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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Day We Met - Part III

The Day We Met - Part I
The Day We Met - Part II

For those of you newcomers: I'm joining a fellow blogger in posting my love story. If you haven't read Parts I and II you can click on the above words (Yes, the red ones. Those are direct links. Go on them.) But, don't cheat. You really must read this story from the beginning.

It was a little after 4PM when we pulled away from Morales, leaving behind a cloud of dust and a half dozen slightly stunned Mayan vendors. The rest of the drive would take 2-2.5 hours. I glanced at my watch calculating. It would be 6 or 6:30 when we arrived. I knew from our last trip to Fronteras that the water taxis didn’t run after dark. Casa Guatemala is situated on the Rio Dulce, 30 minutes down river from Fronteras and is only accessible via water taxi. It would be tight, but where there is a will there is a way, I thought to myself.

The remainder of the trek was uneventful. I sat next to a young couple, travelers like myself, from Washington state. At one point they asked me if I had been to Fronteras, and if I knew of a good place to stay. Always eager to share helpful hints with fellow travelers, I told them that yes I had been there and the Posada Ricki was clean and cheap. They exchanged a concerned glance. That was the one place they had been warned not to stay. Didn’t I know it was a brothel? That was disappointing news, and it made me wonder exactly who Ricki was. They asked me if I had heard of Mario’s. I hadn’t stayed there, but I knew that is was a hotel on the banks of the Rio Dulce with a restaurant that was known for great burgers. They were uncertain of their plans, but I told them that if they ended up going to Mario’s, I’d be glad to share in the expense of a water taxi, since I was going downriver, too. (Sidenote – Travelers like to do this…band together to share in the expense of anything and everything from hiring a taxi, to sharing accommodations, to sharing a guide for a certain adventure. This is done for the common goal of saving a few bucks and often makes affordable certain activities and luxuries that would otherwise be out of budget. And when you’re on a budget of less than $10 a day, a few bucks is a big deal. So my offer to share a water taxi was a solid, binding contract.) Later, we got into a discussion about what we thought we might like to do with our lives. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember that as our conversation was winding down they agreed that they could imagine me living on a farm with braids and lots of kids. I suspected they weren’t too far off the mark.

As we neared Fronteras and the Rio Dulce, the air became thick with smoke and the sky turned a sickening brownish mauve color. The gentleman in front of us explained that it was the burn season when the farmers cleared their land in preparation for planting. The smoke burned my lungs and eyes and blocked out the sun. I hoped that it wouldn’t be that thick at the orphanage.
As our bus pulled to a stop near the bottom of the Rio Dulce Bridge I assessed the daylight situation. It was just past sunset, but there was still light in the sky (although dim with all the smoke). There was still a little time. I hurried to the restaurant/bar called Hollymar that was situated on the banks of the Rio Dulce, where I remembered that I could arrange for a water taxi. I glanced across the street at the Posada Ricki with a slight frown. Outside the door to the restaurant I set down my pack and considered my appearance. I had a feeling I would need to use the power of feminine persuasion in order to secure a ride to the orphanage at this late hour. As a single white female, traveling in a Central American country, I had learned to dress down on “travel days”. It was safer and really more efficient not to stand out when using the public transportation system. The less cat calls and long stares I received the smoother my day would go. Subsequently, I wasn’t exactly dressed to impress. I had on a loose pair of khaki shorts, a loose fitting softball t-shirt, my hiking boots, and a sweatshirt with one crusty sleeve that seemed to hang longer than the other. My hair was in a saggy, dusty ponytail, and I was sweaty and smelly from a day of stressful travel. I wasn’t exactly the clandestine image of feminine beauty. I quickly retied my ponytail, shed my crusty sweatshirt and tucked in my t-shirt. That would have to do. Daylight was fading faster than I expected. Armed with as much feminine charm as I could muster I walked into that bar overflowing with confidence. I was determined to get to Casa Guatemala by bed time. I would not be spending another night at the Posada Ricki.

