I guess if you say so, I'll have to pack my things and go (that's right!)
Hit the road Jack, and don't you come back no more...
Life gave me a second chance. The dust settled around la Chichona, silence returned and my shaking stopped. I sent Henrik a picture of the situation and returned on the road, at a steady 10km per hour. I left la Chichona at the next garage and jumped in a cab for the airport. I was late. Henrik was waiting.
I saw him from the gate, pacing back and forth on the parking lot. I walked around the car to assess the damage. His rental car had a plastic bumper which was easy to flatten. It made the bump almost unnoticeable. I reassured Henrik I would pay if things came to worse, and begged him to relax. Germans and rules…
The rental agency employee was late... Classic. I watched the scene from further away. The man walked around the car and checked the inside. Henrik was pulling off an incredible performance, doing his best not to shit his pants. I was certain he would break down, consumed by guilt, and admit everything. He managed to keep it together. The guy did not see the bump. My luck had come back.
Under-pressure Henrik was stressful to watch. He was acting as if he had committed an atrocity, agonizing in his anxiety. All that pressure for a tiny bump on a rental car. How would he react when we break down in rebel territories? When a hooded militia block the road, when need to negotiate our way out? No fucking way I’m travelling with this clown.
I resigned myself to going alone, picked up la Chichona with a new tire and returned to Barra. Next to me over diner, four Aussies were playing cards. They had a dark humor and a laidback vibe. They joked and talked with the comforting confidence of seasoned dirtbags. Two of them were flying home the next day, the other two had no plans. “I’m driving to San Cristobal tomorrow, leaving at 6 am. You guys are welcome to tag along” , I said on my way out. “We’ll let you know tonight” he said.
Hunter and Matty were ready at 6am sharp. They said goodbye to their friends and stacked their board-bags on my bed. Their friend offered me his surfboard “Take it with you... if you want it” he said. Of course I wanted it! His gift was a token of revival, my luck returning from a long and dark odyssey. I was in a shitty shape since the mountain incident. Restless from nightmares, I chewed on hate and resentment toward she-who-must-not-be-named. Everything changed in 24 hours. I rescued my business, did not fall from a cliff, and found two travel partners to venture through Chiapas. Life was good.
We had not even entered the states of Chiapas when la Chichona’s power issues started. We stopped in a tiny town before the mountains, and scanned every street for a garage. A guy we asked pointed to a large field. Music was echoing from the distance. We followed it to find a drunk, fat guy singing to a poor dog dazed by the heat. I introduced myself and asked for a mechanic. The drunk guy yelled and a little crowd gathered around the van.
The mechanic was an old man, on his day off. I begged him to help a few lost pendejos who knew nothing about cars. “Por favor, valgo verga!” I pleaded. They all burst into laughter. Hunter and Matty joined and introduced themselves in their most broken spanish. The drunk guy rushed to get beers and Mezcal and the boys took shots for the team. The old mechanic gave in to peer pressure and accepted to look at la Chichona. He sealed the turbo leak with three clips and four Ave Maria. We thanked him, rubbed the drunk guy's belly for luck, and left our new friends with renewed hope. God bless Mexicans.
We broke down again a few hours later, on the highway this time. Cruising through the mountains of Chiapas at a steady 30km per hour (and blocking a whole line), we were escored by the Federal police for a while. Hunter and Matty were tipsy and joyful. They embraced every moment of the adventure. We made it to San Cristobal past 10pm. I dropped them at the Iguana hostel and found a quiet street for the night.
The near-death experience put things into perspective. I favored uncertainty over certain anxiety and it paid off. I was relieved to be safe, relieved to be closer to the border, relieved to be in San Cristobal. The bed was a cloud of comfort. I switched off the christmas light and smiled.
The line glowed in the dark. La Chichona smiled back.