Running A Marathon

January 1, 2010

At times the urge to do something crazy just overtakes me, and I can’t do anything until I’ve satisfied it. Most times it turns out great, but occasionally everything goes wrong. This is the story of one of those times.

2pm – It doesn’t make much sense – I’m sitting in Flores, Guatemala, resting in a beautiful island town after hiking 150km in 6 days, climbing Maya ruins, sleeping outside, and generally abusing my body in the Peten rainforest of northern Guatemala. I’m tired, beaten, feet swollen and blistered from my too-large boots, and more then anything I just need a good night’s sleep. Being me, I decide instead to see if I can make it from Flores to Leon, Nicaragua in 24 hours. It’s only 4 countries – how hard can that be?

After the necessary laundry, packing, and my first shower in 7 days, I buy an overnight bus ticket to Guatemala City, and resign myself to a shit night’s sleep in a bus – I strongly dislike “luxury” bus rides, much prefer hitchhiking, but I’d asked town earlier in the day, and there didn’t seem to be any long-distance truckers – my main form of transport – leaving Flores in my direction, and with so few stops between Flores and the capital, that option wasn’t working for me. Running out of options, I swallow my pride and lay down 160 Quetzales – damn near $20 – for a bus ticket across the country. “Too rich for my blood, but sacrifices can be made later,” I told myself at the time. Had I known just how right I would be, I might have just stayed in bed.

8pm – Friends come into town that night, so instead of resting, writing, and mentally preparing for the journey ahead, I throw that plan out the window to drink tequila shots and say goodbye to Mara, the beautifully unattainable Dutch woman I played machete-ball with in Antigua when we were both sick in bed. She tells me stories about monkeys pulling her hair and cleaning up shit all day – animal rehabilitation clinic – and I gush about the crazy ruins and latest adventuring. After she and her coworkers go barhopping to celebrate their night off, I make friends with some fire spinners and dancers fresh in town from some massive raves in southern Mexico. Their stories of hallucinating in the jungle complement my tales of bribing my way into archeological dig sites quite nicely, and right before I leave a disheveled man in a “repression no es seguridad” homemade T-shirt throws a full pack of Payasos – the cheapest cigarettes in the country – at me. “You might need them,” he tells me, and his gaze is so piercing that I can’t help but to look away before long. I did just resolve to quit, but hey, the guy might be right, so I slip them into my shirt pocket, shoulder my bag, and walk out into the night. Adios Los Amigos, and to my new friends as well.

10pm – The marathon starts off without much fanfare. I climb into a waiting taxi with 3 other travelers, bags in the trunk, and hang my head out the window in the cool night air. I really need a haircut, but it blows in the wind deliciously. At the bus station we pile out, buy tickets for the 11 o’clock bus, and I leave my bags with some Dutch guy while I water the pavement between some parked cars – no way I’m paying 2Q to pee in some hellhole bus station bathroom. Sacrifices. At 11 we all climb into the bus, tequila works its magic on my battered body, and I drift off within minutes.

Sometime during the night – I wake up with an electric jolt as the bus driver slams on his brakes and swerves wide right. From my seat at the left-side window I see a pickup truck and semi race past, neck-and-neck, on the 2 lane road. We’re practically in the dirt and the pickup shoots between the 2 behemoth vehicles without a care in the world. Good old Central American drivers. I’m too jazzed up from white-knuckle fear and the adrenaline enema to sleep again, so I stare out the window at the pre-dawn world – small houses, tin roofed, windows without glass, barbed wire fences in front of lush rolling hills – same as anywhere down here, I guess, and from my position behind the glass of a speeding bus, I feel too detached – it’s a movie, Central American Homes, and it’s none too excititng either.

Light streaks the sky, the sun grudgingly pokes its yellow head above the hills, and the world begins to come to life. Women and children and men going about their lives, chickens and cows and dogs stirring, and slowly life stretches, shakes itself out of slumber. How many more times in your life will you watch the world awaken? I want to be a part of it all, but I’m stuck on my side of the speeding glass wall, and the world flees out of sight – I have somewhere else to be.

