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I straddled the back third of the scooter seat behind my newfound gringo and gringa companions, Luke and Leta, and started looking for a bar or something to grab onto. Hearing that from an adorably freckled year-old girl with bright blue eyes let me know that my night was beginning fortuitously, even if she meant it in a prosaic, crowded-scooter kind of way. The jaunt to the convenience store was a short one but I was already enjoying the cool night air and the stares from the Guatemalan and European tourists heading to the bars and restaurants near Parque Central.
We passed a Guatemalan police officer. I had just spent the week working in Guatemala City, one of the most dangerous cities in the Western Hemisphere. I actually enjoyed my time in Guate GWA-tay , as locals call it, but the tension was undeniable. Guatemalans were constantly warning me to be careful, and I saw plenty of evidence that the warnings were justified. Nearly every storefront had an armed security guard, most of whom looked like nervous high school students.
Several people mentioned to me that in , more Guatemalan civilians were shot, stabbed or beaten to death than in the Iraq war zone. Ninety-seven percent of all murders in Guatemala go unsolved. I had asked Matt Stabile, the editor of this website, whether he was interested in a story from Guatemala, and he recommended I get in touch with Luke Maguire Armstrong, a russet-headed friend of his who also contributes to The Expeditioner.
As for Leta, she was a couchsurfer from Upstate New York passing through Antigua on a six-month trek through the Americas. Luke put on his rounded helmet, looking like a dreamt-up spaceman from a bygone era, and we wobbled and swayed our way out of the busy, central part of Antigua.
After maneuvering through a few quieter streets, we eventually reached an empty dirt road flanked by dense tropical brush; the headlight illuminated flashes of atavistic hunter greens and impudent harlequins. We reached a gated community and Luke spoke to an armed security guard in accented but competent Spanish. The guard wrote in a book quite deliberately for a few awkward minutes and then let us in. It had a stone fountain in the middle of the living room, a fireplace, big bedrooms and lots of reassuring bars on the windows, not to mention a couple of goofy-looking boxer puppies tromping around.