During this same period, Nancy and I went to Guatemala. The trip was partly intended as a break from the tension at work. It was also partly a get time away from the challenges of balancing having a new-born baby in the house. The trip didn’t start well. We arrived in Miami to reports of a tornado at the airport. That caused our flight to divert to the Bahamas. By the time we returned to Miami, we’d missed our connection to Guatemala.
The airline offered to put us up at their expense, offering a room at a nearby hotel. Unfortunately, the room overlooked an eight lane highway. It had a sliding glass door that wouldn’t close and smelled of stale urine. I called the front desk to ask if we could pay for an upgrade. No, they told me, airline provided rooms were not eligible for upgrade, regardless of who paid.
Rather than accept this dictum, I hoofed it across the block to the main hotel. At the front desk I mentioned (in a bald faced lie of blatant self-interest) that I was on my honeymoon. Could I not pay this once for an upgrade? The clerk went off and soon came back with another key. “Don’t worry about paying for the upgrade,” she told me, “we comp’ed you the room.”
When Nancy and I got to the new room, we found they had given us the gorgeous Presidential Suite. It came with floor to ceiling windows that looked out across the Miami skyline. On the opposite side, the view was of the southern Atlantic. There was a hot tub so big that it took 30 minutes to fill. And they had placed complimentary champagne in the spacious living room. I felt like a cad. And we were thrilled.
We arrived in Guatemala and made the more or less mandatory stop at Lake Atitlan. We were both runners in those days. (Nancy still is, but I am more of an ass-sitter now). Nancy asked around for anyone who might be on hand to act as a paid running guide. The immediate response was ‘Caballo Blanco’. It was a name we remembered forever because of the memorable run we had.
Caballo Blanco – meaning White Horse in Spanish – was a tall thin American about my age. He had white-blond hair to the middle of his back and a very laid-back demeanor. We told him we were looking for a good six to ten mile run around the lake and he said, no problem, he knew the perfect one. The lovely run ended at a small lakeside town. This was during a bad period in Guatemala and in Atitlan in particular. Only the year before, government soldiers had wiped out an entire village right next to the one we were in.
As we shared a beer in the village, Caballo told us that he ran the lake route every day. It was clear from the cheers that went up to greet him at every town he passed that he was something of a local treasure. Before he left us to complete his run he invited us to stop over at his place that evening. As he departed, I asked how much of the run he still had to go. “It’s about fifty miles total,” he said with a grin, “so I’d say I have a little more that forty left to go.”
A few years ago, I read that a world-renown ultramarathon runner was found dead in a canyon in New Mexico. The article said that the runner – the fabled Micah True – was better known as Caballo Blanco. It went on to say that he died while living among a Native American tribe, the Tarahumara, who are revered for their almost super-human running feats.
When I mentioned the article to Nancy, she said it couldn’t possibly be the same guy. In fact, she said, she was pretty sure she’d seen Caballo on a trip back to Guatemala earlier that year. But when I googled it, his picture came up – running on Lake Atitlan, no less! Turns out there is an outstanding book about him called Born to Run. It is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read…and not because it is about him. It is a seriously a terrific read.
As I write this I googled Micah and Atitlan again. Here is what I got (and I swear I had already written what you’ve just read before I ever looked this up): “Micah True was given his nick-name meaning White Horse by the Mayans who inhabited the highlands of Guatemala during the time of their civil war. While spending a few winters circling the volcanic crater lake of Atitlan, True would run into a village, greet the Indigenous people, buy some tortillas and bananas, then move on from village to village. Eventually as he entered the outskirts of each village, the women and children would line the streets calling out “El Caballo Blanco,” and the kids would follow him, laughing. He thought this sweet so he carried this name throughout his travels in Latin America.
In his article Meeting the Tarahumara at the Leadville 100 (www.caballoblanco.com) he writes “The image of a Caballo Blanco must be rather endearing to Latin and Indigenous people, because I have always been greeted warmly, bringing a smile when I introduce myself.” [Sue Berliner, http://www.sweatmagazine.com/index.php/news/517-micah-true-known-as-caballo-blanco]
Here is a link to a more complete bio: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micah_True, and be sure to read that book!