Reporting from the flat, flat, flat, flat, oh so beautifully flat, state of Ohio…
“Help!” I yelled into the darkness as blood oozed from my chest, shoulders, chins and toes, hoping like hell someone would answer. “Help!”
“Hello?” a woman’s voice emerged from the abyss. “Are you OK?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think my leg’s broken.”
In a daze, I hobbled to…
Wait. Sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s back up for a moment and put this story into context…
Astute LFT readers know I arrived at Panajachel (the “New York” of Lake Atitlan) a couple of weeks ago — the same day, it turned out, as Interpol.
I was there to find a quiet and inspiring place to write. Interpol, on the other hand, was there to find Javier Duarte, the former Veracruz mayor who is so riddled with scandals that, rather than fleeing further south, he should’ve just moved to the United States and ran for president.
One of us found what we were looking for.
Javier Duarte went to jail. I took a short boat ride from Panajachel to Paxanax (say it with me: posh-a-nosh), the so-called “Beverly Hills” of el Lago.
I stayed in one of two houses built and owned by Deva Nirguna — a friend, architect, self-proclaimed “OBA” (Old British Artist) and long-time resident of Atitlan.
I loved it. It was just what I needed.
The magic of Atitlan
“Atitlan,” I was told by a walking travel guide at a nearby cafe, “is a Mayan word meaning,’the place where the rainbow gets its colors.’”
And it made sense. The raw beauty is unlike anything I’ve seen.
The windy and dramatic footpaths. The wildflowers growing like weeds along the fences. The boats and misty waters. The Mayan women in their bright tribal dresses. The beautiful houses and the stories and the eccentrics who built them and who spin the yarns. The volcanoes I watched from my bedroom window. The warning on the kitchen table: “Warning: If you see the volcano erupt… take pictures.”
A surprise around every corner. Plenty of inspiration to be had. I began to relax into the lake.
Unfortunately, though, the lake never did seem to relax into me.
First came the fire
It took only four days for me to almost meet my maker in a wildfire.
Flames, I’m told, spewed about 20 feet above head only a stone’s throw from where I sat with my headphones on and, like a scene from Mr. Bean, happily tapped away at the writing desk.
Nirguna discovered the fire when he stumbled upon his neighbor, Paul, trying to bat back the Goliath with a tiny garden hose.
“It was a magnificent shot,” he said. “These massive, sweeping flames with Paul there with his little hose. If only I’d had my camera.”
“So,” I asked, “how did you guys get the fire out?”
“Well, that’s the interesting part,” Nirguna said. “Out of nowhere, four policemen swooped in and handled it. They were incredible. No idea where they came from. Glad they came. Everyone else had left for the day.”
Turns out, a local set the fire at the top of the ridge to burn his crops and walked off. Unfortunately, the mountain was parched. The lack of rain turned it into one big city of tinder, causing the flames to quickly spread in patches all along the ridge.
I had heard afterwards, in passing, murmurs from worried neighbors. Fires loosen up the soil, making the mountains more susceptible to landslides, they said. Rainy season is right around the corner. It could be a rough one.
How to surf a boulder
It was around 8:00PM on Sunday, April 23, 2017.
To set the scene…
It was dark outside. The rain had been pounding on roof for about an hour or so. My laptop was in my lap. My glasses were on my face. I had on shorts and a t-shirt.
I was propped up in bed. I’d been sick since Friday night and was still nursing it away. Stomach issues. I won’t go into details.
Now, in order to tell this part of the story, we’re going to have to slow down time… a lot.
[Time slows… the pitter patter of the rain widens]
My attention was pulled away from my screen as I heard a thunderous crack outside. Then. Another one, equally as thundery and foreboding. My eyes darted up to the ceiling, from where the horrible sound seemed to derive. My first thought was a massive tree was falling nearby. Very close. Too close.
My eyes still fixed on the spot. And that’s when it hit me.
Boom. Crash. [Dump all your favorite onomatopoeias for destruction here]
Everything went dark. Strange thing is, while I could hear the room taking a violent crushing, it felt a bit distant. All I felt was the sensation of falling. Falling. Falling. Falling. And then nothing.
And then I heard the rain again.
And I could feel it, too. On my arms and my head and my back. And I could feel the wind. Confused, I looked around. Wait. I was outside.
My body was scattered alongside broken pieces of wood and big chunks of rock. My glasses, maybe in a desperate act of self-preservation, had leapt from my face.
I checked my teeth. None missing. Not even a chip. For some reason, I took that as a fair indicator I was OK and stood up.
