Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fun and Frolics in Guatemala

I got back from my assignment in Guatemala at the beginning of the week and I've now got my head buried in checking notes, captioning and general post production work whilst trying to stave off the jet lag. It was quite an eventful week, especially last Tuesday evening.

We'd spent the day trekking through the jungle and had taken canoes to get to the village of Icbolay where ActionAid run a child sponsorship programme. The name Icbolay comes from the maya-kekchi name (the local dialect) for the "yellow mouth" serpent (Nauyaca). Never a good sign in my experience.
 Apparently though we didn't need to worry too much as they were rarely seen. Good job, I thought, as we hadn't brought any anti-venom. Within about half an hour though had our first sighting and we'd have another before the trek was through, this time on the river bank as we silently glided past in our canoe. Fortunately on both occasions guides had forged ahead of us and both snakes were dead. The local reaction to and excitement at seeing them however, made me realise that they weren't a common sight. On the way back I posed for a quick picture with one. The rest of the day passed without event, that is until later that evening.
 We were staying in a local ranch style motel on the edge of the forest. The only other guests were some local guys, rocking the cowboy look, with big old pick-up trucks and a tendency to stay in their rooms, shutters down, TVs blaring. It all seemed a bit Cohen brothers 'No country for Old Men'. After finishing dinner at the bar I realised I was falling alseep in my chair and not wanting to appear rude to my colleagues, made my excuses and headed for bed. It'd been a long tiring day trekking in very humid conditions so I opted to have a quick wash in the shower before bed. Having done so I wandered back into my room and reached for the hand towel hanging on the back of my chair. As I dried my hands however I felt a sharp pain in my finger and looking down I saw in dismay the evil looking tail of this little critter disappear into the folds of the towel.
Naturally, not knowing the slightest thing about scorpions I was a little bit concerned...actually lets be realistic, I screamed out loud like a small child. I had no idea how venomous or not the creature was. I managed to remain compos mentis enough to put back on my trousers and boots before running back through the compound down towards the bar where I hoped my colleagues were still going to be. Luckily they were still sat at their table working. The assistant camera woman Nike was quick to translate the situation in Spanish to the barman. Next thing I know he's picked up a shotgun and a searchlight and is running out the door. I remember thinking that this was slightly over zealous at the time, it wasn't until later that I realised what was going on. As I had headed back to bar in a panic I'd spotted a guy running in the other direction - turns out he was an intruder and the Guatemalans a few doors down from me apparently ran out of their rooms in their 'wife-beaters' and cowboy boots toting pump action shotguns trying to chase him down. At the time though it felt like a small matter even as the gunshots blasted away in the background. My colleagues quickly roused the drivers from their slumber and we headed into town to find a doctor. Luckily for me we managed to wake one up and I got treated. Paul the cameraman shot a little vid on his handy-cam and I've put some frame grabs below.
 Generally the reputation of the scorpion is worse than the reality - very few scorpions species are deadly, certainly there are few if any in Guatemala. Of course I wasn't to know that, but the sting is seen almost as the equivalent of being stung by a bee or wasp....which in a way is a little bit disappointing! However I'm glad I was with who I was with; Tara, Paul and Nike were all incredibly composed and managed the situation better than I could have possibly hoped for had I been on my own.

Lesson learnt? Always shake out the towels....


John Charles Brownlie said...

Glad to hear it wasn't more serious Indiana. Good work.

Alastair said...

hardcore! (despite the photographer vest thing...!)