I have no idea what time it is when we get into Guatemala City, but the place is bustling with bodies, choked with traffic, and everything smells like diesel exhaust. I want to cover my mouth and nose with something to keep out the choking fumes, but my handkerchief is still covered in my blood from a pocketknife accident, and somehow I think a bloodstained rag over my face might make me even more of a spectacle then I already am down here. At the bus station everyone climbs out, my Dutch friend takes off to Antigua, and shoulder my bag and start looking for my next ride.

Unfortunately, this is a private terminal, meaning the only buses that leave from here belong to the company I rode in with, and I’ve had enough of private buses for a while, so after consulting with some of my fellow passengers in sleepy Spanish, I learn that yes, there is a public bus terminal nearby, but it’s 10 blocks, and this is a bad part of town. “Get a taxi, you’ll be robbed,” is the consensus of the people I ask, and so I head outside to face the bane of my existance – taxistas.

The reason I hate taxi drivers so much is that their business revolves around ripping off ignorant travelers for huge profits – I’m not saying everyone does it, but it is most definitely a major strategy. They’ll rarely take you where you want to go, charge you double if they can get away with it, and it’s a situation where they hold all the advantages – how can I possibly know what a fair price is to ride across town when I’m not even sure where I am or where I’m going? If you’re getting a taxi in Central America, especially in capital cities, just resign to getting charged the Gringo Tax, and let it slide – no use getting upset about something that doesn’t matter. I find a taxi driver that isn’t actively yelling “Hey boy, where you goin’?” at me, and ask him if he knows where the public bus terminal is. “Where you go?” he asks in broken English, and I respond in Spanish that I want to go to the nearest, biggest, bus terminal, stressing several times that I do not, under any circumstances want to go to a station with luxury buses. We talk a while, he wants 50Q, and I want to pay twenty-five. He laughs, says forty, I respond with thirty. He turns and pretends to walk away, and I let him get all the taxi. Finally he turns and says he’ll take me for thirty-five, and I agree, throw my bag in the back, and hop in.

Negotiation accomplished, I sit back and hope he’ll take me where I’m asking to go. We talk about the usual things – him: where I’m from, where I’ve been, why I’m in Guatemala, me: where he was born, if he’s married, how are his kids – I have this conversation a lot because it helps to establish a bit of confianza with people around you, and it reminds me that we humans have a lot in common no matter where we’re from. His name is Carlos, was born in Chichicastenango, he’s been married for 5 years, and has 2 young sons and a daughter, in case you’re wondering. He also drives like the devil himself is chasing us, which it doesn’t take many questions to figure out. We weave perilously between buses, trucks, in and out of traffic. At one point, driving the wrong direction on a divided road, I regret that the seat belt was taken out of my side of the car. Carlos isn’t wearing his either, so at least we’ll go down together.
6:15am by Carlos’ dashboard clock, we pull into a driveway and he gets out, leaving the motor running. It definitely isn’t a public bus terminal, so I watch him walk to a nearby door and speak to a uniformed man there – Strange – Carlos gestures over his shoulder at me, and the man laughs about something – What’s so funny? – I see the other guy hand Carlos something that looks like money – oh no, this shit is not happening – and Carlos walks back over to the taxi and opens my door.

(In Spanish) “What gives Carlos? Why are we stopping here?”
“This is the station for buses to El Salvador. Your destination.”
“Here,” he points over his shoulder at the door with the uniformed man.
“Where? I see no buses.”
“The bus comes soon, go inside and buy a ticket.” God-fucking-damnit!
“Is this a direct bus station?”
“Why did you bring me here? I asked specifically NOT to come to a direct bus station.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did!” I’m livid, because this sort of shit happens constantly down here – taxi drivers get pay-offs to bring unsuspecting tourists to high-end hotels, expensive restaurants, and private bus terminals instead of their destinations, and most people don’t have the Spanish to argue. It’s a con game of the highest order, and I carry around a mental list of businesses I will never visit, simply because I know they pull this shit.

