Saturday, November 19, 2011

News from the South - November 19th

Out of everything bad, some thing good happens. So here's the main event: My best friend, Eunice, had joined me in Guatemala City a couple of days prior to our medical mission in Santa Maria de Jesus. While walking in the historical district, and after using the ATM a few blocks back, Eunice's earrings were lifted right off from her from behind. I had been slightly ahead of her, heard her muffled cry, and  turned to see a young man behind her with his hands over her ears, pulling her head backwards as he was pilfering her earrings. I felt like I was m-m-o-o-v-v-i-i-n-n-g-g so very slowly in delayed reaction. Eunice, bless her heart, was able to grab back an earring, obviously the perp wasn't expecting any kind of fight. And in a twinkle of his eye (he looked back with a somewhat bemused smirk), he loped off towards the street entrance of a little indoor mall that I know well. A younger teenaged boy came up, and wanted us to go with him, he knew where  this young man had gone. And in a city where every storefront seems to be inhabited by men with rifles and handguns, or police, I couldn't find a one. Nada. A little, well dressed Guatemalan man came up, heard my statement about the lack of cops this time out, and said they don't do anything anyway. Remember this part too, there's a story about him later. So now you have the background to all things good. And no, we didn't follow the kid either, we figured it was a set up for more.
1. Bagged Out, Part 1. The previous day had seen Eunice and I on tour with my guide Poiio. We went to the market town of Chichicastenengo, as well as to some ruins just outside of the town, where we were covert witnesses to a short Mayan ceremony prior to the Day of the Dead. Once back in the city, we went out for dinner with Poiio and the driver. I never carry a purse, I usually have my wallet in my back pocket, but this time I decided to carry it in my little purple Ameribag, which I detached from its somewhat hidden position on my backpack. Didn't realize it was missing until after we had been dropped back at the Posada we were staying at. Didn't have Poiio's phone number, but he is a Facebook friend. So you know, Facebook isn't all that bad. I messaged Poiio. On the Friday, the day the earrings were lifted, and before we were to leave to join the other mission folks, Angel Poiio biked over from the university and delivered my bag to the Posada while we were out.
Ruins near Chichi.
2. Bagged Out, Part 2. I love the luxury Central American buses!  They have attendants, and movies and food and drinks (no alcohol) and snacks, all included with your ticket purchase. Pillows and blankies too, and not blow up pillows either as offered by some really cheap airlines. Flying should be so comfortable. Oh, and the seats recline with footrests, and have cup holders and over seat trays to rest your snacks on. The trays I could do without, except for I would be wearing my food. The trays clip on both sides of the seat, and feel like they are resting at the top of your chest. If I wasn't wearing a good support bra, the tray would have done the trick. Just saying...
But I digress. We returned from El Salvador one Friday evening, and were getting off at a different spot closer to the Posada than the original station we had embarked on our El Salvadorean odyssey from. My friend, Florida Tom had my baggage tags, the guy back in San Salvador had handed them to him. The drop off was not a station per se, although it is advertised as one, but the street front of the large Biltmore Hotel in the happening Zona 10 section of town. Which is to say it, it is usually a very busy section of town. Took the bus half an hour to progress the few blocks down the street to get to the hotel. It was also college party night, there were formals and informals going on. We disembarked into the throngs of people, and the bus attendant squished himself into the luggage hold of the bus and proceeded to pass bags out as luggage tags were handed to him. I watched my bag come out into Florida Tom's hands. Eventually we made our way to a clear section of sidewalk, and I bartered with the taxi drivers to take us back to the Posada. ($10.00? No way, I've been here 5 times and it shouldn't cost more than $7.00!!! Got it for $8.00, and Francesca the Posada owner informed me they usually charge $15.00!). And of course, I didn't realize until after we had returned to the Posada that my purple duffle hadn't arrived with us. Poor Francesca, another one of my Guatemalan family and my friend, called to the hotel. The person at the other end of the line spoke English, so I asked him to please send someone outside just to look up the road and see if my bag was still sitting there. Nope, call this number (the main bus station) in the morning at 0530, and see if they had it. The office by this point was closed. Francesca, Rafael (one of my Posada Boys) and I went back to the Biltmore, miraculously found our taxi drivers, and were politely allowed to check the interiors of the trunks as it was had been quite dark outside, but nothing. I was going for a volcano hike the following morning, so being up early was not a problem for the phone call to the bus company. I gave the number to my other Posada Boy, or rather Angel, Nilo. At first he couldn't get through. By this point, I had written off my bag, which had all of my personal clothing in it. I still had the important stuff - the mission clothes had been left at the Posada for laundering between missions, and my hair product had been in the other bag that made it with me. Out the blow dryer, though, but I borrowed one at the Posada so I could look my best huffing and puffing up the volcano. And lo and behold, a knock at the bedroom door, can't remember which one of my angels delivered me the good news, but the bus company had my bag, had discovered it still sitting lonely next to the bus, tags intact. So they just heaved it back on and held onto it until the forgetful owner showed up. I swear I had rolled it with us, but evidently not. And once again, Poiio kindly stopped with me to pick it up on the way to the volcano. 
I was feeling like a dumb cluck after all my losses.

