We try not to drive at night, but the further we headed South, the fewer hours of daylight we seemed to have. It looked like night about an hour after we crossed into Guatemala, but, by our standards, it was still quite early.
Also, there’s a certain ambiguity about whether we don’t ride at night, or just when it’s dark. It looked like “night,” but in actuality, it was just stormy, so it doesn’t count as night. It rained on us rather heavily for about three days at this point. So it almost always seemed “dark.” We’d have a few hours a day of nice weather, but every night we could count on being wet and cold.
We didn’t really know anything about our destination. For instance, we weren’t sure exactly how far away it was or how long it should take to get there. I did look at a map, though, so if you showed me Guatemala, I could have fairly accurately located it.
We also had a GPS that could tell us what direction we were heading at that moment and the locations of several rivers and cities, but not much more because we didn’t want to spend $100 on the more detailed Garmin map. To supplement this rudimentary information, we periodically stopped to ask locals where Coban was as the rain steadily soaked us.
This method of navigation opened us up to another minor issue: we had never heard someone say, “Coban.” This meant that every time we had a chance to ask people about how far away Coban was, I would slightly change the pronunciation and repeat until I got that look of comprehension from the listener.
Koh-bon, Kuh-Bahn, Cah-Bohn, Kaa-Bun, etc…
Eventually they would nod and give an answer. As for how far away it was, within a couple blocks we’d get answers varying from 100km, to 8 hours, to 4km, to “right over there.”
This was confusing.
Eventually we got to a military checkpoint where we had that familiar interaction and it ended with him walking us down towards a supermarket and pointing vaguely at it. There was a gravel road just beyond the market, but there were nicer roads to either side. We thanked the man and started towards where we thought he had pointed us.
Aaron was against this. According to his GPS, we needed to go straight after that military checkpoint instead of taking a right turn. The GPS also showed a river there, though.
I however, thought that the man had given us direct enough information and that he wouldn’t steer us wrong.
Aaron grudgingly followed while complaining that this was clearly wrong.
A bit after that, we asked a few more people about Coban and were given even more wildly varied responses. Eventually we pulled up to a tiny shop where I walked up and asked the young girl tending it if she could point me in the right direction.
She responded, eventually, saying that she was sorry, but had no “Cabon” available that night.
This was disturbing. Cabon isn’t here? How would Cabon be here?
I immediately began laughing hysterically and didn’t stop for about 10 minutes. Aaron was in a slightly different mood. He refused to see the humor in this and took to muttering under his breath. I think it was about 11pm then.
We turned around and I made sure we stopped at the next shop where I walked up and asked for the same thing I did before. A bar of soap was placed on the counter in front of me.
“Jabon,” wherein the “J” is a breathy /H/ sound is “soap” in Spanish. Some of the people had been accurately pointing us towards Cabon, Guatemala, while some had been pointing us towards the closest soap dispensary.
In their defense, we were quite dirty. But I still question as to why they would think we couldn’t find soap on our own or what kind of emergency would force two guys on motorcycles to stop immediately for soap.
Whatever the case, we turned back and found ourselves, again, at the military checkpoint. We’d stopped slightly earlier to talk to a man in a car, as people in vehicles tend to give better driving directions than pedestrians, who said we had to find a ferry.
No one said anything about a ferry, I thought, but as we asked the men at the checkpoint, they again pointed to the market and mentioned a ferry. Turns out, the gravel road next to the market becomes a dirt road that becomes a paved road that crosses a bridge and leads to a ferry.
We just assumed, after learning that people thought we wanted soap, that the man there wanted us to go to the market, but he was showing us the right way.
We boarded the ferry that was basically a barge propelled by a pair of 75hp outboard motors attached to the front and back that were turned on and off by a single man. He would hammer on the engine and turn it slightly to steer the enormous hunk of metal.
There was one large truck in the middle and people and motorcycles around the edges. The truck was asked to move several times during the ferrying to, I think, balance the boat as it moved.
It was an adventure.
When we landed we sped on towards Coban. It was raining steadily and we were thoroughly drenched, but we said we’d be there that night, so we refused to stop until we made it.
Driving at night can be a good thing. For instance, in Nebraska, we tried to complete the whole state in the night, because there’s really nothing to see and you make good time, because you’re less likely to stop.
In a new place, as Guatemala was to us, it was a bit sad. We drove through, what looked like, some truly beautiful places. There was something majestic about the way the sloping silhouettes of mountains blocked out the night sky and the clouds, when they weren’t drenching us, made the scene even nicer. It would have been nice to actually see that part of Guatemala, though.
Aaron, eventually, stopped and told me that we were only 20 miles from Coban. I, having just read a road sign that said something like 79km, did not believe this. Aaron was looking at the GPS and reading it as if it were a straight line. Obviously, the route would be longer. Even if he had only meant this as a means of encouragement at the time, I think it resulted in the opposite.
The road had started winding upwards. We were gaining altitude and the temperature was dropping and the rain had picked up and wasn’t letting off. This “20 miles” became something like two hours. To put it short, we were miserable.
I think we’ve both admitted later that during this part of the ride we both took to muttering or shouting to ourselves. There’s a certain level of intimacy inside the helmet especially at night, that allows for this.
The road wound back and forth. Aaron was getting ever more furious with every turn that brought us further away from our destination.
At about 1:00am, we finally arrived at Coban. We called Jenna, my friend who’s starting an orphanage there, and started looking for a hotel.