We were finally on the road, eggs and all, although I didn’t have much faith that the eggs would actually make it to Carmelita.
In Mexico and Guatemala there are almost no traffic cops. There aren’t many traffic signs either. What both countries do have in abundance, though, is speed bumps. And, by speed bumps, I mean hard, sharp concrete tank traps at seemingly random spots in the highway where somebody, for some reason, wants you to slow down.
They’re annoying as hell, because they are generally so sharp edged that they don’t really require you to slow down. They require you to stop. Then you can very gradually creep over them, which is the only way to do it if you want to avoid serious damage to your tires, your shocks, your underside, and your passengers.
They are called, in Mexico topes, which translates literally as top, and in Guatemala they are túmulos, which is burial mounds, which is sort of apt when you consider what they’re doing to your car. One driver told us that they’re also called policías acostados, which means sleeping policemen. He added that that is the only time Guatemalans get any use out of their police.
What they do have in abundance in Guatemala, though, is soldiers. They seem to stand around in random places, such as entrances to parks, or crossroads, or little stands they erect by the side of the road so they can look stern while they stop you and give you the once over before sullenly waving you along. I asked the driver why Guatemala seemed to have so many soldiers, but such crappy roads. He said, “They’d rather keep the people afraid than fix the roads.”
Nevertheless, the túmulos and soldiers had been negotiated, and we’d turned off the highway onto the actual road for Carmelita.
And by road, I use the term loosely.
Oh, it was a road, once. But now it was so rutted both horizontally and vertically by traffic and last year's rains that we frequently had to come to a complete stop in order to not break what was left of our suspension system on the ditches that crossed at random, and frequent, intervals. It was if the entire road were one túmulo after another, except these weren't marked by any road signs.
On top of that, the original gravel was long gone. It had long since been pulverized into a very fine white dust. Combine that with the slash and burn farming techniques along most of the road that had reduced the one-time jungle to smoldering dust fields, and you have an idea of what Oklahoma must have looked like in 1934, except it was white instead of red.
So, within about two minutes after hitting the road to Carmelita, everything and everyone in the van was covered with the dust. We couldn’t really close the windows because it was so hot, but, when an oncoming large truck would blow up such a cloud of dust, we did anyway.
Eventually Alex and one of the Basques decided that it would be cooler to just get out of the van and ride on top. Which they did. Between clouds of dust, I could see their shadows on the white dust road and wondered if they also liked to jump out of airplanes without a parachute, or at least ride motocross bikes without a helmet.
Sometimes, Chooch had to stop the van entirely, not because of a rut, but because he had to wait a minute for the dust to settle so he could see the next rut.
Then it got a bit better. After an hour and a half of rut surfing, the road changed from the deep dust to a more solid, albeit rocky road. It was still very bumpy, but not as ditchy. Unfortunately, the rocks were sharp. Like the rocks Mayas had chipped away at to make axe blades sort of sharp.
Remember that tire we filled back in town? Boom. Now it was flat.
And, while we had a jack, it wasn’t the “right” jack. It wouldn’t lift the van high enough off the ground to get the flat tire off.
Here, though, is where we learn some Guatemalan ingenuity. All you have to do is find a big enough rock, drive the flat tire onto that rock. Put another rock under the jack to get the van's axle high enough, then kick the rock out from under the tire. That took a couple of tries, because when you’re kicking one rock, it sort of tends to move the whole van, and it’s a 50-50 proposition which is going to happen first. Is the rock going to come out from under the tire, or is the jack going to tip off the other rock, crashing the van back down on the flat, which necessitates repeating the process?
Guess which happened.
Finally, though, the tire was fixed, and the spare was attached. The spare, by the way, was very low on air as well, but, thankfully, it did get us into Carmelita.
Next: we actually start walking. Not right away mind you. First there were plates of beans to be eaten and mules to be packed.
Here are links to all the chapters of The El Mirador Saga:
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