- Oh you're going to Mexico!?
- Then I can come with you. I need to go to Guatemala.
My time in El Tunco was coming to an end. I dreaded leaving. It would mean being on the road again, and I started to hate the road. More often than not shit happened on the road. Situations I would rather not deal with. This time I had no choice. My visa and la Chichona's car permit were soon to expire.
The trip to Honduras left a bitter taste in my mouth. I rushed the departure and ended up with poor travel partners. On top, a painful experience at the border and a dangerous drive back. This time things would go better... inshallah. I planned the route ahead and started to look for a travel mate early on. Since going South wasn't an option, I had to try my luck at the Guatemalan border, to eventually reach Mexico.
It's hard to find a good travel partner. Two strangers can fit perfectly on the road while best friends might want to kill each other within a week. For me it was a matter of feeling, intuition. Usually the lack of it is an answer on itself. When it comes to relying on intuition there is no middle ground. As Mark Manson wrote, it's either FUCK YES ! Or NO.
Sofia, a friend from high school reached out to me. She heard about la Chichona life and wanted to experience it. We had never spent much time together, but she sounded chill on the phone and she had no expectations. The plan was to meet in San Cristobal in Mexico and travel together from there. A week later, she booked her flight from Paris. Now I needed someone to drive with from El Tunco to Mexico.
Instead of asking boldly, this time I thought I would play it by ear, use my intuition. We were having a group diner when a girl in the table overheard my plans. Then she turned to me and in a self-assured tone, she invited herself. No please, no shame. I glimpsed at Sandra, amazed by such arrogance. She smiled back. We finished our pupusas in silence.
The next day Jackie was watching the sunset alone. I asked if I could join her. She nodded silently, offering me a shy smile. I respected her quiet moment until she slowly came out of it. For the first time, we had a real conversation. We bonded over our analysis of the world cup and our love for strong beers. We shared the challenges of roaming on the road, both in our thirties and having no definite life plan. She was honest and humble. She also wanted to visit Mexico.
Jackie was a funny Belgian nerd. Besides researching treatments for brain cancer, she played football in a league and loved to mountain bike. She was telling me the story of how she put bear spray on her face out of panic after seeing a bear. I was laughing my ass off until she casually dropped the fact that she mountain biked from the Rockies to Alaska, alone, for 3 FUCKING MONTHS !!! Just her, her tent and the bears. Still not sure if I felt more impressed or emasculated.
Jackie was a good gal, always enthusiastic about the little things. We agreed to travel together and started to get ready. I took la Chichona to the garage for due and preventive maintenance. As always, the time spent at the garage was long and painful. The dirt, the heat, the mosquitoes. I had to supervise every job so they wouldn't cheat me. Three days, and 768$ later the van was ready. La Chichona is bleeding me dry. We would leave at dawn on Monday.
The hard part is not leaving but saying goodbye. Four months in a two-streets town like El Tunco is a lot. I knew most people by then, and truly cared about a few. When the packing was over and the tears dried, I went to fill up the tank so we wouldn't waste any time the next morning. Sandra came along to immortalize the moment. Our last ride together in la Chichona.
At the gas station I filled up the tank and checked the tires, Sandra was taking pictures. On the main road I pushed on the pedal to feel the turbo...nothing. That's weird. We kept going and five minutes later I tried again, still nothing. The road narrowed between tall rocky walls when we heard RRRRRRRR coming from the engine. Then I lost control.