We had lunch in the shade of an open air cantina near Flores . . . there was a man playing a rousing solo mariachi concert for us and the couple from Pennsylvania, the best birders in our crew danced -- they were avid cloggers, and they performed this jumpy self-conscious, but at the same time abandoned jig for us with Lake Peten stretching in the distance like the azure wing of a parrot and this was temporary relief from what was behind us, the thing that I couldn't get out of my mind.
Only an hour before, we had been sitting on the side of the Western Highway, some five or 10 miles past the rebel camp and some more miles before Flores. The bus came to a squealing halt -- the fan belt made an audible screech, something akin to a cat with its tail caught underfoot. The dust settled all around us and there was a collective resignation to the foibles of our camel.
Nigel hoisted himself from his seat and followed London down the steps and out the door of the bus. The yellow hood came up and I saw a puff of smoke -- it disappeared like a bird who was startled at the opening of the barn door. The murmuring began, everyone started standing up and groaning and stretching and I reminded myself that it was going to be a long night after this drive . . . there would be many requests for hemorrhoid remedy, there was no doubt about that, and i just hoped there would be enough to keep them all happy.
Nigel stepped back into the bus, "Hello everybody, good good, you're all up! Get your binoculars out, let's go for a stroll while London fixes the engine. Won't be a moment, no time at'all, but might as well walk about, stretch your legs, find some birds." I screwed up my face at Nigel -- walk about? Here? Was that a good idea? So close to the rebel camp? Nigel gave me a wink and I followed him outside, and he leaned into me and with an intimacy that I had earned for some reason he said, "So then, just walk up the road a bit, not too far. You take them, London might need my help."
"Me? But I don't know how to identify all those Honey Creepers."
"Oh, you underestimate your skills. Just keep everyone together, don't leave the road."
"What is it Wolfy"
"That belt, that's the last one we've got isn't it?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
"So what's London going to do, tie a knot in it?"
"No need for that -- the belt's intact."
"Oh, oh good." and then London came around the corner with the belt in his hand. It seemed to be shredded -- he asked me if I had my pocket knife, I did and handed it to London. "Nigel?"
"Don't worry Wolfy, London's got it under control."
"What's he doing?"
"Well, he's trimming, that's all he's trimming the shreds off the belt so it runs smoothly."
"So . . ."
"So, honestly, we'll be running on a belt that is half the width we need, but it'll hold."
"Can we get another belt in Flores?"
"Nope, no time to go to Flores, its out of our way. The belt will get us to Tikal and back. Say a little prayer, Wolfy."
"Nigel - I don't pray."
"Never too late to start!"
They all fluttered out the door. Their faces were red, they were tired. Lunch was going to be delayed and if there was one thing I had learned about these folks, it was that their stomachs were on time clocks much like that of horses or babies, restlessness would be followed by colicky behavior. But they wandered behind the bus, binoculars firmly pressed to their faces, "Oh look! A Slaty-tailed Trogan!" The birds would take their minds off their stomachs. The birds made me forget the fan belt for just a second, but I saw London discard the shredded bits of the belt into the jungle -- it hung in the air like a snake, and then it was gone. I began to pray.
The long dead Mayans must be really annoyed with what's become of their holy city Tikal. I mean they must be fairly ticked off -- the Spanish come in, terrify them with horses, kill them with muskets and cannons and virulent viruses, and then? A few centuries later they put an airstrip, a hotel, and a parking lot for tour buses at the base of their holiest collection of temples. And they employ the Mayans to maintain the hotel and a permanent tent city selling handwoven bracelets and belts, embroidered tunics, temple replicas that fit in the palm of pudgy tourists hands, and wall hangings depicting serpent goddesses and Bird of Paradise. The Mayan children accost the buses and they grab for your wrists and try to lead you into the tents. If you won't buy their stuff, won't you just give them some change? They like American dollars please. And you look into their beautiful faces, and the ghosts of shamen appear.
It was the day before Thanksgiving and the half-way point of our trip. I regretted not bringing a turkey made of tissue paper and cardboard cornucopias overflowing with maize and tobacco and walnuts. We were really far from home, really far, and it just caught me off guard that I would crave some reminder of the holiday that isn't so much about being Thankful, but more so about bellying up to a table with the ones you love.