Guatemala has become a land of convenience tourism. You can go from one hostel filled with foreigners to another, door to door, by dedicated shuttle bus, also filled with foreigners.
The hostel staff, the travel agents, many of the travellers that you meet will tell you that it is the best way to move safely in a country that is increasing plagued with violence. For me this strange way of travel has become normal fast, too fast. The shuttle buses make travel all too easy and yet somehow I resent that. I miss random conversations, the bump and bounce of a harder path down the road. I feel I’m cheating a little if I arrive somewhere new without having a goat, a small child, or at least someone else’s bags perched on my lap.
And yet that is not to say that shuttle buses cannot offer unique experiences or a share of random themselves. Worlds come to meet in eleven spaces squeezed into cramped rows of seats. Although the lives I find here are usually closer to the home I know, than those that fly past outside the darkened glass window, blurry, complex and little understood.
A guy with crazy hair and an almost suspiciously wrinkle-free shirt climbed onto the Languin shuttle. He sat quiet for a spell and then asked me whether I knew the share of US debt national per person. It was not the usual opener.
I didn’t, looked puzzled. He launched forth with more questions, insistent and probing to see if I was somehow privy to the statistics he felt were being hidden, corrupted.
He said there would be rioting in the streets if people knew the truth. I told him I doubted it, that people like their ignorance a little too much to be fast shaken, whilst ATMs still cough cash, cars run and planes lift off.
I know well how little reality we like, how little we really carry with us from the breakfast news bulletin we wash down with our cooling coffee. We prefer not to see problems until there is a safe solution to hand.
I looked out the window pointedly to end the awkward pause and the hum drum thrum of the road rolling by lulled us into peace for a passage.
The talk turned to crime in Guatemala. The front-seatgirl from the Peacecorps of how she had been mugged at gun point twice, spoke of her vivid fear. She told a story of a friend who had seen a man shot in the head in a bus ride robbery, just so as the other passengers would hand over their valuables with minimal fuss.
Suddenly the sense of threat was present, palpable, and everyone was on edge. I felt the moment as a rising panic that made no sense sitting on a squeaky plastic seat, listening to recycled 90’s dance music, on a shuttle bus with locked doors. And yet I wanted to break for an airport, to make for a place I could believe to be safe, because the falling down world was flooding in my senses.
I could run for the border or flee from the thought, put it aside with the GDP, the recession and the rising price of fuel. But I thought it better to sit with the sensation for a while and let it brew.
I imagined a bad day ending with a statistical misfortune, a bullet in the head. Death was the obvious end and also my anxiety’s answer.
I had to smile when I realised that the fear that would have me run from beauty, challenge, experience, all of this, is ultimately fear of my death – a death that will find me wherever I wait.
I had to laugh at the irony, that through my fear of death, I might rob myself of the chance to live my life. That thought lifted the cloud and let me once again be free.
I may take the odd shuttle bus, walk in groups on dark night roads, leave my bag at home. I may check the door is locked twice and keep half an eye on exits. There may well be moments when I am afraid of things I cannot control.
But I will try to look my fear in the eye, to bare its reality, and let the end to come chase me into living my life rather than running right out of it…
It is strange how we can take so little reality.