Gathering the Pieces: Guatemala City

Gathering the Pieces: Guatemala City

I was emotionally drained when I got off the plane in Guatemala City. I was back on the trip, where I knew I belonged, but my time in Cozumel was playing on my mind. The disappointment would stay with me for a while.

I posted this status on Facebook:
“I’ve just been told that I should know what I want.
This has made me think. I haven’t really known what I wanted or where I wanted to be since I bought my flat in London 6 years ago.
For the past 10 months Phil and I have travelled without a plan – and have had amazing adventures.
Is not knowing what I want really such a bad thing???”

My friends and family came to my rescue with tonnes of great advice (29 comments!), but it was my mother who told me what I needed to hear most:

“If you don’t know what you want, you haven’t found it yet! and No, not knowing what you really want is not such a bad thing.”

Phil was no longer in Guatemala City, but he had arranged for me to stay with his new Couchsurfing friends Javier and Cindy. I breezed through the airport as I only had carry-on luggage, and Javier picked me up in his car.

We have learnt that having a place to stay arranged before arriving somewhere is much nicer, and less stressful. It was great to be met by a friendly face!

Javier and Cindy instantly made me feel at home. In fact Javier handed me a house key, said “mi casa, su casa” and took off to pick up Cindy from work. It was the perfect base to run the many errands I needed to complete before I could catch up with Phil.

Cricket was still at the Kawasaki dealership where I had left her to get a new chain and sprockets and a general once-over. My helmet and all the belongings that I didn’t take to Mexico were at Cisco’s house at the sock factory. My newly re-welded side boxes were waiting for me at the soldadura and our star-crossed replacement GoPro was finally in the same city as I was, after 6 months of trying to have it delivered to us!

With Cindy and Javier’s help I arranged to meet the man with our GoPro at 8:30am the next morning. Eduardo is a friend of our Shriner friends Ed and Graham, and he kindly agreed to accept delivery for us. I met him at the allotted time and place and he ever so graciously handed over our long awaited camera. He was in the middle of a business meeting – I barely had time to thank him before he had to return to it.

I found myself in the middle of the city with time to kill before I needed to pick up my boxes and find my way to Cisco’s place.

I wandered around a shopping centre where most things hadn’t yet opened and was drawn to a hair salon. My “luscious” locks had been looking ever more straggly, and I was melting in the heat. When they said it was the equivalent of $9 for a haircut I told them to “chop it all off” (or my best Spanish translation – they understood).

Me and my stylist. He’s a man, I wasn’t sure at first.

As she was washing my hair the assistant noticed my hairy legs. I stopped shaving them at the beginning of December when we first entered Mexico. It wasn’t for any great reason, the scarcity of hot water, combined with simple laziness and a fascination/solidarity with Phil’s ever longer facial hair inspired me to stop for a while. Certainly there was also an element of scientific enquiry – would men still find me attractive? They did. Would people think I was a lesbian and/or a hippy? I was sort of hit on by a girl in San Cristobal and a guy once said “we’ll you’re obviously not gay so what’s with the hairy legs?”. When surrounded by hippies at the Mazunte circus festival my legs fit right in, but my hairless underarms and lack of dreadlocks gave me away.

I had actually tried to get them waxed the day before I left for Cozumel as a nice surprise for Christian who had expressed a dislike of my hairy appendages, but the beautician I found had no wax. That cool May morning in Guatemala City found my legs with nearly six months of hair. It was quite soft and bleached blond by the sun, but when the hair washing lady gently mentioned the great deal they had on leg waxing I knew it was time.

After my new hair style was complete I was ushered into the waxing room and it took two ladies over an hour to complete the job!

I emerged from the salon at just after 11am. I faced the world a new woman. It’s amazing the mental impact a new haircut can have.

I bought a new Guatemalan SIM card for my phone as I had given my last one to Phil before I left for Mexico and started my journey across the city to the welding shop that had my panniers. I had no idea how to get to the right area of the city, but I had the address, I had time, and I had been practicing my Spanish a lot recently.

