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51# The stages of desperation

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

  • We’re fucked. We’re gonna spend the night here…and we don’t even have garlic!

  • Come on. What’s the worst that could happen?

  • We get robbed, bitten, and starved. And if we survive we get deported.

  • Oh Shit! I forgot about that! Hahahaha

Marco and I needed to withdraw money and put gas in the tank. The two banks in Benemerito de las Americas did not accept our cards, nor did the gas station; cash only. We ran out of pesos and were low on gas. The mood in La Chichona was quiet.

The Guatemalan border was the official entry to Central America. We would leave Mexico, get back the $500 deposit for the car permit, and get a new stamp in our passport. We left Benemerito in the early morning and followed google maps until there was no more road. A military man stood against a large fence cutting the road. Behind him was a white dilapilated building.

The military man told us that the border office was no longer in function. To get our passports stamped, we would need to drive back five hours to Palenque. We argued that we had no gas, no cash, and no way around the banks in Benemerito. We were desperate. Our only option was to cross.

The man empathized with us. After a long silence, he pointed to a dirt road around the fence. It led to Guatemala. He insisted that he wouldn’t be held responsible if anything were to happen to us. We thanked the man and started on that tiny dirt road, entering Guatemala clandestinely.

The road pushed through the hot and humid jungle. The sound of cicadas got louder as the trees closed in from both sides. We were dripping with sweat, stressed about every pothole. Uncomfortable. Quiet. A minute felt like an hour in a sauna. It was going to be a long day.

We drove slower than we could walk, laser-focused on potholes. Bouncing up and down the muddy marks was hard on us, and harder on La Chichona. Two hours later we heard a blare BANG! I stopped. The suspension base had gotten out of place, again! I cursed Lukas, Salazar Suspension, and the third-world with its corrupt politicians unable to build a fucking road! I tried to force the suspension back in its slot. My attempts ended in pain, suffocating dust, and a burst of rage. Marco kept calm. We positioned the the jack under the van to lift it, and failed at that too. Lost and exhaused, I sat on the shade of a tree.

A gentleman on a motorcycle drove by and stopped. He told us there was a mechanic 500m ahead, and advised us to drive there, even with a broken suspension. We trusted him. I felt la Chichona’s pain through every bump, until a miniature junkyward on a clear field in the middle of nowhere. That was the mechanic. He saw the base and said he could fix it for 100 Quetzales. We had no Quetzales.

I had stored US dollars as emergency cash in the bracelet Alex had gifted me. The mechanic accepted it. He put the suspension back but said it needed to be replaced. Broken as it was, it could come out at any time. We carried on that dirtroad, slowlier than before, for two more hours. Out of water and numbed by the heat, we drifted like castaways on that dusty dirtroad. And then… car noises… civilization… Hallellujah!

The tiny hamlet had a gas station and an ATM. We slid our cards anxiously and waited. It worked! We bought beers, gatorade, water, snacks and celebrated by cracking a cold one. We exited the dirtroad; asphalt had never felt smoother. No shaking. No dust. A cold beer, and fresh air. Veni vidi vici.

Our destination was the city of Coban, 100km away. We drove on asphalt for about twenty minutes and were back on that damn dirtroad, at walking pace again. After one too many bumps, the steering wheel stirred violently to the left and locked itself. We stopped to notice the damages. The whole van was tilted. Fuck.

The suspension base broke again, but this time the whole column popped out of place. We tried to put it back. My attempts ended in pain, suffocating dust, and a burst of rage. Marco kept calm. We positioned the the jack under the van to lift it, did it, and did not know what to do next. Lost and exhaused, we sat, hopeless, on the side of the road.

As the sun was setting, our desperation grew. There was nothing but the sounds of the jungle to keep us company. We were stuck in a lawless zone, with no cellular reception, no food, and little water. We could get robbed at any time and left there to die. I took a moment to examine our situation, and in a moment of desperate clarity, I burst into laughter.

Marco laughed. His coolness was no match for the jungle heat. We laughed histerically, and waived at every car that passed by. After a while, two teenagers on a dirt bike pulled over. They were mechanics; you can always tell by the dirty hands and stained clothes. The youngest one examined the issue and said he’ll be back in a bit. His friend stayed with us.

The youngest mechanic returned half an hour later. He took out a dozen washers from his pocket and piled them up to make a pillar. Then he used it as a base and inserted the suspension inside. It worked! He said it was only a temporary fix, but it would get us to Coban. The teenagers knew a local family who hosted us for the night. A miracle happened.

I had lost my shit on the first breakdown. The second one was just too much to handle. Our situation was so helpless it became funny, then hilarious. As the comedian Dieudonné would say, “we gotta laugh, it’s all we have left”.


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