3. What's In Your Wallet? I think for me, should be what's in your head, because brains didn't seem to be taking up much space. I left Guatemala for Cancun on the Sunday. We were a little less than halfway to the airport, cab driver Raul, Nilo from the Posada, and me, when the Posada called Raul and informed him I had left my computer adapter back at the Posada. Graciously Raul returned, Rafael handed me the adapter,and we were once again on our way to the airport. I pulled out a few more quetzales from my wallet for Raul's extra trouble. Proceeded to the American Airlines counter. And realized I had no wallet. No money. No way to get it on time to make my flight. American wouldn't call the Posada for me, they pointed me to the pay phones. I had no change. I was in front of the shoe shine stand, I scrounged an American dollar from the little purple bag, gave it to one of the guys for  a 1 quetzal bill, and .75 quetzales in change. Just so you know, there's about 7.5 quetzales in $1 USD. I tried calling. Unable to get through. Tried again, unable to get through. Tried again, this time the change portion wasn't returned when I couldn't get through. Begged one of the shoe shiners to call for me on his cell. Unable to get through. Tried the phone again. Lost the last of my change, and still unable to get through. I turned around, and just said aloud, "I think I'm going to cry." Perched on the upper tier of the shoe shine station, receiving a spit and a polish, was Guapo Guy. My new super hero. He asked what was wrong, his shoe shine guy explained it all to him in Spanish. Guapo Guy pulled out his wallet and gave me what I needed to get to Mexico with. He is Guatemalan by birth, but now is a fellow Canuck, calling Montreal home. Elated, I thanked him profusely and paid the baggage fee, and was on my way to my flight. I already had my plans in mind how I was going to manage in Mexico. I had a bunch of pesos with me from July's trip, my passport had never been lost, so I would have the Posada, once I got a hold of them, courier my wallet home, and I would hit up my daughter for a Western Union moneygram. Ahead of me at security was Guapo Guy, and he walked with me to the boarding gate, he was on his way home to Canada via the same Miami bound flight as me. He got out his cell, and was able to contact Rafael at the Posada. Rafael was going to contact Mr. Raul and see if my wallet was still in the cab. I  harboured fears of the wallet having fallen off my lap while getting out of the cab, lost forever. In the meantime, Guapo Guy was hungry, and offered to buy me lunch, which I declined, he had been so generous already. He told me he was at least going to buy me a coffee, and went away. About 15 minutes later, just before the pre-boarding announcement, I heard my name on the overhead. I honestly thought for a second, this is not the time for an upgrade. And there they had it. My wallet. Mr. Raul and Nilo got the wallet to the airport, and American got it to me. And Guapo Guy was making his way back. With my coffee, and pizza to share with me. 
4. What's In Your Wallet Now? Not the American Express card, when I left it at Nathan's in Miami when I picked up a sauerkraut hotdog on the way to my Cancun flight. I heard the clipping of little tiny heels, and a little tiny voice behind me as I was racing to the already boarding flight, "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I turned around to a little tiny lady, who told me I had left my credit card back at the counter. Dashed back for the rescue, and I was on my way to Cancun.
5. Now Really, What Is In Your Wallet? Not the Visa card. As communicated to me by Florida Tom via e-mail, once I had made it to my hotel in Playa Del Carmen. After the volcano hike, Poiio and I had gone back to the same Mexican restaurant for dinner that we had eaten at the week before. And look who should be there but Florida Tom and Texas Ron, our (Eunice and me) travel buddies in El Salvador. I paid with my credit card, and left it there. In Central America, they bring you the bill to sign without your credit card, I guess to compare signatures, unlike here in North America, where your card is returned at the same time as you sign your bill. The night I left for Cancun, Florida Tom and Texas Ron returned to Los Cebollines, the  Angel Waiter recognized them, gave them my card and my bill. Yesterday, my card arrived by mail, sent by Angel Tom.
There is nothing so bad that a cerveza with friends
cannot fix..
6. It's a Small World. Guatemala City I believe has about 2.5 million inhabitants. And so imagine my surprise when I thought I recognized the little, well dressed Guatemalan man when Eunice had her earrings lifted. The ATMs I was familiar with in previous years had been moved to the pedestrian mall prior to my visit to Guate last year. I met up with a little, well dressed Guatemalan man who took me to the relocated ATM I was looking for, and eventually took me to couple of sites I hadn't seen near the historical district. He was in the city for a dental appointment in the afternoon, but the bus had dropped him off in the morning, he was from out of town. He walked me back to the Posada, and of course hit me up for some cash so he could buy a meal. I gave it to him, figuring I might have been a little bit had. But, his company had been enjoyable, and I had seen a couple of things I hadn't in previous visits. The next day on my morning walk, we came upon each other again, apparently the appointment had been canceled,  blah blah, blah. I gave him more quetzales, laughing, and told him if I saw him the next day I wasn't giving him anything more. We went for a cerveza, and that was the last I saw of him, my Teacher Mario.
Once I told Eunice that story after her earrings had been taken, I was pretty sure that the little, well dressed Guatemalan man was the same person, we had a little chuckle over it, because the man and I had both eye balled each other, and not said a thing as I guess we both had dusty hamster wheels turning in our heads.
The morning of the day I left Guate, I went to Mass, and Florida Tom and Texas Ron went out to the Central Square market. We met back at the Posada for a farewell cerveza. Florida Tom had come back early, leaving Texas Ron to his own devices. He met up with a little, well dressed Guatemalan man, who took him a couple of places, and whom Texas Ron bought coffee for. And once Ron told him my name during the course of their conversation, he told Texas Ron to tell me that Teacher Mario said "Hello."
And that is why I have Angels on my shoulders, and horseshoes where the sun doesn't shine.