I laid in bed last night listening to the rain fall on the thatched roof of my bungalow in the hostel in Langquín. But more then hearing it on the roof, I heard it falling on the road from Langquín to the highway, that 10 kilometers of dirt road that is the only way out of this valley. I laid there for several hours, unable to sleep, thinking about that road. Thinking, “I’m fucked.”
And I was. When I pulled out that morning, already full of anxiety, I quickly confirmed that dirt plus water still equals mud. And I still had a 600 pound motorcycle with tires that are passable on gravel or dry dirt but useless in mud. And I needed to get to Guatemala City today.
On the outskirts of town is the first time the bike slid out from me, sending it onto some large rocks, perpendicular to the road, pointing away. Eventually three men walking down the road came to me and helped me stand it up and slowly push it back to the road pointing the right way.
Maybe a couple hundred meters further, the road started a steep ascent up the valley, here with no rocks in the road to provide a semblance of traction, just fresh, slimy, mucky mud. I laid the bike down almost immediately. A group of construction workers up at the top of the hill ran down to me. With the bike stood up and me on it, they basically pushed me to the top of the hill, one person on either side of me like training wheels, and one in back pushing, and acting as a mud flap as well. I wasn’t able to turn back or wave once I got to the top, for fear of laying the bike down again, so the best I could do was give them a friendly toot of the horn as I continued on.
It was maybe half a kilometer before I encountered the next mud pit on the approach to a very steep climb, and laid the bike down. A truck driver saw me in his rear view mirror and got out to start walking down the hill towards me. I took stock of the situation. My throttle hand comically swollen from a bee sting the previous day. My phone, broken, also from the previous day, depriving me of navigation. And me here, maybe a tenth of the way along this mud road to the highway which I need to get to, standing next to my motorcycle on its side for the third time today. I was fighting back tears, and this truck driver was walking down to me. I took a step back. This is when I found that immediately behind me there was no ground, as the bushes might suggest, but a ten foot drop into the jungle. I would have liked to see it – it was like a trapdoor, me there one moment by my motorcycle and then gone the next. The jungle vegetation caught me pretty gently.
I hope you’re laughing, because now as I replay this moment I can’t help but giggle every time. Just me, in the pits, figuratively, stumbling backwards and falling down a literal pit.
The truck driver began yelling and made his way down to me and put his arm around me and began guiding me back up to the road, the whole way saying “Despacio, hermano. Tranquil, tranquil!” – “Slowly, brother. Easy!” Once back, he insisted I sit by the road while he, and some other people who had now stopped, picked up the bike and moved it to the side of the road.
My good friend Christopher recently asked how I was doing, offering a good estimation of “not nirvana but consistent and hard highs and lows,” gleaned from his months riding his bicycle around France. He offered the advice P.O.R.: press on regardless.
And in this kind of situation, there’s really not much else you can do. I’m there, the motorcycle is there, there is a tiny town 1 kilometer behind me and a road to Guatemala City 9 kilometers ahead of me. By some providence, as I was standing there on the side of the road dumbfounded, a guy pulled up behind me on a similarly large motorcycle, also heading up to the highway. Randy from Arizona. He had taken a few spills already, too. We agreed to make our way to the highway together.
I bid my truck driver savior farewell, which felt entirely inadequate. There’s only so many times you can say “muchas, muchas gracias” to someone whose presence and grace probably just prevented you from losing your damn mind.
Randy and I picked our way up the side of the valley, both of us miraculously staying upright the rest of the way, despite a few butt-puckering slides in the mud. I’ve never been so happy to see pavement.
It was beautiful blacktop from there on out. I split ways with Randy in Cobán, and continued on to Guatemala City. This is not a place where you want to try to navigate sans GPS, especially in a stifling rush hour, but after stopping to ask for directions 5 times, I stumbled into my apartment for the night. Not too much worse for the wear, all told.
This is what brought me to Langquín:
And as for why I needed to make it to Guatemala City, I’ve got a hot date arriving tomorrow.