Running the Hills – The Most Dangerous Thing I do! – March 10, 2009

Running in Central American cities is miserable. Sidewalks are like balance beams. There is rarely any traffic control. And the right-of-way hierarchy looks like this: 1. Buses, 2. Cars, 3. Pedestrians, and a two-way tie for 4th place between dogs and runners.

Fortunately, I don´t live in Guatemala City, or San Jose, or San Salvador. Instead, I live in Xela, and although 100,000 people make Xela the second largest city in Guatemala, it takes just ten minutes of car dodging and steep running to escape the madness. And it’s worth it.
Yesterday, I found a new running gem with endless trails through pastures and forested hills, an area called Monte Zinai. Just 20 minutes into my run, I thought about how lucky I was…the scenery, the soft terrain, a runner´s paradise…yet I was the sole runner out there. I jogged passed a small cluster of farm houses and I was greeted by three dogs.  As one ran alongside me, my luck ran dry.
My left hand went numb as I felt its fangs dig into my upper arm. Luckily, she ran away as soon as she tasted my blood.  Her owner watched horrified, as I sat myself down in shock.  She ran to me, crying, “Esta bien?  Esta vacunado.  Esta vacunado!”  Or in English, are you alright?  It’s vaccinated!  I nodded, too shocked to utter a word.  It had been sixteen years since I had been attacked by anything, and all I wanted was my momma.  I jogged back to my house, gripping my numb arm.  I was upset, not longer because of the attack, but because of the logistics I was now forced into.  Doctors appointments and vaccinations were not in my plans for my first week in Guatemala.
I went to a family doctor.  After a shot in the butt of who knows what, she told me that a rabies vaccine in Guatemala was intense, and probably unnecessary.  Instead, it would be best if I spent the following afternoon with the dog, watch for eccentric behavior, saliva in the mouth, and other indicators of rabies.  I found my doctor’s advice quite bold.  Go back to the farm with the crazy dog and risk another attack?  What kind of treatment is that?  Just give me the vaccination damnit!
I followed her advice.  The next day, instead of taking Spanish classes, my teacher and I went for a walk into the hills.  Not wanting any enemies in my first week in Guatemala, I hoped to make peace with this farm dog.  Upon our arrival, I was relieved to find the dog chained up, yet eager to greet me once more.  I waved, it growled back, and we called for the owner.  The same lady came to greet us.  She was dressed in indigenous clothing and a Yankees baseball hat, so I knew she had to be alright.  She showed us documentation of the vaccinations, but having been signed in pencil with no official stamps, it was impossible to know if it was legitimate.  I took pictures of the dog, who was simply unwilling make up with me, and we were off.
Frustrated with the untrustworthy documentation, I checked myself into the city health center.  With just five shots in the arm over five weeks, the rabies vaccinations would be easier than I thought.  Thus I spent the next five Monday mornings at the health center with mothers and their newborns.  The best part was that it was completely free.  In the United States, a rabies vaccination would cost a resident almost $1000.  But here I was, a foreigner in one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and the state was footing the bill.
Wild dogs make running by far the most dangerous thing I do in low-income countries.  This incident turned out to be just one of several scary encounters with rural dogs, not accustomed to runners.  Now vaccinated, I feel a bit more secure, but having learned my lesson I now run with a rock in each hand, ready to fend off any more protective K-9s.
Running with my friend Mischa in the hills above Xela

Running with my friend Mischa in the hills above Xela

Running in Central American cities is miserable. Sidewalks are like balance beams. There is rarely any traffic control. And the right-of-way hierarchy looks like this: 1. Buses, 2. Cars, 3. Pedestrians, and a two-way tie for 4th place between dogs and runners.

Fortunately, I don´t live in Guatemala City, or San Jose, or San Salvador. Instead, I live in Xela, and although 100,000 people make Xela the second largest city in Guatemala, it takes just ten minutes of car dodging and steep running to escape the madness. And it’s worth it.

Yesterday, I found a new running gem with endless trails through pastures and forested hills, an area called Monte Zinai. Just 20 minutes into my run, I thought about how lucky I was…the scenery, the soft terrain, a runner´s paradise…yet I was the sole runner out there. I jogged passed a small cluster of farm houses and I was greeted by three dogs.  As one ran alongside me, my luck ran dry.

My left hand went numb as I felt its fangs dig into my upper arm. Luckily, she ran away as soon as she tasted my blood.  Her owner watched horrified, as I sat myself down in shock.  She ran to me, crying, “Esta bien?  Esta vacunado.  Esta vacunado!”  Or in English, are you alright?  It’s vaccinated!  I nodded, too shocked to utter a word.  It had been sixteen years since I had been attacked by anything, and all I wanted was my momma.  I jogged back to my house, gripping my numb arm.  I was upset, not longer because of the attack, but because of the logistics I was now forced into.  Doctors appointments and vaccinations were not in my plans for my first week in Guatemala.

My new friend, Clifford

My new friend, Clifford

I went to a family doctor.  After a shot in the butt of who knows what, she told me that a rabies vaccine in Guatemala was intense, and probably unnecessary.  Instead, it would be best if I spent the following afternoon with the dog, watch for eccentric behavior, saliva in the mouth, and other indicators of rabies.  I found my doctor’s advice quite bold.  Go back to the farm with the crazy dog and risk another attack?  What kind of treatment is that?  Just give me the vaccination damnit!

I followed her advice.  The next day, instead of taking Spanish classes, my teacher and I went for a walk into the hills.  Not wanting any enemies in my first week in Guatemala, I hoped to make peace with this farm dog.  Upon our arrival, I was relieved to find the dog chained up, yet eager to greet me once more.  I waved, it

Heading up to the hills for a visit with my friend

Heading up to the hills for a visit with my friend

growled back, and we called for the owner.  The same lady came to greet us.  She was dressed in indigenous clothing and a Yankees baseball hat, so I knew she had to be alright.  She showed us documentation of the vaccinations, but having been signed in pencil with no official stamps, it was impossible to know if it was legitimate.  I took pictures of the dog, who was simply unwilling make up with me, and we were off.

Having had too many cattle roberies in the past, this lady trains her dog to scare off outsiders.

Having had too many cattle roberies in the past, this lady trains her dog to scare off outsiders.

IMG_3511

Questionable vaccination records

Frustrated with the untrustworthy documentation, I checked myself into the city health center.  With just five shots in the arm over five weeks, the rabies vaccinations would be easier than I thought.  Thus I spent the next five Monday mornings at the health center with mothers and their newborns.  The best part was that it was completely free.  In the United States, a rabies vaccination would cost a resident almost $1000.  But here I was, a foreigner in one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and the state was footing the bill.

Wild dogs make running by far the most dangerous thing I do in low-income countries.  This incident turned out to be just one of several scary encounters with rural dogs, not accustomed to runners.  Now vaccinated, I feel a bit more secure, but having learned my lesson I now run with a rock in each hand, ready to fend off any more protective K-9s.

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