February 24, 2014

by Cathy Liu in

When 6 people travel in a pack, group dynamics is a fun thing in it self. Each one us came from different background with distinct personalities, we all have diverse reactions to emergencies on the road.

After we crossed the Mexico-Guatemala border, on the mountainous descent to Lake Atitlan, Steve was driving the ambulance while Mike was navigating for him. Martha was lying on the bench, and I was sitting in the back of the ambulance with her.

Northing was going on for a while, then Martha broke the long silence, “What is that smell?”

“Burning of rubber, brake pads must be burning hot.” I casually replied.

Although Martha doesn’t drive, she processes a normal sense of logic and reasoning. She paused for half a minute, perhaps waiting for me to come to reason, but she got no response. “This smell is intense, it seems to be bad.” Martha tried to enlighten me.

I turned to the front of the ambulance and told Steve to stop the car to let the brakes cool off. He used the walkie-talkie to tell our supporting vehicle the Jeep to stop as well, we had to park the vehicles on the shoulder of a curve. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicles, we saw white smoke coming out of all wheels of the ambulance and the front wheels of the Jeep. Everybody was shocked by this intense situation for a minute of two, then we all went on our own ways.

Steve started calling our mechanic friend from New Jersey. The cell signal was pretty bad, so it took him almost 10 minutes to get through the international call. During this time, Stephen Alexis marched forward to check the road condition ahead. When Stephen Alexis returned with the news that we got at least of half a mile of downhill, Steve was still trying to get the call through.


Stephen Alexis looked up and decided not to join Martha and Mike who climbed high above and started a deep philosophical conversation.


Paul pulled out his iPad and continued to read the New York Times he downloaded two days ago when we had Wi-Fi.


I hesitated in joining Mike and Martha up there because I was wearing flip flops. I also couldn’t bother Steve since he was on the phone, in boredom, I took over-exposed pictures of everybody and zoomed in on this plant on the cliff.


Nobody panicked, we all remained pretty cool in this heated situation. Half an hour later, we continued our journey to San Marcos with the advice from New Jersey to shift down to lower gear instead of braking all the time. All was well.