An After Thought

After wrapping up our little story, I realized something: I just spent three weeks telling a story that really only happened in a two-week time frame.  Further, some of my posts covered only a one to two-hour time span, while others covered a whole day, and yet others covered several days. 

This reminds me that time has many different values associated with it — one moment can be as heavy or light as one week, depending on what happens in it.  The Guatemalican Chronicles are not really all that different from my normal life.  Days pass without me really noticing anything new or special, but then something can happen to snap my attention back.

It just makes me wonder…am I capable of noticing the special and the beautiful in my every day life?  Maybe it’s time to start trying.

Finale: You Always Make It Home

My mother has a fear of being lost.  She is great at traveling, and spent my childhood toting me all over the state for endless competitions and summer vacations.  In high school, we traveled together to France along with ten other mom-and-daughter pairs.  Still, she is afraid of being lost.

I blame this on two unrelated factors.  First, she was born and raised in my home town, and seldom found herself in a situation where she needed to navigate unfamiliar territory.  Second, she is unable to read a map.  I can imagine that if I could not read a map, I, too, would be afraid of being lost.

But I have to admit…I occasionally tried to get myself lost as a child.  Specifically, I would spend fifteen minutes or so on a regular basis in the 500 square foot cemetery near my pre-school, trying to get lost.  My efforts resulted only in a mental map of the cemetery, which housed exactly (count ‘em) ONE giant tombstone.  I craved the challenge to “solve my way out,” which proved handy several years later in multiple calculus classes.

My early love of maps (specifically, their logical structure and endless inches) may have been an indicator of my love of travel.  I have never felt the fear of being lost, like my mom feels when presented with the possibility of driving to the airport by herself.  I believe this lack of location-anxiety is based on two “Truths of My Life” that have formed in my head over the last 25 years:

  1. You can always ask for help (and should!).
  2. You will always make it home.

As uncomfortable as asking for help can sometimes be, I have found that a sunny disposition and the ability to laugh at yourself can pretty much get you any information you could ever need.  Why be afraid of asking?  I would rather have the facts on the front end than look like a fool later on.  And almost any question asked with a genuine smile will be answered with a friendly response.  As my dad would say, “You get more bees with honey.”

In my quarter of a century life, I have so far found that you will, in fact, always make it home.  As I sit writing this, I think of every moment in my life where one may have considered me “lost” in more ways than one. Yet look, here I am, typing away on my pretty desk, snug in my home.  After making my way home time and time again, I believe that you can never be lost forever – you will always find your way home.

Part 13: Let’s Go

Just a note that at this point, my camera battery was totally dead, so I wasn’t able to document the end of the trip.

On Tuesday we made a big and stressful decision—we changed our flights to Friday out of San Salvador.  We spent much of the afternoon trying to figure out which travel agents we could trust in town to get us on a bus to San Salvador on Thursday, and help us to find somewhere to stay once we got there.  We finally booked a bus through the travel agent friend we had met during The Great ATM Debacle.  They would pick us up at our hotel on Thursday morning, take us into Guatemala City where we would get on a Tica Bus to San Salvador.  We were all relieved to have a plan.

Thursday arrived, and as planned we were picked up and brought to the bus station.  Our bus was supposed to leave at 1:00, but we didn’t pull away until 2:00.  We ate PB&J on the bus, while some read (I cannot do this without getting miserable carsick) and others, like myself, watched two Denzel Washington movies that they played.  Customs took about an hour, and was a bit stressful.  We had no idea what we were doing.  At one point, a man got off the bus and he never came back for the rest of the ride, so who knows what kind of trouble he got himself into.

We finally rolled into town around 8 p.m., with no idea where we would be staying.  The cab drivers had never heard of the hostel we were planning to find, and it was already dark, so we stayed at the very cheap hotel next to the bus station.  For dinner we walked down the street to a Pizza Hut…which has NEVER tasted better.

Leaving the hotel at 9 a.m., we got to the airport about 3 ½ hours before our flight.  I know it sounds crazy, but I think we all just wanted to be sitting at a gate with a boarding pass.  And before you know it, we were doing just that.  It felt incredible.  We had made it.  Once we landed in Miami, we went to dinner—for me this meant the biggest salad EVER – we couldn’t eat veggies for most of the trip, so this was an amazing meal.  After many delays for our flight to Atlanta, we finally made it to Katy’s house at 3 a.m.