I climb out of the taxi, glaring at Carlos, and move to grab my bag. He pulls me by the shoulder and puts himself in front of the door. “Pay me,” he demands.
(In English) “Fuck Yourself.” (In Spanish) “No, you didn’t bring me where I asked to go.”
His look gets uglier, “Pay me gringo.”
“That guy by the door already paid you, thief.” I shouldn’t have said that.
“Thief?!” He’s pale with anger. “I’m taking your things if you don’t pay.”

We stand there for an eternal moment, locked in an angry stand-off, until the uniformed man from the door comes over and asks what the problem is. “He’s robbing me, and you’re paying him to do it.” My overheated comment just brings the two of them onto the same team, and they piously deny any wrong-doing. Fuck it, this is going nowhere. I grab my small wad of bills, take all the lowest ones and the coins and hold them out to Carlos. “Here you are friend, your money. Enjoy it.”
“This isn’t 35Q.”
“I don’t care.” I drop the money onto the pavement, coins scattering, elbow past him, throw the door open, and grab my stuff. I’m shaking with fury as I walk out to the street corner – no way I’m going to satisfy them by taking their bus – and begin asking passersby where I can find the public bus station. Quickly I learn that I’m fucked as there isn’t a major terminal in this zone of the city, the nearest city bus station is at the market 6 blocks away, and it’s dangerous to be in this area with a backpack like mine. “You should take a taxi” I hear over and again. Because that worked so well the first time. I swallow my pride again and head into the private bus station. Do you see why I can’t stand taxistas?

I pay out the nose for a direct bus to San Salvador, and comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ll be a country away in only a few short hours, and possibly make it to Nicaragua on schedule this way. The bathroom is the stuff of nightmares – no seat or lid, a piece of the bowl missing, green, brown, black, red(?!) streaks. The stench socks me in the face and steals my lunch money. I laugh the whole time I’m standing there. Back out in the main station, my bag is thankfully where I left it, and I notice a huge stain down one side – the baggage compartment is never clean, and I’m not going for style points, but it feels wet, so I open the top and investigate the damage. Everything on top of the bag is wet, fuck, my leather jacket is covered in clear liquid – what is this stuff? I run my finger across the jacket, sniff it cautiously, and smell mint. It tastes of alcohol and menthol. Suspicious, I open my medical bag, and yep, the small plastic bottle of rubbing alcohol I use to make my wounds hurt more is torn down one side, and the contents have spilled everywhere. For the first time I read the label, and apparently I bought menthol rubbing alcohol unaware. At least everything I own will smell fresh. I spread my clothes around to dry out a bit, but soon it’s time to board, and so I throw minty-fresh clothes back into my bag and go. “It has to get better from here, doesn’t it?”

7:30am – Another bus, this time with assigned seats and the coldest air conditioning I’ve felt in a while. I wrap my jacket around myself and try to sleep, but between the food sellers and cold I can’t manage to drift off. I have one unread book left, so I read disintegrating pages of Civil War-era letters, which is interesting only in small doses, and spend the rest of my time trying to see the outside world past my slumbering neighbor. I’m awful at riding in buses. A pretty young girl selling chilis rellenos walks past, and I buy 2, plus a bottle of water – if I’d known it was going to be my last meal for 30 hours, I might have gotten a third, but they’re delicious nonetheless.

Eventually we reach El Salvador, pile out, and do the passport thing. I had changed almost all of my money earlier, but I change the last 42Q to $5, and then we’re off again. The bus TV is playing some dubbed Jackie Chan flick, and I fall asleep as Jackie is using a Lamborghini and a samurai sword to rescue a kid in a wheelchair from some assholes with a giant hovercraft, and don’t wake up until San Salvador.

