02-Jan-2010 -- This is the third out of a series of five confluence visits that we attempted during a three-week vacation in Mexico and Guatemala.
After we had visited 17°N 96°W, we continued our trip further east. It didn't appear to be difficult to reach this confluence, after reading the harmonic and untroubled report of the previous visitors, who had been given a ride from locals almost to the confluence and who had been invited for hot tortillas. However, one should always be prepared for the unexpected.
At 7 a.m. we started in the City of Tapachula, which is 25 km beeline from the confluence on Mexican territory. With our rental car, we reached the border to Guatemala quickly. Here, we encountered our first problem, which would bring us behind schedule: the border control didn't let us take our car into Guatemala. It took 4 long hours at the border until we gave up. Finally we parked the car in a lot and crossed into Guatemala on foot as backpackers.
From the border we took a shared taxi (collectivo) to the town Malacatán (11 km beeline from the confluence). At 2:30 pm we set off from Malacatán with another shared taxi towards the CP. We knew it was quite late, but this is a typical situation: one is attempted to rather race against the time than taking it relaxed and staying one more night. So we went with this initially very crowded jeep, who brought about 20 people back to their homes into the remote villages north-east of Malacatán. The road was so miserable that even a jeep had trouble.
After a while all other passengers had been dropped off and we were the last passengers to remain in the jeep until we reached the gate of Finca Santa Teresa (2.3 km from the confluence point). Now it was 3:30 pm and we had still a height difference of 700 m to cover. Without any hesitation we decided that Eleonora would wait at the gate, while I would run to the point. I promised to be back within 2 hours.
Elionora sat there waiting for me with two rucksacks at the gate. When it started raining she went to a nearby house, where an old lady and a young girl offered her shelter. When two hours had past, she got worried because Rainer always kept his promise to be back in time. To her surprise there was mobile connection. Her call brought bad news: Rainer said just two sentences: that he wasn't sure if he would survive this day and that she should by no means come alone for helping, only accompanied by the police.
Half way up the mountain I came though a tiny village named Alta Mira (1200 m height, 1.3 km from the confluence). I had almost left the village already (running), when I was shouted at. From the tone of the voice, it was clear that I had to stop and explain what I was doing here. My Spanish is extremely basic and in consideration that the villagers had never seen a GPS receiver nor knew about our grid system, my explanation wasn't very successful. More and more suspicious and angry people gathered around me. In some faces I encountered hatred building up towards me. They asked, what I was looking for? Why I dared to come here? Where my permission and documents were? What ever I said, it all just added to their suspiciousness. They argued that a normal tourist would never come here. And anyways, I was trying to photograph and document a mysterious point in their forest.
As I was told that US-Americans where trying to built a dam nearby, which would – in their opinion – take all their water that is essential to irrigate their farms. And I was – for sure – the guy who was exploring the area for this purpose. Now all their hatred that had been accumulated over the years found a victim.
Some men began to search through my little bag and confiscated my camera. This sent the signal to the crowd that everything could be done to me. Dignity was lost. My pockets were searched through and I was deported further up to a single house (the school). Here the real nightmare began: I was threatened alternately with a machete, a hanging rope, or a club. Now there was opportunity for everyone to push me or yell at me. Even an old woman in traditional indigena dressing berated me. More people added to the crowd, some of them had obvious hatred in their eyes and would not even talk to me. Time went by. I had told my story 10 times already, namely that my wife was waiting for me just 1 km further down and that she was having my “documents”.
An emotional discussion among the people within the crowd began. The topic was what should be done with me. In the meantime I was standing alone aside. A young woman with a Christian cross around her neck gave me some hope. From her facial expressions I felt that she would be on my side. But certainly she was not the decision maker. From a short downpour I had gotten wet and cold, but nobody dared to offer Satan help.
Suddenly my mobile phone rang. I was given back my phone. My wife asked why I wasn't coming because two hours had already passed. I explained her quickly that my life was in danger and that she should come with the police only. I told the crowd that my wife would come and bring the documents that they wanted to inspect.
