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…

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