Sometime around 11am someone is poking me in the ribs, and I open my eyes to some cute kid giggling. I smile at her, and she says “we’re there” before running off. I stretch, look around – the bus is empty except for me and the driver, who smiles understandingly at me. I thank him, climb down, and thankfully my bag hasn’t walked off without me. From there it’s a short taxi ride with Roberto, who loves that we share a common name, is 21, unmarried, and has no kids that he knows of. We get along fine, laugh a lot, and for $4 he drops me off at the central bus station I’ve been at a few times before. I have to piss like a racing moose, but just as I’m walking into the station my bus rolls by, I chase it to catch a ride, and off we go again, crammed like sardines, backpack sitting on my very full bladder. To distract myself, I start up a conversation with the couple sitting next to me, and that’s when I learn that the bus ride is 3 ½ hours long. Sweet merciful fuck, what a ride.

5 hellish hours later we finally arrive at the next town, and from there it’s only 40 minutes to the border. I’m so grateful to get off the bus and find some sweet, precious relief, but I’ve barely hoisted my bag before the Frontera bus rolls by and I’m chasing after it waving my arms. Sorry bladder, take another one for the team.

At the border, I join the thin stream of people crossing to Honduras – not a lot of demand for it these days – and $3 later I’m back where it all started, and the familiar electric tingle climbs my spine. It’s not my home anymore, but I still tie a lot of memories and love to this poor country where everything went wrong for me. Just then I want to slap myself in the forehead – everything on this side of the border crossing uses Lempira, not dollars, and of course there isn’t a free bathroom to be found. I have to find a money changer, practically wetting myself, negotiate a rate that doesn’t completely rip me off, and finally, finally I can go take a piss.

Just kidding – I can’t find a bathroom, so I start asking, and everyone points me further down the line. Life is turning into farce at this point, the sort of comedy so painful it’s funny, and so when an ayudante from one of the buses starts badgering me, asking where I’m going, I just roll with it. “Guasaule,” I tell him, “I’m crossing Honduras to Nicaragua, and I want to cross at Guasaule.”
“That bus left already, you have to go to Choluteca.”
“I can’t stop overnight in Choluteca, I don’t have enough money left.”
He shrugs at me, “there is no bus, you have to go to Choluteca.” and makes to grab my bag.
“No thanks, I’ll hitchhike.” and I twist to pull his grip off my bag. Stabbing abdominal pains ensue. Oh yeah, that.
“Do you know where I can find-” but he’s already gone, running back to the bus as it pulls out of the lot. I really hope he’s lying, or I’m sleeping on the border tonight.

5:30pm – He wasn’t lying, as it turns out, but it took me getting conned, robbed, and extorted to be sure of it. After I find a bathroom and pay 5L to take possibly the most satisfying leak of my life, I skip out of the little tienda, buy a soda, and find a line of microbuses. They have to be going somewhere, so I start asking down the line where everyone is going, and if anyone knows where I can find a bus to Guasaule. One young man tells me his bus is headed to Guasaule, so I follow him, throw my bag in the back, and ask him what it costs. “100 Lempira” is his reply, and it seemed reasonable enough. He starts talking to the driver, and I’m starving but broke, so I smoke a cigarette and start a conversation with Niko, this 5 or 8 year old kid sitting on the back bumper of a truck. He speaks some English, so we practice a bit – I ask him questions about him and his family, and tell him never to smoke cigarettes because they make you ugly and kill you. I’m sure it was convincing

After 15 or 20 minutes of this, the driver starts his engine, I say goodbye to Niko, and hop into the bus. The ayudante asks me for my fare, and I hold out a 100L note. He grabs it, but instead of climbing into the bus starts sprinting across the road, hops a concrete barrier, and slips between a couple parked trucks. “Where is he going?” I ask the driver.
“I don’t know,” is his uninterested reply.
“Isn’t he your ayudante?”
“No. I don’t have a clue who he is” One smooth motherfucker, that’s who.
“Where is this bus going? Guasaule?”
“No, just down the road.”

