3 16 Luna the fierce
I hear the staff. They are cleaning the porch. The red tiled floor gleams. They mop it 4 times each morning. I wait for them to finish before going to breakfast. The hotel is full. Guatemalans who look like Spaniards occupy all the tables in the garden. There are no others. I go back into my room to wait.
After breakfast I go to Alison and Jason’s place. I drink salt water. We leave cameras and Luna in the apartment. Alison feels that we should not make ourselves conspicuous. Three humans and no dog join others where a Calle meets an Avendida. It is a random corner. This is a bus stop. Nothing betrays it. No buses come for a long time.
We get in a mini-chicken bus for mini chickens. There are seats for 8, or 9 with the driver. Inside the bus are 24 people. One human squats between the seats while two humans and no dog stand bent over under the roof. We stabilise ourselves by careful placement of feet and hands. We practice standing on bulls in a rodeo. We turn heads sideways to peer outside. Nobody speaks. Nobody knows any mini-chickens.
We reach a junction. Alison and Jason tell me to get off. I unfold through the door into the sun. We walk up the road. A village forms. A lady with flowers greets Alison with joy. Hugs exchange. The lady is overwhelmed to meet Alison’s father. We walk into the village. Alison stops at a door in the wall. Green leaves and flowers overhang the wall. She knocks on the wooden panels. The wooden door remains mute. She knocks again. She calls “Fransisco”. Audilia opens the door. She exclaims in pleasure. The garden is magnificent. The path leads up as if through a forest. The vegetation forms a green flowered tunnel.
Fransisco stands in a small cluttered courtyard at the top of the path. His wild white beard frames a broad smile. He greets Alison and Jason as if they were his children. A home-made jade-grinding device stands in front of the kitchen door. His workshop is one pace from the kitchen.
The jade guru centres presence and kindness. He shows me his princess of princesses. She is polished sensual cold stone. He lets me lift her. She weighs 15kg. She is jade. He found her in the mountains, 150km to the north. Once he had found her he moved her slowly towards the road. He hid her each evening. Each morning he walked into the mountains and collected her. He carried her until he could not walk. It took him 10 days to get her out of the mountains.
He showed me worn-out diamond-dust dental drills. He uses them to shape the stones he works. He has inoperable glaucoma. He shows us a worn old National Geographic. He is a young man with a black beard hacking at rock. He shows us a jade magazine full of wonders.
We walk out of the village into the fields. The path is pale. Dust puffs up under our feet and blows away. The soil has no organic layer. It is dust between the fingers. Kenya echoes grevillias and blackjacks and various Datura species. Dust rises in the heat. Sunlight glares off dry fields. We climb between fields. We walk across the volcano’s flank. We walk past fields of desiccated maize stalks.
The view expands. La Antigua lies below us. Volcanoes frame the town. Smaller towns tentacle round mountain bases. The altitude sucks oxygen. We leave the maize and walk into fields of flowers. We leave the flowers and walk into fields of coffee. Most are spindly. They have dropped their leaves. The rust fungus has destroyed the crop.
We reach the As Green As It Gets village. Jason wants to show me the new school they are building. We walk out of the village up a hill. The sun squeezes white-hot photons into every crevice. The air sizzles silently.
Crushed plastic bottles and black plastic bags litter the banks. The path is twinned. Vehicles use this for passage. Some places smell more of human shit than others. The fresh shit is bluey-green.
The twin paths fade into one. The trash peters to background. We climb up into the fields. The dusty banks of the path rise to our shoulders, our heads, above. A big bird of prey circles, pinnate.
The unbuilt school hides in the hidden fields. Jason hunts it. It hides. We turn back.
We re-reach the village. Children play football on a cement coffee-drying platform. A coffee farmer donated space to the cooperative. Coffee platforms are needed for a few weeks a year. It is surrounded by chain-link fence. Goalposts and basketball baskets make it multi-purpose. As Green As It Gets helped. Village children pulled down the fence. The platform is a year-round football pitch. Jason played here yesterday. Coffee farmers do not use it. Their children do.
The village fries in the sun. The oldest church in Latin America is yellow. Engine cranks embedded in sidewalk corners discourage too-tight turns. As Green As It Gets has moved its office from one side of the street to the other. We go into the guest house. It is cool out of the sun. We drink water.
Outside the sun is waiting incandescent. We walk past the trash truck. I fear olfactory assault. We wait with others at the bus stop. A chicken bus arrives. It is nearly empty. We sit without neighbours. Alison and Jason converse with two expats.
We walk to a juice counter. Electricity outlets wait for computers. WiFi is free. We order smoothies and wraps. Blenders smash ice. Conversation is shouted. Gringos occupy all seats. Alison sees people outside who she does not want to talk to. They are staff of an American Christian school in Guate.
We go back to Alison and Jason’s apartment. We buy coconuts for juice. We decide not to take a chicken bus to Rio Dulce. Alison calls the company to book a private minibus. She arranges to go to the agency office to pay.
We go to find an operational ATM machine. The banks are closed. A machine swaps Q1000 for a PIN.
The streets mill pre-Semana santa crowds. Gringo tourists ooze through Guatemalan matrix. SLRs outnumber point-and-shoot. Nikon and Canon straps advertise tribal allegiance.
A couple stand in the middle of the street. Behind them is the arch. Crowds mill. They are decked in wedding finery. They pose and primp. They glow in the tropical afternoon. Their eyesockets are dark holes, their foreheads LED bright. The photographer makes professional faces. Tourists snap photographer and couple.
The travel agency is shut. Alison calls another agency. She speaks to a clown with a rapid mumble. She says she doesn’t understand. The clown repeats, mumble for mumble. Alison’s phone’s speaker is defective. She cannot hear normal people speaking normally. She thinks the clown has understood. She thinks a minibus will be outside my hotel at 6:00. She thinks it will take us to Rio Dulce. She thinks it might happen on the right day.
We sit on the roof of the apartment. We drink rum and coconut milk.
I go to my hotel to shower and change. Dirt and dust sluices away.