He wore what appeared to be at least a pound of heavy gold links around his neck, plus tattoos, the Glock automatic in plain sight and he was watched by fore and aft bodyguards. There was another body guard by the front door and one stood by the metallic gold colored Chevy Avalanche outside in the parking lot.
The place? A Maxi-Dispensa supermarket in Zacapa, where the interior was nicely air-conditioned and where we had stopped on our way back to the aging but clean Hotel De Leon for the night.
We’d had a break-down a few hours ago and miles away, past a rural village known as El Jute and far up a mountain road that finally took its toll on the Jeep Wrangler, and where I’d given up a bottle of rum in gratitude to our rescuers. We were able to limp back to town with only front-wheel drive and I didn’t intend to return to the hotel empty-handed.
There’s probably some kind of an unwritten law somewhere that one doesn’t stare too long or too directly at narco-trafficantes, especially in close proximity. He was probably in his mid-thirties, obviously Latin and with a brown vest over a dark blue t-shirt that failed to hide the pistol with the black plastic shape that shouted ‘Glock 17, nine millimeter.’ His upper arms were well-muscled and tattooed here and there. He might have been running to a little fat around his mid-section but this wasn’t the time or the place to stare too much at such.
Zacapa is a ranching and farming community on the eastern slope of Guatemala and at such a lower altitude that parts of the country resemble West Texas or Arizona. It is said to be Guatemala’s 3rd or 4th largest city, depending on who’s counting. It also lies on a major highway from El Salvador and Honduras, where if people aren’t also being smuggled, cocaine definitely is. Judging from the amount of gold, guns and guards, it was safe to assume that he wasn’t a farmer or a rancher, except for illicit substances.
As the rear guard watched me, I was next in line for the check-out. ‘DL,’ short for ‘Drug Lord’ had a semi-full cart of various items, most of which appeared to be assorted breakfast cereals and beer. The clerk took his credit card, while he nervously watched the ‘DL.’ Contrary to rules and regulations, he didn’t ask for any kind of photo ID but maybe the Glock was enough to make an exception this time, unless he was a frequent shopper. I put down the bottle of Ron Botran 5 year old rum and the ‘captain’, my other traveling companion, set down three bottles of beer on the rubber strip by the cash register.
The ‘captain’ is a sixty year old ex-Gautemalan Army Special Forces veteran and still looks like it. We both were wearing khaki pants and maybe between my unusual appearance, that of an obvious Gringo with a Panama hat and the other comparison, the ‘DL’ decided that leaving quietly was indicated.
One would think that being a drug lord would entail having a personal assistant to do his bidding, i.e., grocery shopping. Maybe he saw me looking at his box of Frosted Flakes, with ‘Tony the Tiger’ on the outside. I’ll never know. We’d fix the Jeep tonight and try the mountain again tomorrow.