“This is Guatemala”

Keep having to repel pointless incredulity at these ridiculous, absurd, comically crispatefucked roads: pointy diverse sized rocks embedded in hard dirt except where there’s sand, and except where the rocks are just scattered and loose, everywhere washboarded, tilted along at 18%+ for kilometer after kilometer.  Normally if a place is 20k away you figure about an hour at touring speed. Here, anywhere from two to four, the latter being how many it would take to walk, which you might well end up doing next to your bike. An evil genius spell of topology makes it so that every direction is up, even were you to turn right back around, which you often want to do.

Manifestly paradisiacal.

Way off piste, following a topo map so have a pretty good notion of hells to come, it’s 5:15 and then a lamentable navigational error. Cracked track, a few k and a twelve foot high iron gate. Huh? Looking around in the cemetery quiet, thoughts dim and slow, just then a car pulls up behind so that we can terrify each other mightily. A kindly man gets out, explains that he’s a caretaker and the ruins are closed but I can poke around a bit if I want while he finishes up the day’s chores. He opens the gate and I slip inside, check out intact walls, rooms, central open spaces.

He’a going home but says he’ll lock me in so I can spend the night there, not really allowed but I’m just one guy with a tent. Tempted but decline, next two hours are prime in the dark ride time, plus I’ll be hating life all day pedaling full gas (uphill at 6mph) tomorrow to make my flight the day after, already behind the eight ball. Backtracking to the correct turn, ink black with headlamp dapple, I’m awhile in a pleasant mental desolation on a small dirt road. A pickup truck is stopped ahead of me, a family, three kids on the tiny seats behind the bucket ones. Ask if they’re alright, the car just stopped apparently but someone is coming to help, they seem content and unpanicked so I wish them well and continue on.

Some more time passes in and out of presence, same truck comes stampede behind, back end so light that he has to gun it up every loose grade, “…nnnt a riiiiiii???” The truck passes and I yell “sure” and at the top I load up, we burst forward. A few bouncing miles later the car uphill goes dark and quits. I hop out and he’s poking around with his smartphone LED light.

“What was it before?”

“Something to do with the battery.” A quick look, oh, I see, the positive terminal lead has frayed and broken free. He’s messing with the disintegrating cap on the coolant overflow reservoir, don’t worry about that, it’s just a vent, by my headlamp we bodge the cable with zip ties and, again, make the jump to light speed.

On a descent—for cars there are descents—the lights, motor cut out wide blind. It takes enough time to stop to image us dying by freefalling off the edge three or four ways. Heartbeating suddenly in my temples. Open hood again, we laugh about this being our last night on Earth, “but this is Guatemala…,” he says as if that explains, well, I’m not sure what, either that we lived or that we almost didn’t. Myself, not so keen to get back in without a more durable solution, the battery shakes around. But there are no tools, hex keys are useless.

This being Guatemala, soon a truck with an old timer rancher comes chugging out of the thick and he has tools, and my companion fumbles with those. I’m hanging back, but finally he says he’s not good with this stuff, which in man world is kinda like saying you pee sitting down, but his easy frankness instantly makes me respect him more. I ask if he minds if I just take apart and redo the terminal connector.

Along the way I learn that Jerry lived in  NJ for awhile and we talk about Manhattan and he asks where I started the day maybe at the ruins (where I was two hours ago) and I tell him no, Cabulco, and he says I’ve lost my mind, “this is Guatemala,” didn’t I read about the violence and I say, “of course, uh huh.”

Off into the night again full speed, drops me off at a crossroads and his wife takes a picture of us, yucking it up during which he says, “but this is Guatemala!” a couple more times and I say, “that’s why I like it.”