The first bus I got on was an old school bus painted many colours, plastered inside with extremely sexist posters. For example one quipped that if your daughter is over 14, she’s fair game! The fare was only 1 quetzal (less than $0.20) and it came complete with a very impassioned pen salesman, who even demonstrated how well his ballpoints worked after a five minute speech about their quality and usefulness. (Also available for 1 quetzal.) Those pens flew out of his hands and I couldn’t help but think that he was wasted selling pens in chicken buses, big companies need passionate salespeople like him!
The sweet old lady next to me told me where I had to get off to change buses. Except once I was off there didn’t appear to be any other buses… I started asking people, men leaning against cars, shop keepers, ladies carrying baskets on their heads… I was directed along the road ever further until I asked a policewoman who was directing traffic. She radioed her colleagues and gave me clear directions to a sort of raised bus stop where bright green articulated bendy buses stopped every 30 seconds or so.

It was there that I met my saviour. I don’t even know his name but he appeared to be recording information from the driver of each bus. In between buses he not only found out how I was to get to my destination, he phoned the welding shop and arranged for them to send a man on a motorcycle to pick me up from the bus stop! He then arranged for a passenger on the next bus to tell me where to get off. Now that is good customer service! I gave him a sticker. That’s him on the right of the picture below.

How to carry your baby on your head… Wait… I mean…

All went as planned until I got off the bus. I was standing beside the armed guard outside a Dominos Pizza and I slowly realized that I had no idea which of the hundreds of motorcycles rushing past was for me, and that they had no idea what I looked like.

I phoned the welding shop to clarify, but I find speaking Spanish on the telephone extremely difficult. After speaking to three different people, with my phone battery nearly dead, I managed to arrange to meet the motorcycle outside McDonalds. After I hung up, I asked Mr Shotgun outside Dominos where McDonalds was.

He said there wasn’t one.

After a bit of dismayed exasperation and establishing that I was at the only bus station of that name, I discovered that my pronunciation of “McDonalds” and his pronunciation of “McDonalds” sounded like two completely different words. It was just down the street, only barely out of sight.

A minute after I got there a man in a truck asked me if I was Juanita (my Spanish name). I said yes and was about to follow him when he indicated to a young boy on a small moto. My ride. To this day I don’t know what the man in the car had to do with anything. I got on the back of the moto (so much for safety gear, he didn’t even have a helmet for me) and 5 minutes later I was finally at the welding shop.

I was greeted by their lovely administrator and shown the handy work on my boxes. It looked great at the time, although I’ve since discovered one of the seams is not quite watertight.

I asked them the best/cheapest way to get to the sock factory with my boxes. They all agreed that the series of buses required to make the journey out of the city was too complicated to attempt with unwieldy luggage in tow. It turns out that the father of one of the guys who works there drives a taxi. He was called and agreed to take me for 50 quetzals (a third of the price I was expecting to pay). Only catch was that he couldn’t pick me up for an hour. I’d spoken to Cisco, who wasn’t going to be home until 3pm, so I could afford to wait. And wait I did. An hour passed and still no taxi. The guy called his dad and came in with the bad news – he’d been delayed and would be another hour! I couldn’t wait that long, as I still needed to get back with all my stuff and pick up my bike before Kawasaki closed. The lovely administrator came to my rescue and called around until she found a taxi willing to do it for 100Q. He was there within minutes and I was on my way.

It was great to see Cisco again, and to hear about his bike trip to Mexico. Going above and beyond as usual, he drove me and my stuff back in to Javier and Cindy’s place and then dropped me at Kawasaki. Thanks Cisco!!

Cricket looked well rested and was cleaner than I have ever seen her. The mechanic had changed her chain and sprockets, installed new front brake pads and fixed a slightly leaking oil pan. All for about $40. The people at Guatemala City Kawasaki are incredible!

Cricket has never been so shiny!!

I returned to the house after an incredibly long and productive day. All that was left was to pack everything up, enjoy a good night’s sleep, and ride to meet Phil at Lake Atitlan the next day.

I was reunited with Cricket, we’d both had makeovers, we were back on course for the Ultimate Ride and were about to be reunited with Phil.

Life is good.