I climb out again, drag my bag over to some steps, and sit down. Mental cigarette time – The sun is setting, it will be dark soon, and there are no more buses or minibuses, no transport at all except from private vehicles. I could hitch I guess, but that gets dramatically harder once its dark out. I don’t have money for both a hotel and a bus, so if I do find a place to sleep – not a great proposition in this sketchy border town – then I’m pretty much going to have to hitch from here to another town with a bank. Plus, that ruins the whole “lets do this in 24 hours” game, so we’ll keep that as a last option. What I really need is a friend.

6pm – Luckily, I’m pretty good at making friends, and I’m not halfway though my cigarette when a young guy, looks about 20, sits down next to me and asks if he can bum a drag. “Have one,” I tell him, “they’re terrible.” We laugh, I light him up, and that’s how I met David, the first guy to really save my ass here. Turns out he’s a transit worker, is in charge of making sure international truckers fill out the right forms crossing into Honduras. He knows everyone on the border, where the trucks are going, where they’re coming from, and which drivers are likely to take hitchhikers. He also thinks my story of getting ripped off is hilarious, and says he’ll be glad to help me out. How’s that for making friends?

We finish our cigarettes, he tells me to wait around until he talks to a few people, and so I doze against the wall as David proceeds to tell absolutely everyone about the dumb gringo who got robbed of 100L by being so trusting. Everyone loves it, and I’m a local celebrity among the daytime drunks and young kids – the village idiot, more or less. I’m starving, and I have 134 Lempira – $6.70 or so – which could get me a good meal, except that I have to cross a border still, and might have to pay my driver for his help. I can’t afford to eat. I light another cigarette and think about something else.

Half an hour later David comes back, and tells me he has found 2 possible rides for me, which sounds great except that they leave at 8 if they can get through customs by then. This isn’t fun anymore, and knowing that I still have hours, 5 or 6 of them, of just travel time left leaves me feeling pretty lifeless. Still, what else can I do? I smile, thank David, and hand him a cigarette. He works nights, so officially he’s off work right now, and so we sit, talk, bullshit, and pass the time as best we can with no money or energy. After a while, another guy comes over, sits down, and starts asking me where I’m staying tonight. “Nowhere, I’m leaving in a truck in an hour or 2.” He doesn’t like my answer, keeps insisting I stay at a hotel, not just any hotel, but the one he’s recommending me. “Come on man, you don’t know how dangerous it is here – I do. I got shot 7 times.” and at that he lifts his shirt to show 7 bullet holes in his chest, stomach, arm, and one far to close to his dick for him to have shoved it in my face like he did. “Wow, lucky you lived.”
“Yeah, and I killed the fucker too.” wonderful…
“That’s, that’s good. Why did he shoot you.”
“Because I’m dangerous.”
“Oh. Ok.”
“Hey, give me money.”
“Give me money, I’m hungry.”
“I can’t – I have only a little bit, and I need it.”
“I need it too, come on man, give me money.” He’s pouting – what sort of gangster pouts?
“If you give me money, I can protect you.”
“From who?”
“Dangerous people.”
“Like you?”
“Like me.” He flashes me a wicked smile, the sort you see on someone who enjoys causing pain.
“Here.” I give him 20 Lempira, and his whole demeanor changes.
“Wow man, thanks a lot! I’ll be right back.” And with that he goes running off around the corner.
I turn to David – “That was the weirdest thing that has happened to me all day.”
“Yeah, Mike is crazy.”