We did it.  We were home, just one week too late.

Part 12: Another Delay…

That night, Memorial Day, we found out that the airport would not be open by Wednesday.  Instead it would open Thursday, and our flights were now pushed until Sunday—exactly nine days after they scheduled.  If we flew out Sunday, we would arrive in Atlanta Sunday night (well, actually more like 2 a.m. on Monday) which meant missing work yet again Monday morning.

This whole changing-flights-thing was starting to get old.  We didn’t make any decisions that night, but began toying with the idea of flying out of San Salvador, which was about a five hour drive from Guatemala City.

The question I’ve gotten the most since coming home is, “what did you do with all your time?”  Well, we had a number of hang out spots.  Our favorite coffee shops were Café Condessa, The Bagel Barn, and … McCafe.  It’s true.  McDonald’s there had a great little café as well, and we made full use of the whole place.  I mean, honestly, it was comfort food on some of our truly stressful days.  The Bagel Barn however became our favorite spot.  Just down the street from our hotel, it provided possibly the best bagels I’ve ever had, along with really good smoothies.  I did a lot of reading and writing in that little shop.

We also wandered the markets a lot.  Because it’s such a touristy place, the markets are truly made for foreigners like us.  We saw a few movies, ate a lot of food, and we used a Laundromat midweek, which I think means we can officially say we “lived” in Guatemala. One night, after dinner, we went out dancing and then hung out on the roof of our hotel with a bit of wine.  You can rest assured we found plenty to do most days, and made the best of it. Luckily, Antigua is a beautiful place to be stranded.

Part 11: Down The Street

After the threats of Tropical Storm Agatha, we were surprised to wake up on Sunday not to the sound of rain, but to the sounds of…sunshine?  It seems that the storm took some unexpected turns, keeping its tail far from Antigua.  A true relief.  We spent the day walking around outside, and eventually went to see “Sherlock Holmes” at the local cinema.  All in all, a relaxed day.

On Monday, half the group planned to go on a bike ride, guided by a local outfitters store, through coffee fields and neighboring towns.  After being gone for an hour or two, they returned only to tell the rest of the group that they were leaving again: just twenty minutes from Antigua, several towns had been devastated by mudslides.  The bike tour guide offered to take our group mates back to try and help with the clean up. He only had room for five (and they were the only ones who hadn’t left tennis shoes and/or jeans back in Santiago Atitlan) so they changed their clothes and left to see what they could do.

We waited impatiently for their return, wondering what they were able to do, and what we might be able to do.  They came back to the hotel in the late afternoon, a bit shell-shocked, to say the least. Their afternoon was spent knee-deep in mud (as evidenced by their pants and shoes), wading and poking through coffee fields.  It took a while for them to figure out where to be, what to do, and who to take instruction from.  Eventually they were given an assignment: to search for a missing five-year-old girl in the mud covered coffee fields.

I cannot even imagine what it would be like to know you are searching for the body of a tiny person.  I could see on their faces that it was emotionally as exhausting as it had been physically.  Though my heart goes out to that family, and all the families whose lives were covered in mud, I am a bit grateful that our friends were not the ones to actually uncover a body.

We continued our evening and week living well, while our neighbors down the street struggled to get rid of tons and tons of mud.  They have been in our prayers ever since.

Part 10: The Great ATM Debacle

As the day continued, the rain came down harder.  To those of you in Nashville, it was comparable (if not worse) than the rains that brought on the Nashville flood.  We started hearing stories of mudslides in neighboring towns.  Panabaj, the town where the old Hospitalito Atitlan existed, was evacuated due to the beginnings of mudslides down their old paths. Power went on and off.  Judy, our wonderful friend and hotel manager, told us that if we lost power, it could easily be out for several days.  We began preparing for the worst.

{Our hotel in Antigua, before the big rain}

Quickly, we sent emails to our parents that pretty much just said, “Storming bad and we might lose power for days.  If you don’t hear from me, don’t worry,” as if they weren’t already worried.

