Guns, Drugs, and Ceviche: A Night in Antigua, Guatemala


Guns, Drugs, and Ceviche A Night in Antigua, Guatemala

After the dogs were safely stowed at Danny’s house in Topanga, all there was left to do was get on a plane and get going.  The last time I took a surf trip to Central America, I had transport from the airport in Managua arranged ahead of time, so showing up to the Guatemala City airport at night with an overstuffed board bag, rolling the dice on transport left some questions to be answered.

Our flight took us from Los Angeles to San Salvador – then about a 20 minute flight to Guatemala. I was starving upon touching down (I had no time to grab food.  We almost missed our flight in LA after Danny put up resistance to going through “the cancer machine” as he told the TSA member at security.  I don’t blame him, but I wasn’t in the mood to converse with airport staff, so I took my dose ionizing radiation in stride). My hunger drove me to pay a supreme gringo price at an airport restaurant (there were literally pieces of tape over the real prices) for some very questionable meat.  My stomach came out unscathed, but a trip to the drinking fountain in SAL is what likely landed Danny the microscopic hitchhikers he brought back to the US.

The boards proved to be little problem leaving GUA airport, as we hoped into a van headed to Antigua with a few other foreigners.  The van driver even managed to round up some rope after my discouraging looks convinced him he wasn’t going to throw the boards on his roof rack without securing them.

Antigua is one of my favorite towns in Central America.  It is a colonial city, and leaves a lot to be revealed since the majority of its open spaces are behind walls and building facades.  The streets are cobbled, and behind any given door can be a beautiful courtyard, authentic dining room, or neighborhood guacamole stand.  Although we planned to have a mellow trip of surfing, we figured with one night in Antigua we would see what kind of trouble we could find.  We found some.

After a quick stop at our hotel, which was conveniently located about two blocks from the central plaza, we set out to scope the evening scene.  Danny was intent upon meeting some interesting Guatemalans, and I had no objections.  It took a few good misses (and numerous offerings of cocaine) before we found a spot where we were moderately comfortable with the scene.  The place was called the Casbah.  It had a similar vibe to many a bar in LA, with lots of youngish Guatemalans making full use of their Saturday night.  Though at least in my own heard I felt much more in my element, because in Guatemala when a popular song came on, I had an excuse for not knowing any of the words…or artist….   Anyway, we grabbed some ceviche (very good, mind you) at the bar and took a seat.

After some SSL (Spanish-second-language) small talk, it turned out that the awkwardly dancing guys that some of our new found friends had been mingling with were in fact the bar owner and his buddies.  Go figure.  And on top of this, the little lady who had cozied up to Danny was now being very insistent we come along to the owner’s house after things at the bar shut down for the “after party.”  With an average bedtime of about 10pm (note, “average.”  There are many a night I’m in bed before 10pm), I’m not sure how many after parties I’ve been to in my life – so why not start now, in Guatemala, on our fist night there, with some people we’d known for about 15 minutes.  Danny and I played out the scenarios in music-inhibited conversation, and figured why not (in fact, we came up with quite a few reasons why not, but disregarded all of them and went along anyway)?

A few blocks of speeding through the cobbled streets of Antigua in a new, overcrowded black Chevy SUV and we’d already been pulled over by the Guatemalan police.  This seemed to bother few in the car, yet debate with the authorities carried on.  Then for a few moments, at least for two American surfers, things got a little interesting.

When you’re in your tinted out Prius creepin through the Whole Foods parking lot, listening to Biggie and Tupac rap about guns, you feel tough (of course you turn down your music if anyone with a shade darker skin pulls up next to you with their windows down).  But when you are in the backseat of a stranger’s truck in Guatemala, headed to an unknown location, and the driver hands over a Glock, you wonder if things get hairy, “am I in fact as tough as Pac?”  Danny saw it, I saw it, and then he muttered exactly what I was thinking, “Par for the course.”  At least we knew the cops now had the gun, though, we were pretty sure that wouldn’t be the only one around.

No shots were fired, the police got their bribe, and we carried on.  The house wasn’t too much further, and we had done our best to remember our way home (not easy in a city where every block looks just about the same).

The house wasn’t in fact Mateo’s (the bar owner), but another in his crew – and Israeli ex-pat with an undisclosed profession living in Antigua.   It was conspicuously nice, opening up into a big open courtyard, and decorated with beautiful Latin American furniture and art.  Though not entirely free flowing, conversation was interesting at times.  One of the guys we were with, Ricardo, supposedly owned an independent Guatemalan newspaper, and was undoubtedly well-educated on global and local current events.  Despite the conversation, it had reached a point that we determined no more good could come of the situation.  So after gathering up what bits of information we could about the beach town we would head to the following day, we said our good byes and started the walk home.

Unmolested and without wrong turns, we found our hotel.

You may be wanting a bit more excitement to this story, but trust me, we were satisfied with the ending we got.  On a follow up note, later in the trip we met a few other Guatemalans that worked at another bar in town, and they confirmed Mateo was a nice guy.  On a second follow-up note, the whole gun thing was legit.  Apparently it’s no problem to be carrying a gun on your person in Guatemala – you just can’t do so and be drunk.  This makes perfect sense to me.

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