Saturday, April 02, 2005

Bleeding out on a Guatemalan Chicken Bus, part II

As our small group of 13 traveled west across the Mexican Yucatan, to the border of Guatemala, the atmosphere changed along with the scenery and climate. The mountains and cool air were replaced by beach scenery of such perfection that you wanted to stop the bus and just stay there for the rest of your expedition, to hell with the other countries, paradise was found. Paradise became a bit scary, though, after an incident I've come to call "Bastards and Sweathearts at a Mexican Bus Stop," as well as the slight change in the touristy trinkets sold everywhere in Mexico.

In this area, now included with the usual dolls, plaques, multi-colored scarves, ponchos and rugs sold at roadside stands and in the tiny shops were Zapatista's. Uh huh, little anarchist dolls complete with the hankerchief pulled above the nose, and a little rifle hanging off the shoulder, were mixed in with the sweet looking Mayan dolls in their pretty woven capes and embroidered skirts.
"Hmm," our little group of gringo's murmured, "little revolutionary dolls." "Hmmm, were not in Cancun anymore, are we?" one of our group ventured, as we carefully looked around this latest stop on our route to Guatemala.

"Cool, I've got to have one," the 22 year young, tall, and sweet, Aussie in our group crooked. Well, he was a babe when the news of the murders and rapes in Guatemala were being broadcast, so the fear that underlined having Zapatista dolls with guns casually laying all about, as if they may also be casually all about us, did not really register with him.. What I didn't know then was that I was also a babe when the revolution was in progress. The beautiful little country of Guatemala has been in a state of revolution for decades. Their fragile peace has only been in place since the 90's. Later, we would visit sites where mass executions had taken place just a bit over ten years ago. Yikes.

Crossing the border in Central American countries is an experience in and of itself. Bored and hostile at the same time, the border guards look at you with a mixture of disgust and apathy, while they stamp your gringo passport. Locals push past you, forcing you to hold your ground while holding your big backpack and your slightly smaller daypack. A huge mix of people hurriedly moving about, little stalls full of colorful things, and tons of trash strewn on the streets greets you. Short men, well, short to me anyway, with big rifles, guard numerous facilities. They stand outside of banks, jewelry shops, the local corner, and of course, the borders...

After the pleasant passport stamping intro to the country, you then walk from the little border crossing facility and into a horde of local bankers. Yes, you exchange your money, from say pesos, the Mexican currency, to, in Guatemala, Quetzales, with local men who walk up and in your face waving a large roll of that countries moolah. "We give these men our money?" the gringo group queried of our young but world weary guide. "Yes, these are the money changers in Guatemala," she replied. She had previously told us that we would be better off exchanging our money at the border. The rates were much better than at local banks, and the process took a few minutes at the border, as opposed to potentially hours at a local bank. She neglected to note just who we would be exchanging our money with, though.
Yikes again. Those guys looked as evil and sweaty as any bad guy in a really awful old Mexican cowboy movie. Gold teeth, where there were teeth, pockmarked skin, big thick mustaches, and facial and neck scars. Were they bankers or banditos, or both?

Cool, I guess. Certainly different. I was on vacay, and so just refused to be scared about things that were different. And, after besting the Bastard, in the "Bastards and Sweethearts at a Mexican Bus Stop " incident, I decided to just be brave, walked away from the group, and approached a short, chubby "banker."Flashing a big ol' smile, I asked what don pedro's exchange rate was. "Estados Unidos?" he asked right away. "Si, soy Estados Unidos," I replied in butchered spanish. "Aaah, Americano, we love Americano, Americano dollarrrrr," he trilled loudy and almost lovingly. I was quickly surrounded by more local walking talking scary banks. I kept smiling, exchanged a travelers check as well as most of my pesos with the first scary dude, and soon everyone else in our group was in the money mix, wheeling and dealing for a good exchange rate, and then we were off, dragging our gear on our way to...


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