6/02/2008 12:55:00 pm

Thursday's Child has Far to Go

Posted by Unknown |

It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to blog. We’ve been rather flat out. I have a few days to catch up on. So I’ll go back in time a little bit.

We’d been making plans for a few days to do a big “Aussie” day of driving on Thursday, that is driving for about 10 hours, instead of breaking it up into two days, and then we’d get Friday free to just do whatever we wanted, just relaxing, reading, sleeping, Machiavellian plotting, that sort of thing.

So on Thursday morning my alarm went off at 5am, and it was painful. I dragged myself out of bed even before the alarm had time to berate me again with is chirpily smug beeping. I felt pretty good about that because we were planning to leave at 6 and I was up almost an hour early. If anyone was going to hold up our departure, it wasn’t going to be me!

When I was in the shower Jo let me know that it was 5:30 as if I wouldn’t have time to finish my shower and pack my bag in 30mins. I remember thinking “Girls! They always think you need ages!” I hopped out of the shower, and was standing in our room in just my boxers, when my parents knocked on the door and asked, with a smirk “Are you ready to go?”. I thought this was a joke because I was virtually naked. They weren’t joking. Somehow in all our discussions every time they’d said “5:30” I’d heard “6”. Either that or the three of them decided to play a practical joke on me which I’m not entirely sure isn’t the case. Little did I know, this was going to be just the first mishap of a mishap filled day.

Anyway, I threw on some clothes, and packed my bag in record time. If you ask me, I did an amazing job. 15 minutes later we were on the road.

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Heading to the car way too early

Our plan for the day was to drive from Flores to San Marcos which is completely on the other side of the country. Jo had figured out a route where we could avoid going through Guatemala City and take some back roads down. We figured it would probably be a little quicker and the route would be a lot shorter.

We set out from Flores, got some directions then headed off. About half an hour down the road we got to a sign where the road forked, leading to two different places, neither of which we could find on the map. We stopped and asked which way to Coban, which was the first town on our route. The man laughed and told us Coban was in the other direction. Way back, at the town we left, we had taken a wrong turn and ended up driving in completely the wrong direction. We were heading north when we wanted to be going south. We had to turn around and go all the way back.

Now armed with this new knowledge we headed back the way we came, only an hour and a quarter behind schedule.

A little while later we arrived at a river with a dingy old ferry to take people across. In usual Guatemalan fashion there was no queue. The cars and trucks just lined up next to each other facing the river. When the ferry arrived, it was every vehicle for itself as everyone pushed forward onto the ferry, like a slow motion version of the opening of the Myer Boxing Day sales.

Thanks to Dad’s awesome driving skills we made it on to the boat second. While we were on the ferry the guy who beat us on to it was obviously feeling gracious, or vindictive, and pointed out our back left tire to us. It was unusually flat. Flat two for the trip.

Across the other side of the river we headed off to find a pinchazo, where tires are fixed. Luckily flat tires are a tradition here in Guatemala and there are pinchazos everywhere. We found one just across the river.

An hour and a half later the tire was fixed and we were full of breakfast, next stop Coban and we were only running two hours and three quarters late.

See our amazing video of the flat tire incident in high quality digital camera definition!

The rain started somewhere on the road. We picked up and dropped off a hitchhiking primary school teacher, and made it to Coban finally without getting lost again. Jo took us to a cafe the locals love. I had some chicken stew thing where they give you the liquid, the chicken, the potato and the rice and you have to pull it apart, cut it up and put it all in to make the stew. It was fun, but I felt a bit ripped off, like I’d turned up to McDonalds and they’d given me the bun, meat and vegetables and told me to put it together myself. I want things done for me, damn it!

When lunch was done Jo and Mum went to check out some craft. And as this bores my father and I, we just hung out the front of the cafe trying to decide what to do, till we’d hung around enough that that became what we were doing.