20 minutes later Mike is back, beer in one hand, cell phone in the other. “Here man,” he tells me, “I’m gonna hook you up. Do you have a pen?” I give him one, and he scribbles his name and a phone number on a piece of paper. “This is my old boss in Tegucigalpa. He can get you anything man – drugs, girls, guns, anything you want. Oh man, you’re so lucky I’m your friend man. Just tell him Cholo is your friend and he needs to help you out.” I look at this bit of paper, at Mike’s goofy grin, and back at the paper again. “Really?” “Yeah man, it’s cool – he’s loaded. Anything you want.” I shove the paper in my pocket, and thank Mike, tell him I’ll keep the number in mind. He bums another cigarette, David takes one too, and a passing drunk asks for one, so why the hell not? Cigarettes all around. We sit, smoke, and Mike bails right afterward, promising over and over that he’ll be right back, that he just needs to do something and oh yeah, if the guy who robbed me comes back, he and some friends will kick his ass and get me my $5 back. I never see him again after that, thankfully. I just give David a tired look and shake my head. What a day.

Around 10:30pm, after 5 mindless hours at the border, I finally catch a break. A trucker headed south to Managua is willing to give me a free lift straight to Leon, and so I thank David profusely, give him the rest of my cigarettes, and take off – still owe that guy back in Flores for giving them to me – sure, lung cancer might suck, but they helped me skip dinner. I try to start up a conversation with the driver, but he isn’t having any of it, and the passenger just keeps telling me I’m too gringo to understand him, so within 15 minutes I’m passed out completely, and don’t wake up until someone shakes my leg.

I startle, sit up too fast, feel faint, recover. The driver is looking straight at me, and telling me that he’s sleeping here, so I need to get out of the truck. I thank him, hop down, and set off into the bushes to take a leak. It isn’t until I’m done that I realize the passenger was a hitchhiker too.

“Hey gringo, you going to Nicaragua?”
“I was thinking about it. You?”
“Where is it?”

From where I am, we’re just sitting on a road somewhere, and since it’s an intersection, I have no idea which way to go. Thankfully my new friend does, and so we walk and talk and sweat in the warm night, hoofing it south to the border. He tells me that his father left before he was born, an American man who lives in Florida, and that once, when he was 14, they met. His father promised to bring him to the USA, but after 12 years he’s never heard from the bastard again. I tell him he’s better off without that sort of shit, and he agrees, but tells me the biggest insult that anyone ever did to him was that his father gave him $50 out of nowhere when he was 18. “$50!” he tells me “Fifty fucking dollars, and he doesn’t talk to me my entire life? What do I do with fifty dollars?” I can only shake my head and make a mental note to always, always wear condoms.

A while later, it’s the middle of the night, the stars are gorgeous, and the border crossing is unfortunately closed. We bang around in the office for a while, but even though the lights are on and the computers too, there’s nobody answering, and so we just walk across the bridge, and presto, we’re in Nicaragua. My Nico friend gets a bit spooked – “Did you see that guy?” No. “The one with the machete?” I shake my head. “Do you know what a machete is?” I point to the one hanging on the side of my bag. “Oh.” We walk on in silence. “I hope we don’t get robbed,” he whispers. I laugh inappropriately, too tired for all of this. Things are ridiculous – I’m sneaking into Nicaragua across the wide-open border with no money, walking right past an army base, and this guy is worried about thieves? I tell him that we’ll be safe, and we walk on a bit longer while he talks about his father.

On the Nicaraguan side, it’s the same story – open buildings, lights on, nobody home. It’s beginning to feel like a cheap horror flick, honestly, and we’re giddy and nervous – where the hell is everyone? Do they really leave things so un-policed? We’re talking, Nico and I, and just then a voice out of nowhere scares everyone shitless. “Hey, you need to go get a stamp to enter.” Very threatening. We look around a bit, find a guy lying a hammock in a nearby tree, and he points us back toward the building we just entered. We protest, he won’t have it, and so we walk back into the building to immediately exit the other side and keep walking – tricky tricky… From there, we’re good to go, discussing possible rides or perhaps sleeping in one of the nearby buildings, but at the final guard shack we’re caught good and tight, and while Nico is good – he’s a resident after all – I have to go back and get a stamp. “It doesn’t matter if nobody is working, those are the rules, and no, I can’t come with and do anything to actually help you.” The response of a lifetime bureaucratic turdburglar.

