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A Vacation in Prison

Dear Savvy Traveler,

In August of 1991, I left Antigua, Guatemala to pick up my wife in Chichicastenango, where she'd gone for a short trip. On the way, in the mountains above Chimaltenango, a little girl dashed into the road. (I was driving a Citroen D-Super, which I still have, almost for sentimental reasons now). The impact threw her onto the shoulder, apparently lifeless. I got out and found her leg mangled. Her mother ran to her screaming. She held her daughter to her and, distraught, realized she had no pulse. We immediately took her to the hospital.

In the ER the girl awoke, howling so loud it filled the waiting area. I was so happy I cried. It was the Citroen that "saved" her: The hood is aluminum, and her head crushed it almost like it was hitting a pillow. So other than superficial cuts and lots of blood, she didn't even suffer a concussion. She did, however, have a compound fracture in her upper leg.

I was then taken into custody by the police, whereupon I embarked on a hellish week-long stay in a mountain prison. (Latin American law, you might know, considers you guilty until proven innocent.) A U.S. consulate employee finally visited me several days later. I eventually got out thanks to legal advice from the prison warden, the clerk, and the cooperation of the girl's mother. They were very friendly because I had broken the mold and stopped and rendered aid. According to them, that sort of thing rarely happens.

I drove through the area three years later during a research trip and stopped to see the little girl. She was doing well. Her only problem was that during barometric pressure changes, her leg hurts and it's a tiny bit shorter than the other one.

That trip was a helluva two weeks. Now it's funny. Then, well, I could have lived without it.





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