Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Monday: The Tow Truck

Monday morning at Laguna Lachua dawned bright and beautiful.  We had the sunrise to ourselves, and we enjoyed it in peace and quiet.  Though there were still a few clouds, they burned off as the sun rose, and the sky morphed from gray to pink to yellow to a bright cerulean blue.  We sat in a relaxed silence, enjoying the howler monkeys’ eerie serenade.  By the time we finished breakfast, there was not a cloud left in the sky, the water was warm, and we all wished we could stay just a few more hours.  I truly thought the weekend’s curse had been paid and we were in the clear. 


We packed up camp with light hearts and were back to the cars and headed towards the city by 10:30am.  

One last glimpse of the lake. 

The first 5km of driving over the dirt road was muddy and bumpy and no more fun than it had been the first time, but we traversed it, and then it was smooth sailing. 

Local men and children come out to work on fixing the worst parts of the road.

About 2 hours into the drive—we were still an hour away from Coban—we started smelling gasoline.  “Is that us?  Is that my car?  What would make us smell gas?”  I asked.  As we continued, the smell followed us, leading me to believe that yes, it was coming from my vehicle.  But the stench seemed to dissipate a few km down the road, so I breathed a little easier.  And then, after I slowed down to go over a speed bump, the car refused to respond to the accelerator.   Though I was in the lowest gear and giving it gas, it wouldn’t accelerate.  Odd…and worrisome.  We got it started, though.

And then, on the next hill, as we were about to crest it, the car again stopped responding to the accelerator.  Slowly, slowly, we stopped.  And then the car stalled.  I tried to start it again and get us to the top of the hill, but it wouldn’t move.  So, with no other option, we rolled back down the hill and I got the car to putter into a driveway where we called Annette and Joel to ask them to come help us.

Due to the puttering and the car’s refusal to move, we decided maybe the only problem was that I’d run out of fuel.  The gas tank had read at half full after the 7 hour drive to Lachua, so it didn’t seem like I should have run through the remaining half tank in the 2 hours back that we’d come, but sometimes gas gauges can be silly.  So Annette and Joel went and found us a gallon of gasoline and borrowed a tube from the owner of the tiendita where they’d purchased it, and came back.  Though we were in the middle of nowhere, they managed to find something and be back in less than 15 minutes. 

We siphoned the gas into the car, then tried to start it.  It spluttered, and my friends standing back near the gas tank yelled, “Turn it off!  Turn it off!  It’s leaking everywhere!” 

As it turns out, I must have snagged the gas filter on a rock during that muddy section of dirt road leaving the lake.  There was a crack in it, and that’s why I had run out of fuel. 

So.  That’s how I found myself stranded in the middle of Guatemala with no way to get back home. 

We spent a lot of time at Km 263...
(photo courtesy of Annette Aguilar)

We decided our best option would be to have a tow truck from Coban (still over an hour’s drive away) come and pick us up and take the car all the way back to the capital.  At least then the car—and I—would be back in Guatemala City for work on Tuesday.  We could have towed it to Coban, but then I would have had to go back and retrieve it after the repairs were done, or wait in Coban and miss a day of work while it got fixed. 

Waiting for the tow truck
(photo courtesy of Annette Aguilar)

The tow truck took nearly 2 hours to get to us.  We waited, eating our snacks (since lunch in Coban would no longer be happening) and trying to find shade as the day had become quite hot. 

The tow truck driver, Juan, finally arrived around 3pm.  He proceeded to begin loading my car onto his truck with the slowest winch that exists in the world.  I am not exaggerating even a little bit when I tell you that it took a full 30 minutes to put my car on the tow truck. 

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Amy and I climbed into the front seat of the tow truck, and at 3:30, we began our slow journey back to the city.  I can only describe the 7 hour ride as interesting.  Not really in a good way. 