I looked down. A long black stain ran down my right leg.
‘Maybe not OK,’ my brain said. ‘Seek help.’
“Help!” I yelled. “Help!”
“Hello?” a woman’s voice shouted back. “Are you OK?”
“I don’t know,” I said back. I didn’t. I looked at my leg. “I think my leg might be broken.”
Dazed, I hobbled to the front gate.
“I’m Dale,” the gate said in a man’s voice.
No. It wasn’t the gate. It was a man. There was a man outside the gate. Oh.
“Are you OK?”
“Uhm,” I looked down. “I think my leg’s broken.”
“Well, if you’re walking on it it probably isn’t broken. Let me see.”
He shined his flashlight on my leg. We both looked. The black stains were now red and they had reached my foot.
He was right. Bloodied up, yes. But not broken.
“Do you have the keys to the gate?” Dale asked.
“They’re inside the house. I’m locked out. I fell from upstairs.”
“You’re going to be OK,” he said in a remarkably calm tone. “We’re going to take care of you, OK?”
It helped. A calm voice in a sea of chaos. It gave me something to point to. I was going to be OK. I didn’t even know why I wasn’t OK, but I would be otherwise.
“But,” Dale hedged, “we can’t help you until the gate is open. Can you get the keys?”
“I don’t know where they are. I’ll try.”
“Here,” Dale said, “take my flashlight.”
I hobbled over to the side door of the house and turned the knob. As expected, locked. I thought for a moment, picked up a rock and, like you see in the movies, crashed it through a panel of glass. I slid my arm in the hole, flipped the latch, tussled with the door a bit and boom. I was back in the disaster zone.
I limped up the rubble-smothered steps and, for the first time, assessed the damage.
The left side of the room was, aside from being draped in a thick white dust, untouched. The right side, on the other hand, looked like a drone strike.
Needless to say, I began my search on the left side.
Doing a quick inventory, I noticed the only few items of mine accounted for were a.) the pants on the couch, which I wore earlier b.) my shoes and socks on the floor and c.) my camera on the desk.
I picked up the pants and the gate keys immediately fell neatly on the couch. Score. I carefully worked a sock around the flap of skin I could feel dangling from the bottom of my right foot and put my shoes on, letting the tongue soak up the blood from my leg.
I hobbled down and unlocked the gate and let them in. For some ungodly reason, we went back into the house. Dale captured this shot of me getting a better look at the aftermath…
Soon after, I was led to the neighbor’s house. I showered and scrubbed my wounds and my hosts helped me clean and bandage them up.
The next day, sore as I’ve ever been, I was graced with a visit by Dr. Wang, a Taiwanese doctor. A couple of hours later
I was given a sack full of medication, bandages, cream and peroxide.
“You’re in the best possible scenario,” Dr. Wang told me, “for the worst possible scenario.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“You’re going to be OK.”
I was going to be OK.
How it went down, in pictures.
So here’s the skinny…
The rock… a very big rock from up the mountain… got loose, took out a studio up the hill, kept going, bounced off a small corner of the upper house and came crashing through the lower house’s roof — of which I sat unadvisedly beneath.
Here’s the entry point…
At some point during the scuffle, as the rock overtook my bed (you can see the bed on the bottom right, with my covers in its maw)…
I, with the survival prowess and various extrasensory abilities I’ve honed over the years, pounced on top of the rock and allowed it to break through the wall…
Where I gracefully hopped off and, for effect only, sprawled out in the yard below like a helpless injured lamb.
At least, that’s how I remember it.
(And that, dear reader, is how you surf a boulder.)
The bright side.
Nearly everything I brought with me to Guatemala was recovered. The guys helping with the cleanup found my glasses and laptop downstairs in the kitchen. Glasses had a tiny scratch. Laptop had a crack through the screen. Pressed the power button… turned right on.
I’m using it right now, in fact, to write this story to you.
A bottle of wine I’d purchased at the market in Pana was still sitting on the table downstairs, too. A little covered in dust, but otherwise untouched.
Nirguna brought it down.
“Might as well, right?” he said.
“Right,” we agreed.
We popped it open and poured our glasses. We were all a bit shaken up, each in our own way…
“Cheers,” we said, raising our glasses, clinking them together and taking a moment.
“To life,” one of us said.
“To life,” we said.
To life, I said again silently as I took a sip.
I was going to be OK.
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today
P.S. As far as injuries go, I’m essentially a big, limping scab. Leg’s swollen but everything seems to be healing OK.
P.P.S. Have something to say? Say it! Chris@lfb.org.