Somewhat bored with my own internal monologues, I sought alternative company in a bar. My guidebook said it was one of the liveliest local spots, but its handful of customers suggested we were off-season. I drank a few Cuba Libras with two middle-aged American teachers – Suzanne and Harriet. A world away from home, they were frustrated only by the lack of a marijuana to help them giggle and forget.
We were joined by Gary – a compatriot with whom they shared a wary acquaintance, but little else beyond their nationality. I suspected they voted on opposite ends of the political spectrum. When he left the room, they warned me with whispered urgency to watch my step. Gary, it seemed, was ‘a little bit intense’.
Gary spoke terrible Spanish in a low growl. The barman – to whom he addressed much of his aggressive banter – looked nervously at the holstered handgun. Its owner was on one of his drinking sessions – a situation only enjoyed by him. He was also a bad drunk which is rarely a good thing with a man carrying a pistol.
My eyebrow rose in surprise when he explained that he ‘did a lot of work with the orphanages in the area’. I hoped this didn’t mean he was building up his client base. I asked him about his previous work. He told me, with a wry smile, that he had spent a lot of time ‘making good’ in Chad and Angola during the ’70s and ‘80s. Something rang a bell, but it didn’t peal loudly enough to stop me saying:
‘Doing what? Just backpacking about?’
He laughed involuntarily.
He hadn’t been backpacking.
The thought clarified in my mind that Chad and Angola were less on the adventure trail than countries that popped up under the Bad News Abroad section of the newspapers. Suddenly, working in orphanages sounded less ironic than a possible source of redemption for a Terrible Human Being. And Guatemala was perhaps not just a high-value retirement destination for Westerners, but an excellent place to hide from the international authorities.