Juan was a strange fellow.  He was friendly enough, but didn’t talk much, and sometimes it seemed like he would ask me a question and then just ignore my answer (like the time he asked if we wanted to stop and have supper, and I said, “No, let’s continue on,” and he said okay, and then pulled off the road on a little side street filled with restaurants).  He also kept his window rolled down for the entire journey.  This was fine at the beginning, when it was hot out.  But after the sun went down, the open window made the truck icy.  At one point he asked if we were cold.  I said yes.  And then he smiled at me and just continued driving—without rolling his window up.  I think he kept it rolled down, though, so that he could spit more effectively.  Several times per hour he would suck up all of the saliva in his mouth and shoot it out the cab window with a satisfying (to him) thwacking sound. 

The trip had other oddities.  We made a detour into the city of Coban to stop at the office so that I could tell the owner that I would be paying once we arrived back in Guatemala City, not in Coban (this was not a problem with the owner, and I thought it had been made clear before the driver even picked me up, so I’m not sure why the detour was necessary).  We also detoured through a tiny, traffic-filled town for no apparent reason.  I’m not sure where it was, but Amy nicknamed it the Tic Toc Town, which seems to fit the bizarre situation. 

My favorite part of the trip home—really the only part that could be considered remotely “enjoyable”—was when Juan stopped to get himself something to eat and left Amy and I alone in the truck.  We were parked seemingly in the middle of nowhere; it didn’t even seem like a small town.  Juan left the keys in the ignition, the window rolled down, and his door unlocked.  Apparently he was not concerned for our safety.  But Amy and I had our doubts, sitting there in the dark.  A man just ahead sat on his front porch signaling to passing semis with a flashlight.  We have no idea what that was about.  But Amy decided that if she put her hood up and tucked her blond hair into her coat, maybe passersby would think she was my bodyguard.  Laughing, I told her I didn’t think she looked big enough to be a bodyguard.  So she tucked her feet up under her to squat on top of the seat, making herself seem taller sitting next to me.  Then she puffed out her jacket in an attempt to broaden her shoulders.  She still didn’t make a very intimidating bodyguard, in my opinion, and I lost it; I couldn’t breathe for all my laughter. 

We finally made it back to the city at 10:30pm.  After we stopped to pick up Amy’s car from my house, we drove to the mechanic’s shop and left my car there.  The guard had been alerted we were coming, and he came out and let us in.  Again, it took nearly 30 minutes to unload my car using the world’s slowest winch.  I was home and in bed by 11:35pm.  I didn’t even bother to shower.  Exhaustion doesn’t begin to cover it. 

Not exactly the way I’d hoped to end my three day weekend, to say the least…

Saturday and Sunday: Silver Linings

I woke up on Saturday morning with a pounding headache and a nervous, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I just didn’t feel like this trip was going to go well.

By the time we’d been on the road for a few hours and had stopped to have a hearty breakfast at the Sarita restaurant located at the turn-off to Coban, though, my nerves were gone.  I didn’t even really flinch when my steering wheel started shaking on our drive.  We joked about it, I fleetingly worried about it, and then I put it out of my mind.

We arrived at Laguna Lachua at about 2:30pm, after driving through myriad small towns, taking in beautiful mountain vistas, braving 5 kilometers of unpaved, muddy, rutted road, and not getting lost once. 

Moses (the car) performed like a champ through the mud.

Upon checking in, Lorenzo, a cheery man who is very devoted to and passionate about his job, gave us the rules of the park, gave us a discount (he charged us the resident price rather than the foreigner one, cutting our costs by more than 50%), and informed us that there were 38 people camping that night.  That seemed like a surprisingly high number, but I shrugged it off. 

By 3:30pm, we had purchased firewood and strapped it to Amy’s pack, strapped the tent to Kenra’s pack, and started off down the 4.4km trail that would take us to our campsite.  The walk was pleasant—flat, shaded, well maintained and well-marked. 
We stopped at the first dock and vista point for a glimpse of the lake.  Even under cloudy skies, we could see the clearness of the water and marvel at the glassy stillness of the surface.  We continued on eventually, though we could have stayed another hour, in order to avoid having to set up camp in the dark.

