The words “road trip” evoke sentiments of adventure, uncertainty and camaraderie. Something about being confined to a small space with a gang of cohorts for an extended period of time always induces unexpected and memorable events, if not a good story line, like the one I'm about to unfold.
I recently had the pleasure of going on a “road trip” with four male members of my cooperative. I was one female in a car full of men- the first sign that things were going to get interesting. We had a 9am meeting in Jalapa with SAT- the IRS of Guatemala- to review proper financial reporting specific to Cooperatives. The drive to Jalapa is about 4 hours each way.
At 4:30 am Julio and the gang picked me up from my house in Don Edgar’s beat-up 1990’s maroon Mazda. Being gentlemanly, the guys gave me the front seat. I actually prefer not to take that coveted seat up front because seat belts are as common in Guatemala as side-view mirrors (read: not common) and I’d probably be the first to fly through the windshield if we got into an accident- luckily i’m still here to tell this tale. Speaking of seat belts, I caused some early morning chuckles when I took my throne up front and instinctively reached my arm back to grab the “seat belt” which of course wasn’t there. Moises, seeing this automatic reflex, gave a little giggle from the back seat and said, “You’re not going to find one of those here, hahaha.” “reeeeal funny.” I thought to myself.
And so the trip began all of us in high spirits. Julio was our chauffeur, I was manning the radio as co-pilot and Adan was sandwiched by Moises and Jamie in the back seat. Our first interesting incident occurred at about 5:30 am. We were making our way up the mountainous terrain just outside of a town called Moyuta when the car started to jerk. Immediately Julio says, “I knew I should have put gas into the car yesterday.” I look at the gas gauge and we are literally running on empty. I start to get a little worried, we had quite a bit of upward climbing left to do and there was no sign of civilization. Nevertheless, I kept my anxieties to myself. We continued our ascent, chugging along in an epileptic seizure-like motion for a good 10 minutes. It didn’t help that coming from the back seat with every jerk Adan would peep a, “whoop” and Jamie would follow with a, “Nope, not going to make it.” Miraculously, we did make it to the top of the hill just outside of Moyuta and below us I could see a gas station. “Saved!” I thought to myself. Julio pumped the gas pedal one more time and we sped down the hill towards the town. But, as we neared the gas station I noticed he wasn’t slowing down to turn into its lot, we got closer and closer and I just looked longingly at the lonely gas pumps as we whizzed by. “What are you doing!” I exclaimed “We need to stop for gas!” “Yeah but the gas station up the road is cheaper.” was Julio’s reply. After two minutes more of jerky driving we were filling up the tank.
My favorite part about Julio is that he hasn’t quite figured out yet that I understand Spanish. Instead of talking to me like a normal human being, he speaks in choppy phrases using animated hand jesters to ensure that I understand what he is saying. So instead of saying something like, “We are going to drive to Jalapa,” He’ll say, “Drive car Jalapa” while grabbing an imaginary steering wheel. So when we were nearing Jutiapa he turns to me and says, “Hungry? Coffee?” which of course means, “Are you hungry? Would you like to stop for coffee?” The consensus was yes and we pulled off at a roadside stand.
We piled out of the car and as we began walking to the muchacha with a red cap who was setting up her venta for the morning, I noticed Moises had a huge wet spot covering his entire rear-end. I brought this to his attention and he said, “The backseat is wet.” That was that and he spent the rest of the day with a soggy toosh.
We ordered our coffee and pan tostada from the woman in the red cap and I sat enjoying my breakfast as the four men, all married mind you, began flirting with the woman and her three daughters. They were playing the game “Us three are married but Jamie is single.” The small talk was nauseating, “So how many beautiful daughters do you have?”, “Is your husband going to come here and beat me up for talking with you?” Don Jamie left the stand with a napkin containing the red cap lady’s phone number.
When we arrived at the SAT office we filed into the meeting room and took our seats. The presentation was of the powerpoint variety and was quite informative although I could tell the information was in one ear and out the other for most of the audience. There is a reason my Coop hired an accountant to take care of all of their financials. At the end of the presentation we all handed in an evaluation form in exchange for a “Diploma.” There are few things more coveted by Guatemalans than a diploma. It’s hard evidence of achievement. So we all left with a piece of paper affirming that we had participated in the “tax-paying obligations of cooperatives” course.
Back in the car Jamie took the wheel for the drive home. We were all a bit worn out from the morning ride and subsequent three hour lecture. Nevertheless, every time we passed a young girl walking on the road in tight jeans Jamie would give a little honk of approval. The guys obviously unconcerned with the company of a female in their presence maintained a steady conversation about women the entire ride home. Some aspects of human nature are universal. At one point, after passing a particularly attractive young female Jamie gave his little tap of the horn and murmured, “Como dice Don Edgar, “Si es el diablo, que me lleva”” (Like Don Edgar says, If its the devil, let him take me).