Yesterday, my housemate Becca and I biked to Barillas, the nearest city to San mateo which is roughly 30km away. Our journey, was possible thanks to our recent paycheck, which allowed us, at only 875 quetzales (around 120$) to purchase brand new Maya Tour bicycles. The town gaped. Perhaps more than usual. Bicycles are extravangant, roughly the equivalent of a shopkeeper’s monthly salary. But with a name like that, I was at least supporting the local economy, right? Sadly, I learned 12 hours later, by way of a middle aged Mateano, that the bikes were actually made in Korea. The Maya Tour brand was created in Guatemala City where some wealthy man plastered the shining metal with deceiving decals.
Our motto for the trip was Barillas or Bust. And we accomplished both. We left at 9, and reached the Ladino (meaning not-indigenous Maya) by 1:30. 30km in 4 ½ hrs. Sadly, only about 3 cars passed us along the way, not because no one travels on this road, but because the road is so bad that we weren’t going slower than anyone else! The only more potholly road I’ve ever been on was in rural Albania, but well, actually, that road really wasn’t so bad after all. Those three cars, by the way, only passed us because one of the dear Maya tour’s pedals fell off at mile 10 and so we had to walk all the uphill and flats.
Once in Barillas, we immediately bought a bike lock and fastened our bike to a fragile wooden pole in the center of two. Like typical Gringa idiots, we lost the key by a greasy fried things stand. Half an hour later, once having realized our recklessness, the key was nowhere to be seen. One of the fried fried fried chicken vendors, speaking through his 9 false gold teeth, promised that he had absolutely no idea who had taken the key. “Saber! I just don’t know,” he assured, “I don’t know ANYTHING!” Right. We hurried back to our still locked up bikes, jolting back every couple of tiendas to see if that that person who necessarily stole our key wasn’t following our gringo culos.
After 2 hours of dehydrated swaggering around town, our heads drooped from too much looking on the ground. We were sick of Gringo stares, and the lock was still firmly strangling our Maya Tours. So now what? to do? Keep looking? Buy a set of cable cutters? We decided to get a Churasco (an American size portion of BBQed beef with squash, frijol and rice to regain our moral; in between bites, our hands couldn’t stop foraging our pockets, inside our bras, the innards of our backpacks, praying to uncover the golden key.
It wasn’t going to happen. An hour later, now looking like prenatal Gringas, we headed off in separate directions in search of a solution. Another hour later, I returned hopelessly to the bikes only, which were being approached from up the street by a brigade led by Becca and a man half her size, carrying a flimsy set of what were apparently cable cutters. He knelt over, began tearing at the bike lock. And to our great, great surprise, yet another crowd gathered around us. Sadly enough, most of the dear Barillenses seemed to be staring more at our sun burnt faces then what should have appeared like a comically conspicuous robbery.
The lovely man handed us the shorn lock and our sanity, and we headed off on our bikes towards the magic tiendas stocked with all the comfort foods the tiendas don’t carry in San Mateo. 200 Quetzales of strawberry jam, Black Prince whisky and Hershey’s bars later later, we wanted to go home. But the next bus wasn’t until 10pm. Grr. We headed off in the direction of the best hotel (maybe ½ star?), reluctantly, both of us wishing we could transport ourselves back into our San Mateo rooms complete with delicious literature and space heaters. But then, standing on the next corner, I noticed a polo clad man and his son that looked familiar. Were those the people from the nearby tienda that sold us pineapple juice a couple of days ago? It was. We asked if he by chance was heading back to San Mateo tonight, and beautifully enough, he was leaving in 10 minutes.
“Could we, maybe”…
“Of course ladies”, he agreed.
“Um. The one problem is, we have two bikes.”
“Oh, we’ll just stick them in the middle, and up top.” He mumbled. I wondered which one he meant, but ignored my own doubts to head back to our bikes and prepare them for departure.
“We returned 10 minutes later to the two young tapping their fingers against the sides of their SUV. “Here they are again,” they smile, then opened the car doors on both sides and began searching for something in the middle seats, which I eventually found out was cardboard to protect their roof from scratches by our bulky metal beasts. It took them 35 minutes of yanking and string-tying to attach our bikes, during which, I learned that their names were Alfredo and...
We had a lovely car ride home, despite an awkward stop at a gas station where the father/son team refused to take our 100 quetzal bill. So lovely, that upon arrival in San Mateo, we invited them in for Café and cake. How excited we were to present our neighbors to the other girls. We banged open the door and screamed,
“Hey ladies! We’re back early! We brought friends,”
“What the hell?” This was not the reaction we had expected. Nor had we expected the three lovely ladies to be clad in halter tops nor be dancing around the room. Oh god. I learned later that the girls had decided to plan a party for one of the girls’ birthday which wasn’t until the next day. “
“NO. GET THEM OUT!” They yelled. Oh dear god.
We shut the door to the main part of the house, and mumbled something to Cristian and Alfredo along the lines of “Oh, our roommates are sick. Why don’t we have a coffee in here. “Here” meant the computer room which was cold in more than one way, with no tables nor chairs. Our saviors sat down looking minimally surprised. (They must have dismissed the odd situation as typical Gringo etiquette). We brought in the portable electric stove and plates of cake from the kitchen and sat down on the floor, waiting for the water to boil. “So. Um, so yeah, here is where we live.”
“Oh, great,” they lied graciously, and nibbled at the scruffy cake I had made the day before. We waited, and waited, and trying to ignore the squeals that came from the kitchen. A half an hour later, the water, and the four of us were still quiet. “Wow,” they finally said, “that stove must be broken,”
“Oh no.” I promised, “Water takes longer to heat in the mountains.”
“Oh. Um” During his dubious pause, I felt the stove. It was horribly tepid.
“BECCA!” I whispered “F***! It’s still cold.” My adventure partner hid her eyes.
“Sorry Jen”. “I must I turned it off.”
Twenty minutes later, after digging into my bag of conversation pieces, the two had finished their coffee. We exchanged handshakes (which in Guatemala are equivalent to hugs) and the two walked outside fortuitously missing the screams in Spanish as the girls yelled along to our favorite Regueton song. We shut the front door, and stepped inside. We were home, and home sans guests. What more reason did one need to party?
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