This is a potentially triggering true story about a car accident that I was involved in while travelling through Guatemala with a friend. Since this story does involve kids, I just want to assure you that this was not a fatal accident, although the father was injured.
Several minutes before the accident occurred I started getting a pretty bad feeling, but despite my sudden discomfort I didn’t speak up. Although I’m generally pretty vocal about how I feel, in that moment I didn’t ask the driver to slow down. This is a story about the importance of listening to your intuition.
I was 30, and my friend and I had booked a fairly reputable car service to bring us from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. Our driver looked really young, but I didn’t think much of it when we first got into 10-12 passenger minivan. Joining us was a family and their two daughters. The father and his daughter (who was sleeping on his lap) were in the front seat next to the driver. About 30 minutes into the drive, we got onto the highway. This is when the driver started driving erratically. I’d been preparing some food to eat, and I remember suddenly deciding to put my pocket knife and sandwich away to pay attention to the road and to the driver. A lot of vehicles in Latin America don’t have seat belts. I felt uncomfortable, but I didn’t say anything.
Then our driver tried to overtake another driver in the shoulder lane, and ended up rear ending a parked semi truck while going 60 or 80 km/hr. He applied the breaks, but he was going too fast. The father immediately reacted and lifted his daughter above his head so she wouldn’t be crushed. His legs were then pinned between the dashboard and the seat.
In the seconds before the accident, I braced myself and pushed my body into the seat so I wouldn’t be flung out the windshield. I closed my eyes, and didn’t open them again until the screaming had stopped. Then I started to process what had just happened.
In the aftermath, my friend and I helped get the girls out of the truck, and did what we could to keep them calm until help arrived. The father and his family were taken to the hospital. We found out later that his injuries were minor. Since my friend and I were both miraculously unhurt, another car came to take us the rest of the way to Lake Atitlan.
But once at our destination, we found that there wasn’t much to say. We held each other and sat by the lake. Over and over through my head came the thoughts: I should have said something. I should have said something. An experience which I know is pretty standard after that sort of traumatic event, but it still made me reflect on the benefits of listening to that little voice of intuition – something which I almost do. But in this situation I didn’t, and I regretted it.
Unfortunately, the experience has made me edgy about driving with other people. On the other hand, whenever I’m in a situation where I feel unsafe, I remember how important it is to speak up. Please remember, if you ever feel unsafe (even if your fear feels irrational) you have the right to speak up and protect yourself. Always.
For my very first backpacking trip, I connected with a good friend (and seasoned traveller) to explore Colombia. I was in University at the time, getting my degree in Biology. I hadn’t even started to consider a career as a jewelry designer, although looking back… I think this experience may have ignited a flame.