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Guatemala is hard on the system. From Coban I bring back a cold and chills, as if having internalized the rainy, smokey mountain terrain. I tell mi mama that I am like a baby learning the new bacteria, germs and the underbelly; she tells me I have a lot to learn. I drive back alone from Coban listening to Miles Davis and Doc Watson, Blue Ridge Parkway Tennessee style with my two powerbars, my Nalgene water bottle, overly sweet coffee made by las doñas at the church, and almonds. In the seat next to me is my old Nikon with my telefoto lens for the long mountain shots. There is no shoulder the entire way to stop so I stop in the middle of the road with the few roving cows and take shots. Before I left Santa Cruz all twenty of the women in the radio training crowded around my car and asked me where I was headed. I told them: Guatemala City.
Si, en veces hay que hacerlo. They nodded and that was my blessing, mi agua santa. So I slipped out the street parallel to the calle principal for obvious reasons.
It’s a quiet winding wet road with dense fog that lifts slowly to reveal an expanse of green mountains that raise you thousands of feet above the ground. I share the road with the tractor trailers making their way up the coast and the trees, always the trees towering steeply on both sides where children, older women and frail men carry large bundles of wood from a leather strap wrapped around their foreheads. I want to shuttle them to their homes everyday. Every town has speed bumps which make an awesome opportunity for passing trucks; every town has children by the side of the road watching in the distance, their fingers in their mouths or in their pockets, watching the cars go by. I wave and they stare at me, I think of how strange it must look to them to see a stranger waving so I shift to second gear and pass the next truck. I turn on the CB radio and start chatting. I pass another truck with yet another guy staring at me like he’s never seen a woman drive. I honk and inch my way to El Rancho where it’ll all change.
After El Rancho I’m out of the mountains and I’ve entered pocket-marked roads, narrow stretches through the final cerros and trucks as far as the eye can see. I brace up, eat the first powerbar and put the car in third to pass three trucks in a row. I don’t think el porque tener miedo, I just become a driving machine and roll right into Guatemala City’s Saturday mercado day, rush hour periferico transito where la cuesta, the steep drop into Antigua seems like the driveway to our house.
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