Border Runnings


It is our last run to the border, to La Mesilla, the border with Mexico which is six hours from Guatemala City. Five military checkpoints and countless speed bumps later we are in Comitan checking our email at an Internet cafe and waiting for the requisite hour to pass before Brad and I can get stamped to go back in. We opt for sitting inside this oven with Internet access where we can at least do some work while waiting.  (My bag with my passport and cellphone falls into the toilet at the migration office before we head off to the cafe.) But no amount of tragedy can take away from my full-fledged support of  this border Internet cafe where I have already suggested to the owner that having iced coffees and a hostel would bring the gringos in who are stuck waiting for their papers.  She nods. She is open to it, she has thought about it many times, but the heat is too much to do more. A breeze blows in from over the mountains and sweeps up the dust on the sidewalk as I talk to her.

Each run for the border has its difficulties, this one is about the journey and not the end bureaucratic maze. The checkpoints came early and often – first the municipal police, then the national police, then the ejercito itself, the military, who are the easiest to deal with because they cannot be bothered with the small print. Fact is, it is all about the state of siege in Barillas and I want to be there before things get violent, which is unavoidable. The town has been striking against the new hydroelectric plant for two months now and this week they set fire to vehicles owned by the plant. The Guatemalan government has responded and brought in the troops. The town is not backing down.

We pass the turnoff to Barillas which is unmarked, but the military checkpoint tells me the way to Santa Cruz Barillas is right passed them. We drive on as life on the road because more vibrant. Women sit on the grass in small groups of colorful huipiles and babies in the center of them, men carry large loads of wood or tables twice as large as them strapped around their foreheads, the painted rocks from the 2011 election remain while mile after mile of trash pores along the side of the cliffs thousands of feet below. There is no barrier between your frail body and the fall.

You really have to want to be here.

Everywhere you are reminded that life means a lot less, if much at all. The jetlag sets in early today.  A few days ago I stood on the edge of Tel Aviv and stared across the Mediterranean Sea, ushering in the day for Guatemala. It seemed so far away at that point and so difficult to describe for people.  Standing at the foothills of the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, I look eastward and think of the Mediterranean so far away and marvel at how different two countries can be.

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One Comment

  1. norm
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    When I was a kid, the US was dam building crazy, they decided that our little river front cottage needed a lake over top of it and we had to go. The little stakes started popping up in the local fields that foretold how high the water was going to be and I at 5 years old, pulled up every one I found in my rambles and threw them in the river. The sad part is that the water never came close to our cottage, it was a land grab by the government from the start.
    And an aside: I love the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes even with the the open dumps; we had them here to when I was a kid, that river I lived on had one behind every house…

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