We are going to try it again but better prepared than last month’s feckless journey, which ended in ignominy when the wheel fell off. Rather than depend on a series of buses and a local rental vehicle, I’ve rented a more dependable 4X4 SUV and we’ll go from the heights of Antigua (5000 ft)up and over and through Guatemala City and down into the northern department of Zacapa. There is a large difference in climate and at almost 400 feet in altitude, the lands are similar to Arizona. Cactus grows well there, the men wear cowboy boots, hats and sport large belt buckles. The most famous export of the region is the famed rum, Zacapa Centenario and I’ve been told that there is an unusual grouping of people with blond hair and blue eyes. The reason? Supposedly the descendants of the Lost Tribe of Israel, but I find this a bit hard to swallow, unlike the rum. The more likely explanation is that the genes of some northern Spaniards came here with the Conquest.
This time we’ll have more maps, a new field guide to minerals and the usual paraphernalia for a road trip. Captain Vara, my traveling companion of last month, has spent a lot of time over the years in and around Zacapa, and we have reservations to stay at a friends’ finca (farm) near there. It’s a ‘party of four’ this time, including his friend the driver and Alabama Bob, one of my companions from last years’ assortment of monthly journeys into the back country of Guatemala.
Why and where are we headed? Not to some Mayan ruins but in and around the low-lying mountains, in search of tourmaline nodules and crystals, and if there’s time, an exploration to the east, in search of amethyst specimens. That part may be a bit more problematic, given that we’ll be using the same route as smugglers do, bringing in cocaine and immigrants headed north. On the map, supposedly where the deep purple amethyst crystals originate, the border with Honduras appears to be not only a ‘stones throw’ but also a pistol shot away. Let’s hope not.