"It´s a very trusting place" Molly said as I left my amulet with our passports and money in our treehouse at Finca Ixobel while we went for a swim. "It´s kind of a vacation away from Guatemala." They trust you to write down what you eat and do (though they double check) and pay when you check out. Molly provided a zapote to satisfy her fantasy of the perfect smoothie, and promised big zapote seeds to the owner who waxed poetic about the tree that used to drop fruits that thundered on the roof. I almost mustered the combination of energy and annoyance to organize their National Geographics in chronological order.
The next day, I wore my amulet as we took a hot walk to a lovely, fairly pristene, limestone cave. I left my wallet in my backpack, though. I took it out of my pocket to wash my pants and didn´t put it back since I didn´t need to buy anything in the cave. When we got back to the treehouse, I saw my comb and moustache wax on the floor. I may be messy, but I´m not that much of a slob. "I think someone tried to rob us." As I looked through my backpack, my suspicions were confirmed: all zippers were open, even the one that doesn´t lead to a pocket, and my wallet was gone. The theif was pretty quick, though -- he left my camera in a pouch on the table and didn´t check out the other objects around the room, just bags. One of the caretakers stopped by to investigate and found clear signs of a break-in: chipped wood by the lock and slivers on the floor. When renting a room and checking its security, make sure the latch points the right way. I only lost about 300 quetzales, about $45 and was joking about it pretty quickly -- "Well, it´s all part of the authentic Guatemalan experience." There was a lot of things worth more than $45 that they didn´t take -- my backpack, travel books and a dictionary, a small digital camera, water shoes... all hard to replace down here. The Czechs in the dorm had it worse: passports, two credit cards, all their cash. Fortunately they were in a place they could stay a bit without cash and they still had netbooks with Skype, but losing a Canadian work visa is rough. Plus, the nearest Czech embassy is in Mexico City which is shut down from the flu. A couple people saw the thieves, who were passing as tourists from Nicaragua. They managed to spend $250 at a gas station (do they sell liquor there?) before the card was disabled.
We spent Beltane, aka Labor Day in the non-socialistaphobia world, in a river under a hot waterfall. It was a very refreshing experience, one of the best cost to fun ($5 including entrance and bus) hot spring experiences I´ve had. Then we caught a lancha down the Río Dulce to Lívingston, a Garífuna town that´s also kind of a vacation from Guatemala. There´s nobody guarding stores with a shotgun, people give each other sass on the street, and the famous soup -- tapado? topado? -- a big bowl full of crab, fish, shrimp, prawns, and a delicious broth. Today we met Polo Martinez, an old Garífuna musician, who talked about struggles to keep the culture alive, how the latinos are running all the stores on the main drag while the Garífuna kids are wearing rasta hats and smoking herb, identifying more with the African immigrants than the Carib with a dash of African that he identifies. He offered us some CDs that cost three times as much as the one the kids on the street were selling, alongside pirated DVDs and fake Casio watches. But I´m not here trying to get the cheapest trinkets. I´m here because the Garífuna are a fascinating culture and I´m happy to lend a hand to keeping it alive. He says the money goes to an orphanage, but I´m fine if he keeps it himself... musicians need to make it in this world. In 18 hours we´ve had great fun and found neat people by saying hello. Without being friendly, we wouldn´t have realized the women were selling pan de piña -- ¡¿pan de piña?! -- and we wouldn´t have scored some mangosteens from a guy with a bag full of them, then met the owners of the only mangosteen trees in town. And the whole conversation with Polo started because he mentioned my old hiking boots and then talked about playing music in Boulder (Tulagi) back in the day. We´ll meet him again this evening and he´ll take us to a family who will serve us a traditional Garífuna dinner.
So remember: when you go to a tourist town known for an indigenous culture, make sure to seek out members of that culture and have a conversation with them. You´ll learn why people thought it was such a cool place before all the souvenier shops opened.
Also remember: when traveling, think about how you would feel if any object didn´t return with you. If you would be highly upset or inconvenienced, keep it in your sights. In the end, what´s important is the experiences, and it´s hard to lose those.