meeting table with red chairsThis is part of a true story written by Marina Villatoro who writes the travel blog Travel Experta about everything you need to know about Central America. Every Friday over the next two months I’ll be posting another chapter of this adventure. Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11 in case you missed them.

We humans are social creatures, no matter how hard we fight it. The need to communicate and share experiences or acquired knowledge is innate. It’s our instinct. Recluse, hermit or loner, whatever her preference, she was the perfect product of seclusion. Within thirty minutes of our arrival we had the wherewithal.

“I run a volunteer program. Our mission: To help indigenous women become self-sufficient. Together we sew traditional pants, shirts, skirts and bags. Then I teach them how to sell it at the local markets. The purpose of this program is for them to take control of their lives and not depend on their husbands. It helps build their confidence,” she proudly stated, “But it is an extremely difficult task. By sixteen-years-old they have their first child and continue having babies until their bodies can’t handle it anymore. Their culture teaches them that from day-one their job is: giving birth, serving and obeying their husbands. So my work is incomprehensible to some of them and most don’t accept it. The ones I’ve had the most success with are widows and single mothers. To my advantage, the community is tight. The women can’t ignore the benefits and are slowly opening their eyes. It will take years for them to fully evolve and become independent, if at all, but in the meantime it’s what keeps me going.”

shhI Know Something

She uncrossed her legs, covered them with her robe and leaned towards us, secretly. I thought she was going to tell us she was a CIA agent researching the next nuclear testing ground, instead she whispered, “We all know who robbed you. The whole village is well aware of what’s happening. But no one will do anything about it,” she confided, “Why? Because for the past two years he’s been robbing the villagers, bribing the cops and threatening anyone who stands in his way. So tell me… what can the people do?

“This community is no stranger to poverty,” she continued, “They’ve lived without roofs over their heads, food or medical help. Education isn’t an option for them. Not because of its scarcity, but because they have to start working once they turn ten years old to help support their large families. It’s a vicious cycle.” She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, pensively.
“Their goals become warped. Little boys look up at Chico as a success story. They don’t have any other role models. They aspire to follow in his footsteps. The crook is revered!”

“But something must be done. Isn’t anyone doing anything to stop it?” I demanded. Was this how the mafia began? The bad seeds taking over the gardens, one by one, until all of the flowers were infected.

“He is so feared, and he knows it, and in turn it fuels his ego. He is a monster with no regard for human emotions or compassion. The only way to end this is to lynch him!” She announced this as though she just thought of this brilliant idea and was ready to strike. I think I’ll sit this one out.

“How awful! How can you live like this? Aren’t you scared of him? I mean, you live here all by yourself and it doesn’t seem to be very secure. Plus, there’s no one for miles around you. What do you do to protect yourself?” Janka protested.

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“I was robbed three times. All non-violent, thank god. He usually works when there’s no one at home. By now I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t keep anything of value in the house… Don’t get me wrong. I’m still nervous, at times. But this is my home, after ten years, I am known and respected for my work. Furthermore, I help Chico’s mom and two sisters. Their father died years ago, when he was about nine. His mother raised three kids on her own. Back then it was unheard of for a woman to work. So can you imagine the poor woman’s struggle? But ever since I started working with them six years ago, they are doing great. I guess, out of familial loyalty he leaves me alone, and so does his gang…” she shrugged. “Would you like to try on some clothes?”

purple roomNot Your Typical Wardrobe

“Huh?” I snapped out of my daze.

“Are you ready to see some clothes?” she smiled kindly.

“Sure,” I uttered, a bit surprised how quickly one could change subjects.

“My closet is upstairs. Please don’t mind the mess, I was busy last night and didn’t have a chance to tidy up.”

Was she referring to the crumb on the kitchen table or the coffee bean I dropped on the counter? The house was spotless. It reminded me of model homes real estate agents use to advertise as ‘The-house-of-your-dreams’: sterile, unused, furnished and ready for immediate occupancy.

We followed her past the remaining four rooms on the first floor. The living room: decorated in a Victorian style, with purple couches, a love seat and cast-iron candlestick holders in every part of the room, including one on top of the fireplace. The office: pastel purple walls, white desk with nothing on it and a white swivel chair. Library: deep purple wallpaper, a huge yellow throw rug, and bookshelves stacked to the ceiling. The fourth room: stark, purple.

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What was with the purple?

A lilac-colored wrought-iron spiral staircase deposited us onto waxed hardwood floors sporting four closed doors and direct sunlight from the solar-paneled roof. The first three doors, she briskly mentioned as we walked past, belonged to a guest bedroom, guest bathroom and her bedroom, with a bathroom inside. She turned a copper knob of the fourth door and opened it inward—The Closet.

locked trunk

This was no ordinary closet! It was more like a miniature department store specializing in theatrical costumes with suits of armor looming imposingly in the doorway, Victorian and medieval wedding gowns, veils and shawls hanging regally from medal racks, Venetian masquerade costumes, feathered masks and wigs splayed out by the wall, elegant business suits, tuxedos and men’s sport wear hanging opposite to the first clothes rack, and a myriad of other unnecessary garments used for Broadway-Style productions strewn about on the floor. There was more! Three wooden trunks were opened with tiny benches for deciding what to wear.

“What in the world is all of this?” I blurted out. No wonder she wasn’t being robbed. The guy wouldn’t have any clue what to do with this stuff.

“I like clothes. I buy and sell costumes,” she replied uncomfortable with my reaction.

“To whom? Is there a demand for this?” I raised my hands, bewildered. This was one weird lady.

“There’s a small theater group in Panajachel. They put on different productions throughout the year and buy some articles from me now and then. Others I keep for myself.”

I noticed little beads of sweat emerging on top of her brow and in the depths of her cleavage.

“Do you wear them? What do you do with them?” Words rolled off my tongue. I simply couldn’t make sense of it all.

“I don’t wear them, I enjoy them…but, enough about that! In the trunk by the window are regular clothes that don’t fit me. I think they’re your size. Give them a try.” She pointed, her eyes nervously darting from me to Janka to the trunk and back to me. Her cheeks turned the color of her robe. She was deteriorating.

Wait till you find out what’s in the trunk…

[photos by: mnadi, andi, tom.snaps, JoelZimmer]


Marina has been living in Central America for over 7 years and her site Travel Experta is all about traveling in Central America. Marina loves to help people plan the perfect vacation to this amazing part of the world! You can sign up for her RSS feed and join the fun on her facebook fan page and follow her on Twitter at @MarinaVillatoro.