I wander back, debate at each building I pass where I could possibly sleep, and have just decided on an open piece of concrete between two shipping containers when I see a body moving around in the immigration office – somebody has to be up. I shoulder my bag and take off at a trot – I’m beat, and this isn’t fun any longer, but my luck holds just barely – there’s a large hairy man in his wife beater and boxer shorts walking around, and I’ve never been so excited to see so much of such a fatass in my life. I hammer on the door a while, shout, and after about five minutes he gives up ignoring me and we go through the passport stamping game. Finally! I’m off at a brisk walk to see what Nico has gotten himself up to, passing the army base – tresspassers will be shot – when a man on the base, in full camoflage with a rifle, starts waving and hissing at me. “Chele, venga.” I keep walking a few steps. “Vengase ya!” and his voice says it’s urgent. I turn and walk back to him – there’s just no pleasing guys with guns – they think they’re in change just because they can put holes in everything.

“What is it?”
“Are you walking to Nicaragua?”
“Yeah, I’m hitchhiking.”
“It’s really dangerous here. Really dangerous.”
“I saw a guy get stabbed to death over there last week.” He points in the direction I’m going. “Blood everywhere.”
“Ok, thanks.”

Warmed by his good news, I creep a little bit more cautiously back to the guard shack, knife out but concealed – it doesn’t feel dangerous, but the guy with the rifle has me spooked – the words “this is fucking ridiculous!” blare in my head, and I’m too tired to shut them off. Nico is still there, lying outside on his bag, and the guards are nowhere to be seen. I plop down next to him, and ask where the guard went. “They’re asleep inside.” Nice. We watch the stars a while, trade phone numbers, and lie in the dirt. Hours go past, we talk a lot about nothing in particular, share the last sips of my water, and a piece of bread he had from somewhere. Time crawls.

2am? Later? Time has long since passed the point of relevance, we’re dozing, when I hear a diesel engine rumbling – the guards are waving a truck through the gate! We scramble up, and I run for the truck cab a few steps in front of Nico. The driver looks at me, starts to say something, then rolls up his window and drives off as I shake my head – tough break. Still, not 15 minutes later another driver rolls up, and this guy would be happy to take us. Nico climbs in back, we toss our bags in, and I’m shoved into the truck cab, sharing a bucket seat with the passenger – I never figured out why – there was a ton of room in back, but they insisted on it. The 4 of us roll out, a “most overplayed of the 80s” soundtrack blasting, and with conversation impossible, I fall mercifully asleep.

Aside from a few brief jolts and sudden stops, I’m pretty much out – either asleep or staring at the stars – the entire trip to Leon. The driver can’t hear me over the screaming music and engine noise, the passenger is pissed off that I’m taking half of his seat. I lean my head out the window and stare at Orion. I miss you Matt, but I love that I can look up and see you every night, watching over us. I wonder if you ever wanted to do something like this? A tear crawls sideways off of my face – I still miss him, still want him back, but at least this time I smile. He’d be happy to know I’m better then I was, I know that much. The whole group is, almost – there’s still two we need to pull back from the self-destructive edge – but perhaps as a group, the group Matt made so strong, we’ll be able to do it. One day… I drift off again, wind in my teeth, hair like a bad 80’s rock band.

3:38am – I wake up in the parking lot of an On The Run gas station, and the sign across the street says Leon 3km. The driver is parking, the passenger asleep on my shoulder. We’re adorable, I’m sure. Dried drool, pushed by the wind, has actually wrapped from my mouth around to my right ear, and I stink, and I need something to drink. I thank them both, offer my useless 100 Honduran Lempira as payment, but they wave me off. I jump down, grab my bag out of the back, and after sticking my head under a spigot behind the station, wander toward town.

