On our first visit to Hoodee’s Boliche — the only bowling alley in Fronteras and probably miles around — Jim, the owner, explained how he came to build it. He also gave Mikayla and me some insight into local Guatemalan culture.
Like many other folks in the Rio Dulce, Jim’s a cruiser or he was at one time. He spent ten years building a trimaran in the USA. Then he spent another dozen building a catamaran that he sailed to St. Thomas to finish off. For a decade or so he used it to run charters in the BVIs. He quit when he grew tired of stripping his boat and tying it down for every tropical storm that came along.
Then Jim ended up in the Rio Dulce. His sister suggested that he have the little girl that he always wanted. So, he went to Belize where the younger natives are attracted to old gringos like Jim. He married a woman 40 years his junior, and together they created a daughter, Jennie, that he adores. She’s eight years old.
Jim and Judy (pronounced Hoodee in Spanish) divorced a few weeks ago. Seems she got tired of the old man and found a Guatemalan closer to her own age. He’s a police officer in Guatemala City, and Judy sees her partner once a month, if she’s lucky.
Jim built his bowling alley, Hoodee’s Boliche, four years ago. First, he had to acquire a special permit to purchase the wood. The government is very strict in its approach to logging. It has to be; otherwise, the entire countryside would be stripped bare. It took another two-and-a-half years for the wood to dry before Jim could start building.
Hoodee’s is unique for many reasons, and among those is its size. Of the two lanes, one is a foot-and-a-half shorter than the other, and the longer one is a foot shorter than regulation size. You see, the lanes are built on a diagonal that butts up to the middle school next door. Jim really knows how to maximize zero lot lines.
Another reason why Hoodee’s is special is that it has human pin setters. Jim hires a boy named Luis to come in a couple of afternoons each week to set pins. Jim’s pride, though, is the two sisters who work on Wednesdays and Sundays. They’re really fast, he says.
Mikayla and I knew about Luis before we met him. We’d been told by another cruiser that Luis was earning money for college at the bowling alley. He had a pink plastic pig chained down to the counter for collecting tips. Trouble was, Luis was bringing home so much money that he got out of control.
“The gringoes went crazy and were paying him Q50 in tips,” said Jim. “That’s as much as one person makes in a day in Guatemala. His mother begged me to remove the pink pig.”
Despite their poverty, Jim says that sometimes the Guatemalans will spend their money on clothes before they’ll spend it on food, because they want to make a good impression.
“They worry all the time about what other people think about them,” he says. “They gossip all the time, too. There’s nothing else to do but chisme.” That’s Spanish for gossip, which also happens to be the name of the leading news source for cruisers: Rio Dulce Chisme.
Jim adopted Judy’s son, now 12, whom he sent to school in Morales for two years. He pursued a savvy strategy. He figured that his son would be safer attending the school where the drug leaders send their kids for an education than the local one. Jim didn’t mind spending $5500US per year in tuition, but for every birthday his son had to provide a gift for the honoree. After a while, it was too much. Just think what might happen if the kid snubbed the child of a drug lord.
Jim went on to say that the police won’t do anything if they’re called to investigate a situation, a story heard throughout Central America. The police are too scared to get involved with the drug lords, he says, and will ignore the most heinous crimes, even murder.
Road rage is not unusual in Guatemala which is hard to conceive among such a kind, loving people. Jim explained that he recently pulled his SUV behind a pick-up truck that had stopped in the middle of the main street of Fronteras, a busy thoroughfare jammed with cattle trucks, vegetable stands and feed stores. He honked his horn and the driver showed Jim an AK47 or some other sinister weapon. Jim’s daughter became frantic when she saw the gun and began crying, begging her father not to honk his horn again. A driver in a vehicle behind Jim attempted to pass the armed driver and received a threat as well. He stopped and returned to his original space. The armed driver clearly had his own no-passing lane.