Nightfall came. The situation changed over the time, people came, others went away. To my concern all the women had gone and a majority of unpredictable youngsters had fun to “play” with me.
Elionora hadn't succeeded in calling the police in the lower village. The phone number that she had gotten seemed to be incorrect. So she went to the “village chief” instead, who didn't call the police either. He took on his boots and started to climb the mountain with his rifle shouldered.
Suddenly – after waiting long hours - a crowd of very angry men came to the house and forced Elionora to climb up the mountain. But she remembered Rainer's words, saying that she would not go without police. She resisted as much as she could, but finally agreed to go when a friendly, English-speaking man appeared as well.
It was deep night. I was already very exhausted from this never ending interrogation, when a man with a rifle appeared. He was of course not able to change the situation, but after some discussions, it was agreed that everybody should go down where my documents were. I walked in front, the crowd behind me. Since the village Alta Mira didn't have electricity, people were using flambeaus. When I turned my head around, I saw a torchlight procession behind me that consisted of perhaps 100 lights. Once in a while someone pushed me from behind. Also this didn't add to my speed, it was symbolic for the emotion that still existed among the local people.
Instead of going back to Finca Santa Teresa, I was guided to another place called Nuevo Horizonte. In the main square of the village, we began to wait for Elionora. About 200 people young and old, mostly farmers, were all waiting curiously deep in the night for my wife to appear in order not to miss what would happen with the intruder.
Finally she came. The crowd gathered tighter around us. Elionora began a great speech and the English speaker translated for her. She told the story about our travels in many countries all over the world and about our project of documenting confluences.
Now a kind of instantaneous court hearing began. Elionora, me and the concerned farmers from Alta Mira took seats in a room with chairs along three sides of the room. One man behind a desk took notes into a big book. The whole story was taken down. During this process, the police arrived. Three policemen and a policewoman took over the lead in this lawsuit. To our defence, the pictures in our camera didn't show anything for concern, just some Mexican pyramids and Christmas pictures with my family. In fact, I hadn't taken any picture in Guatemala yet. After another hour of interrogation, the situation calmed down. The police was obviously on our side, but they had to respect the concerns of the villagers and they could not finish the trial until all questions had been asked.
It was one o'clock in the night, when we were freed. Our camera was given back to us and we said farewell to the people with handshake! Indeed, all looked like a happy ending. We accepted the offer from the police to bring us back to a hotel in Malacatan.
The story so far doesn't explain why all pictures of the previous confluence visits are lost. After this incident we decided to stay on the tourist path. Therefore we went straight to the tourist Mecca Antigua. The next day, we went for a day trip to Volcán de Agua which had been recommended in our guidebook. However, we didn't get very far. On a remote stretch of the track (less than half way to the top), two hooded guys appeared suddenly from the bushes. They both threatened us with long machetes and forced us to give away all our belongings. You could call this a classical robbery. Just one minute and they were back to their hideouts.
On our way back, we saw three men – probably engineers – wearing T-shirts from the telephone company Trigo. We told them with emotion about our robbery, but they found it rather funny.
The police in Santa María de Jesús (which is the village 500 m from the crime scene) didn't really cooperate. After we had explained our case, a lady officer tried to enter our data into a sheet on the computer, but she somehow failed and gave up after 15 minutes of trying. Finally, she wrote everything down by hand in order to enter it later. We should come back after two days in order to receive our police report!
Every time we tell our story, people are concerned about our loss and ask us what had been taken away from us. Even though a good camera, a GPS receiver, and money where gone, this all is not comparable to what happened to our minds. I said to Elionora: I aged 5 years.
Somehow our joy over travelling was lost now. This is the real harm, because travelling has always been an important part of our lives.
CP Visit Details:
- Minimal distance according to GPS: 1.3 km
- Topography: at a steep mountain territory.
- Weather: overcast, rain, 10° C (felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: In Guatemala's south-west near the border to Mexico and close to Guatemala's highest volcano Tajumulco.
- Given Name: The Eternised Capture Confluence
Story continues at 18°N 93°W.