Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Two Weeks South of the Border: Part The End"

The adventure continues and concludes in this installment, which ranges from ruins to Kaluha (words which also sum up my current existence). See how travel broadened this broad?
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After a few days in Belize, my sister, some other Peace Corps volunteers, Cute John, and I rented a "taxi" to take us to Tikal, Guatemala to see some Mayan ruins. Alwyn, our driver, didn't want more than five people in his car, for the roads are nearly non-existent, and, as Carol Brady would have, he feared for his station wagon. Pointing out that Cute John was spun from nothing more than clouds, fairy wings, and cotton candy, we unwisely coerced Alwyn to allow a sixth in the car.

Tikal was 65 km (let's call that 39 miles, roughly) from our starting point that day. It was a four-hour drive. To amuse ourselves, we ran through our repertoires of "theme songs from every tv show aired since 1970." Only Cagney & Lacey stumped the crowd. As I've asked myself nearly every day since my adolescence, Where's Tyne Daly when you need her?



My favorite moment of this journey was when the station wagon got stuck in a rut in from of 10 Guatemalan lads--lazing on the edge of a village well--just as we all reached the high point of the All in the Family theme song "Those Were the Days," doing our best Edith Bunker impersonations. Jaws around the well dropped, and we set back Central American/North American relations hundreds of years, putting a particular strain on the coffee trade (you no longer have to ask yourselves, "Why can I only get an inferior cup of Sumatran java these days?" After hearing our singing, Guatemalans were thrown into a decades-long bean harvesting paralysis.)



Tikal itself is amazing. We hiked all over the ruins, ending with Temple IV, a building that loomed several hundred feet into the sky, reachable only by maneuvering a series of sideways ladders and grasping at tree roots. I nearly wept at the top for fear of the descent.

Fortunately, right then a group of senior citizens came huffing and puffing around the corner. I eyed them quizzically and asked, "Do you, by chance, know an alternate route down?" They did. All it involved was shuffleboard, ice sculptures, and me sitting on my tush and sliding down the hill).



Dusty and sweaty, we had lunch, bargained at the market, and began the drive home.

Oh. Did I forget to mention that this was the first weekend this particular border crossing between Guatemala and Belize had been open in some time? There'd been a ban because groups of banditos had been attacking tourist vehicles and "molesting" (in all fashion) gringos?

This concern was firmly tucked into the back of our collective head as we started the drive home at dusk. On the worst possible stretch of sheltered road, Alwyn, our driver, slammed on the brakes and yelled, "I smell gas!" Without another word, he hopped out of the car, dove beneath it, jumped out, ran to a nearby shack, and came back with a pan and a bar of soap. What an odd time for a sponge bath, Alwyn.

It turned out we had two dime-sized holes in the gas tack, holes that had been worn through when the tank came into repeated contact with the road as it worked through the ruts that day. Our supply of gas was in rapid leak all over the road. Keeping his head, and smelling of an Irish Spring, Alwyn went to work ripping apart the bar of soap and shoving it into the holes.

Villagers from miles around gathered quietly, silently, in a removed circle around us, watching, sharpening their knives, eyeing our flesh and firing up their barbeques. Cute John prepared to sacrifice his life in defense of the five gringas in his company from the line of men that slowly started snaking its way towards us. He, in other words, plotted the straightest line between himself and the camouflage of the jungle, knowing he could outrun us all.

In truth, we merely felt intimidated, and Alwyn saved the gas and the day. And I had a reflective moment of realizing my imagination was alive and turning cartwheels. We got home safely, gratefully.

The next Monday, Kirsten, Cute John, and I got back on another bus to return north to Corozal. During that bus ride, I finished reading GONE WITH THE WIND for the 32nd time. They all die, by the way. On the way back to Corozal, we spent an afternoon in the smoky, polluted capital, Belize City, where, as we tromped around, I missed squashing a dead rat that lay near a burning garbage heap. Good times.

For the rest of that week, once we got back to Kirsten's house in Corozal, we visited my sister's schools, where she was a teacher trainer. Cute John missed out on one day's school visit, as he was vomiting blood all day, the kind of vomiting that tests the limits of one's attractiveness.

