A lightning slashes the sky and lights up the glade. A thunder makes me startle, that was near! This holds me back from eating a second load of cactus. I poke the fire, stand up and look around. The stars are blackened by huge clouds and the air is electric. Up in the sky there’s a battle going on between the gods, casting fire rays to each other. Or at least, that’s what I see in my head. The wind picks up and stirs the leaves around the fire, which throws a handful of sparks in the air. The first few drops start to fall.
All right, this is making me think. It might be a quick shower and the storm will move back to the mountains… but in case it’s not, what are my options? The raindrops are big, they dampen my sleeping bag really fast. I have to respond quickly. I pack my stuff in my backpack and pull the rainproof cover over it while sheltering under the big tree.
In a moment the drizzle turns into heavy rain. The fire fades away. Even under the leafy tree I am getting wet. I put my raincoat on. When a lightning strikes I look around. There’s an abandoned house about 200 meters away but I remember seeing no roof, not a great help. I look again at the next lightning and I start to realise there’s nothing here I can use as a shelter. The village is 12 kilometers away and following the path backwards, at night, with this kind of rain is not an easy task.
I have to say the peyote doesn’t impair much my brain, at least at this stage. I can think clearly, the hallucinations only take place when I close my eyes.
The frequency of the lightning is somewhat impressive, not a few seconds pass without a strike.
I remember the rule to roughly determine the distance of a lightning: count the seconds between the strike and the sound and divide by 3. That was 6 seconds… 2 km.
I start to get paranoid of getting hit by a lightning. I am torn between the risk of standing beneath a tree or standing in the middle of nowhere where I am the only tall object around to attract electricity. I move back and forth from the tree to a clear area unable to decide what to do. Finally I make my mind. I can’t be under the tree any longer and if I have to stay out in the rain I’d better walk and try to make my way home. When I came here I marked GPS bookmarks on my phone at every turn, I didn’t like the idea of being stranded with no way to head back. Wise choice. And who knows? On the way home I might meet Mr S. on who’s looking for me, aware of my situation.
I decide to abandon my aluminum water bottle trying to get rid of all metal. I wear my headlamp and take a flashlight in my hand. I put a clear plastic bag around my phone and start walking. I check my phone every time the path splits. The touch display is freaking out because of the water on the bag and with all those drops is a pain to read. My feet move fast on the muddy terrain. I have a long way to go. But I have no other choice.
The rain bothers me but it’s not going to kill me. The lightning could. The chances are normally very low, but being under an electrical storm on a desert drastically increase the odds. The seconds between the strike and the thunder are as low as 1 to 2 seconds. I can see the path as if it were daylight when they hit. I am scared. I can see the electric discharge zipping through the sky and hitting the ground all around me. I try to run but the backpack is limiting me. I don’t want to leave it behind, I’ve got all my stuff in there. I remember it’s got some iron bars to sustain the back structure. Paranoia again. I don’t want any metal. A lightning strikes so close that there’s no gap with the sound. I can feel my body shiver at the blast. Fuck the backpack. I throw it under a bush at the side of the road. Run!
I run like never before. At times I slow down to take my breath but the next thunder prompts me to keep running. The path is a muddy stream. I can see the Wadley’s lights faaaar away. They go off for a few minutes, then come back on. Other lights on the mountain, the ones of Real de Catorce, a town I was planning to visit tomorrow. And lights up in the sky, from cloud to cloud and down to the earth.
In about 2 hours I get to the paved road that connects Wadley yo Real. There’s a bus stop which provides some sort of shelter and two benches. I rest for a moment to regain my forces. Maybe a car will pass by. Maybe Mr S.
The rain slows down a bit. But the electric battle keeps going.
Shit! The shelter is made of concrete! It has iron bars inside. And some of them stick out, typical of the Mexican construction style. No matter what, I don’t want any metal around me. The GPS sets me 6 km from Wadley. Half way. Only!
I walk in the middle of the street, aiming at the lights at the end of the road. Wind guts sprinkle the rain on my back. I am exhausted. I would like to lay down at the side of road and just wait. Don’t know for what. I’m loosing hopes, I am not sure I will make it. I take my phone and record a video for my parents. It looks like a horror movie, but it’s real. I see myself walking in the middle of a desert road, at 2am, far away from the first town, the lightning falling near. I can’t run anymore. I just drag my feet. Another step. I don’t even care if I get stricken by a lightning now. Not much I can do about it.
I made it! The first light posts welcome me to Wadley. Along with a pack of stray dogs. I’ve been through this many times in Thailand, that place is haunted by stray dogs! You move slowly, sometimes stop and squat to show no harmful intention and keep a bunch of rocks in your pockets for the worst case scenario. I follow the procedure and everything runs fine. I thought the thunderstorm was enough of a test for tonight!
I get to Mr S.’ hostel and bang at the iron door, screaming his name. All the dogs of Wadley wake up and start barking. No one opens. I knock and scream again. I start to feel homicidal impulses. All right. The door has a small window you can use to reach the handle on the other side. I just notice it. I get in and look for him in all the rooms. I see people sleeping from the windows. How could they not hear me?
My light aims at the wrong room.
“What do you want?” a hoarse voice grunts.
“I’m looking for Mr S.”
“Get the fuck out of here or I’ll kick your ass!”
Gotcha. Getting beat up now that I made it is the last thing I want.
The kitchen window is open. I slip in. I crash on the floor.
I’m freezing. It’s 4am. The adrenaline has dropped and I realise I’m laying all wet on a floor. I go outside trying to make no noise. There’s a half full Coca Cola bottle on a table. God if I’m thirsty! I am craving for my water bottle. I drink it up, go back to the kitchen. There’s a few water canisters on the floor. Who knows what water that is. I don’t care, I don’t want to drink it. I take a kettle, fill it up, boil the water. Then I pour it inside the 600ml bottle. I have read it once somewhere: these bottles are tough, they won’t melt. I leave no air inside, cap it and wrap it in a cloth. I now have my 2-hour heat supply.
I take all my wet clothes off, lay on the floor on one side, put the raincoat over me and the bottle in the middle, near my chest. The jacket keeps the warmth inside. I spent all my life hating Coca Cola. Now I worship it as a god.
I close my eyes and smile watching colors and shapes taking the place of the darkness and the rain.
PS: as the sun rose, I got hold of Mr S., told him he’s a motherfucker to let me die under the thunderstorm and had him drive me to the desert to look for my backpack. It was right there where I left it.
UPDATE: The next day I opened the newspaper and found this news:
3 deaths by lightning during the last electric storm.
The three men were working in the countryside when a lightning struck and killed them.