I often get asked whether I’m not afraid to walk by myself on the roads and trails surrounding Copán. The answer is: no. Not that I’m not aware of the risks or that I’m naive, it’s just that I know where I go and I know most of the people I meet. Or better said, they know me. At least half of them are ex-students of mine, the rest are relatives of ex-students of mine or people I dealt with at some point of my life. I think it helps that I walk with my dog (not that Luca would do much to protect me, but ssssshht, let’s keep that between us!) and that people know I’m not a rich gringa. A crazy gringa, maybe, but not much that would justify an assault. Let’s hope it stays that way…
Nonetheless, I’m always careful and keep a worst case scenario in mind. There are places I rather not walk and times you should avoid hiking alltogether, such as Sunday afternoons when you’re prone to meet a bunch of drunks. Not necessarily dangerous, but not much fun either.
Last Saturday I had no intention to walk anywhere, but I didn’t have much choice. I had finished painting a mural at a school at about 45 minutes walking from Copán, and was waiting for my ride. But my ride, usually very reliable, never showed. Nor did any moto-taxi, which didn’t surprise me, because they’re never there when you need them, that’s a law. I kept on calling my guy, but after thirty minutes or so I gave up and decided to walk home. I wasn’t happy about it. It was late afternoon, but still soaring hot and I was exhausted after a full day of painting. I also carried a heavy bag with me (at least my paint and ladder were locked up at the school) and I wore the wrong shoes. Not that there’s anything amiss with my ancient, paint-splattered favourite Converse All Stars, it’s just that the soles are so thin, I could feel every pebble on the road. So thin, actually, I could even feel the chewing gums stains and tell the flavour. But anyway, I didn’t have a choice. Luca wasn’t happy either. Normally she wouldn’t turn a walk down, but she’d played around all day long with kids and dogs, without a chance to cool off in the river. But off we went.
Thankfully, the road was quite flat, except for one hill I had to climb. And I was just about to reach the top of it when four guys appeared. I didn’t recognize them, but registered that they were not carrying machetes, which was good. However, I didn’t like the fact that the guy up front stopped the others for a moment and then headed straight towards me, placing his hand under his shirt, into his waistband. Was he carrying? Was there a way out? What did the others do?
Shit. There was no way out and they were all headed towards me. But then I realised that guy #1 wasn’t reaching for his gun, but putting his shirt inside his pants.
“Where are you coming from?” he asked.
“Oh, I just painted a mural over there at the school,” I answered.
“¡Oh! Are you from Spain???”
“No, actually I’m from Holland.”
“Aaaahh! ¡Una Holandesa de Holanda! So you’re not Spanish?”
“No, I’m quite Dutch”, was my reply.
By then he had grabbed my arm with both hands.
“You know, I LOVE YOU!” he said.
The second guy also grabbed my arm and said:
“I love her too!”
The first guy turned around and said, “No! I love her! I said it first!!!”
Guys number 3 and 4 joined the gang and also declared their love. My turn to politely decline and say thank-you-very-much-but-I have-to-go. They reluctantly let go of my arm. When I reached the top of the hill, I turned around. The four guys were still standing there, all waving good-bye.
The rest of the walk was hot, tedious and long, but otherwise uneventful. When I finally walked into town, I passed the house of my driver. He was sitting on the porch, enjoying a beer and the cool breeze the approaching night brought in.
“Hey!” he said, “I thought you’d call me to pick you up!”
I gave him a look that could kill and said I did, about a hundred times.
“Oh…” His face fell. “Right… I left my cell phone in my car… But at least you got some exercise!”
Another dagger look from my part before I continued home, to a decent bathroom, a couch and an ice-cold beer. On Sunday I stayed in. Enough exercise for the week. Even Luca agreed.