THE GUATEMALAN BORDER The soldier had the
look of a bulldog. He rested his arm on the dented,
scratched automatic weapon strapped across his chest
and drummed his chubby fingers on the barrel. He
barked abruptly in Spanish, "You have crossed the
bridge and must pay the toll," as he reached back for a
tattered receipt book from the waist of his jungle-green
Amanda rolled her eyes upward and gave the faintest
hint of a sinister smile, a sign obvious to me, but the
soldier had no idea. "Why should we pay?" she yapped
back in Spanish.
He tilted his black beret away from his hepatitis-yellow
eyes as he impatiently thumbed the receipt book.
"This is a toll bridge. You must pay or go back to
Amanda reached across in front of me and pointed
through my window to the fast-moving traffic crossing
the bridge. "Why must we pay when these cars can just
I sat dumbly silent and he gave me a disdainful look
that insinuated, "I see who wears the pants here."
He pointed with his thumb and offered halfheartedly,
"I know all of these drivers, they are uh, taxis. They
have already paid the toll."
I decided to speak up for the first time in my limited
Spanish. "¿Cuanto cuesta, el..."
Amanda interrupted, "No, Rich, no."
The soldier grasped on to my question. "It is 150
I calculated the price in my head and said to Amanda
out of the side of my mouth, "A little more than twenty
She exploded from the passenger seat, "¡Veinte
dolares! We're not paying that!"
The soldier opened his eyes wide and jerked his head
back in surprise. "You must pay or you will go back."
Amanda leaned across from the passenger seat and
pointed forward, telling him, "No, we will not pay and
we will go ahead."
The soldier moved in closer. "You will pay or you will
Amanda moved even closer, purposely taunting him
like a Chihuahua behind a fence. "We will NOT pay,
and we WILL go forward." She turned to me and said in
English, "Roll up your window and let's get out of here."
I looked at her in disbelief. This was a soldier with a
machine gun, and we were entering Guatemala, a
country in civil war. Surely he would have plenty of
practice shooting that gun, and not just target practice.
This was all foreign to me. Was I missing something?
I hesitantly began to roll up my window and the soldier
put his broad hand on the edge to stop it. "¡PAY!"
Amanda yelled, "¡NO!"
This was absurd. I felt trapped between two four-year-
olds in a sand box, fighting over a toy.
He made a last attempt in his drill sergeant voice,
Amanda pointed forward and yelled triumphantly,
"Richard, move it!"
I was terrified. "Are you sure?"
My heart was pounding. I smashed the pedal to the
floor and nearly crashed into the traffic as I looked in
the mirror to see if the soldier had raised his gun.
Amanda let out a strange little laugh of exhilaration and
fear. I watched in panic as he raised his hands in the
air, then moaned with relief when he rested them on his
Numb with adrenalin, I drove into the chaos of the
town of Melchor de Mencos, with no idea where we
were heading. My mind was racing. â€œWhat am I
doing here in Guatemala? Why would any sensible
person subject himself to this? And who is this person
next to me?
What have I gotten myself into?
|Chapter 1 One Hundred and Fifty Quetzels
Women Washing Laundry Near Antigua
At the Market in Chichicastenango
A Coke and a Smile
Chichicastenango Flower Market
One of Many Processions During Lent
Men Chatting at a Gas Station
|A Little Girl Wearing a
Traditional Head Wrap
a signed copy