Butterflies of various colors and sizes flittered by. A dime-sized Monarch zipped by quickly, from leaf to leaf, as I reclined on a gray stone outcropping, overlooking the green valley far below. Sweat dripped into my eyes and my light white cotton shirt was soaked. I prayed for a breeze and the water bottle was empty.
We were somewhere south and above the farming town of Salama’ and the towering peak of Cerro La Cruz that overlooks the valley lay further up and west. From the map we were probably some fifteen hundred feet above the thousand foot elevation of the town and we’d been climbing up and up, along dusty footpaths, with our 30’s something driver/guide promising at every turn, “another five minutes.”
He was in good condition and my companion Mynor, a trim and athletic ex-Army captain of age 60 easily kept up with him. Myself, newly turned 70, tailed along behind. I walk four to five miles a day in Antigua but this was my limit: I’m definitely not slim but I’m still a little trim. At last, after a final 5 minute break, and not looking forward to the narrow trail down and back to the river below, I said I’d wait, in what little shade there was. They went ahead, to the river and the promise of finding ‘rocks in three different colors.’ I’d seen rocks of various colors and my interest, at that point, was exhausted for the day. It was noon-time, and it was only going to get hotter.
It had already been a day of frustration. Mynor and I can read topographical maps. No one else had the faintest idea of how to get from here to the other side of the valley, which was the original destination. Our original transportation, a local friend with a four wheel drive vehicle, was suddenly out of town and thus unavailable. As with all excursions aka ‘expeditions’ something invariably goes wrong and this was just another one of those days.
We had made the earlier decision to rent a local pickup truck, aka a ‘flete,’ one of those short-haul Japanese models that was at the end of its’ already abused life and look for minerals in another part of the valley, where the driver assured us that he knew of such. It was a dusty and rusty white, and dented from front to rear and complete with a starred and severely cracked windshield. We bounced along dusty roads to the base of mountain and his concrete block house, sitting up high with views, complete with cement floors and low ceilings that I had to duck under.
The extended family of ten or so, from babies to the usual gray-haired grandmother, thought we were excellent entertainment. Various samples of quartz crystals, some the size of a soccer ball, were brought for our viewing pleasure. Prices were somewhat established and we left through the rear of the multi-roomed house. The ‘kitchen’ was an alcove with an open wood fire, over which tortillas were being cooked. My new camera was heavy in my front pant pocket and I’d forgotten to bring a shoulder bag. It and the water bottle was the only thing I cared about at the moment. Our driver and now a guide and armed with a machete for chopping a trail, led us up and out.
After the ‘up’ and then down again, a few hours later, we loaded in the battered pickup. Locally they’re known as ‘$50 dollar trucks’ per their condition. Mynor had bought more than an armful of specimens, including the soccer balled sized quartz crystal. The price, he admitted to me later, was very very low, less than $12 for everything. I’d come to find that he was a serious collector, more so than I had known.
We bounced, rattled and shook our way back into the dusty streets of southern Salama’ until we were almost to our hotel. I had the dubious pleasure of riding in the front seat, while Mynor rode in back.
Suddenly I heard and felt a loud metallic-sounding noise in front of me and the right side of the truck dipped ominously. This was more than just your every day blow-out: it was the entire right front wheel saying ‘adios’ as it detached itself and lay at an expensive angle in the middle of the cobblestone road.
The street was blocked and we were close enough to walk to the hotel. I was ready for another cold shower (the as advertised hot water wasn’t) and an early cocktail of rum and no (as advertised) ice. Heavy on the rum and water: fluid replenishment is everything in the field and my clothes were still damp with sweat. I gave the driver, who was now jacking up the front end with a borrowed hoist a double fee of the agreed upon sum of 70 quetzals or now about eighteen dollars. He’d need it and I needed ‘fluids,’ a shower and a change of clothes (my last such as packed).
After a day of arduous travel, from Antigua to the other side of Guatemala, and a day of ups and downs, we agreed to leave in the morning. It had been one of those trips and I was ready for my own hot shower and cool patio (with ice nearby). We’re making plans to return next month and try again. There is tourmaline deposits nearby, which we’d missed but I won’t miss the hiring of another pickup, no matter how cheap it might be. He probably wouldn’t want to see us anyway.