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By: Brandon Scott on: July 10, 2012
Story Type: History    

Camino to Galvez

Today I walked to Barranca de Galvez. You can Google it but you won’t find much. I began working with pastors and lay leaders in the Pastoral Ministries department of the Consejo Altiplano in Western Guatemala and they asked me to go to a prayer meeting in Barranca de Galvez. I was told we would meet at 6am, walk three hours, attend the prayer meeing, and then walk back.

Walk three hours? Shoot, I can do that. I can walk all day. Fresh air. Mountains. I can do this. 30 minutes in I was exhausted. We had reached the top of a ridge and I was ready for a rest. There was a nice little rustic bench under a tree with a view of the Tajulmúlco Volcano and Tacaná Volcano on the Mexican border, just visible on the horizon. They pointed to a little village across the valley on the slopes of the volcano. I asked how long we could rest. The pastors laughed and kept walking; spry mountain goats in their native habitat. So I hopped up and followed.

The path up to the ridge had been pretty steep; then we began our decent into the valley. When I say descent, I mean that in the purest sense: we went down. My friend Basilio walked beside me and told me that there were 99 switchbacks. I lost count after 4 because I was trying really hard not to slip and break something important. I had never understood how hard it could be to go downhill. I quickly realized that my 33 year old knees were no longer 20.

High mountain pine transitioned to leafy ferns and finally into tropical heat. Trees towered above us. Men hacked huge limbs into firewood and burdened toffee colored horses with their loads, homemade saddles matching the native fabrics woven into their manes. The horses could not climb the path we just descended – “too dangerous,” the pastors told me – and so we walked on. My knees were thankful for flatter ground.

The problem with valleys is that you always have to go back up, so after a rest, we crossed a fallen log bridge and began the climb. Basilio told me he was ill, so would stay back with me while the other pastors kept climbing. We had already been walking for almost four hours (and were not even close to the town) when I asked him why they had told me it would be a three hour walk. He told me “because it is a three hour walk”. Nice. So we climbed and I began to dislike the journey. I was tired. Really tired. Leg shaking tired. At one point I laid down on the trail and told Basilio that my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. His bellowing laughter bounced off the mountains and lifted my spirits enough to carry on.  An hour later we arrived.

They had made us black corn tortillas, fresh goat cheese and chirmol, a tomato salsa spiced with smoky cobán peppers. Courtesy moved me to eat. I was thankful that I didn’t have to lift the food with my legs. It was a pure culinary wonder, made on the foothills of the tallest volcano in Central America. We met, prayed, and studied the Bible. I just sat and listened. I was just getting to know these pastors and they had no idea who this goofy gringo was (they did know I was no athlete). We ate lunch and I realized that it was now 3pm. It gets dark at 6. And I mean dark. Not streetlight dark, but walk by starlight dark.

There comes a moment when every man realizes that he can go no further. That he is not as tough as he thought. That the men around him are tougher, better adapted, and just plain better at walking mountain trails that he. That moment walked up and slapped me on the forehead that afternoon. So I asked if there was a bus back to San Marcos. 3 minutes later, after the laughter died down, a brother in the church said he had a pickup. I asked how much. He said Q400. I had 300. Good enough. So I waved goodbye and got in the pickup.

17 pastors piled in the bed.

I asked if they were extra and the driver shrugged his shoulders halfway, eyes closed, head tilted in the Guatemalan way and started to drive. 99 switchbacks are a lot easier when a truck is doing the climbing. 3 hours later we were back in San Marcos. Basilio went with me on a bus, then another bus, then the longest quarter of a mile I have ever walked to my van.

That was three years ago.

I have now written a discipleship program called Formación de F.E. that I have taught to those pastors and a dozen or so more. I am younger than all but 3 of them, but they let me teach. Basilio to this day tells the story of my laying on the trail and he laughs and his black moustache bounces, and he pats me on the back and calls me his brother. A few months ago I rebuked the pastors pretty sternly and was concerned. Otto, another pastor who rode in the back of that pickup, told me not to worry. “You’re one of us. You walked to Galvez. We don’t accept many outsiders, but you’re one of us now. And you can say whatever is needed.”

It was not an easy walk. A 3 hour camino that turned into 5 that turned into an experience that let these men know that I was there with them on their own journey. Even if we rode a pickup back home.

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