Live Inspired: Straddling two lives

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

The truth is, I feel a pang in my chest when I think about leaving again.

It’s coming, of course. 

I take off tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 18), bound for Guatemala City, and then Cobán, then who knows where, as I continue my indefinite journey through Central America, through new challenges, through new frustrations and thrills. 

This new life, full of surprise and wonder? I love it. 

But my old life? I love it, too.

Live Inspired: a new lens on my old life

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On my first day back in the U.S., my best friend, with whom I was staying in Pittsburgh, was already apologizing.

“The water pressure is not great,” he said of the shower in his new place. “Hope you could stand it.”

I blinked. For the last three weeks, I had been using a spout with an opening the size of a nickel to bathe myself. This “shower,” as it was generously dubbed, was outside, next to the chicken coop. It offered only bone-cold water, eliciting wide-eyed, breathy gasps every time I walked beneath it. And instead of loofah hooks and soap trays, the walls were lined with finger-sized grasshoppers.

“Yeah…” I replied. “My standards have changed.”

That much was true. After three months in Mexico and Guatemala, I landed in this country and saw every tiny thing I once took for granted through a new, sparkling lens.

Hot water.

Hell, running water.

Soft towels.

Hell, towels that didn’t smell of mildew and mold.

Dishwashers.

Real napkins.

Garbage disposals.

Hand soap.

Shampoo and conditioner.

Dryers.

TVs.

Duvets and silky sheets.

Sharp knives.

Stocked fridges.

Stocked cabinets.

Stocked grocery stores.

Clean. Clean. CLEAN.

It all seemed so luxurious, now.

But it was more than simply feeling like my standards had dropped. In fact, it was my impression of my old existence that had been raised — and reexamined.

After being back in my homeland for more than a week, I had started to realize: I’m so much luckier than I ever knew I was.

I’ve always considered myself firmly middle-class, growing up in a family that never bought name brands and drove cars until they died. We always washed and re-used plastic bags. Our retro, wooden TV took 15 minutes — 15 minutes! — to “warm up” before we could watch the network channels.

While what seemed like everyone else was wearing Nikes, drinking Coke and eating Lunchables, I was wearing and drinking the K-Mart brand and eating the version of Lunchables my mom lovingly tried to interpret.

What oppression, right?

But on this trip, as I looked around my parents’ North Carolina home, I saw instead the beautiful kitchen that they remade a while back. I saw the pristine bathrooms they remodeled with new, gleaming fixtures, last year. I saw a sprawling split-level floor plan. A pantry and fridge overflowing with food. A back patio. An abundance of handsome potted plants.

I wondered: have we always been so rich?

Since I’ve been stateside, I’ve been soaking it up, at my friends’ houses and my parents’.

I’ve walked barefoot across squeaky clean hardwood floors. I’ve ridden in cars that boasted not only shocks and power windows, but bluetooth capability and rearview cameras. I’ve watched sports in high definition, on TVs the size of a a small golf cart. I’ve whipped up Vitamix smoothies in seconds. I’ve slept on a bed that felt more like a cloud. I’ve covered myself in hot water — not just in glorious, long showers, but when washing my hands, washing my face.

Anytime I wanted it, I could have it. And it didn’t just make things more pleasant; it transformed the whole experience; from battleground to bliss.

The truth is, I sort of wished that all of this would be a little jarring, that the old comforts of life would bounce off me like rain off rubber. But in fact it’s been easy to slide back in, to lean into the conveniences — albeit with a new appreciation and enjoyment for them — to normalize the things I took for granted before, and embrace life as it always was.

Because, you see, I was wrong.

I have always been so rich.

While what now seems like everyone else in the world was passing clothes down through generations, counting the coins necessary for dinner and watching their sewage pumped straight into their water source, I grew up with a big wardrobe, dessert every night and a plumbing/sewage system so good it never crossed my mind.

Middle class? I’ve lived like a queen.

And now, finally, I see it.

 

Live Inspired: What I can’t wait for, what I’ll miss while in the U.S.

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

By the time you read this, I’ll be back in the United States for a welcomed two-week break from everything being, well, so hard.

No more search parties for every item I need. No more lapses in communication. No more cold showers, constellations of mosquito bites, difficult kitchens, lifeless WiFi, lack of water, or feeling dirty. For at least 18 days. 

As excited as I am (honestly, I’m so pumped), I still don’t know how it will feel to abruptly shift back to my old, comfortable way of life. Will it be jarring? Will as feel as disconnecting as it felt when I took the plunge in leaving it?

