The only thing missing from this 66-th journal is another 6 ! Livingston turned-out to be nothing short of an evil eden; a pandora’s box of seething social adversity for Guatemala’s Caribbean nerve center. Various resources make the generic claim that crime-related incidents against travelers has improved, and perhaps they have. What that doesn’t take into consideration are blatant, age-old problems of communal catastrophe that could leave visitors caught in the cross-fire; literally!
Progress or not, unsuspecting travelers should acknowledge that issues have taken generations to create, and will require as long to rectify. Bitter roots run deep for The Garifuna; displaced slaves that now populate much of Central America’s Caribbean coast. Scenarios played-out all too familiar in hostile environments usually reserved for urban ghettos of large cities. Per capita, confrontations and risks in this small village turned-out no less.
Even with my galvanized approach towards adventure and open-mindedness, not only was I challenged from assailants but also within my own character! I’ve never considered myself a racist and still don’t, but encountering the Garifunas was certainly cause for questioning self-integrity. Every negative stereotype ever associated with African heritage had been perfected to fault. Over-riding impressions from some ultimately cast the unfortunate labels for all; ambush of the worst kind that only drives the vicious cycle of intolerance.
The town is highly segregated; Garifunas mostly populating the hill and easy-going Guatemalans living in lowlands. Livingston information promotes, encourages culture encounters. I don’t! Antagonistic receptions were distressing enough by day; even from children. Insults and threats may elude travelers that don’t understand Spanish, but there’s no barrier towards feeling downright vulnerable!
Individuals that don’t feel good about themselves could never possibly begin to embrace a stranger; little alone each other. From the moment travelers step onto the dock, the assaults begin. Skirting aggressive touts was like a schoolyard escapade compared to shiftless vultures prowling the streets; circling prey with malevolent tactics of provocation and intimidation.
Cry Me A River…
I’d already scouted at least a dozen hotels and found nothing but over-priced cell blocks. Frustrated and soaked with sweat, I paused on a corner while thumbing through a guidebook. Second mistake was acknowledging the overgrown kid on a bicycle. He mentioned a hotel three blocks away. Deciding to follow, it didn’t take much to realize why the place wasn’t listed.
Heading back towards the coastal road, the guy followed while offering suggestions. Small-talk opened about excursion tours; promise that a $20 deposit would secure a spot with his boss. Reading my general frustration and exhaustion, he insisted on carrying my bag. I declined; suspicions mounting with each step taken and word spoken, in English or Spanish. He was too eager to extend greetings to locals that went unreciprocated, which spoke more truths than obviously he did!
Supposedly there were a couple of hotels further down the coastal road I’d yet to check. They were both Garifuna-owned establishments; one in a run-down old mansion that had potential. The place was huge but something didn’t feel right; especially as the only guest. For one, young receptionist was the first acting friendly to the tout. Gut-instinct warned me if staying, I probably wouldn’t be two-steps back out the door until they were rummaging through my bag.
Starting to get annoyed, I returned to Hotel Caribe. He still followed, including into the joint like he owned the place. As if barking orders wasn’t enough, he required a finder’s fee cut of the $4-rate. Don Alfredo insisted I’d already been there, checked-out the place, and he wasn’t owed anything. The surly Garifuna could’ve crushed the old proprietor with his size, but Don Alfredo wasn’t buying the intimidation tactics. Bullying shifted towards me to collect for hospitality services or whatever, before slamming the door in his face.
Intensity of the moment slowly subsided and finally being settled was enough to calm nerves. Heading-out, kid on the bike was approaching alongside a pair of travelers. Fully engrossed in persuasion, I was thankful not to even register on his radar and wrote-off previous incident as just that.
Enjoying lunch on a porch-front patio, the same guy stopped and demanded I order him a beer. Brazen insolence pissed me off, yet the heated exchange didn’t seem to alarm or concern staff members anymore than his taunting while riding back-and-forth in the street. Throughout remainder of the afternoon, this thug continued appearing out of nowhere; asserting his entitlements to beer and cash.
What this goon wasn’t counting on was squaring-off with a former transplant-from-the-‘hood that understood how the game worked. I knew his type – create a big enough scene and get what he wants, whether from coercion or someone just hoping he’ll go away. I also knew that once someone complied, the tyrant always comes back for more which apparently kept the Guatemalan and expat business owners trembling in fear. No one ever stood-up to these on-going harassments towards me, a browsing/dining customer.
Make no mistake – this guy was not the only Garifuna hassling and hustling travelers in the streets. I’m not sure if there’s some unspoken code for how they divvy-up foreigners, but none of the others even casually approached; obviously marked and claimed by the biggest predator and pretender. After about the second or third round of holding my own, he no longer approached when I was alone but waited for opportune moments when audience was present.
Darkness had barely settled in when returning to the hotel. Don Alfredo was sitting in front, and I pulled up a chair to enjoy the evening over conversation until the nuisance returned; still talking trash about not getting paid earlier in the day. Second bypass involved stopping long enough to demand a beer or else, including physical threats to the both of us. Gaining ferocity, I conceded to buy the damn beer if he’d go the muck away!
Entering a nearby Guatemalan-owned store, this idiot had the audacity to denounce my decision and insist going to a Garifuna bar two businesses away. I absolutely went ballistic in verbally dismantling this kid. People were beginning to congregate but no one dared to intervene even on his behalf. Turning to walk away, he still mandated I buy beer.
He wasn’t backing down until realizing I wasn’t either! With every idle threat of rounding up a posse, getting a gun and coming back to finish me off, I smugly indicated right where I’d be sitting and waiting; even challenged him to make his move right then and there if he was man enough. Thankfully, he wasn’t and didn’t, but talk about a sore loser beaten at his own game! Was I proud? No.
It’s not like I’m some sort of bad ass that goes around looking for a brawl but I was beyond provoked. In a way, it felt like stepping-up to the plate for every Livingston traveler that has ever had to endure such stalking. Don Alfredo never said anything but understanding was mutual. The old man was the only other person I’d seen stand-up to the bully all day! We sat in the street talking for at least another hour, including about these very types of incidents that are crippling tourism.
Up Yours Livingston…
Gunshots outside the hotel room window around 1:00am were at first intense until drifting back to sleep. It really was like some kind of Spanish Harlem flashback...
Up in time to catch a sunrise in solitude while the shiftless still slept, it was dawn of a new day I was actually looking forward to enjoying. Besides, considering riff-raff of all races that seemed to permeate the village, I wrote the alley shooting incident off to pure coincidence; almost laughable knowing my ruffian didn’t have balls enough to stage such an alarm.
While this dirty laundry list would probably have most ready to bolt, I still wanted to do Livingston! Something totally unrelated had me packed and leaving in less than 24-hours. Reserved for one of the daily jungle hikes, I waited almost two-hours for a guide that never showed. Making matters even more insufferable was the insane run-around I got from numerous tourist-related business owners as if in cahoots up to their eyeballs with cluelessness! "Maybe tomorrow," was eventually best I got!
Determined not to waste another single moment in this god-forsaken hell-hole, I headed straight for the docks and was ecstatic to find the last boat out for the day departed in less than an hour. Gathering my things and quickly eating, exodus couldn’t have come quick enough!
And sure enough, there he was at the docks – congregated off to the side with a detestable band of marauders. I defiantly welcomed the eye contact, just hoping he’d be fool enough to say something. No such luck for unloading any extra baggage of wrath and lividness. Rush was on for him to jockey for position at the arrivals dock. Another boat was coming down the river; loaded with fresh prey.