Life in Livingston, Guatemala

Located in eastern Guatemala, lies a town at the mouth of the Rio Dulce in the Gulf of Honduras called Livingston. The day was gray and the rain poured heavily. 

I wanted to see the rich land of Guatemala and I received the most authentic experience. I was able to feel what fed the lush greenery sprouting dramatically as the ocean stopped and the land started. I jumped into a small boat, it was very wet and extremely low. I worked through the nerves as we flew and jumped, only to touch the water over and over, atop the endless waves for forty-five minutes. We reached the small port at Livingston. Some locals worked the historic port, others observed the tourists. I kept a vigilant eye on those who were returning the favor. The main street that was lined with merchants selling used toys, worn clothes and groceries in rustic posts. The pace of the town was hectic, but the locals seemed to freeze in time. They sat in front of their businesses and greeted their neighbors. Dogs ran the street as motorcycles zoomed by while the laughter of children filled the air. 

The clash of people, ethnicities and cultures in this small town was clearly divided. Their physical features and tongues were different. The Garifuna are mixed with genes rooted from the West African, Central African, Island Carib and Arawak people. They speak the Garifuna language. The African-Caribbean population are those who come from the Caribbean who are descendants of those native to Africa. Livingston is also home to the Maya. The indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica spoke their tongue of Q'eqchi' quietly and kept to themselves. Ladino people also populated the diverse town. They are of Mestizo and spoke Spanish as they came from hispanic origin. 

I strolled through the town. Some children demanded a photo, posed and cried in laughter when they saw themselves in the camera. I overheard their grandfather tell his friend I shouldn't be alone because kidnapping was on the rise in the town. He spoke in Spanish only a few feet away assuming I did not understand the language. I thanked the children and the family for their smiles and time and moved on feeling more uneasy - but still excited to be there. Once I reached the seventh block, the streets turned calm and housed the curious residents. Some lived in wooden shacks and others in concrete structures, all looking out at the wandering tourist. I noticed a group of young men following me, the same who had approached me when I landed at the port offering a song or souvenirs. I knew it was time to put away my camera so I walked into an empty church to get prepared for the walk back. I strapped myself with essentials in case my backpack was to be taken. 

I headed back near the port. The group of young men followed closely and I crossed eyes with them. They knew, I new, we knew. I walked into a busy restaurant and ordered food to-go but insisted on sitting at a table until it was ready. The men walked in and started to sing and play drums. I did not look away from the young man who spoke to me the moment I arrived and followed me through the town with his friends behind him. He did the same. In the middle of the third song, the waitress brought me my food. I left cash and took off to catch the next boat to the main port. I gave the food to two Mayan girls who chuckled at the situation of a rushing tourist giving away fresh food with a language barrier.

I leaped into the boat and sat almost at eye level to the water. The man maneuvering the boat tapped me on the shoulder in between the bumpy flight over waves. He signaled the clouds overhead - it was going to rain. I packed my camera away and layered a poncho covering my bag as well. 

It poured the heaviest fall. Moments later, the man tapped me on the shoulder again. I looked up at him through the infinite raindrops as I held on the hood of my poncho and leaped over the water with the boat. He handed me a Clorox bottle with the bottom cut off. He demonstrated his fist reach for the bottom and out the boat. I turned forward and got to work using the bottle to relieve the boat of the rain that had collected inside. I laughed, like a deep in my belly type of laugh. Nonetheless, I made it back safely. 

Guatemala, I look forward to laughing with you again. 

Analinda Meneses