It was getting late, and all too soon I felt the need to leave. I clambered up the rocks out of the sacred pool, and retrieved my shoes and shorts from a crude table someone had made out of a few branches. The climb down to the lower falls was greasy with fine red silt, and all the more difficult due to the fact that I was now barefoot and carrying my shoes in one of my hands. I cautiously wove my way down the slippery path, slipping only once, the result of which was a bruised ankle. We retraced our steps and again crossed the ford where Elise had humbly carried me across the stream a half-hour earlier. I sat on a large rock, shook the water off my feet and replaced my shoes and socks.
I was soon astride Paloma once again, heading back down the path toward civilization. The animal was dependable to a fault. On a particularly tricky kink in the trail, there was a steep drop, and a quick left-right maneuver was required to avoid a nearly vertical four-foot drop. My dove cautiously approached the crucial juncture and paused for just an instant. I experienced a moment of fear, then he made a deft move to the left and without missing a beat negotiated the right as smooth as a professional race car driver through the esses at Monte Carlo. "Nice move Paloma!" I exclaimed. Elise sensed just what I meant and gave a short hard laugh. It was a great move in any language.
As we passed through the tiny village again, Elise began a spontaneous botanical lesson. He pointed out Pineapple, Yucca, Coffee, Cacao, Banana and Papaya. "This is the Garden of Eden," I concluded aloud. I continued the jest in my rough Spanish; "Where is the house of Adam and Eve?" His easy laugh was voiced again as he pointed to the oldest house in sight. It seemed not entirely out of the question, judging by the ancient appearance of the dwelling. I was having a marvelous time.
We soon reached the main road, passed the official entrance sign and entered Santiago’s yard where we found him sitting in the shade. "Â¡Calinda! Â¿Que hora es?" He called out.
"Cinco menos diez," came the reply from the window of his house. Five minutes over. I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem.
I dismounted and thanked Elise for his excellent services, shaking his hand and secretly passing him 50 pesos as a tip, which he received with a smile of gratitude as he cupped the bill in his palm and casually slid both hands into his front pockets. Now to close the deal with Santiago and find my ride back to the hotel. What happened next both surprised and saddened me.
"Give me five hundred pesos," Santiago demanded. The words hit me like a right cross to the jaw, shattering not bone, but rather my respect for the man.
"Oh, don’t!" I said. "We agreed on two hundred."
"For the horse," He snapped back. "I said one hundred pesos an hour for the horse. You owe me two hundred for the horse and three hundred for the guide. Give me five hundred pesos," He reiterated.
"No!" I was tired of being short-changed and ripped off. "You never said anything about the guide costing extra. I asked if we could go to the waterfall and back in two hours, and I would pay two hundred, and you said ‘Yes.’" My heart was suddenly pumping hard again, as it had been during the climb.
"Yes," He agreed. "I say one hundred pesos for one hour to rent my horse, two hours two hundred pesos. For horse. I have to feed my horse and pay my brother, and he has four little children to feed. I cast a glance toward Elise. He seemed to understand what was transpiring, his head down, gazing at the ground, not looking at us. I recalled that on the trail he had told me that he had two small children, not four. Santiago was a liar and a thief, pretending to be my friend in order to steal my sympathy, as well as my money. I sensed Elise was on my side, but I didn’t know if he would say so.
High school Spanish don’t fail me now: "Â¿Yo soy un hombre sincero, verdad? ("I am an honest man, isn’t that true?") I asked Elise. I felt we had connected on the trail, and hoped he would support me. "Didn’t Santiago and I agree on two hundred?" Elise rolled his eyes and shifted nervously in his chair. All three of us knew damn well I was speaking the truth. Santiago softened.
"Give me four hundred," He barked. He looked suddenly dangerous. Just then the motorbike driver approached and stopped at the gate, amazingly right on-time. I motioned for him to wait a moment.
"I don’t have four hundred, and if I did I wouldn’t give it to you. I think you’re trying to cheat me!" I was getting really pissed, and that statement only served to anger him even more.
"Give me what you have then. How much do you have?"
"How much I have is none of your business!" This guy was a regular extortionist.
"I never have trouble like this before," he said. (Yeah, right.) "Only from you. You want me to give YOU trouble?" he said, taking a threatening step closer.
Beep, beep! The moto man wanted to go. So did I, believe me. I thought this guy was going to take a swing at me any second. It wasn’t worth it. Still, something inside me refused to give in – my pride, my sense of right and wrong; yet I felt I had to defuse the situation.