SMr Road Trip Mississippi to Nicaragua
Days 16 to 18 - October 18th to October 20th - Malacatán, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala
At this point, our journey became consumed with car problems. Upon leaving Malacatán, Shakira seemed to be in her death throes. Navigating Guatemala was much easier than navigating Mexico, however it proved to be more difficult on Shakira. We had to climb up some pretty large volcanoes, and it was a little too much for Shakira’s old engine to handle. The first night we managed to get a full day of travel in but were only averaging about 30 mph. We made it to a small town off the main highway CA-2 called St. Lucia, Cotzumelguapa. The landscape during the drive was absolutely stunning and we had a good nights sleep at an ‘auto hotel,' with a secure protected parking lot for our car.
The next day is when the car problems started. We made it to a town called Escuintla and as we were pulling out of town climbing up towards Guatemala City, we noticed steam pouring out from underneath Shakira's hood. It happened as we were climbing a volcano, forcing us to pull off to the side of the steep road. I was in the passenger seat and stepped out into the jungle foliage. As I peered underneath the hood, trying to help Eli find what was going on, I felt something bite me. I looked down at my feet and realized there were ants all over them! I had walked through their nest and judging by their stings they were seeking some SERIOUS revenge for their fallen soldiers.
The car had sprung a leak in one of the hoses connecting the radiator to the coolant reservoir. Eli and I tried to hide behind Shakira on the side of the highway, not wanting any of the cars passing by to see that we were foreign travelers. (Oftentimes foreign travelers are equated with money or valuable cargo and therefore desirable targets for theft.) We were in a less than ideal situation and were starting to attract unwanted attention. We had to come up with a plan and fast. Should we drive Shakira over the top of the volcano stopping periodically when her steaming hood got really bad, try and go back to find another mechanic, or find a safe spot and attempt to repair her ourselves? After a quick discussion we decided to roll backwards down the highway, avoiding oncoming cars as best we could, and enduring aggressive honks and shaking fists. We made it to a pull-off on the side of the road and popped her hood again. We pulled the radiator hose out, cut off the damaged portion and reattached the hose that was now two inches shorter. There were still some leaks, but we at least were able to hold enough coolant in the radiator to drive to a safer spot.
We retreated back to the closest city, Escuintla, and found a hotel where we could work on the radiator a little more. We had JB Weld, an epoxy based sealant, that we thought we might be able to use to doctor up the radiator a bit…
The next morning we headed to Antigua where we could get some more serious work done on Shakira. We knew the radiator was not in any form to make a long trip, but since Antigua was just 30 miles away, we had faith she could make it. She was doing pretty well until we suddenly heard a loud, jarring pop as the radiator blew up all together. It was, ironically, the exact same spot that we had pulled over the day before.
I was at my breaking point. Escuintla was one of the LAST places I wanted to be. But instead of taking my backpack and heading up the highway on foot, which I was highly tempted to do, we decided to see how far we could get by rolling down the side of the volcano. We managed to roll into a truck stop off the side of the highway in Escuintla where a giant speaker sat out front blasting local favorite tunes.
Breaking down is not something you want to happen in a town like Escuintla because it acts as a hub for semi-trucks going between El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Not quite on the "Top 10 Travel Destinations" list. We pulled in and stood out like two sore thumbs. We were immediately getting clicked and whistled at, eyed up and down like meat on the butcher's block. I walked into the gas station and was greeted by two Latinas. One was dressed in tight black jeans, 6 inch platform hot-pink heels, and a matching hot-pink low cut shirt that showed off her ample cleavage. The other was dressed in a white and blue striped baseball shirt that was tied up at her belly button and unbuttoned quite low. They were definitely on the prowl, if you know what I mean...
I dramatically told the overly friendly female attendant that we needed a mechanic. I explained to her our situation, and she told me she would go and see if she could find us help. I retreated back to the car and informed Eli that she wanted us to wait here until she located a mechanic for us. We were both uncomfortable and felt quite out of place. We were definitely drawing a lot of attention and saw people gesturing towards us or driving by skeptically staring and talking on their cell phones. The female "attendants" soon sent more of their friendly companions up to our car window informing us of the 'nice' things they could do for us before we left and gesturing towards the bathroom. Eli and I frantically attempted to say "NO WAY! ABSOLUTELY NOT! REALLY, NO THANK YOU!" in Spanish.
After waiting for a bit, still hoping that SOMEONE knew of a mechanic nearby, I saw a man walk out of the gas station where the Latina attendant had gone to see if she could find help. The man was large and headed directly towards us. He lifted up his shirt, we thought... "Oh no, him too?!" but quickly noticed he wasn't attempting to seduce us. Hanging off to the side of his large white belly was a pistol, clearly revealed to us as some sort of a threat or message. He was emphatically talking with the Latina who was trying to find us a mechanic. He stopped halfway to our vehicle, listened to her description of what the two gringos were doing here, gave her some sort of order, and then headed back inside. The Latina attendant sauntered up to tell us that they would have a town mechanic come look at the car. Finally. Some sort of progress.
We waited at the truck stop for over an hour and were about to try and test our luck somewhere else when a mechanic finally pulled up with his four kids in a beat up four-door red car. All of them were covered in oil stains from head to toe, we were in good company. Eli and I crammed into the red car with all five of them and our busted radiator in search of someone who could weld and repair it.
It was a confusing and stressful time, and took us about five hours to get back on the road. By the time we were ready to pull out of Escuintla, the sun had gone down and a strong tropical rainstorm had hit the area. The visibility out of Shakira’s windshield was very bad and she was still giving us many problems. We decided not to risk climbing back up the volcano that night and instead rolled into Escuintla to search for a hotel with internet so we could check in with our "SMr Parents" still waiting for us in Managua. We shared stories and looked for guidance via Skype as we had been doing all along the trip. They advised that we tow the vehicle to Antigua where they had a friend who would be able to help us find a good mechanic. We have been so thankful for the constant communication we have been able to maintain with Richard and Juli during our trip. We didn't expect to find so many Wi-Fi locations when we began this journey, and have been very grateful for how widespread they are in Central America.
The next day we tried one last time to get to Antigua, but Shakira just did not have that 30 miles left in her. We died on the side of the road and had to start the process of rolling down the volcano, and finding help in Escuintla all over again. We were like one of those classic Mickey Mouse cartoons where Mickey's car slowly falls apart piece by piece on the way up a mountain until there's nothing left but the tires and steering wheel then stops and starts rolling backwards. Or the old story book we used to know about "The Little Engine that Could," ... only that ours just couldn't. We ended up getting a tow truck that gave Shakira a not-so-free ride all the way to Antigua to the tune of about 100 bucks.
The tow truck could not drive the entire way into the center of Antigua due to the old stone-paved roads that appeared upon entering it's limits, so they dropped us and the car on the outskirts of town. Eli and I pushed Shakira the last mile to a hostel in Antigua, all three of us being completely broken down upon our arrival. We all fell asleep on our faces, covered in diesel, after such a long and emotionally taxing three days.