Besides a couple cockroaches, everything was going as planned and our documentary was moving along smoothly. Until Guatemala.
We arrived in Guatemala city early in the afternoon after a comfortable ride in our newly found favorite international bus company, Transporte del Sol. (For all of you travelers, it’s a company to keep in mind: super helpful staff who’ll make sure you arrive at your destination safely, you don’t even get out of the bus when you cross borders, and the movies are always so good! This time they showed the French movie Les Intouchables!!). They drop us off at the Sheraton hotel where we begin a half an hour long conversation with the hotel’s four taxi drivers to try to untangle our way to the bus that´ll take us safely to San Andres Itzapa, a small city in the mountains. There we would be recieved by Maya Pedal, an internationally renowned organization that makes pedal-powered machines called Bicimaquinas.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve met many travelers who'd already explored Guatemala. They all loved it here but they also all had stories to tell about people they knew or heard of who got robbed or harassed. Just enough to let my imagination start running wild before arriving. One woman had told us that you shouldn’t take the local buses because they get stopped all the time by robbers since the bus money collector has lots of cash on him. Another woman told us that it’s better to take the local buses because private minibus are often stopped by armed men who block the street and rob everyone since they know it’s full of tourists…GREAT! We also hear much worst stories which I will not share in order to spare your brain. On the other hand, all the people who told us these stories said that they themselves had never had any problems there. When we arrived in Guate we started feeling like these attacks must be relatively rare because we didn’t meet one person who had any bad stories to tell. But after all those stories I already knew where I was going to stash some money if we got stopped and what I would use as a weapon if it came down to needed to use one.
We hop into one of the taxis and eventually find the bus stop for San Andres Itzapa. We pull our heavy load out of the trunk and notice a formerly yellow school bus painted in bright red, orange and turquoise. As it zips by us, we read Itzapa on its front. This doesn't worry us much since we know that they pass every half an hour. We sit down at the café next to the stop to have a drink while waiting the next bus. As we sip a Gallo, one of the local beers, the waitress stares at me with a timid smile. She hasn’t seen many tourists and she keeps telling me I’m pretty. I can’t help to wonder if this reaction isn't a result of having been bombarded with images of women with white skin, lighter hair and lighter eyes through the media. In most adds, people look more white than the majority of the population.
We start chatting with the couple standing near our table. The woman is dressed in a fully traditional outfit. Her guipil, a thick embroidered top is tucked into her colorful skirt (a cloth pulled around her waist and held closed by a belt made of another piece of colorful fabric). We exchange questions about each others' cultures. She and her husband talk to us in broken spanish and I realize that we are all speaking a language that isn't our own. Once in a while they turn to each other when one of them doesn´t understand what we´re saying to translate in Que´chi, their native language. We finish our beer and head out to jump on the next Esperanza bus that passes by.
We make it to San Andres Itzapa without even a single feeling of insecurity. Carrying our bags on our backs with a feeling of solidarity with the heavily loaded horses that pass us by, we ask around for Maya Pedal.
We come face to face with a big, black metal door on which hangs a huge banner annoucing to us that we are in the correct place. A white woman answers the door with a warm smile "Estan volontarios?" she asks with a lisp which reveals that she's from Spain. We explain to her that we're here to do a documentary. Surprisingly, she's heard "all about us and our project already". Oh?
A young man comes to introduce himself as well. His name is Emmanuel and he's the one who works in the shop building bicimaquinas. We tell him that we've exchanged emails with someone named Mario. He'll be back later but we can get settled in our room until then. As we're being showed to our "room", I notice the building is still in construction. There are no windows and some doors haven't been installed yet. We later notice that the walls don't even go up all the way to the ceiling. We're a bit surprised that Mario didn't mention any of this but, since we're not picky, it doesn't stop us.
We plop our things on our bed and a small man with glasses walks in through the door-less front door. Mario greets us with open arms and a huge smile. He almost makes me jump out of my skin from his enthousiasm to see us. He's heading out of the city for a meeting but tells us we can find time the followig day to talk about what we're expecting and what we need to film. He raves about a spanish organization that invited him to Spain in order to work out a deal and start buying bicimaquinas. He's clearly very excited about the prospect of getting alot of money to start building a real team of workers in his shop.
He heads out and we ask Emmanuel about a good place to eat lunch since we're starved. As soon as we mention this another woman pops her head out of the windowless hole in the wall "Hola! Soy Lidia." She's Alicia's girlfriend who's also been volunteering there for a month. They're about to head into town and they offer to show us a good comedor.
We head up the hill to the center of town. They're both from Spain and arrived in Itzapa a month ago to volunteer for Maya Pedal and to learn how to make bicimaquinas. They're travelling with the mission to volonteer where their skills could be useful. In Spain, Lidia works in popular/street education. Alicia works for an Alternative Architecture project called Poblado Cantabro. What's an Alternative Architecture project? It's a place where instead of being told "don't touch anything" you can literally use and touch everything and that's the point. All the ancient tools and huts have been reproduced in order to be used and slept in by groups of kids or tourists who want to feel what it was like to live the way their ancestors used to. I knew then and there that we'd get along.
We walk into a small comedor with five wooden table. We assume they'll move on to run their erronds but they decide to stay with us for a coffee while we eat. Quickly, I realize that they decided to stay longer with us for a reason...So, you're doing a documentary? We explain that our idea would be to interview a woman who uses the bicimaquina and find out how this machine might have contributed to bettering her quality of life and maybe even helped her be more independent and empowered. We explain that this is the idea but that we'll have to see who we meet and what ideas come out of these meetings.
Alicia and Lidia look at each other, questioning each other in silence. Etienne and I laugh at the hestitation they seem to be experiencing. What's going on? "Hablamos de nuestra experiencia con ellos?" they ask each other. They turn to us and decide we should be the ultimate judges. The choice is ours: do we want to know the truth now, or do we want to wait to see things for ourselves? They don't want to affect our experience or documentary negatively but they cleary have a big story to tell.
We obviously choose to know the truth.