I had been walking three times a week with Kim, but she’s away now, so now I go by myself. On the road by 5:30 AM-it’s light but hasn’t been for long, and home, primed for the day, just before 7. It’s the best time of day.
My route is a road whose main purpose is to service the crude oil pipeline that runs alongside it, and maybe to supply the village of La Esmerelda, which is bounded by the river, the road and the marina.
There are more animals than people abroad at this, the rooster hour; also some very handsome chickens, pig families, even ducks, if it’s been raining and their stream is flowing, and flocks of turkeys. Dogs sometimes appear in gangs, but they are sickly or juvenile two-faced bullies, most of these dogs, just the kind I’m not sure how to meet. Doug suggested I pick up some stones; it works! The mere bending over to pick them up is something the dogs have seen before, and not liked. They don’t even know that I throw like a girl.
At the very end of La Esmerelda there’s a house I always like to surreptitiously examine. It’s a place with the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ written all over, and no proper sanitation facilities either. There’s often a blazing cooking fire visible through the cracks in the board siding, bringing the pre-daybreak temperature well over 100 already. Luxury would be an outside cooking shelter and an enclosed outhouse separate from the well.
Does the woman of the house step from her hammock every morning eager to build that blazing fire? Or does she imagine another life – one that doesn’t require such heat so early in service of so many people, for so long. Cultural expectations may vary. She might be wondering why I’m by myself, moving so fast in this climate and what my family is eating since I’m not there to make the tortillas.
The road is packed dirt road full of rounded river stones from kidney- to head-sized. Or rather, it’s a stone road, with dirt infill. There are a number of hills I can never quite remember to count, but they’re nicely arranged, as if laid out by cross-trainer software.
Beyond the village, the rubber plantation begins. The ranks of trees look old and well-established, as they stretch off into the distance. Some mornings are redolent with the not-altogether-pleasant scent of fresh-tapped rubber.
One little valley has been cleared, roughly, and planted with corn. There are a few areas of streams and ponds where the original vegetation remains. Here is where you’ll see some nice butterflies and Bird-of-Paradise.
Then comes another plantation with different trees. We’ve identified these as gmolina, and believe it’s being grown for pulp, or possibly lumber – more details to follow.
The gmolina gradually gives way to fairly recently cleared pasture land, sometimes with cows and/or horses, but mostly empty save for a few small birds.
The river Seja marks our usual stopping point, where we comment on how low the water levels are and how the rainy season never really got going. Occasionally we go all the way to ‘the crossroads’ where we often see men with machetes sitting patiently waiting, ?for a ride?
And the pipeline marches on, 275 miles long (so said my source, but now I think it might be kilometers), it starts in the far north of Guatemala, near the border with Mexico and its Tabasco oil fields, in a jungle and wetland area that was rebel-active in the civil war, which slowed down hydro-carbon resource development. In fact, under this rock are more sordid details about World Bank funding and hasty/sloppy environmental assessments which encouraged oil drilling in a rain forest.
According to http://www.quetzalnet.com/Trad_Inv.html#4
Guatemala has four sedimentary basins located in the north, south and eastern sections of the country, all with potential hydrocarbon reserves: southern Peten, northern Peten, Amatique and the Pacific. Exploration to date indicates the existence of both large and small fields, with recoverable reserves of between 20 and 30 million barrels of petroleum of varying API gravity, from heavy crude to medium and light grade.
Approximately 65% of Guatemala is covered by sedimentary rock, indicating the probability of finding oil in almost anywhere in the country.
The “tuberia” continues under the Rio Dulce and on to the Caribbean seaport of Puerto Barrios, where I think it is refined. Guatemala is the only Central American country that produces oil, and it still needs to import substantial amounts.
Perenco is a European-owned conglomerate.
Those men with machetes sometimes materialize to trim the vegetation that grows under the ‘tubo’. The pipe shows signs of inspection and painting, and we see the occasional boat drill with towed containment booms on the river. Other pipeline regulars I meet, or at least wave at, are the rubber cutters, and a man we call ‘El Guapo’, the handsome. He speeds past, usually in a jeep or ATV, always wearing a white cowboy hat, and waves with an economical gesture.
Recently there have been other marina users of the pipeline road, later in the morning, but by then, it’s a different road. Friendly women, men with paddles moving towards the rio, the kids who go to school (there are those who don’t)all progress down the lane in their heartbreakingly clean clothes, wet combed hair, the scent of soap in their wake. “Buenas dias”, a shy smile; as I clump on past, wishing the world weren’t so complicated.