4am – Taxis honk or flash their sirens, and I wave them off. I can’t pay for anything. One driver is a bit more insistent – he pulls over to talk to me, and refuses to speak Spanish. He can’t speak English. I don’t understand him, and I don’t care either. I keep walking, he keeps driving to match my slow trudge. “Me take you drive man! Taxi ok?” At some point I kind of flip my shit and just start speaking broken English right back at him.

“No taxi no ok. No me have money!”
“Taxi! Me drive you (he makes exaggerated driving motions with his hands above the wheel) to town. Leon?”
“No taxi. Me walk. No money!”

It goes on for a while. I walk, he drives, we talk. I’m not in the fucking mood. Eventually I stop talking, and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. He drives ahead of me a while, and right about when I think I’ve won, he climbs out of the taxi. Not good. My knife finds it’s way into my hand, the “leather punch” aka the “sharp as fuck part that fits in a balled fist” out and ready. This guy had better be stupid and overly helpful, or he’s getting a blade in the eye. I’m positively bloodthirsty.

As I walk up to his taxi, I try to defuse the coming storm – (in Spanish) Thanks for your help, but I don’t need a taxi – I was robbed at the border, I have no money, and I know where I am going tonight. I am going to walk, do not help me. Stay over there!” The last part is shouted, because he’s coming around the car toward me. “Stay the fuck away!” I shout, figuring that there is very little about that statement that doesn’t translate, especially when combined with my facial expression and stance. Apparently I was wrong, because he walks right up to me and grabs my backpack. “Taxi…” he starts, but I hit him hard in the chest. “No taxi – vaya a la verga, culero!” I’m yelling and looking for a rock – thankfully he backs off, looking hurt and confused. He goes back around his car while I stand there, blade out in one hand, chunk of concrete in the other, glaring daggers. He climbs into the driver’s seat and throws me one last sad puppy look before driving off. I wait for a while before continuing, and keep my weapons ready until I’m well into the town center. I have no idea if he was trying to rob me, hurt me, or was just the biggest idiot I’ve met in a while, but that guy unnerved me a whole lot more then robbery or extortion had.

Sometime after four I finally get to the front door of Sonati – 31 hours, more or less, since starting this marathon. I knock on the door, the night guard opens it, and lo and behold, it’s the same guy from before, and we share greetings as he lets me in. I’ve rarely been so happy to arrive anywhere as I am right that moment. I pitch my bag on the floor, fill my water bottle, and we talk a few minutes before he lies down in the corner to sleep and I – too jazzed to sleep – sit around through the predawn light checking my email, of all things. I’m actually too hungry to lie down, so I wander out around 6:30 to get a traditional plate, and that settles me – I barely drag myself home before passing out in the dorm room and sleeping the day away.

So that’s how that particular adventure ended – you’d better believe it was one of my worse ideas since I started traveling around down here, and that my bad decisions and utter lack of plans precipitated every one of the bad things that happened to me. Still, the end result is pretty impressive – look at a map and chart the route – Flores-Guatemala City-San Salvador-El Amatillo-Guasaule-Leon – four countries in one sprint, and in the end, all-included, it cost me about $37. I lost any financial records, so that might be total horseshit. I can’t look at the distances, being as I don’t have a map, but I think that’s worth a pat on the back. Really though, it was just training – after I find a way to leave Leon behind again, I’m going to be doing another hitching marathon from here down to Panama City, where I have plans to fly to Columbia (the whole boat idea fell through when it came to cost over twice the plane trip) and do a month of paragliding, reflection, writing, and wicked cocaine abuse. That’s all really – just a little tale of how even the bad times can be good, in their own weird way. Until the next time -k


One Response to “Running A Marathon”

  1. Thanks for sharing. Share is caring after all.

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