Timing is Everything

March 23, 2011 in blog, Guatemala, Honduras, North America, Travelogue

Sometimes, timing is everything. You wouldn’t think so, living down here, where we’ve officially retired our watches and just live life on our bio-rhythms and what seems “right” in terms of time to eat, catch a boat, or visit a friend. Sometimes timing, has nothing to do with a watch.

It took forever to order breakfast at the, truly dingy, cafe in Copan Ruinas. We waited what seemed like forever, then were asked for our order again and waited some more. We visited with the pleasant folks from Wisconsin, a Grandmother and son who were visiting their grandson/son who’s finishing up his two year stint in the Peace Corps in Honduras.

Eventually, we were served what vies for the absolute worst breakfast we’ve ever encountered on any continent.  Purported to be pancakes, these flat disks had a distinctly plasticy-chemical flavour that coated the insides of our mouths and sat like a lump of coal in our bellies. Not the best way to start a ten hour bus ride.

It wasn’t the 27 people packed into the tiny euro van for the 10 km ride to the border that made us nervous; at three people less than our last ride, it seemed downright roomy.

“At least I don’t have someone’s armpit in my FACE this time,” quipped Ezra, ever the optimist.

Our first clue was the long row of trucks, going nowhere, lining the roadside for at least a mile before the border.

Then there was the huge crowd mulling around the gate.

Then, there was the TV crew set up in the middle of the road filming us as we walked across the border.

And of course the gunmen. More than the usual one or two who generally wave and smile at the kids. These guys were “dressed to kill” and scanning the crowd with very little sense of humor.

We headed for the migration office, the same one we’d used two days before.

“No, not that one, it’s closed today, you go here…” and we were herded toward a clapboard shack where a bunch of confused looking foreigners were standing around, documents at the ready.

I don’t know if it was the presence of the kids (they sometimes garner special treatment) or that we were a group of seven, but we were fast tracked through, right to the front of the line and stamped out just as one of the boys commented that he heard a helicopter.

“What’s going on here today? I asked the officer.

“The president of Honduras, he’s landing right now, to officially open this border station.”

A word came to mind. I won’t repeat it here.

I quickly translated for Tony.  In his eyes was reflected the same word.

“Okay children,” Daddy calmly smiled at the kids, “Don’t ask any questions, walk with me quickly, and if there is any nonsense, just lay down on the ground, do you understand?”  Clearly, from their wide eyes, they did.

We walked across the border, right through the line of soldiers and others as the dust cloud filled the air and coated us from head to toe. The kids were herded over along the concrete building, with semi-trucks between them and the president arriving, and watched as he slowly walked with his huge, armed entourage from his helicopter toward the new border building a few yards away.

Naturally, this was the moment when the Guatemalan official didn’t understand that we were ARRIVING home, not leaving and I spent an extra five minutes trying to sort out the direction we needed stamps for and paying a little extra bribe just to move things along. Tony watched the proceedings behind us and stood between the kids and I and the excitement.

It’s not cool to run at a border crossing, but it can be safely said that we moved as quickly as reasonably possible toward the nearest bus out of dodge. Breathing a huge sigh of relief as it pulled out of el Florido headed toward Chiquimula.

We aren’t afraid to travel here. We aren’t afraid to live here. There are certain precautions we take, just like when we visit Boston, or NYC, or Los Angeles to minimize risks and keep everyone safe, happy and having a good time. Staying out of political rallies is one of them (we switched busses in Solola on Saturday right in the midst of a big one for the only female candidate for the Guatemalan Presidency.)

Avoiding proximity to the leaders of any of the Central American countries is another. It seems like everything went fine at the border, and perhaps we could have loitered and taken pictures like tourists. However, these guys are serious men (as are their guards) with serious enemies, not the least of which are the humorless fellows who run the drug cartels. They have targets painted on their backsides. All it takes is one of these very young men with very big guns to lose their cool for just an instant, and tragedy ensues.

The last place we want to be is within a kilometer of these guys with the kids and this particular border crossing was the first, in all of our travels, in which our hearts beat hard in our chests.

All in all, it was a lovely day. We got to be on Honduran TV (for all of the good and none of the bad reasons.) Our bus rides were uneventful, the transitions smooth and I had an entirely entertaining cab driver in the capital.

We didn’t quite make it home. The chicken busses stop running around six, so the best we could do was to get back to Antigua. Our hotelier was happy to see us. We spent a pleasant evening wandering the streets of this “a little too perfect” town,  sipping a glass of wine and enjoying second hand cigar smoke in a quiet bohemian cave, run by a German lady, and catching up with my cousin.

Turns out, our timing was perfect.