While we stood there a man came up to me and said “Hey there my friend, give me five!” and shook my hand and “gave me five”. He proceeded to talk to me for a while in very bad English about how he wanted to speak English, about some guys, and about US dollars. I spent a long time trying really hard to do my active listening thing, I kept repeating what I thought he was saying back to him, to which he’d always say “No” and try again.

Soon Jo turned up and I suggested that perhaps he talk to her in Spanish, but he didn’t want to, he wanted to speak English. I got the picture he wanted money, and as has been our policy we gave him 4 Quetzales, which he wasn’t happy with. We got the picture that he wanted 2 US dollars. But we we didn’t have 2 US dollars on us, but he kept insisting. I told him we were Australian, but the significance of that didn’t seem to sink in with him.

Eventually Jo said to him in Spanish, “Can you speak Spanish? Because we don’t understand what you’re saying.”

This didn’t seem to be the right thing to say as he wanted to speak English, so he got angry.

At this point he noticed Jo’s watch on her wrist. He spoke for a little bit longer saying he didn’t care about the “f-ing police”, then made a lunge for Jo’s watch. He grabbed it and tried to pull it off. I reacted with my lightening fast 2 lessons worth of Kung fu and grabbed his wrist using a Flying Angry Cobra Wrist Lock, Dad, also a kung fu master, grabbed the same wrist using the Striking Invisible Tiger Wrist Clench. Jo grabbed her watch with her Ju Jit Su, Fung Hu Fing Clasp. Mum was in the bathroom looking for the light.

Seeing the united power of the French Family and our formidable martial arts skills, the man let go and said something else in English. Jo said she was going inside and did. I put up my hands in the conciliatory, negotiation, defensive stance, and I said something to him which I don’t remember but while it probably sounded like “I don’t want any trouble” I’m sure it was actually something like “Never touch my family or me again or I’ll break your neck in a second!” The man swore at us, then stalked off across the road, across the square on the other side and disappeared.

Mum and Jo came out of the cafe, Mum having successfully found the light. And we all went back to the car to debrief and get out of that no good town with the street robbers and lazy cafe staff. We made it out successfully Dad only driving the wrong way down a one way street once.

Just out of Coban, we had to turn off to find a town where the back roads started. We found this little town, chock full of people and cars. The people were all friendly and happy to give us directions. By this stage we were only half way through our journey but it was almost 4pm.

Eventually we wound our way through the tiny streets onto the road to somewhere which would get us to somewhere else (obviously).

As we drove the road got steeper, narrower and more muddy. The rain was coming down and we were driving along skinny roads with no room for passing traffic, were we to meet anyone coming the other way. Soon the country side opened up and we were driving on the side of a mountain looking out over a spectacular valley, which looked great, but wouldn’t have been so great to drive off the side of the road into, which was looking like more and more of a possibility the more we drove. Plus the clouds were descending, the rain was coming, the hill side looked even less stable than the one we were driving through on Sunday when it started throwing rocks at us, and the road was so muddy we were in danger of getting bogged.

As we wondered if following this back road was the smartest option, we met a man on a bulldozer, much more suited to the terrain, who told us the road only got worse and we would be smarter to turn back. So turn back we did.

Valley to Plunge Into.jpg

The Valley

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Jo and Bulldozer Man

Back through the mud, back through the town and back onto the highway for Guatemala City, the very place we were aiming to avoid.

By now it was getting very late, and we were no where near our destination. We had to decide where to spend the night. After a little bit of bad diplomacy, we settled on Guatemala City and, much to my delight, we decided to stay in a posh hotel. And while this didn’t really excite anyone else, it did excite me.

We ended up arriving in Guatemala City 14 hours after we’d left Flores, still about 200kms away from where we wanted to go. Things perhaps didn’t quite go as planned.

Still we ended the night in the Holiday Inn which was swankier than I thought Holiday Inns were. I thought they were like just a step up from F1 but this was more like just a step down from Raddison. Plus Jo got to see her boyfriend and Mum, Dad and I got to order room service and watch cable, so it wasn’t all bad.

As I thought about the day I did realise the day was probably a pretty good illustration of James 4:13-14:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

I think I agree.