I was more than halfway done with my first Guatemalan beer (I’m particular about beer brands, but the brand of that particular beer eludes me, perhaps because of the traumatic border-crossing experience I was subjected to before I reached Guatemala, but that’s another story) when a white car pulled up in front of the restaurant–Jade, a Chinese restaurant–where I was waiting. I was seated facing the door, and there weren’t any other cars parked in the slots, so the car was impossible to miss.
Sensing that this car was the one sent to pick me up, I quickly finished what remained of my beer, stood up, grabbed my backpack, and waved my thank-you to one of the waitresses. A woman stepped out of the passenger side and entered the restaurant, looking around. She was pretty, about my height, with bobbed brown hair. As I was the only patron, she looked at me inquiringly, smiled, and asked, “Mark?”
“Si,” I replied and took a step toward her, extending my hand. She took it, shook it warmly.
“Mucho gusto,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
She led me to the car, whose trunk was already popped open and waiting. A guy with jet-black dark hair, bushy eyebrows, and a dusky complexion was holding the trunk lid aloft. “Carlos,” he said, smiling, offering his other hand. I shook it and dumped my bag into the compartment.
In no time we were on our way, putting as many miles as we could between the border town–that, just an hour ago, I crossed on foot from Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico–and Quetzaltenango (or Xela, for short), Guatemala, our destination.
So this was Guatemala.
Visible vegetation, green and jungle-like, on either side of the narrow and winding road that we were traversing on was a welcome sight. I was already used to the concrete jungle of Mexico City, where I was currently living at that time before I visited Guatemala, so this was a breath of fresh air—literally. We drove with the windows down, and I could immediately tell that the air I was breathing was a lot cleaner than the smog-filled air of the Mexico City. In the city it doesn’t take long after I step out of the apartment for my allergies to act up; here, though, it was a different story—it seemed as though my sinuses were cleared up.
In my limited Spanish, Jennifer and I made some small talk, with Carlos content on putting in a word or two but mostly focusing on his driving. About an hour into the drive we stopped by a roadside stall that sold pollo rostizado or roast chicken; apparently Carlos was famished. He asked me if I was hungry, said no but thanks anyway, and he proceeded to pick at his roast chicken and tortillas in the front passenger seat while Jennifer took over the driving.
We made another stop, which was a pleasant surprise for me—at a tattoo parlor. We met Jennifer’s teen daughter Andrea, at the shop, and she proudly showed off her freshly inked tattoo to her mom. It was Jennifer’s turn to get a matching tattoo, and we waited in the shop as I chatted up one of the tattoo artists, the husband of the artist currently working on Jennifer. I was pleasantly surprised that the guy—heavily inked, of course—spoke very good English, and he introduced himself as a former English teacher before finally deciding on switching up careers and becoming a tattoo artist full-time. Carlos went to a nearby corner store and got me a big can of beer, a local brand—Cerveza Gallo—which was pretty amazing. (I would try other Guatemalan beer brands but would stick to Gallo for the remainder of my stay.)
Finally Jennifer’s tattoo was done, and we all piled into the car—with Andrea and her friend joining me in the back seat—for the long drive home to Xela. By this time it was already dark.
(To be continued . . .)