and all of this was right on the property of the hotel. It was quite a nice day, overall, and we had fun (though, given how Trevor feels about horses, I had quite a bit more fun than he did, I suspect).
We hung out by the pool in the evening, then retired, across the rather shaky wooden walkway, to our room. The slatted walls were kind of romantic, and we could hear the insects and toads as if we were still outside…which, really, we basically were – you could see through the walls! We tucked ourselves into the mosquito netting, and settled in for the night – we were pretty worn out after such a long day.
We were comfortably asleep when two gunshots shattered the quiet. We rolled out of bed like rambo ninjas and grabbed machetes to crouch by the door, like coiled springs, ready for action as the men in jackboots came tramping up the walkway…
Okay, well, actually, we froze in bed, terrified, and I may just possibly have soiled myself. I got up and stumbled briefly around the cabana, simultaneously terrified and still basically sleeping, looking for our passports, with some harebrained idea to hide them, ‘just in case’. Some men, yelling in Spanish, tramped up the walkway, and I froze by the door, waiting for them to kick it in and drag us away as hostages. All I could think of was how under-dressed I was for the occasion.
The men talked loudly for a while, right outside our door, almost as if they were arguing; eventually, they stomped off heavily enough that the walkway and our cabana were actually swaying. We sat there in the dark for a long time. A really looooonnnnnggggg time, hardly breathing, and certainly not daring to shine a flashlight. Eventually we screwed up the courage to venture out to the bathroom, as I REALLY needed one. We didn’t see anything, but that somehow wasn’t reassuring, and we didn’t get much sleep after that, either.
The next morning, in a mixture of Spanglish and Pantomime, we were informed that the security guards routinely fire shots into the air to warn off boats that come too close. And tramp loudly over the walkways, checking on guests. While we were relieved that there had never been any real danger, we didn’t spend another night in that particular cabana, either. Aah, well – nearly ten years later, it’s still a great travel anecdote!