With one step off the jetliner, this California Golden Boy became a foreigner for the first time. Rolling green hills covered in golden poppies, fields upon fields of vegetables or fluffy white cotton, and multi-lane interstates stretching over the horizon – they do not exist here.
This was the jungle.
The Belizean air was heavy and moist. Thick, gray storm clouds gathered in the west, consuming the final rays of the setting sun.
The road forward was in darkness. My path, however, was clear.
With my brunette bombshell at my side, I slipped behind the wheel of a golden lance. My weapon for this quest: a Trooper, sturdy and powerful, yet intractable.
Its handler offered a modern-day talisman: an emergency beacon to shine bright in the darkest shadows of this land. Foolishly, I declined, and hold up my crudely-drawn map in the day’s fading light.
My overconfidence may be my downfall.
I urged the steel beast forward. My quest began as daylight vanished.
The drops were sparse at first. Then the heavens opened up. My chariot pounded and my sight blinded, as Mother Nature conspired with her jungle offspring to thwart my journey at its start.
I realized, the road too, was my enemy. Doubt bubbled upward and a flash of fear came over me. My lover caught the minute change in my countenance – but missed the resolved look which followed.
I make her a silent promise. I will not be defeated. Not today.
My gaze intensified as our golden chariot splashed along the slickened road. Between curtains of rain, I saw twin lights, coming closer. A larger beast behind them charged by — close enough to touch! Too close on this narrow lane.
More lights ahead. No beast this time. It was a village. I slowed my pace – but not slow enough — and slammed into small barriers protecting a perpendicular pathway crossing the road. We bounce hard. Though we were shaken, our chariot rumbled on, unfazed.
Our search continued for the turn to take us dangerously deeper into this damp, darkened hell. My princess spotted it. We barreled past.
While my reactions were instant and my instincts true, I struggled to put faith in my vehicle – and every moment on the road presented a challenge.
I brought the Trooper around, backtracked, and made the turn southwest.
Minutes became an hour. Even with half of the journey complete, the rain refused to give up. My confidence had grown, and I stole a glance at my love, hoping to revive her faith in me.
She looked ill. She was holding her personal talisman — our last hope should all go wrong – and it too, was dark.
We are alone, she said with her eyes. Disconnected. Apart.
I saw worry overtaking her. I tried to reassure her. We will not fail! But I knew my actions on that hellish night would speak far louder than my voice.
We splashed through another jungle village, slowly this time. The sheets of rain had thinned. Then, another village – except there were people.
It was a town.
It was the town! We’d arrived at San Ignacio, the beating heart of the Cayo!
As if defeated, the constant downpour that’s dogged this journey subsides. The end of this quest was near! I smiled and imagined unleashing a raucous laugh at the jungle road and its accomplices as this child of the golden sun emerged from the darkness, victorious!
The road is forked. A final challenge: One direction surely brings me success; the other, danger and even death.
Yet, something was familiar. I had foreseen this moment! A vision of a river crossed by two bridges: One tall, sturdy — a welcome sight to a road-weary traveler; the other was low and rickety, occasionally vanishing under rising floodwaters.
I guided my chariot ahead, past darkened doorsteps. A bridge came into view as a child emerged from the shadows. It was a boy. He was waving – no — gesturing. And, yelling.
A shout from my love and I turned to face the bridge. A beast roared across, bearing down on us with blazing white eyes! I begged my vehicle back, moving clear with not a second to spare.
My mistake hung there, tangible — another foolish choice. I backtracked, again, to the fork.
My path was clear.
I stopped my chariot to size up the tiny bridge and the promise of salvation on the river’s far bank.
We inched forward onto the wooden span at a snail’s pace, a mere foot to spare on either side.
Finally, we’re across!
Minutes later, we arrived at our inn, exhausted. But, victorious!
Later, reflecting upon that road less traveled, I realized when my fear subsided, it was replaced by faith. Not in my Trooper, but in myself.
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