When we made it to the camp site, I realized that 38 people camping is a lot for Laguna Lachua.  Nearly every green space was occupied with tents, and every roofed picnic area too.  It was like a crowded KOA without the picnic tables, fire pits, and individual space.  We found a spot to ourselves to set up the tent, as far from others as we could manage. 

Our tent, all on its own (sort of).  

The big covered area had probably 10 tents set up inside of
it.  Then there was the tent village, which originally had
more tents than are shown in this picture.  

That night the two grills that had tables next to them were occupied, so rather than making a fire, we opened up our cookstove on the grass outside our tent and had our dinner there.  We were in the tent by 7pm reading.  As we lay there, Amy remarked, “Are we lame?  It’s Valentine’s Day, and we are three single girls, lying in a tent at 7pm, reading.  And Sue just asked if she really wanted to read or if she just wanted to go to bed.” 
(For the record, I don’t think we’re lame).

The next morning, we planned to get up for sunrise.  We set an alarm for 5:50am.  However, I woke up much before that because the rest of the camp decided to get up around 5am and kept walking past our tent, speaking at full volume.  By the time we got down to the dock, there was almost no place to sit; we weren’t the only ones with the idea to catch the sunrise.  It was crowded, noisy, and so cloudy that there wasn’t a sunrise to speak of—just a gray sky over gray water. 

NOT happy to share my sunrise...

They spoiled the view.  

After breakfast, which we ate on the dock, Amy took a nap while Kenra and I sat at the water, peering at the fishies. 

Around 9am, Amy got up again, and she and I decided to go for a run.  There’s only one path/trail at Laguna Lachua—the flat one we’d come in on—but that actually makes a nice running trail.  Running out to the parking lot and back was about 9km total, which is a good distance for an hour’s leisurely jog. 

The run was really nice.  And it felt good.  But about halfway back, I noticed my palms were itching—the telltale sign for me of the start of an allergic reaction.  I sometimes have these reactions, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint what food or chemical it is that triggers it yet.  I couldn’t think of anything I’d eaten that was even on my “suspected food culprit” list, though, so I told myself the itchiness was probably due to something else, and I kept running.  When my tongue started swelling, though, I told Amy I was going to walk.  By the time we made it back to camp, my lips were swelling too, and my tongue was abnormally large.  None of the three of us had thought to pack Benadryl, so after asking a few campers if they had any (answers: no, it’s back at the bus, no.), I took a seat with a bottle of water to wait for Annette, Joel, and Carrie to arrive and hoping they would have some with them. 

My face does not normally look like this...

At about 11:45, our 3 friends came trooping into camp, and luckily, Carrie had an antihistamine.  (Funnily enough, she’d purchased it the night before because their hotel had had cats roaming around).  I took two, and the relief was immediate.  Within minutes, my swelling was down, I could move my lips and speak normally again, and the hives that had broken out over my body were subsiding. 

That afternoon, the sun came out for the first time on our trip.  The group of 50 (the 38 campers and all those inhabiting the cabins) had left by noon, so we had the place to ourselves. 
There used to be 4 tents under each of
these covered enclosures.  
It really seemed to me that the arrival of our friends had signified a change in our luck.  We got to see the true beauty of the lake and experience the tranquility that come from enjoying it without the crowds.  I am not sure I would have appreciated it in the same way if I hadn’t first experienced it under cloudy skies with a hoard of other spectators. 

We had a fire that evening, roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories as we relaxed after our dinner. 

When we’d finished, we went out to the dock to lay looking at the stars.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many—and I’ve been in remote areas on cloudless nights before.  It was truly breathtaking. 

