Skip to content

the travelling gringa roadshow

I ride until dusk on the lookout for a likely camp spot without seeing anything that really looks like it would work. I am slightly nervous because I am in a new country and everybody keeps repeating black stories about what they feel might be in store for me in Guatemala. It is almost dark when I pass through another village and decide to experiment with the publicly visible approach to free camping.

I ask some women standing by the road if I can camp in school grounds. They direct me to the house of the school administrator and I repeat the question. The man looks me up and down and shrugs indifferently which I take to be permission and I go and search among the rocky field, dotted with school buildings and various domestic animals, for the most promising place to put up my tent. Eventually, I settle on a flattish patch of ground close to one of the buildings.

A few people stand on the edges of the field, clearly riveted by my strange doings. I put up my tent and start to cook as a group of small girls edges closer to me. Eventually I invite them to join me promising that I won’t bite and they form a circle around me, regarding my every action closely. My food pannier is almost entirely bare so my dinner consists solely of pasta seasoned with garlic, salt and chilli, followed by a mango and some sweet biscuits.

The girls question me on various subjects. They are astonished that I will sleep in the tent.

I finish my dinner, clean up as best I can in the absence of a source of water, and then the girls collectively suddenly get up and leave. A group of men have gathered on the other side of the field to play basketball on the ball court. It occurs to me that I am camped in what amounts to the village square.

I retreat to the tent for lack of anything else to do and to avoid the persistent mosquitoes circling me. I am reading when I hear people approaching.

“Buenos noches!”

The greeting is repeated several times. I emerge from my tent to find a sizable group of people standing around it. This time there are grown ups as well as children among the crowd. One man is the main spokesperson and he asks me all the questions that I get asked – where I come from, where I am going, why am I alone, why aren’t I scared, what is my profession… We talk for some time with the rest of the circle hanging on every word. Eventually the people take their leave and I get back into the tent.

I return to my book but soon I hear more movement and, peering out of my tent, I see a couple of dogs nearby. Worried for my food pannier, I unzip the mosquito netting and hurl a rock in their direction and immediately hear another greeting. It is the woman who I first spoke to on entering the village.

She approaches, accompanied by a small child, and sits at the door of my tent. Rather inhospitably I don’t unzip the mosquito netting and we converse through it. Don’t I want to come and sleep inside, she enquires. I explain that since I have set up my tent and arranged all my things for the night it would be a lot of effort to do so at this stage.

We converse for some time, covering a wide range of topics: politics, economics, and what, in some circles, is referred to as ‘development’. She is in her thirties, un-married and childless which is something of an anomaly for any Guatemalan woman but especially one in a rural village. I don’t question her too closely about the whys and wherefores of her status but I find it intriguing. Eventually, we bid each other goodnight and she and the boy disappear.

In the morning, I wake as the sun rises and set about packing up. I leave before the village stirs and I wonder what they, collectively, will make of my visitation. Many cycle tourists regularly camp in school grounds and public places but I don’t think that it is something that I will make a habit of.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *