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Finding Guaranja

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It’s not easy to find a certain village in the northeast of Guatemala. The road markers are either painted over or they’re used for target practice, as this is one of the many smuggler’s routes from nearby Honduras. If one started in Guatemala City and drove some 80+ miles on CA-9, the major route to Puerto Barrios, the town called Gualan is just over the other side of the muddy Motagua River.

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This is cowboy and cattle country, in the district they call Zacapa. Guatemala’s most famous rum is produced here and the men wear Wrangler’s, big belt buckles and carry pistols: a lot of pistols,
as the law is stretched very thin in these parts and it’s easier to solve any problems at the point of a gun.

Gualan is a dusty hillside village and the center for services such as shopping, banking and replacing ropes and spurs. To find the road for Guaranja (accent on the 2nd syllable) you’ll have to ask for directions: it’s past the old pool hall, over the disused tracks of what once was United Fruits’ banana train and up the hill. In about a kilometer, on the right is a full size cement statue of a demented looking Santa Claus. This is officially RD-5 although it isn’t marked on any maps and Google can’t help very much. In another seven kilometers, once over the river and up along the narrow two-lane blacktop, the sign for Guaranja and La Laguna appears.

Down to the right is a steep concrete narrow road and across the valley lies the village. Welcome to rural Guatemala, where the water is scarce and guns go off in the night. The people are friendly, pigs run loose and this is where the old Land Rover sits by the river, up to its axles in mud and in a pig pen. The main object was to leave Antigua for the remainder of Holy Week, bring some used clothing for relatives and find a few days of peace and quiet. If the Land Rover was deemed salvageable, then that was a plus. Next: Grandma eats live scorpions and the place where 84 year old Jorge died, in a hail of bullets. They say it was 12 more or less, depending on who’s counting.

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