All else had faded into the oblivion of a person pushed to the edge of her daily endurance; moto-wrecked from the joyous amounts of gnarly off roading, hugging the outskirts of Parque Nacional Grutas de Lanquín all morning. And would’ve done anything to make contact with soap and cold water; I was filthy, stinking hot and dog tired. Perhaps those regularities featuring in my life didn’t exactly warrant what I proceeded to do next, perhaps they did.
Rocking up to a raucous mass of men, something had made them incensed enough to obstruct everyone’s passage—just a handful of miles from Flores. Our next port of call. With the general elections coming up in September, huge bill boards through Guatemalan towns and villages plastered as many blown-up presidential candidates’ faces as they did the local response, ‘Guatemala needs work, not promises’. It might not be too unsafe to assume that the road blockade abruptly stopping us in our path was part and parcel of the locals making a political if not pertinent stand.
Impeding our progress by unceremoniously dumping logs and debris from the forest, strewn across the road, was the primary form of hindrance; the large knot of men armed with sticks buzzing around Jason’s bike like kicked bees was the second. I held back, out of sight. I needed time to survey the situation, my mind playing out several scenarios while trying to summon a Get out of jail free card. Something was being cooked up by my beleaguered brain as I was trying to fathom what £200 would look like in order to ‘Pass go’. Throwing a double six had never been my forte. Worst-case scenario, we’d have to miss a turn; sit this one out in compulsory support of the protesters, for goodness knows how long. As worthy as their cause ostensibly was—the prospect of being cornered by them didn’t overly comfort me.
Sat in sweat-sodden clothing soiled with all the usual suspects of the road: fumes, dust and dirt, black half-moons lay under my fingernails, and muck was ground into the webbing on my hands. I might holler, pleading into the rising tensions of the throng, thrash and whip myself up into a frenzy. Would anyone notice, or care? I looked up with gritty eyes to see scattered clouds scudding to the east. This fight is much larger than a fatigued female astride her motorcycle in need of a ruddy good wash. You will endure…because there is nothing else at your disposal. Or is there?
As I approached the stop-line, I clocked about the only chap that spoke adequate English, mediating with the more militant ones on our behalf. The show felt like it was on Act II already and the plot was going nowhere fast. Although I couldn’t ferret out the meaning behind the blockade with any specificity, I did zero in what was made abundantly clear; the activists wanted action, and wouldn’t be seen letting a couple of two-wheeled nomads slipping through the net. I flayed my brain; another trial loomed on the horizon, but this one would be for much higher stakes. That was the thing about travelling—you had your choice of tempests to face: natural or human-driven.
Far be it from me to hinder my own ability to create, but these guys weren’t the only ones that could mete out their own drama. Out popped my inner-performer, which surfaced a set of spectacularly cringe-worthy acting skills to boot. Mustering all of my heartrending emotions, a finished but cheery female rider emerged into a rather worrisome woman, having summoned a wealth of convincing crocodile tears with a hand on her…womb. Jason had initiated the pregnancy ruse, so I did the rest.
To the insider, I was ‘far-fetched-pathetic’ personified. At one point I gagged, trying to throw up—managing one dry heave cramping my stomach as more tears leaked down my face. Jason approached me and muffled under his breath, “Lisa, are you alright or are you just creating?” I was creating a spectacle out of myself but I’d passed the tipping point by that time. Better see it through and pray it’d work. Inside, I was fidgeting like a fish on a spear as I looked for a morsel of compassion from the crowd.
A faint spark kindled in the mayhem. Astonishingly, we were granted admittance through what I gathered was quite a serious blockade having cordoned off passage to the locals and tourists, charging them a fee and permitting access only to the back roads belonging to the farmers. A sympathetic voice instructed us to proceed but to ride “very very slowly!” Done. My emotions had exhausted themselves—as emotions always must—and I returned to a more favourable reality. No wiser, just a bit more weary.
Five minutes down the road and blockade number two waited to greet us. The atmosphere was a little more hostile than the last. Really, another one? I’d had a bellyful of drama and have to execute yet another compelling production. Uncertain as to whether my tear ducts were up to it, I was still feeling decidedly upbeat from the first feat, which impinged on my ability to deliver a further ‘damsel in distress’ scene.
