by Takeo De Meter
Day 5 (or was it 6 ?)
Winding road into the mountains, speed is down in 2nd gear, rad holding out good, can of spiked coke in hand, taking my time and trying to stay away of the edge of the road that had changed from bad tarmac to bad gravel. Road got narrower too and in a village I drove through I had seen a sign limiting traffic to max 4 tons. No big trucks to be expected. Sun shining brightly, temperature around a balmy 25 C or so. Tight curve to the left in third gear now, and I ease my foot off the accelerator pedal a little, which proved to be a good idea because I almost drove straight into the back of a car, standing still in the middle of the road. Could not believe my eyes: looked definitely like a Land-Rover, only a shade smaller than mine. Tatty-looking Series I with number plate from Guatemala, lotsa stuff in the back and 2 girls changing a flat. They looked as surprised as I was, encountering another Landy. I do not remember their names now, 21 years later, but one was a French citizen who worked in Guatemala and her friend was a native from there I think. They had decided to go on a holiday in Mexico and here they were. They were almost friendly and asked me for a lug nut wrench. I found one in my truck but they did not let me use it to help them. Ok with me. So as soon as they were done, they boarded their truck again, bade me politely good-bye and were back on their way. Was it something I said or was it my after-shave ? Had not exchanged more than 10 words with them. Since there was no other road, I had no other choice but to follow them and so I did, but at a distance, because of the dusty road and I am not too keen on eating dust while driving.
Road got steeper again and I was back in second gear, making hardly any progress, trying to avoid potholes and a 1,000 ft sheer drop on the side of the road. So the day went by and what had started as a leisurely drive became something of a chore and not something to enjoy. My map indicated a small mountain village 25 miles down the road or so, but it was dark when I arrived there. I stopped in the village "square" and shut down the engine. Air was clean and pure and damn cold. Got a woollie out of my backpack and went to look for the inevitable local cantina. The S I was parked in a side "street" near the cantina. The S I girls were sitting at a small table, eating something that smelled good. I said hello but never saw the dog lying on the floor and tripped over the damn animal. Fell flat on my face and got growled at by the fleabag that had made me trip. I eventually got up and made it to the counter where I ordered a Coke® and a shot of tequila. Fifty cents for the Coke® and one Peso for the paint stripper. I could also get a plate of beans, said the woman behind the counter. So I had a plate of beans with sauce and a piece of bread. The sauce made me gasp for air and it took me three more Cokes® to finish my meal. The Series One girls had not even looked up or said a word. Having just eaten beans and supposing that they did already not like my smell, I thought it wiser not to approach them. I asked the woman if there would be a possibility to take a shower somewhere. She said no, but she added that she could heat up a cauldron of water for me in the morning. That would do.
After a night in the back of the Landy and an improvised wash-up in the back yard of the cantina followed by something that vaguely resembled coffee, I checked fluid levels and drove off, not after having enquired about the next possibility of finding gasoline. I was told that that would be a long way from there but I still had plenty left.
About 30 or so miles further, there was no further. A large rock, just a shade smaller than a medium-sized railway station had fallen off the mountain side and blocked the road. Hmm, may have to turn back. Checked my map and found no side tracks or roads. But that was a gas station map (got it for free) and you know the accuracy of that sort of maps. I turned the truck around and drove back. Met the S I on my way and waved them down. I told the girls that the road was blocked and that I was looking for a side road or so round the obstacle. They laughed. "Typical male" said one of them "I bet you never even took a close look to how to get around that". Hmm. I never had the occasion to say "See you" before they spit gravel from under their rear wheels. So I forgot about them and went on. A little further down the road a met a man on a donkey and asked if he knew the area. I told him about my problem and he said that I should have taken this side road. "What side road ? I didn't see no side road". He suggested that I clean my glasses and look again. Hmm. Look where ? A lengthy explanation followed, to explain to me that about 50 yards behind my back there was a road. I thanked the man, turned my truck around and went looking for that road. The whole 50 yards back, that is. All I could see was a dry arroyo (river bed). By then the man with the donkey had caught up with me and congratulated me for having found the road. He steered his donkey up the dry arroyo and asked me if I was going to follow him to his pueblo (village). Which made me conclude that this HAD to be the "road". So MY 60 something HP 4x4 followed HIS 1 DP (Donkey Power) 4x4. I must say that his vehicle was very well adapted to this kind of roads and went easily where it wanted without not even an inch of hoof spin where I was scratching the floor and digging the gravel with all fours more than once.
His pueblo was not more than a mile or two down that "road" and consisted of maybe four or five dwellings built out of scrap wood, some adobe (dried clay bricks), corrugated steel sheet and whatever other rubbish these poor people had managed to scrape together. I saw a pig on the road and some chickens. What should have looked like maize corn was trying to grow on some meager terraces. Not exactly the place where I would want to live, but what could I say, I had been living in a tropical swamp for quite while now. I didn't think the donkey man would have liked to trade places; at least he could dry his clothes once in a while. There was NO cantina in this pueblo, so I gave the man a can of coke and a cup of rum and we talked some more. One has to know that here, time tends to run slower. We talked about everything and some more and about two hours later he started to sortof kinda explain to me of how I could get around that road block that had been there for a week. It sounded quite simple: follow the arroyo upstream, turn right after a while, follow the track and then follow the next arroyo downstream back to the main road. Sounded simple enough. I could even see it on my map and it looked like a ten or fifteen mile detour, not more. So I thanked my donkey-owning friend and went on my way.
About a mile further, my front axle fell into a hole that I had not seen under the surface of about five inches of water in the middle of the river bed. Not good. Got out of my truck and took a look. Then I took a drink of rum. NO WAY I was going to get out of that hole on my own. No winch, no rope and hardly any tools. OK, I know, that was real stupid to go there alone in the first place, but I had lots of time and I was not all that far from "civilisation". As I was already considering a long walk back to get some form of help, I heard an engine. Series I scratching its way up the gravel towards me. Help ? Yea, after they were done laughing and had taken some pictures and commented how stupid males can be in combination with motor vehicles, they condescended to give me a pull and snatched my truck out of that hole. I could write something really politically incorrect here but I will refrain to do so. They were still laffin' when they drove off. Ok with me. Thanks anyway, ladies.
Following the directions that my donkey friend had given me, I reached
the main road again after a three-hour ride that was, to say the least,
bumpy. Having retrieved my kidneys from the bottom of my boots and, assuming
that the Series I girls had taken gone the same way, I supposed that they
may have had to adjust some of their vestimentary attributes after that
ride. Or maybe they had found one more reason to own a Land-Rover. I got
back on the main road and turned left. Since i never saw that big rock
again, it must have been the right direction. At 1800 hrs, I was still
driving without encountering a single living creature. I stopped to pour
the contents of my 2 jerrycans into one of the tanks and these were my
last 40 litres. Bored stiff from the long drive through this rock desert
and getting cold again, I decided to call it a day, found a place to park
the truck and stretched out in my sleeping bag in the back, but having
spooned out another can of corned beef before.