On our first day in Guatemala, we were supposed to drive to a northern region above Lake Atitlan. Unexpectedly, protestors all over the country had road-blocked all major highways on that particular Monday. Our guide got on his phone and started speaking very hurried Spanish.
Before I knew it, we were making U-turns and weaving in and out of some very confusing Guatemala City traffic. Eventually, we pulled up to a steel gate guarded by a machine gun carrying man in a dark green uniform. He looked at all of our passports and waved us into the compound. It was the ‘other side’ of the airport.
There were helicopters, single engine planes, and a collection of brightly colored hangars with corrugated steel roofs. It was obvious at this point that we were going to be traveling by airplane instead of automobile.
We made our way to one of the small structures, where a six-passenger Cessna ‘mountain plane’ was awaiting our arrival. The pilot explained that what made this a mountain style aircraft was its reengineered lower center of gravity, allowing for bumpy, inclined landing strips. He also mentioned the minimized structural design and warned us about the less comfy landing.
Before long, we were aloft and headed north. After a couple hours of traversing both active and inactive volcanic passes, we made contact on a very narrow concrete path that seemed to appear out of nowhere, lined with alternating coffee and rubber trees. I was very impressed by the pilot’s abilities, and decided I wanted to try to spend some time picking his brain. I got the opportunity after we had finished our tour of the farm.
Ludin Reyes refers to himself as a pilot, an airplane mechanic, and a theologian. He explained that most of his flying is for the purpose of medical missions to some of the more remote, poverty stricken regions of Central America. Mountain-style flying is the norm in these cases, which is why his skills are indispensible.
His care-giving adventures have brought him shoulder to shoulder with many coffee producers, since the humane ones have the same priorities he does: taking care of the less fortunate. He explained how corrupt Guatemala can be and how wonderful it is to find these good-natured folks.
He and I reflected together on how caring for coffee and caring for people are overlapping priorities, since both involve life and wonder. After learning I was from Arizona, he began enthusiastically expressing his views on the misunderstood beauty of the desert. As a 17-year resident of the Sonoran Desert, I smiled at the warmth his sentiment brought and said, “I know exactly what you mean."
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