A Man with a Limp Walks into a Bar

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San Pedro de Atitlan, Guatemala

A man with a limp walks into a bar. No that isn’t the start to a bad joke. It’s the beginning of a great experience. I just don’t know it yet.

It soon becomes apparent that he’s a regular — maybe even picking up a few hours of work here every now and then. He saddles up to the bar and orders a coffee. I’m guessing that one of his legs is about an inch shorter than the other. Maybe two.

I’ll later see him wearing shorts and painting a logo on a nearby wall and realize that the limp is due to his artificial leg.

I’m having lunch at an Irish place called the Clover in San Pedro de Atitlan, Guatemala and have been here far too many times so I’m pretty deep into the menu at this point. ‘Indian samosas’ are today’s roll of the dice.

I’m half done, dosing them liberally with salt, pepper and chili sauce. I can’t say I’m thrilled with them but the money is already spent, and there are calories to be had, leftovers to be hauled out and shared with people who need them more than I.

And then Les steps in carefully on a cane. He’s probably 60-70 years old and sports an impressive mustache that is sadly still darker than mine. And by ‘steps in’ I mean just barely — he has Parkinson’s and shakes and trembles, his cane wobbling like some chaotic metronome.

Helping him is the owner of the place, a curly-haired man named Paul, who is carefully guiding him down the steps by the elbow.

I have just that second to look up and see it all play out. The man with one leg (whose name I never get) stands up, struggles across the outdoor courtyard and fetches a plastic chair. They ease Les down into it and quickly pour him a beer which he can just barely hold.

Community.

He and I start up a conversation. He’s Scottish by birth and grew up in the UK but I assume he’s Irish (being in an Irish bar) and blush when he corrects me. “No problem mate. I get it all the time”.

He’s been here for years and his friends take care of him. “I can call Paul and he’s at my door in ten minutes”.

He’s been fighting electrical issues for the last few days

He rents a house and pays the landlord for his power bill. But if they fail to pay, the power gets shut off. It has taken five days to sort it out but in the meantime someone who knows someone who knows an electrician arranged for him to have power wired in from a neighbor.

Community.

We chat for a couple of hours and I buy him a beer to keep that conversation rolling. After the first beer I notice that his tremors have eased. He ignores my first couple of questions about his past so I quit asking and we slip into that slow, easy rhythm of swapping lies.

After two beers he declares “That’s my limit. I’m heading home. ”

“Let me pay my bill and I’ll walk with you,” I offer.

“Thanks but I’m okay. Getting up the stairs is a lot easier than getting down”.

I really doubt this is true but I understand. Men have rules, many of them built on pride.

He isn’t going to let a stranger walk him home. He leaves on shaky legs and I never see him again.

I rarely mention or endorse businesses as I travel but if you’re in San Pedro, stop into the Clover. They’re good people.

And if you meet Les, please buy him a beer.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Quade Baxter August 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I will be hitting Guatemala in probably Dec/ Jan.(On my own 1 year…or more trip) I am really pumped about Guatemala with every thing I’ve heard plus your writings. Thanks for another good story!

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wes August 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Great place!

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John Mathes August 13, 2013 at 8:32 am

Damn! Great post man!

Meeting people like Paul and Les, getting a sense of the challenges they face, and how they choose to deal with them is the ultimate purpose of travel. The monuments and relics, the sunrise over waterfalls, the sense of history and the myriad of other reasons we traipse around this planet are amazing and wonderful. But experiences like that are the special sauce…

Thanks for brightening my morning, as you have many others!
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wes August 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Thanks, brother.

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Traci August 13, 2013 at 8:45 am

One of my friends I met in San Pedro shared your post, and it was really nice to see something written about a place I called home for about 6 months. It is cool to see a snapshot of a place I love through someone else’s eyes. I hope you had a great time in San Pedro and good luck with the rest of your journey.

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John August 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm

This. This is why you travel low and slow my friend. Beautiful.

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Lise Griffiths August 14, 2013 at 2:49 am

Heart-warming!
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Nathan August 14, 2013 at 1:20 pm

What a colorful little vignette–thanks for sharing this. It sounds like some people really do try to run away from whatever they left behind.
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The Local Traveler NS August 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I loved reading this. The people met during my travels have always made the experience for me. Thank you for sharing such a vivid snapshot of your trip!
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Mo August 15, 2013 at 3:40 am

One world, One Community = Great Story
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Noel August 26, 2013 at 9:13 pm

A real encounter with people in our journey creates a lasting memory and moving story.
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Joe Lavery August 28, 2013 at 10:43 pm

You are very well written. I am an expat who lives in San Pedro and really enjoyed how you mentioned how community based life here can be. We expats here are a crazy bunch as a whole but we take care of our own. I read your other post about the child trafficking issue you had at your hotel in this town too…To be honest it came as a shock, normally the stories involving the underbelly of life here are related to cocaine. Lets hope I never meet that horrific soul. It’s crazy how I stumbled onto your site but am glad I found it. I find it interesting how I seem to get the “traveller’s blues” whenever I am in San Cristobal as well. Take care and safe travels, if you head up to Playa Del Carmen there is a wonderful (and free) place to snorkel called Akumal Bay. I promise it will not disappoint.

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wes September 8, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Thanks, Joe.

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The Guy January 17, 2014 at 12:19 pm

We do meet some interesting people on our travels and you’ve certainly found one here. Shame to hear it was a one time encounter but often those are the ones that we remember the most.

Very kind of you to look out for him and I’ll be sure to get Les a beer if I see him.
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