Garifuna Settlement Day Parade, Livingston, Guatemala

Saysha: What Happened?

There was darkness down there, and places with only the shadows of darkness. A few bare, low-watt bulbs dangled here and there in the empty outdoor pavilions by the bay, their feeble rays crushed by the black, rain-soaked sky.

People hung around in what appeared to be lounges sitting high on rickety stilts, no lights there either. They may have been people’s living rooms. I wasn’t certain of anything.

Turns out the “drink” I thought I bought my new lady friend in Gamboa Place on the bay was a full pint bottle of Garifuna rum, strong and heavily seasoned with a thicket of roots and herbs stuffed inside the bottle with the liquor. She’d taken my money, and when no one was looking, walked around to the business side of the bar, grabbed the bigger bottle, took a long swig first then poured her pint full before we took off.

“Saysha,” or something sounding like that, had already paved over her native creole with a thick slurry of alcohol so it made no sense to me. But I was beginning to get the big picture. So I thought.

I talk a lot about how it doesn’t matter where you are, that you can always find yourself in dangerous situations, but that there are things you can do to avoid them, like using your gut instincts — if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it — staying sober enough to make good, responsible decisions quickly in difficult situations. Don’t do stupid things, blah, blah, blah, … .

Then you get in a situation like I was in, and it’s like junior high all over again.

True, I could have been anywhere with sketchy women and big, menacing men hanging around in the night at an oceanfront barrio. This place happened to be Livingston, Garifuna town, on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast.

The number of gringos around here at night normally can be counted on one finger. On this night it was pointing at me. With Saysha. All I‘d wanted was a little smoke.

I hung out down at Gamboa Place plenty during the day. I was in town enjoying the Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations. The food was good and I had met Marie the owner, her mom, and Marie’s brother Elvis on a previous trip to Livingston.

But this was Friday night and there was supposed to be some traditional drumming and dancing going on.

I sat waiting with Elvis’s nephew, Caesar, who’s normally trying to hustle a living in New York City, but was enjoying the holiday himself this weekend in his hometown.

Caesar, mulling his options in Livingston.

Caesar was mulling whether he might be better off staying down here, and I was just mulling along with him when the conversation turned to drugs.

Since it seemed that after a couple of hours the live entertainment was maybe not going to materialize as planned and that drinking had taken over as the prime source of entertainment, I started thinking about what else might amuse me. I allowed to Caesar that if he knew where I might obtain a joint or two I’d be happy to share and that way help pass the time.

That’s about when Saysha showed up, an attractive, dark chocolate-skinned local lady with soft, seemingly gold-flecked brown eyes and a bushel of curly brown hair framing a pretty, delicately featured face. I guessed she was in her young 30s.

Caesar said Saysha could probably get the marijuana, so after she filled her bottle with booze, she and I set out into the darkness that enveloped Garifuna town. The tide was high and small waves were sloshing around the muddy seafront walkways. I stayed close and she just gestured for me to keep following along.

And the first stop was her “bedroom,” which is where my ”holy shit!” instincts started going off. It was a bedroom, alright, with nearly every inch of wall space covered with snapshots of men — many, many different men.

Quickly drawing on my emergency reserve of Spanish, I tried to convey to her that perhaps there had been some mistake in communication. I had neither the cash nor the protection, not to mention the Sildenafil, for what I was pretty sure she had in mind.

“Vamos, vamos,” I said. I only wanted a little marijuana, not a disease and my picture on her wall.

So she got the idea and we went out again into the gloom and came to a wooden staircase that we climbed up into an old beach casa with the waves of the bay breathing in and out hard but unseen beneath us.

There were people hanging around up here, I was sure of it. I could hear low murmurings and see eyes atop large shapes.

Sometimes your best intentions, all your best-laid plans for certain situations, don’t amount to a ball of refried beans when you find yourself suddenly where everything seems to be taking a curve a little too fast.

Yet strangely, in my mind, there was still hope Saysha was going to come through for me — with the marijuana, that is. But doubt was mounting as she seemed to be losing interest in me rather quickly now.

We visited another place like this and then a third, where Saysha immediately attached herself to a particularly large shape rather a little too warmly, I thought, landing deeply in what appeared to be a large lap. Then a pair of eyes fixed on me, which is when I decided that was my cue to excuse myself politely and begin easing backward down those stairs without tumbling into the bay.

Garifuna Settlement Day in Livingston, Guatemala

I sloshed back to the Gamboa OK but a little nervous. Caesar laughed when I told him what happened and said Marie’s daughter, a pleasant, less, shall we say, adventuresome young woman than Saysha, could help me with what I’d gone out for in the first place, and she did. Very soon it all turned into a pleasant evening.

No harm was done though sad to say in a way I never laid eyes on Saysha again.

But my reflections on what did or didn’t happen began to unnerve me. I was never actually threatened with anything, but let my imagination work overtime in a spooky situation.

How did I know that anyone in these places wouldn’t have invited me in for a pleasant smoke? Was it because I was assuming that everybody was black but me? Did I even know? What difference did it make?

I’d like to hope none of that came into play but unfortunately no matter how good and enlightened you think you are, uncertainty and fear can induce some awful thoughts.

Maybe I should have actually talked to someone in those dark spaces. Maybe I would have been blown away by an unexpectedly wonderful new human experience. Or maybe been another body washing away with the tide. The guidebooks don’t address this sort of thing.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, … ,” Mark Twain wrote.

True enough, but maybe not always right away.

In my case, I’m afraid, the fatal blow had not yet struck.

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I’m a retired journalist from Hawaii now traveling solo around the world. Follow my adventures at www.davidhunterbishop.com. The websites expatfocus.com and nomadicmatt.com have interviewed me for feature stories. Other travel stories and photos I have written are posted at gonomad.com, thetravelword.com, radseason.com, and worldtravelscams.com. I am currently enjoying life in Thailand.

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A senior solo traveler, staying alive by not staying still.

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David Hunter Bishop

David Hunter Bishop

A senior solo traveler, staying alive by not staying still.

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