I've been pretty good about running while I have been in Guatemala (I figured I'd take a brief break from writing about racism and violence). The only places I didn't go running were Santa Eulalia (streets are extremely steep, and the second time I was there I had to get up at 1:30 a.m. to catch a 2:15 bus), Barillas (flatter, but because of the controversies and divisions in town, I didn't want to call even more attention to myself as a foreigner by traipsing around in tight, brightly colored running gear), and Alta Verapaz. The first morning we had been sleeping out of doors after failing to be allowed through the roadblock at Raxruhá, and while I woke up early, there was no place to change, and the person in charge of our group kept on saying, every fifteen minutes or so, that they were going to give us breakfast and then the buses were leaving right away. Breakfast never came, and about 2 hours passed before we actually left but I didn't want to take any chances. The next morning we had to catch a 4 a.m. bus, so again no time to run (I did want to get a few hours' sleep, and since the aldea where we were staying had a pretty rutted and rocky dirt road, I wouldn't have trusted myself to run along it in the pitch dark (it was temptingly flat, however; the only place other than la Sexta and the town center of Barillas that have been pretty much completely flat).
However, here is something you will never see me do: running at night alongside a heavily trafficked stretch of the Panamerican highway, on the outskirts of Guatemala City. When I saw a man doing just this, two days ago as I drove in, I was both admiring of his dedication and amazed at his recklessness. It seemed to me that the potential benefit of cardiovascular exercise was outweighed by the risks that some obnoxiously aggressive driver would decide to use the skimpy shoulder in order to pass on the right, or make a third lane where there wasn't one.
Running along La Sexta in Guatemalan City in the early morning on a weekday exposes a slightly different side of the city and the Centro Histórico: workers, schoolgirls in the obligatory plaid kilts and sweaters or sweatshirts, some with their boyfriends nearly draped around their shoulders, others walking alone or in pairs. About a dozen street sweepers, outfitted in fluorescent green municipality-issued vests, pushing water along the edge of the street; cheaper to hire dark-skinned people to do it by hand than purchase machinery. Other joggers, a mixture of men and women, chugged their way up and down the pedestrian strip. A few ambulatory vendors stood at intersections holding out plastic trays of individually wrapped hard candies or gums.
Driving down here two nights ago I passed through Chimaltenango just after dark, which gave me a more complete view of the red light district just before the newly-constructed overpass that takes you over the turn-off for Antigua. Within one block, I saw three young women displaying three very different forms of vestment. All were phenotypically indigenous (it is hard to tell from skin, eye and hair color alone how a person would choose to identify herself). All were standing in or in front of doorways covered with flimsy curtains and the rooms behind - as much as I could see from a moving car which I was driving -- did actually seem to have red lights, or the walls or curtains were somewhere in the red family. One wore something tight and skimpy. The second wore a corte and huipil. The third wore a schoolgirl's kilt. Whether or not she actually was a schoolgirl or simply dressed as one to satisfy customers' fantasies remains unknown to me. At the end of the block, a small Pentecostal church.
More snippets later.