Outta Here, With a Bullet

If there were video footage of myself dancing with the young Guatemalteca in that sweaty, dingy club in Coban, Guatemala, it would look something like this: Adam approaches said young Maya, asks her to dance; young Maya reluctantly agrees. Adam swills heavily from beer one final time for a little vitamin self-C, then leads young Maya onto the dance floor, expecting to take her hand, place his hand on the small of her back, and does his best to emulate pelvic salsa dancing dominating the room; young Maya is having none of it. Instead, young Maya decides she doesn't want Adam to touch her, yet alone make eye-contact with her, and so he and she stand a foot apart, dancing awkwardly to swirling Latin beat as Adam weaves in and out of several horrific middle-school dance flashbacks, girl looks towards ceiling, and Adam's friend Gabe, aka Hot Gary, aka the Mass Texter, stands on the side of the dance floor laughing so hard he is seized by a coughing fit that eventually sees him spit up something green-brownish in hue into a napkin. Mercifully, the song soon ends and our hero skulks back to the cold bottle of Gallo beer from whence he came. Hot Gary pats him on the back, laughing.

It was ugly. But I didn't care. I was on vacation with a good friend, I was speaking Spanish, we were the only gringos in the club — for that matter, the only gringos we had seen in town the entire day — and so far everything we had done that night was the stuff a Lonely Planet travel writer would cream his notepad over.

We had chosen Coban because it would put me closer to Guatemala City, where I would be flying out of, and because it was mentioned in the guidebook as being somewhat sizable — 20,000 or so. But that was it. No attraction drew us here. No ancient ruins. No cobble-stoned streets. Just a stopping point on a route. After finding a place to stay -- the only hostel I have seen that had porters -- we headed to the main plaza in search of a meal. There we met a religious procession snaking slowly through the streets, young children in white smocks holding a giant cross above them, followed by their parents, then a truck with a PA, driving slowly and belting out prayers. El padre el dios nos bendiga. Gabe and I followed behind, doing our best to hide the fact that we are half-Jews. We were quickly exposed. Though the procession was free, Gabe kept asking people if there were a cheaper one we could view nearby -- and like that, the jig was up.

After a quick steak dinner we moved on to another bar where our Denver Nuggets were playing on the television. The presence of Latin players like Eduardo Najera and Nene Hilario make our boys pretty popular down south and so ESPN had picked up the game and was broadcasting it to millions of Spanish-speaking spectators on ESPN Deportes. We took that as a sign and decided to spend the remainder of the game at that bar. Four to 75 cocktails later, the Nuggets had lost, we were feeling fantastic and we decided to move on.

The only other place in town was a small club that I forget the name of, I think it was something like El Bitchy Guatemalan Girl Won't Dance Salsa With Me, Fucking Clam, Doesn't She Know I Could Buy and Sell Her Bar y Cantina, but I could be wrong. I've already updated you as to how the night had progressed up to this point, so I will tell you what happened next: Hot Gary and I got on the mic and spit some ill hot fire.

I don't know what it is about us, but when Gabe and I visit foreign countries and get a couple, two, three beers in us, we cannot be stopped from convincing some club/bar/disco owner/DJ/whatever to let us get on the microphone and free-flow rap for the entire place. At this point, Gabe has done this in six foreign countries; I have in three. Usually we tell them we are indie rappers from Denver who'd like to share with them our precious gift. We're on the radio, we have videos, everything; we just sell the blatant lie. We always tell them whatever rap name we feel like being at that moment: Spitdaggaz, MC Snafu, this time around my name was Like You Read About. For some reason, these club owners allow us to do this, and people look on, either intrigued or baffled, and then we are suddenly club demi-gods. It works because Gabe and I, for all our pretense and bullshit, can flow a little bit. If we couldn't, such escapades would be short-lived. If you don't believe me, see me in the streets, son, and challenge me to a cypher and then you'll know.

Ya' heard?

Long story short, the club gives us two mics, puts on some hip hop, Gabe and I flow, the crowd eats it up because they don't speak well English to see that we are hammered and basically just rhyming about Park Hill while pandering and occasionally shouting out names of Guatemalan cities. And then what happens? All of a sudden Gabe and I are straight up illmatic, check-yo-neck club heroes, son. And who should come sauntering over asking for another dance? Little Miss Oh No You Didn't from before, wanting another shot with MC Like You Read About. Pshaw. To the curb with her. There was another young lady who wanted a dance, and she and I sauntered to the floor for a slow number, the two of us twirling in circles like another middle-school flashback, but this time a good one, that final jam, "You Look Wonderful Tonight," with your crush in your arms and your dad in the car outside waiting to take you home on a high. I kissed my girl on the lips and she back.

Then like that, the club was closing. My girl was rushing outside with her friends, as was another girl, this one fond of Gabe. The two of them were inviting us to another club and we were debating whether to go. The booze, the smoke, the makeup, the smells of perfume, the dusty streetlights in the plaza, all of it was hypnotic, and it had Gabe and me thinking that we must push further, deeper into the Guatemala night.

Then a security guard from the club we had just been at approached us.

"Yeah, you don't want to go to that other club," he said in Spanish. "There's plenty of guns in that place and your two white asses are some easy targets. Plus I'm pretty sure you pissed off those girls' boyfriends by making out with them. You should let me take you guys back to your place."

With that he pulled up his shirt to show us his piece, informing us that if anything did hit the fan, he'd be able to take care of it. Noticing the angry glares of the men now standing by the girls we had danced with, we accepted his offer.

The lesson I learned, which is a rule I feel every traveler should adhere to, is this: If you are in a foreign country and you aren't getting any attention from the ladies, drink heavily and recklessly and then take over the club and rap. But buyer beware: when you rap, make sure you don't rap so well that girls with boyfriends want to make out with you. Because sometimes those boyfriends have guns. And then you have to have another guy with a gun protect you.

Sometimes it's the most obvious lessons that are the hardest to learn. -- Adam Cayton-Holland

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun