Born in 1976, Carlos had an idyllic childhood growing up in the village of Uaxactun in the jungles of northern Guatemala. The carefree pleasures of roaming free on one hand and learning the dangers and thrills of the jungle from his father on the other. However on the morning of Friday 2nd May ‎1984 all this changed with a knock on the door.

Guatemala at this time was embroiled in a brutal civil war. A climate of fear persisted and political killings and disappearances were commonplace. Carlos’s father was such a victim. He was taken away and never to return.

Carlos says that he will never forget that look as his father said goodbye, still holding onto the front door. Such images remain seared in your memory. His father, in effect, said that he will be back but in the meantime Carlos was to be the man of the house. In spite of the fact that Carlos had elder brothers. Carlos made a silent promise to his father.

‎Carlos waited and hoped for his father’s return. But as the days, even weeks passed, Carlos realised that any reunification was not imminent. He then resolved that he wanted, needed, an education to help support his family. What happens thereafter is resolve personified.

His mother was flat against the idea. So too his siblings. Yet Carlos was determined. With a few friends, he decided to leave the village in the dead of night – the best time to avoid detection. They travelled in the opposite direction to which the village would have expected – Carlos’s mother was bound to send friends or family to retrieve her son. Carlos and his friends lived in the jungle for a week surviving on what they could kill with their slingshots. In spite of the possibility of detection, they lit fires and kept guard at night – the danger of jaguar greater than the threat of being ‘reclaimed’ by their family.

A week later, the ‘gang’ eventually made it to Tikal, a mere twenty-five kilometres away. Whilst not appearing much of a trek, Tikal meant a road to San Benito and a different life. Carlos had never been in a car before but this did not phase him as he hitched a lift to San Benito.

Carlos had never seen a school before but that did not phase him as he walked past the doorway of a schoolroom and looked in. Rather than telling him to get lost the teacher merely stated that he was not from this area. Carlos confirmed this. What are you doing here? I want an education. Teacher nodded his head slowly and as if to test Carlos told him to go and wait under a nearby tree. Carlos duly did just that.

As the lesson ended and the children poured out, Carlos approached the teacher once more. The teacher asked whether he was hungry. Carlos had not thought about food and suddenly realised that he was famished. At the teacher’s insistence, he climbed on the back of the teacher’s motorbike – another first – and they drove off into the jungle. Carlos always aware of where the sun was – his unfailing point of reference in this alien world.

But Carlos did not have to walk back to San Benito. Whilst he was washing the dishes after dinner – the only way in which he could thank the teacher for his kindness – the teacher came up to him saying that he had spoken with his wife and Carlos was to stay with them. The next day he attended his very first day at school.

Carlos did not look back. He did, however, go back to Uaxactun a week later to let his mother know that he was OK. It was at home that he discovered that his friends had all returned to Uaxactun. They missed the jungle, they felt out of place in San Benito and felt uncomfortable at how the other children laughed at their few words of jungle Spanish.

Carlos was not so easily dissuaded. He was determined to go back to San Benito. His mother ordered him not to return but Carlos, with the intervention of his grandfather, a shaman, who understood the importance of this to Carlos, did go back to San Benito and completed secondary school and self-funded his way through university.

The next significant day in Carlos’s life was December 30th 1996. It was the day after the peace accord was signed and the day that Carlos realised that his father was not coming back. Hope destroyed, Carlos redoubled his resolve to provide for his family. He trained to become a guide.

Horizons broadened (Carlos has travelled all over Central America), view of Uaxactun undiminished, Carlos now guides in the jungles of Guatemala. His knowledge, his expertise and his level of sophistication has helped bring opportunity to the region.

‎Carlos’s nickname in Uaxactun is Caliche which means shade. He has kept his promise to his father.

Thanks for reading

Justin Wateridge

Author: Justin Wateridge