The kids in the schools were a scream; the teachers were barely adequate. At the first school we went to, the teacher wasn't in the classroom with her nine 3 and 4-year-olds. She was making herself some popcorn in a nearby building. As far as school supplies went, the only toys or creative materials any classroom enjoyed had been sent down by my sister's friends and family. But what you can't do with a little paper and tape...


At the end of the week, we accompanied one of Kirsten's schools on a field trip to a resort called Don Quixote's. A few of the kids, after much coaxing, would get into the water of the swimming pool there, on the top step of the shallow end. None would go into the nearby sea. Culturally, there is a fear of being wet, as it leads to sure death, apparently. My sister had already learned that, on the days it was raining, she didn't even need to get up and visit her schools, as no one would be there.


Towards the end of the trip, Cute John went to Antigua, Guatemala, where the sight of his smile and the smell of his minty breath stopped traffic. My sister and I went to Chetumal, Mexico, where I got a cheap hammock and a wheelbarrow-sized bottle of Kaluha. From there, I took a bus alone back to Cancun and found the myriad "hey, baby" come-ons helped me decide to spend some quality time in my hotel room. In Belize, groups of men hanging out on the corner are known as the Leaky Tire Brigade because of the zzzekkksy "SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS" noise they make when a female walks by. By the end, I was able to advise my sister that, upon her return to the States, her biggest adjustment wouldn't be to the vast amounts of produce available in the shiny grocery stores but rather to not being noticed and commented upon with every step in public.

Ultimately, on my last night there, as sweated and scratched at bug bites, I had an epiphany. my biggest point of pride from the whole trip was this: due to a sorry bit of mis-packing back in the States, I had done it all without deodorant.

17 comments:

Chantal said...

nice, I love your hair and that Cancun t-shirt your wearing in that photo :)

I love traveling like that. I feel pretty lucky I was able to.

choochoo said...

you go so many fun places. And then I can live vicariously (or however you spell that) through you, while avoiding the bug bites and the dusty-sweaty parts of the trip.

Claire said...

I think it must rain a lot there, so not much schooling must be going on...
The Mayan ruins must have been very cool, but I'm such a sissy, I couldn't take the icky parts of that trip in order to see them.

flutter said...

I bet you smelled. Like roses.

jen said...

um, you do realize that's exactly where i am moving to. you do, right? as in, in country hosts for your next trip?

Jazz said...

That sounds like fun. Except the deodorantless part...

Apparently Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world.

jess said...

I lived in Venezuela for a while, but I was under 10 so there wasn't much tequila involved.

I'm glad Cute John survived. Oh, and you too, of course. ;)

Say It said...

I never would have known to plug up the gas line holes with soap. Now I feel better equiped to handle driving in a jungle. Of course, I'll have to remember to have soap with me in the jungle, but, duh, that's like a no brainer right!?

By the way, the look of being a total tourist while a warning for tourists was out made me laugh! But I think you knew it would.

Franki said...

Jocelyn, you don't look a bit like a tourist...can't imagine why you were worried! :)

Claudia said...

I am a gringo, how come no one molests me...huh...how come!!

Minnesota Matron said...

Great story! Gone with the Wind, what only 32 times? My first was when I was 9 years old.

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful but men seldom realized it when caught by her charms, as the Tarleton twins were that afternoon.

That's probably not the exact first sentence but damn close. See how the woman who names her only daughter Scarlett hones in on that and ignores the rest of the gripping story?

Wendy said...

Glad to know that road to Tikal is still in such sad shape. We were there 7 years ago and worried for banditos then too!

Diana said...

The Leaky Tire Brigade! That's it exactly. I'm not sure if it's ubiquitous through Central and South America but it sure was in Guadalajara, where my high school Spanish class spent a couple of weeks 6 geeky teenaged girls who maybe had 3 dates a year among the lot of us were suddenly hit on every 10 feet. What headiness!

steve said...

Where is Cute John now? I understand his minty breath now that I know you had no deoderant. Ever the valiant muchacho, he was compensating.

pistols at dawn said...

Fantastical. Or, as they would have said, "Fantastico!"

lime said...

i am so familiar with the packed in taxi and the jerry rigged mechanical fixes, as well as the poorly stocked third world schools and the deathly fear of rain. oh yes, you have indeed brought back a flood of memories...and the idea of bearing the tropics sans antiperspirant/deodorant is a "strong" one to say the least.

Glamourpuss said...

Deodorant is severely overrated - it just encourages less washing.

Puss