One disadvantage to “living” in Antigua was that our nourishment was dependent on the local restaurants.  We didn’t have a kitchen or anyway to prepare our own meals.  So the idea that the power would be out for days meant no food, no communication, no cash…nothing.

A few of us decided to run the two blocks, through the rain, to the nearest grocery store to stock up on the essentials: bread, peanut butter, and …wine (essential for group morale, obviously).  While there, I said to David several times, “I’d like to get some cash out, but with the power going on and off, I’m a little nervous to use the ATM.”  Standing in line, our check out machine stopped working.  David assured me he had bad luck, and indeed, the moment he walked away, the machine was up and running.  I successfully checked out.

Then, I decided to go for it.  After all, other people were successfully withdrawing cash.  Why shouldn’t I?

No sooner than I put my card in the machine, the unthinkable happened.  Imagine yourself in the ultimate drama…Jurassic Park comes to mind for some reason.  The tension has built, the suspense is ready to break, and in one instant you hear, see, and feel the most epic power shut down you can imagine.  It was slow motion.  And then, for about 5 seconds, the power was out.  Quickly, generator lights came on.  I made eye contact with David, who was still checking out.  The look on my face…probably something like this, but with a little more shock and horror:

In this moment several things happened:

  1. My heart stopped.
  2. The guy checking David out ran away with his credit card (like, to the customer service counter, but still).
  3. A really frightening and mean security guard began shutting the huge doors to the store, to prevent looting.
  4. David yelled at Whitney and John to go over to me (I think he knew I was panicking…see above photo).

We stood for several minutes deciding what to do.  That ATM was most definitely no longer functioning.  John and Whit went back to inform the group of the situation.  David and I reasoned: If the power came back on, the machine would likely spit the card out, right?  What if we left, and it came back on, and some crazy Guatemalans went bananas with my card in the store? I’m screwed, that’s what.

Solution: David would wait patiently as I ran back to the hotel.  That way, if the power came on, he could retrieve my card and/or I could get online and cancel my card.  No base left uncovered.

I walked into the lobby full of my friends, out of the pouring rain.  “Did you get your card out?” someone asked.  “No…”

Cue: Waterworks.

I lost it.  I mean, the stress of the storm and the delay and my card just suddenly overwhelmed me.  I am awesome and strong that way.

Long story short(ish): Sobbing, I called my dad and stepmom, who signed in and canceled my card for me (for the record, I knew they would freak out slightly less than my mom upon receiving a crying phone call from their daughter who happened to be stranded in a foreign country).

The card was gone.  Holly and Claire, who went to keep David company, met a great travel agent who said the ATM would in fact remain shut down (apparently, it’s a safety mechanism) until the bank came to fix it.

The power came back on, the rain continued, and I had no way to get cash the rest of the trip.  We called the airport, only to find out the airport would not, in fact, be opening on Monday.  Now, it would be open Wednesday.  Flights were changed.  Wet, cold, and defeated, we headed to dinner.

And that is The Great ATM Debacle.

Part 9: Tropical Storm Agatha

Saturday’s adventures, like most of the rest, did not turn out quite as planned.  I woke up around 7:30 to the sound of pouring rain. Upon poking my head out the door, I beheld the members of our group who were supposedly out hiking.

“Did you guys decide not to go?”

Oh no.  They went.  They drove for an hour before turning back due to the torrential rain that was turning the roads to mud.  Along the bumpy way, they even watched on as a good Samaritan attempted to fill holes in the road so that a bus could pass by.  Needless to say, this adventure came to a quick halt.  Katy has a first-hand account of the experience over on her blog.

As we opened the news, we discovered that not only was this a major rain fall, but it was a result of Tropical Storm Agatha making its way through Central America.

For those of you keeping score at home, that is, in fact, natural disaster number two.

After being told there was no end in sight (evidenced by the 10-day weather.com forecast that had 100% chance of rain…every day) we began coffee shop hopping to pass the time.  Depressed and soaked, we stared out the windows and wondered if we would really get out on Monday.

I did a lot of reading on that rainy day, and in the days to follow.