It felt so good to be traveling again, but what made this trip so great? What do I like most about traveling? I’ve been thinking about these questions since returning home and trying, failing, to adequately convey how amazing it was to travel through Guatemala. Here are a few final thoughts, in no particular order.
It was lovely to start our trip by staying in San Juan La Laguna with Josías, Esmeralda and their family for three days. They have been hosting travelers for years (I stayed with them in 2016) and welcome everyone as part of the family. The two boys now had a little sister, and Vicky Ann and I had lots of fun playing with them and getting our “grandkid fix.”
We were welcomed, after our very long journey, with the most delicious cup of tea I’ve ever had. We had bountiful breakfasts with fresh fruits, omelettes, bread, locally grown coffee, and more. Everything except the tropical fruits was grown in the village or nearby. On my last morning, Easter Sunday, I had hot chocolate with a special once-a-year Easter bread to dip in it. I’m still dreaming about it. It was so good I didn’t even need coffee that day!
The family, and the entire village, enjoy sharing their Tz’utujil culture with visitors. As we walked around the village each day, we were greeted constantly and could stop and have conversations with anyone. I’m never disappointed when I get as close to the culture as possible, which means getting away from tourist spots and staying with locals.
I felt at peace in Guatemala. I often feel at peace when traveling off the beaten path. This feeling comes from leaving the pressures of home behind (until I get an unexpected text from Rhode Island!). It also comes from a feeling of safety. I’m often questioned about how safe it is in the places I travel to, yet many of the people I meet in my travels comment on how dangerous the US is. I can honestly say I never felt unsafe in Guatemala. Along with peace comes a sense of freedom. It’s a privilege to wake up and ask myself, “Where do I want to go today?”
No matter where I go, the most memorable experiences involve people. It’s so great to make new friends on the road. Some of the friendships are fleeting while others last years. Speaking Spanish helped me to connect with many people Guatemala. For some reason, it seems easier to have conversations in Spanish with random strangers than it is to strike up a conversation with a stranger in the US. I’m braver when I travel, though I don’t know why.
Besides meeting locals, Vicky Ann and I met a lot of fellow travelers. It’s fun to compare stories and learn from each other before going our separate ways. We even had a chance encounter at a rest stop on I95 driving home from JFK at 4:00 am. I recognized three women who sat behind me on the flight from El Salvador. Turns out they were teachers from Massachusetts on their own adventure. We had a lively early morning chat, shared stories, and hit the road again.
I’m used to traveling alone and recognize that it has its advantages. However, this trip reminded me that life is just more interesting when traveling with Vicky Ann (anyone who knows her understands what I mean). I met more people, had more laughs, and bought more items than I would have had I been alone. Her sense of adventure, willingness to do anything, and complete trust in my ability to get us places (despite some harrowing trips) all make for a perfect travel companion.
Vicky Ann sees things through a child’s eyes – everything is new and interesting, and that helps me to better appreciate a culture I was already familiar with. And yes, everyone thought we were married.