The past few weeks have been filled with travel for me. As I sit on shuttles and buses and bounce around in the backs of pickups, my thoughts are often pulled back to when I first started traveling. Fourteen years ago, I was young, naive and terrified, but I stepped onto a Greyhound bus and headed out into the unknown. Things have changed a little since then. It’s interesting to compare traveling back when I was barely out of my teens and care-free and now, with three kids and a husband back home.
This is an interesting issue to consider. When I was 22, I was far more paranoid than I am now . . .but I also didn’t really understand the real dangers back then. I was nervous and suspicious of everyone and everything. I wanted to travel, but I hadn’t really learned yet what people were like. Everything was new and frightening.
Fast forward to now. I am far more aware of the actual dangers and know more about how to watch for potential issues. However, I’m also more likely to strike up a conversation with someone interesting, because I now know that there’s a lot to miss out on if you stay clammed up and scared of everyone. I’ve also learned that there is a lot of kindness in the world.
Something else that affects my decisions and how I see the world is having children. When you have kids, it changes everything. If something were to happen to me, my sons would grow up without a mother and that is something I think about frequently. On the other hand, I’m far more comfortable in Guatemala than I was over a decade ago and that helps me navigate new places with more ease.
Oh, the places you’ll go and the ways you’ll travel when you’re young and on a tight budget. I’ll admit that I’ve been spoiled lately, traveling with these tours and adoptive families in shuttles and staying in nice hotels. As I jounced along on a wooden bench in the back of a pickup to Semuc Champey last week, it brought back memories of what I thought was cool and interesting back in the day.
Chicken buses were a fun novelty when I was 22. Youth hostels, with their lumpy mattresses and coed bathrooms were interesting places, even for a reserved introvert like me. These days? I like my comfort thank you very much. I’d really rather not sleep on the floor and my bones just don’t hold up to the bouncing over rough roads on no springs as well as they used to.
At 22, I was still recovering from anorexia, somewhat overweight, but overall, in good shape. I hit the gym pretty much every day back then, rode my bike to towns around Antigua and walked all over the city every day. I was in good shape!
At 36, I’m still packing quite a bit of “baby” weight, though my baby is now four and even he admits he’s not a little kid anymore. I spend many of my days sitting at a computer and don’t walk nearly as much as I ought to. That being said, the past few weeks have been filled with hikes that have taken me through jungles and alongside roaring rivers, up steep hills and down ravines. It’s been challenging, but pushing myself to go further has been good for me . . . and for encouraging others in the tour groups. After all, if an overweight woman like me can make it, surely others can! 😉
Sense of Adventure
Something that really hasn’t changed much, apart from possibly growing, is my sense of adventure. As I climb slippery rocks in a cavern, my way lit only by a sputtering candle held in one hand while my other hand grasps for a hold on guano-covered rocks, I find myself elated to be exploring new places and seeing new things.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve hiked some pretty amazing trails, seen beautiful sights and met amazing people. I’ve eaten in five star hotel buffets and shared toasted bread with a family in their one room home. I’ve ridden an elevator up to a hotel room . . .and I’ve hiked up muddy paths to the tops of hills, carrying gifts to make someone’s life a little easier. I’ve led people down narrow alleys that end up in a tiny courtyard to visit Maximon and I’ve ridden across the waves of Atitlan in a little boat. Have there been bad times? Sure, but they just make the good parts better.
When I was traveling through Mexico and Guatemala as a young twenty-something, I was very reserved. I would talk to people, of course, but I tended not to really connect with many of them. While most people here were interested in my travels, we rarely had a common language and I just didn’t know how to open up.
Today, not only can I speak Spanish, but I have so much more in common with the people around me. Coming from another culture, I can relate to the tourists and travelers and expats, but I am also able to sit down and bond with a birth family, chat with a local tour guide or share information with another translator. Having children has been one of the biggest connections. Every mother in the world has something in common with every other mother and there is an instant bond there. All you have to do is pull out your phone and show someone a photo of your children and they’ll do the same . . . it’s an instant conversation starter! It also tends to help smooth the way for other conversations and once you have something in common, it’s far easier to talk.
Things have changed a lot in the past 14 years. I feel so much older now, but I wouldn’t change anything (except maybe the weight thing). All the experiences I’ve had in life have led me to this moment. Sitting down with a group of strangers and getting to know them over a meal, whether they are travelers or Guatemalans, Spanish-speaking or English-speaking or even something else, and getting up with new friends, is priceless.
The more I travel around Guatemala, the more connections I make, and the more people I get to know, the more in love I am with this country. That has only strengthened over the years and I expect it will continue to strengthen in coming decades.