Friday, October 18, 2013

Breakdown in Solola: (1) I Never Pray for Safety

For the past 13 years of my life my routine was largely the same. There was an underlying comfort in selecting the color of my necktie and beginning the day with the snug knot of a half windsor.

There is a comfort and security in the mundane that is often overlooked, but can not be overstated. I begin this story on the rooftop of our home with birds flying near me as if I belong here. In the distance the light, warm sound of a marimba plays, carried on the soft, warm wind and accompanied by an occasional blast from a high caliber rifle shot. This is Guatemala. Reality here has no allowance for the mundane.

I never pray for safety. I don't think we get that guarantee. I pray that we remain in the will of God. If we remain in His will, then let the danger come. Our timeline extends beyond these days. 

We began our trip that day with a pre-check: mobile phones, laptop, certified copies of passports & car registration, insurance card, multi-tool, water, nutrition bars, toilet paper, first-aid kit, knife, extra shoes, rain gear, sunglasses, bug repellent, sun-screen, cash, and my pocket Bible. We had a car-load with all three kids, Kellie, her mother, our schnauzer Remus, and myself. It was Sharon's first day in Guatemala and we wanted to share some great experiences together. Everyone was thrilled to have Grandmother along.

I had been to Panajachel several times but this would be my first time driving. We set the navigation, stopped for fuel, and made our way through Chimaltenango and up into the mountains. It was a typical drive for this area... we came to a mountain pass where the road had collapsed into the ravine below, and followed the dirt path the locals had made that led an alternate route through.

I put the Terracan into all wheel drive and shifted into the lower gear as we made our way zig-zag to the base of the mountain. As we reached the bottom we all grew silent as I came to a slow stop and we all contemplated the fact that the trail led to the river. It looked to be a good 50 feet wide and the water was rolling quickly from the prior night's rain. I had no idea how deep it was, but I could see tracks leading from the water up the steep bank on the other side. 

Clearly, other cars had made it.

I considered turning around and finding another route... but things aren't ever that simple here. We really had two clear choices... go through, or go home. Well, we didn't come here to be meek. And so we made sure everyone was buckled in and items were secure... I engaged the transmission and we drove forward with purpose. When driving through water, you of course worry about the depth and the strength of the currant, but you also know that you can't risk driving slowly. Too fast and you may hit a rock or hole and break your axle. Too slow any you may begin to sink into the muck.

I hit the water at a pretty good rate and the water cascaded up both sides of the vehicle like wings. We crossed the river and began climbing up the side. The Terracan was a beast. We were living out a scene from an action movie and not a single tire even slipped. I felt like a gladiator riding his stallion through battle. 

Driving through a river at the bottom of a ravine at the base of mountains and volcanos in central america... this is awesome.

We made it Panajachel, Kellie successfully negotiated a great price for a boat and a captain and we crossed lake Atitlàn to have lunch at a cliffside bistro overlooking the 1100 foot deep water that rested between the bases of 3 volcanos.

The day had been perfect. We drank Coca-cola from glass bottles, shopped in the artisan street market, and left early at 4:00 so that we could get through the mountains before the sun set. The roads were not safe at night... with turns on mountainous sheer drops without guardrail, and bandits searching for easy targets.

Kellie and I were exchanging warm smiles and feeling a sense of relief. This had been our first trip without a Guatemalan guide to this part of the country, our first time hosting a family member... and everything had gone incredibly well. We were talking of a stop at a hacienda for a grand dinner at a cheap price as we came down the mountain from Panajachel and into the small town of Solola.

Solola was a typical sort of Guatemalan town. The streets are very narrow and filled from edge to edge with people, animals, cars, trucks, bicycles, and vendors. It is like a scene from Indiana Jones as you slowly drive your vehicle directly through the massing crowd of people. Traffic was single file as we navigated our way gently through the fray. 

As we made our way to the end of town the road began to rise sharply up to begin the entrance into the mountain pass. Suddenly I had no acceleration. I could press the pedal down with my foot... but the engine would not respond. The Terracan started to fall backwards down the hill.

I reached down and yanked up on the emergency brake, abruptly stopped our downward motion and avoiding disaster. Again I pressed on the pedal with no result. I slammed on the button for to active our emergency flashers and turned off the engine. Horns began to blow. People began to shout, and a crowd began to swarm around us. 

Some started pushing at the Terracan, rocking us back and forth. Others were knocking at the glass, and even beating fists against the doors. I no longer felt like a conquering hero. This was turning into a different sort of feeling... deep in the pit of my gut I felt a powerful grip. Everything in the world seemed to concentrate down to this moment as I suddenly was aware of every sight and sound with a crystal clear sort of clarity. 

We were in trouble. 



I remember thinking... there is no way out.

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