Even though the Hollymar restaurant and bar was nothing more than a 30' x 30' hut on stilts, with wood planked floors and no walls, it had a certain charm to it. Owned by an expatriate American woman named Holly, it attracted all types of interesting characters. It was not uncommon to find travelers, locals, and expatriate retirees, off their sailboats, sharing drinks and good times in this tiny little bar on the Rio Dulce. On the night that I strolled in, there was a typical mix of folks enjoying the casual atmosphere and good company. I looked around the room and considered my options. Holly, as usual, was at the bar dispensing drinks and lending a patient ear to a retired sailor who, it appeared to me, had had one too many. I assumed that one of the dinghies pulled up to the restaurant’s small dock was likely his, which made him a potential ride down the river. Seated next to him was a young Guatemalan fellow who I recognized to be a water taxi driver. Ellen and I had jokingly referred to him as Rico Suave, as it seemed that he thought quite highly of himself and had been rather flirty when we had met him before. On this night, I thought I might use that to my advantage. Seated near the water’s edge was a couple enjoying a quiet meal. They didn’t strike me as having much potential in aiding me on my downriver quest. Across the room, sitting alone at a rather large table, was a young American man with no shoes on. He was trying to read with a flash light perched in one hand and there were several empty beer bottles beside his empty plate. I didn’t know quite what to make of him. I could tell right away he wasn’t a traveler like me. He seemed too clean and the book he was reading was a hard back copy of Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor. Travelers don’t read hard backs. We carry everything we own in our packs, and hard backs are way too heavy to make the cut. The no shoes thing was throwing me, too. Where could he have come from with no shoes? Either way I decided he was far too good looking to try and take advantage of. I did not count him as a potential ride down the river. So I fixed my sights on the two gentlemen at the bar with targets on their backs. I felt nearly certain that between the two of them I would be able to charm my way to a ride down the river.

I approached the bar and Holly recognized me right away. Ellen and I had befriended her on our previous trip to Fronteras, and I was thankful to have an immediate alliance with somebody. I explained to her my situation, that I was volunteering at the Casa Guatemala, and I was slightly desperate to get there as soon as possible. She immediately motioned to Rico Suave saying, “He can take you.” Wow! That was too easy! But my excitement was short lived as he explained to me in Spanish that his little boat was out of gas. Well, surely we could get some gas somewhere in town. I offered to pay for his gas if he would take me to the orphanage. His eyes lit up, and I could tell he wanted nothing more than to be my knight in shining armor. He heartily agreed, and we grabbed a gas can from his boat before heading next door to where the gas man lived. Rico knocked on the door and gave me a cheesy grin. He was probably no more than sixteen or seventeen, and he wore his black hair to his shoulders and neatly slicked behind his ears. We heard a baby crying inside and a second later a young woman answered the door. Rico held up the gas can, and she quickly shook her head, no. She explained that they were out of gas, and her husband was gone to Morales on business until the morning. No problem, I thought. Surely that’s not the only place in town to get gas. But as we headed back to Hollymar, Rico explained to me that there was no where else to get gas until the morning. I don’t know who was more disappointed. Having exhausted plan A, I quickly shifted my sights to my next victim. Surely, the retired expatriate with the dinghy couldn’t say no to a darling, stranded, fellow American.

It was quite dark by the time we reentered the restaurant, and I wondered why Holly hadn’t turned on the lights. Then I remembered that in this little town (like many others in Guatemala) electricity was made by a generator which was shut down every evening at 7PM. I wasted no time and sat down at the bar right beside my new target. Rico and I explained to Holly about the gas dilemma, and I quickly inquired about the two dinghies on the dock. She told me that one of them belonged to the gentleman seated next to me. I feigned surprise, and, batting my lashes, I turned to face him. I pleaded my case wondering if he might help a stranded lady with a ride down the river in his dinghy? He lifted his glass into the air and said rather loudly, “I can’t give ya a ride, but I can sure as hell buy ya a drink!” The syllables of his words smeared together, and the stench of his breath made me think I was probably better off. I politely refused his offer. I couldn’t believe that my best efforts of flirting and schmoozing had failed me. I had gotten myself out of many a predicament in Central America with that exact approach. I was rather shocked and starting to feel slightly sickened at the thought of spending another night at the Posada Ricki. Holly must have read my mind because she brought over a glass of water and told me not to worry. I was welcome to spend the night at her house that night, and then I could catch a taxi to the orphanage in the morning. What a relief! That sounded superb. I didn’t have to spend the night at the Posada, and I would still be able to save $6 on lodging. I thanked her profusely, and deciding that I had had enough of my drunken compadre, I picked up my glass and headed for the table of the shoeless American.

To be continued...

As always...please consider joining us in posting your own love story. Let me know if you do because I love, love, love to read a good love story.



Owlhaven said...

This was really fun to read!

nicaudfamily said...

Yeah you are on part 3. I am glad I sat down at the computer with a cup of coffee as the story made it even more enjoyable!
Email me and I will send you some pics and an update,since I am a blog slacker!
nic mom 4boys @yahoo
no spaces of course

TRS said...

ack... part three and I still don't know the end!
How many installments and when will you update?

I'm most interested in your story because everyone else's begins in high school and that's just depressing!

I'm linked to you from my blog so I don't forget to check in!

Candace said...

That was a great read! So I guess I was wrong about the Austrian?!!

Theresa said...

I posted part 4.

Jennifer said...

Still loving it and still hating that you keep us hanging! :)

The Booth's said...

OOOOOH! This is getting sooo good!

Dina Wildfong said...

What a great story. I remember most from other times you told the story but its great to hear all the small details and different towns you traveled through that day. Can't wait to read Part IV

Wildwood Mama said...

Can't wait for the next one!