Nice Cars and Machete Scars

In the afternoon storm, the dust had turned into mud. Even the station's hawkers were quiet, sheltering from the rain with their badly made necklaces, buckets of homemade sweets and imitation sunglasses.

I was trying to reach Copán Ruinas, the location of some spectacular Mayan ruins. It had been a long day of travelling, and almost everything had gone wrong. The first taxi in Tegucigalpa ripped me off and took me to the wrong place. Then, after 6 hours in an uncomfortable seat I missed the stop for my connecting bus and had to backtrack, adding an extra hour of travel time.

Changing buses was confusing and unpleasant. Hustlers stood next to dozens of dirty old yellow busses, screaming their destinations over the top of each other. When they saw me, there was a buzz of excitement as they envisaged the inflated fares I would pay. One man took me by the shoulders, dragging me to his bus, and at the same time, another took my backpack and pulled in the opposite direction. I struggled to escape as the two men began shouting at each other in incomprehensible Spanish. Angry and stressed, I boarded one of the busses despite not being entirely sure if it was the right one.

As the storm began the bus flung forward carelessly on the slippery road, missing other vehicles by centimetres. Despite the breakneck speed, I wasn’t sure I’d make the last bus to Copán Ruinas. I looked up the next town in my battered guidebook in case I had to stay the night. The town was only mentioned as a place to avoid, since it was on the cocaine trafficking route and described as dangerous. Considering this, I was relieved when we arrived with five minutes to spare before the last bus left. It was only once I had disembarked that I realised that there were two bus stops in the town, and I was at the wrong one.

Standing in the rain, my backpack heavy on my shoulders, I started to cry. I had no idea where the other station was; let alone how to get there quickly. Panicked, I started walking in one direction, and then the other. Finally I gave up, standing motionless in the rain. As the feeling of desperation began to descend into hopelessness, I heard something wonderfully familiar. For the first time all day, someone was speaking to me in English. I spun around so fast my boots left wet circles in the mud.

A man had greeted me through the window of his silver four-wheel drive. “Where are you going?” he asked, speaking perfectly but with a distinct Honduran accent. Feelings of hope and relief flooded back as I realised he could help me. When he offered to drive me to the other station, I jumped in the car straightaway.

Revelling in the comfort of being understood without difficulty, I didn’t even consider the implications of a lone female accepting a ride from a stranger in a dangerous place. I told him that I was going to Guatemala next. “Be careful,” he said, and he pulled down his collar to expose a dark, thin scar. “There are bad people there,” he explained. When he told me the scar was from a machete, it dawned on me. Not only was I in a car with a stranger, but one who had a scar from a machete on his neck.

I suddenly noticed how nice his car was; it was too nice for Honduras. Even the fact that he spoke English was suddenly suspicious. Remembering the warnings in the guidebook, I realised that he was probably one of the notorious drug lords responsible for making this town dangerous. Panicking, I started looking for an escape. As I stared at the door handle I felt the car pulling to a stop, and a sense of dread descended over me.

“This is it,” he said, pointing to the busses in front of us. In disbelief, I jumped out of the car. Lifting my pack for me, the man took me to the correct bus, and offered to buy me a drink for my journey onward. There was a huge smile on my face as I politely refused, and thanked him profusely. Soon I would be in touristic Copán Ruinas, where I would collapse in a comfortable bed in a safe hostel. Who would believe that I’d hitchhiked with a narcotrafficker, and he’d been kind and generous?

J Williams

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