From Belize we crossed into Guatemala and I was sure this would be the country where I'd finally meet my doom.
I'd been told how dangerous the country was, and though I'd heard the same about Mexico and Belize and then discovered the truth — that they were countries just fine — I knew, *knew*, that Guatemala had to be different. So foreign, so strange: Gua-te-ma-la. Such hubris! A gringo with a motorcycle, surely here I would get my comeuppance.
Sure enough during a lively ride from the border, I noticed a little swaying in my butt. Something felt wrong, and a brief inspection at the gates of Tikal revealed that a rear subframe bolt had gone missing.
Probably jostled loose on the poor Guatemalan roads, a sacrificed bolt from the passenger footpeg plus some spacers and washers saved me from tweaking the frame or — heaven forbid — shearing the other rear subframe bolt, causing untold motorcycle chaos.
We slept at an expensive hotel and ordered the "Amancer" (awakening) tour of Tikal, in which you wake up at 3:30am to meet a tour guide who takes you out to the ruins and high up onto a pyramid before sunrise, and you hear the jungle wake up and you see (weather permitting) the other scattered pyramids tower through the canopy, revealed as the sun tilts over the horizon. A truly magical experience, but getting up at 3:30am and downing cookies and coffee gave me a need to poop with a ferocious urgency unknown in the annals of mankind, and in the dark of the jungle park trails, keeping up with the tour group while *clenching*, I was panting and sweating and through a jungle miracle I barely made it to the baño, but when I discovered it had no TP, understand that a desperate pragmatism took over, and I looked about for wiping materials and found — saints be praised! — a random shirt, and I began tearing it apart for use as bumwipe. And it was on the can, post-evacuation, with the capacity to think clearly that the pieces came together in my mind: the shirt was still wet, and Darren was talking to a sweaty shirtless guy just a second ago, and therefore after less than a day in the country I had torn apart a Guatemalan man's shirt and defiled it in a manner most insulting. It occurred to me this would be a problem.
I prepared to tell the man about what I had done, but I didn't know what range of reactions to expect. Forgiveness? Violence? Understanding? The gentleman spoke English and the interaction went like this:
Me: "Hi, you know that shirt over there?"
Him: "Yes, that is my shirt."
Me: "Yes, well, there was an incident, and I destroyed your shirt."
Him: "But my shirt is right there."
Me: "Yes, and I destroyed it, and I apologize and I was wrong and I'd like to make it right." Right around now it's 4am in the jungle.
Him: "But that was *my* shirt." It occurs to me that he's drunk.
Me: "I'm sorry, how can I make it right?"
Him: He picks up the scraps. "No, no... no..." I think he's going to cry, this is not what I expected. "I need the shirt to do the tour, it is cold up there."
Me: "Here, take my shirt."
So that's how I ended up being the shirtless guy on the Amancer tour of Tikal.
We resolved it later when I bought him a shirt of his choosing from a tienda back near the hotels. When around him it was clear I was That Guy, and I got laughs and knowing nods, hahaha, as though these Guatemalans had never really really had to poop before.
We then rode to Isla Flores, which it turns out is a major stop on The Gringo Trail, and we stayed at the young backpackers' makeout epicenter, Los Amigos Hostel. Outside, we met an older expat named Jim who talked only of drinking and poon-tang and cocaine, he claimed to be the guy sitting against the lamppost in Berkeley's People's Park mural, he looked 80 and was probably 50. He said he was tired of Guatemala so he was going to Thailand to do exactly what you think. I went inside and partied dutifully.
The next day, high school students decided that our bikes were absolutely The Bomb Shizznit, and that they had to post directly to Facebook the amazing sight of two enormous bikes fully-loaded with crud and gringos.
We stopped to eat at Pollo Campero, the Central American KFC (but better), and I learned that Pollo Campero claims a foothold in such exotic locales as Indonesia, Nicaragua, and Maryland.
We then rode south to Lanquin via the eastern approach, the final forty-two miles of which was not paved and was the most challenging terrain for us since Baja. Parts of the road were still being blasted, parts of the road were not yet graded. At one steeper downhill part with large loose rocks I had to tiptoe through when I accidentally gunned it, I kept gaining speed before I realized what I was doing, I considered jumping off the bike but managed to ride it out, somehow regaining control of the bike and shedding velocity without washing out. This took about five seconds and left me with adrenaline tunnel vision and a metallic taste in my mouth for ten minutes. All told, with the break for rain (!) the road took about four hours.
We finally arrived at El Retiro...
...another party hostel in the middle of nowhere stuffed with hot backpackers. After a dinner of surprisingly-good Italian food...
...it seemed that everyone went to bed, but I soldiered on, after a day riding the harrowing roads of Guatemala there was no way I was going to bed early. I was the only person at the bar and they only sold as long as there were buyers, so I kept buying. I took a number of spins of the Retiroulette and "won" things they usually give away for free. I chatted with the bartenders until they got annoyed with me and then chatted some more.
But they eventually shut me down, forcing me to enjoy/endure my stay in a bucolic locale while sobering up.
The next day we would check out the caves at Semec Champey. We rode on the back of a truck which navigated the steep muddy roads at maybe 10 mph, me standing on the bumper and clinging to the rollbars ready to ditch the truck at the first sign of sliding off the road and down the side of the mountain. We explored the caves while holding candles, backpacker girls lovely in their bikinis and the dudes (well, me) having surreptitiously done pushups earlier that morning. Afterward the tour guide dared us to jump off a high bridge, so I did it. There's a strange feeling when jumping from so high, you look straight out and step off and don't look down, and you fall and fall and don't hit and you realize there's more falling to do, and that's when the air gets loud and you scream and hit hard and go down down down into the water. My feet touched rock, and when I swam up and up more to the surface finally I felt renewed, vital. Before I jumped I had given my hat to a pretty girl, and when I came back from the jump she had carelessly put it down and i felt betrayed.
Then we lounged in some cool lagoons in a gorgeous canyon.
Later that night I would talk with British girls about how much they hate the slut stereotype, and then even later they would hook up with random guys and I would laugh silently to myself and then go to bed alone, and the next day we would move on to the next stop on this Makeout Archipelago.
In the next post we ride a road that Lonely Planet says specifically not to go down, and I get a Bar Mitzvah at much beyond the age of thirteen.