I would’ve liked to redouble my efforts, but the thespian stores were depleted. Skin sticky with sweat, dig deep Lisa—you only need convince 100 more fellas—take one for the team. What a palaver! A dark warmth spreading in my chest caught me by surprise, and I grew heavy once more. Guys, stop with the heated debate already, there’s a sorry little lady over here pouring her heart and crying her eyes out.
I met the crowd’s masculine stare, reading challenge as well as a modicum of concern and defiance. The first edgings of a long unwanted wait ahead, sank talons into my soul. I struggled for words, suffering the first erosion of joy. Very well, let’s see what you make of this. The volume of my distress signals may’ve risen a little. And a little more. Calm it, no curb it—there’s 200 eyes on you right now, all shocked that they’d somehow missed this suffering if not insufferable lassie, clearly beside herself in her own grief.
“No problema, no problema chica, se puede ir a cinco!” indicating that all would be well after an afternoon-long stint of sitting out their trials and tribulations. And what, pray tell, are you going to do now, Lisa? My stomach, so long empty, growled in disagreement. Glassy eyed, I stared back in a locked gaze—distraught by their optimistic hopes of letting us go hours later at 5pm. Gods be good; we had a little more riding ahead of us, which I didn’t fancy in Guatemala’s darkness and I was still reeling from the morning’s turbulent trails. Any spare supplies of stamina had been cut off like a faucet.
“Aqua, aqua!” rang out in the horde. “Give her some water. It’s okay, it’s okay,” came the collective voice in soothing tones. Just stop crying woman, please; we hadn’t planned for a grief-stricken gal leaving puddles of pain and streams of snot all over the place, and her face. “We really need to go to the hospital,” Jason kindly explained but with a sense of urgency, groping for a response. Nothing. Wow, tough crowd. The men had a smoky-eyed inscrutability that left me uneasy. Still no access to go. With no attempt to move, I squinted into the sun’s red glare as my skin glistened in glossed ivory.
Self-induced commotion amid a wider cacophony aside, I resided myself to ‘You win some, you lose some’ and assumed a sad look of crystalline fragility, forlorn; anything but placated. Come on chaps, do you really want a vulnerable pregnant woman in misery on your consciences? As the sun still hung big and hot, beads of moisture clung to my eyelashes and I began to rue the misplaced faith placed in them. Deflated resignation began whispering to my soul, meddling with my hope. I wrung my hands, opened my mouth but the words just flew away.
“Okay, you go, GO GO! Now! Rapido!” came the eventual consensus. Oh! My ears worked correctly the first time…vamos. Without trying to milk it, a final tear escaped my eyes to trickle hotly down my cheek while a curious truth burned anew within me. Having negotiated an unfamiliar landscape of human experience, I was getting a firsthand demonstration of a truth that I’d known all along: humans are governed by love and compassion. A widespread high ground pointed the pack to an interesting direction on their moral compass of ‘We must take a stand but we can still do the right thing.’
As grateful as I was, I had plunged into an ocean of deceit—an ocean into which I’d never as much as dipped a toe before. I quickly donned my helmet before they changed their minds, fired Pearl into action and fled like a slinking fox, pursued by a whole raft of demons only a perpetrator can conjure: guilt, remorse, sorrow and culpability.
Fellas, forgive my shenanigans. What a scheming scoundrel filled with my own self-importance, a naughty Nelly, and a general pain in the nether portions. I am still, however, respectful of your no doubt worthy cause of protest and am sincerely sorry for the inexcusable interruption to your plight for justice. Next time, I’ll sit it out with you, get to know a little about you too. I promise.
All trace of bone-weary fatigue had vanished for now—even if I looked like I’d just lost a wrestling match to a racoon—how many ups and downs can a person have inside a day? No matter, the wind—warm and scented with the smell of a harmonizing equilibrium stroked my face and clothing. The land swelled with the restoring balance of quiet bringing a surging joy to my soul. I held onto the wondrous sense of freedom and life that flowed in my veins.
Sparing no breath for talk, I was content just to breathe, to enjoy the feel of air entering and leaving my lungs, and to listen to the shrill calls of the birds. High above, two swallow-tailed kites twirled about each other, the sole threats to the few shreds of clouds. A woman could do worse than to live with this kind of simple happiness and a tiny smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.
NB: Apologies for the notable lack of pictures; we were somewhat pre-occupied with the fun and frolics of the road.