The loss of my Huichol bolsa (see Part 1) was more of a psychic blow than anything serious. There is always certain anxiety when traveling, particularly in a foreign country where one may not be familiar even with the geography, let alone the language or the customs, concerning control of one's possessions; a bag carried casually around a strange city may contain vital items that cannot be replaced simply by going home and picking up a spare. Money is of course paramount, but there may be strategically important things that simply cannot be replaced.
I had been quite shocked to arrive at home after our excursion to San Juan to find that the Huichol bag was not among the several bags we were carrying around. It had never even occurred to me that it might be missing. The most important possession it contained was the notebook containing the record of our trip; this was the basis of the blog I wanted to publish so as to give background for Carolina's paintings.
As I lay in bed later, sleepless, thinking about the notebook, I decided that I had better come to terms with the loss, or ruin a beautiful day, not to mention the trip itself. After all, the bag was old. The phone and the glasses could be replaced. The little painting by Juan Mendoza was only a token. The notebook, important as it was, could be written around. I began to think of the blessings in my life: my health, my relation with Carolina, my wonderful friends, our kids, the excitement that we still felt in our work. All in all, I am a lucky man, right? The real blow was to my amour propre, the fact that in this case at least I was not quite the smart fellow I pretended to be. Can’t even hang on to his treasures. I was always leaving the bag somewhere and having to retrieve it; this occasion simply happened to be more painful than most, since I was in a spot where it could not be so easily fixed. Too bad about you, Cliff. You are still as lucky as anyone on the planet. I drifted off to sleep and woke up in the morning with a plan for making a final effort to retrieve the bag; if it didn’t work, I was ready to move on.
I wrote a message in Spanish offering a reward – Q. 300 – for the bag. I saved it on a flash drive, which I packed with an old notebook and some scotch tape in one of Carolina’s new bags. She came with me into town to buy some more minutes on her phone, and when we had them I immediately called my own missing phone, but it didn’t answer. I went to a cyber café and printed a dozen copies of the reward message, called our tuk-tuk driver Pablo, and started for San Juan, stopping first at a laundry to see if I had left the bag there before leaving the previous day. I hadn’t. I offered Pablo 100 Q. to stick with me throughout the day, trying to hunt down the tuk-tuk driver who had brought us home, visiting the places we had gone to the previous day, and posting the reward messages around town. That plan immediately failed when, halfway to San Juan, we were met by a blockade; the tuk-tuk drivers of San Juan, apparently feeling overrun by tuk-tuks from San Pedro, had decided not to let them in. Police were present to keep order, but did not take sides in the dispute. I had to get out, Pablo turned back, and I switched to a San Juan driver.
His name was Arturo and he proved to be very helpful; we quickly visited all of the places I had been yesterday, but no one had seen the bag, though they all remembered me. We began taping reward notices to poles and buildings. And then, wonder of wonders, Arturo discovered our driver from the night before. We recognized each other immediately, and he told me that he specifically remembered that I had had the bag when I left his tuk-tuk for the San Pedro restaurant where we ate dinner. I believed him immediately; he was pleasant and friendly and seemingly free of guile. Arturo and I retraced our steps and took down all of the reward messages, and he then took me to the blockade on the road, where I transferred to a San Pedro driver for the trip home.
But first we stopped at the restaurant. If I had had the bag when I left the tuk-tuk, and didn’t have it when I got home, it had to be there, despite what they had told me the night before; but it wasn’t. Dispirited, I continued home to report non-success. That adventure was over. Carolina made one last call to my phone and left a message on it, but it was a feeble gesture, dotting the final i and crossing the final t.
The next afternoon I decided to write down as much as I could remember of what had happened. It proved easier than I had thought and I had just reached the part about our arrival at ASOAC when Carolina’s phone rang. I heard her chatting in Spanish. ¿Que dices amigo?¿Tu tienes la bolsa? ¿Donde estas?
I went downstairs and between the two of us we determined that not only had the caller found the bag but had gotten Carolina’s message and was on his way to our house on his motorcycle – his girlfriend lived just down the road – at that very moment. He said he could meet us outside our front gate in five minutes.
I was at the same time excited and suspicious. The time was already past 6:30 and it was completely dark; tropical latitudes do not have the long spring and summer evenings we are accustomed to in the States, and Guatemala does not observe daylight savings time. The house where we are staying is on a deserted passage of the road far from town. Could it be a trap? Could the caller have found the bag and be trying to leverage his good fortune? Nevertheless he clearly had the bag. If I refused to meet him I would never see it again. Still, if he was on the up and up, it was a great opportunity.
I talked it over with Carolina and we agreed to give it a try. “I’m going with you,” she said. I pulled three 100-quetzal notes out of my wallet, since the fellow certainly deserved a reward, stuck them in my pocket, got a flashlight, and we climbed up to the gate. It was very dark, though there were lights at the Hotel Santa Maria, a few yards down the road. This was not really reassuring, since the Santa Maria, so far as I can see, never has any guests and we never see any staff. Still, as agreed, we walked to the hotel and waited. Overhead, Venus and Jupiter were continuing their celestial dance. A tuk-tuk came by, but it was not our caller. A minute, two minutes, five; then the purr of a low-power bike and we could see his headlight coming at us. He rolled into the hotel lights, and there, slung over his shoulder, was my bag. I could barely believe it.
“You’ve got it!” I cried. “¡Tu tienes mi bolsa!”
“Si, claro.” And he handed it over with a smile. Everything was in it. He was clearly not a thief or a thug. I yelped with glee and thrust the 300 queztals on him with multiple expressions of thanks. Then he solved the mystery; he had found the bag, he said, in the road the night before. It must have fallen out of Pablo’s tuk-tuk. He had not called earlier, or answered our calls, because he had had to work during the day.
A friendly discussion ensued. Like all Guatemalans, he wanted to know where we were from and how long we planned to stay in his town. We told him about Jose Antonio Mendez and his art school where Carolina is volunteering; and he replied Es mi primo, he’s my cousin. More exclamations of surprise and joy. Eventually he moved on to see his girlfriend and we returned to the house. I was in tears with gratitude for his kindness and friendliness, which are typical of all the Guatemalans we have met. These are people upon whom our country had inflicted 35 years of terror and civil war, but they treat us as though that were no longer important. I am more sure than ever that we have a lot to learn from these people, Maya, indigenous Americans who ask the right to live their traditional ways in peace.
I thought of Jose Antonio and his valiant efforts to help the poor kids of San Pedro; one of his pupils lives in a one-room house with his mother, his aunt, his grandmother, and eight siblings and cousins. Another lives literally in a hole in the ground. I thought of the women weavers who endured terror and massacres, and today weave their stories into cloth. I thought of Beethoven, and the Ode to Joy. Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!