Shining her torch into the water, Amy found a catfish with a zebra pattern than we hadn’t seen during the day.  We named him Steve and tried to trick him into coming out from under his rock with periods of darkness before turning on the flashlights again. 

That night, we moved from the tent to the cabins and slept soundly on real beds.  Sunday afternoon and evening had redeemed the weekend, and I saw the silver lining in every drawback that we’d experienced.  

Friday: Premonitions

**Important Note: This entire post was written on Friday the 13th, BEFORE we left for our trip to Laguna Lachua.**

You ever feel like a trip is just cursed before it even begins?  If that’s a thing, then this weekend’s planned adventure to Laguna Lachua is definitely cursed.  Let me tell you what we’ve already been through.

It began as a dream trip.  I’d heard of this remote, pristine lake on a nature preserve in northern Guatemala.  Everyone I spoke with recommended a vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get there, since the roads aren’t top notch.  No problem, I thought.  Amy and Chris would both love the trip, and Chris’s truck would be the perfect vehicle. 

So, when a 3 day weekend presented itself in February, Amy and I decided we wanted to use it to hit up Lachua. 
First hitch: Chris wasn’t going to be in town that weekend. 
Okay, we said.  We’ve got other friends with SUVs.  Annette’s awesome to hang out with, and she’s got a car that could make it.  Let’s ask her.

So we did, and Annette was up for it, and her husband Joel got Monday off of work so he could come.  Fantastic. 

But then we decided we would really love for both Carrie and Kenra to come along too.

Now, this meant we needed a 2nd vehicle.  So we spoke with several people who had been recently, and we decided that my little Parati Crossover should be able to make the drive, as long as we drove slowly to avoid the ruts and potholes. 

The decision to take 2 cars also opened up the possibility of having 1 group stay a bit longer at the lake and 1 stay only one night there.  Annette and Joel decided that one night in the rustic setting of Laguna Lachua would be enough for them, and that they would head back to Coban Sunday night while the other 4 of us spent a 2nd night in the cabins there.  (As Annette puts it, Joel grew up here in Guatemala City, where being outside at night means death).   Great.  Worked out well, actually.

And then on Wednesday, Annette finally heard back from the people in charge of reservations at Lachua.  The cabins were full on Saturday night with no room for the 6 of us.  She and Joel just decided to switch their nights around and stay in Coban Saturday night instead of on Sunday.
The rest of us still really wanted 2 nights at Lachua.  So we decided to tent camp the first night.

Only problem…none of us own a tent. 
Eh; it’s cool.  We have friends.  Amy and Carrie starting asking people to borrow camping supplies.

Fast forward to Friday morning. 
We had in our possession one 2 person tent.  Three of us were camping (Carrie had decided to go with Annette and Joel to Coban the first night).  I, being the planner that I am, was starting to freak out.  We’d had several false leads.  We thought we had a bulky, heavy 6 person tent, but then found out it was in Antigua.  We thought we had a 2nd 2 person tent, but then found out the owner would actually be using it.  We were pretty much out of ideas.

And then Kelly Anne stopped in to my room and casually asked if we were all set for our trip.  I told her not really, because we didn’t have a tent for everyone.
“We have a tent!  We have 2 tents!  Do you want to borrow the one that sleeps 4 people?” 
Yes.  Yes we did.  We immediately made plans to meet up after school so I could get the tent from her.  We’d been saved. 

So, we were all good again.  Everything was planned.  Kenra and Amy and I would meet up in the afternoon to go grocery shopping together, and then we would pack, and we’d meet up with everyone else on Saturday morning. 

But then after school, Kenra got stuck in traffic on the way home (and left her wallet at school), and Amy went home to sleep off a serious dizzy spell (the woman’s recovering from mono, did I mention?).  I got stuck in traffic on my way to meet Kelly Anne.  At this point, even the little things stressed me out.  I swear to you…probably it will all work out, but I’m convinced this trip is cursed.