Popi’s – restaurant, hotel, and debt ridden shipwreck.

So I made it back to the States, Miami, Florida. It was a hard landing; coming back to a place so impersonal, where the gap between people was so wide. Cycling in Cuba I hadn’t a single negative experience with drivers, not even in Havana; bustling metropolis that it is. Taxi drivers would actually yield to me if I was going up a big hill despite them having the right of way. But within minutes of getting on my bicycle in Miami I was having obscenities hurled at me from drivers speeding by inches away; it was a harsh welcome back.

In addition to the already growing sense of alienation I felt upon my return, my girlfriend with whom I’d been having troubles with for some time met me in Miami and the problems I’d left came right back with our reunion.

We hitched a ride with a mutual friend to the home of a traveller and couchsurfing host named Xochi in Key Largo. Xochi’s father, Don, had just passed away weeks before our arrival and left behind both a school for disabled children (Mayan Hope) and a restaurant (Popis) that was intended to support it in the Ixil region of Guatemala. He had grown both over the course of the last decade but throughout the last year the restaurant had fallen into a state of disrepair and inprofitability due to his course of extended illness. This in turn prompted the other board members of the school to sever ties with the restaurant, angry that the relationship had been reversed; Mayan Hope had been supporting Popis.

 

This immediately struck me as an opportunity to apply the intentions I had set in Cuba. So I volunteered to go and fix it. I’ve always admired the model of having the profits of a business diverted into charity, it seemed a more sustainable system than any donation based operation. And so with that I made the decision to end my unhappy relationship and chase this new dream; leaving behind my life in the States. At the time I thought I’d come back in a month or so.

Xochi sent her daughter, Xotchil along too and in just a matter of days I was off again heading to Guatemala on one month of Spanish picked up on the streets of Cuba to a country I’d never been to,with a woman I just met, to fix a not-for-profit business I really didn’t know much about. It was surreal in all the right ways.

We arrived in Popis on my second night in Guatemala to an emergency meeting regarding the outstanding issues regarding the business, namely: the employees hadn’t been paid in full for 7 months and calculated their debt at around $3000 and intended to file a lawsuit, the rent was overdue and underpaid and the landlord had instructed his local representative (Donawalt) to close the doors and liquidate assets to recover the money, this same representative had it in his mind to take over the business and turn it into a for profit venture, and on top of all this there were animals everywhere. Really, everywhere. Ducks, rabbits, a dog, cats, chickens; the smell was overwhelming. This wasn’t a big open air farm kind of place, it was a squished building stacked 3 stories high with a small central courtyard in the middle of a small city.

I had to learn Guatemalan tax law, fend off the business from Donowalt, gain the proper legal standing to take control of the business but we did pull through.

In my time there I took up mountain guiding both as a way to bring in more profit and to keep my life balanced. I’d trek off into the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America: Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. It was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been to, I’d spend days guiding tourists to places no vehicle could access, sleeping in villages where maybe 2 or 3 families spoke Spanish. I fell in love with this place and took every opportunity to photograph it.

I also fell in love with my partner Nassima, a researcher from France who I guided a trip for.

 

 

 

 

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