Have I become accustomed, more than I even realize, to this harder degree of living?

I’ll have some idea soon.

But in the meantime, I thought I would share my list of all the things I’m excited for and all the things in this wild, new life that I believe I’ll miss until my return.

Here we go: 

CITY GUIDE: Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua: if you’re not well-versed in Central America, perhaps the name instantly takes you to the Caribbean rather than the Guatemalan highlands town where here crumbling ruins, 360-degree mountain views and new-wave coffee shops meet.

But while Antigua Guatemala — meaning “old Guatemala” — might not be on many bucket lists, the beautifully preserved Spanish Baroque architecture, labyrinth of stunning courtyards and wine bars and bounty of hilltop treasures have a way of making one wonder why it isn’t.

The area, in great part, is famous for its access to the surrounding volcanoes, and overnight hikes are available for reasonable fees. Choose to stay in the city, however, and travelers will be treated to vibrant markets, a diverse food and drinking scene and compelling art in a town adorned by its picturesque signature arch, elaborate churches and knobby cobblestone streets. 

What to see, eat and do when you go:

Live Inspired: How to live (or stay for an extended period of time) in Guatemala

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

Well, part one in this beautiful country is coming to a close.

I’ll be back, of course, after a two-week hiatus in the States, and I’m excited to explore the Northeast side of Guatemala when I do. But since I’ve been here for two months now, I thought I’d reflect on some of what I’ve learned with this guide:

How to find somewhere to stay: 

There are plenty of hostels, of course, and some hotels, but I go with Airbnb. If you travel in the offseason, as I am now, it’s possible to negotiate for very good prices, especially if you stay for longer than a week. I typically pay about $10-13/ night to stay in very nice places, typically with shared bathrooms and kitchens (although I have also had my own bathroom, as I do now, for that price) and charming features all their own (such as a jungly outdoor bathtub). And if you want something very lux? It’s possible to have that for about $30 or $40/night. But seriously, lower your standards. You’re in Guatemala now.

How to walk around town: 

Slowly. The foot traffic moves extraordinarily slow here. The general pace of moving is extraordinarily slower here than it is in the U.S., and there is not a lot of — OK zero — walking etiquette, so if you’re a fast walker like me, you may find yourself in need of some walking zen. People may cut in front of you, stop abruptly in front of you, wave their arms in the air and whack you in the head; they’re not screwing with you, this is just how they walk.

Guatemala’s postal service is dead (you’ll get your Sept. postcard from Pittsburgh)

“Welcome to Guatemala”

It’s a greeting, sure. But more often that phrase, when uttered by locals and expats is accompanied by an eye roll, usually in reaction to something that seems simple to execute but is anything but.

I’ve learned this after about a month and a half in this wild, beautiful, chaotic country.

Need to publish something? Ah, the internet is out right now. Like to take a shower? Hm, there won’t be water for four hours. Want to pick up your laundry? Turns out they closed early. Heading to your favorite cafe for lunch? They decided not to open at all. Looking to take a bus? It’s two hours late. 

You get the idea. 

But this is all just context for me explaining why for those of you who are postcard-level subscribers, your September dispatches will be arriving …from Pittsburgh.

As it turns out, you cannot mail anything from this country. Nothing at all. It’s not that it takes a long time or that its inefficient, it’s that there simply is no mail service anymore.

Live Inspired: Cooking, everywhere

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The journey, so far, through five kitchens and a couple dozen markets and to the simple realization that everything is different, yet the same, began in Hualtuco, a beachfront village on the Oaxacan coast of Mexico.

It was the first place in my travels that I had access to the basics: two tiny gas burners, a toaster oven and a small collection of cutlery and bowls, pots and pans.

My host uncle, there, was a fisherman, and would bring home beautiful, pink huachinangos, or red snappers. Once he saw that I had a love for both fresh seafood and using my hands, he began showing me how to prepare them — cleaning and scaling the plump, shimmering bodies and then frying them in chunks, or grilling them whole on the two-foot-high asada, butterflying the ribs open and slathering them with chipotle sauce.

Live Inspired: What I hear when you tell me to “be careful.”

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An unintended conversation began on my Facebook page earlier this week when in response to a post I put up, an older male follower of mine told me to be careful.

He stated it, first, in the context of my complaints that men were using my social media presence to sexually harass me, but soon, the conversation turned to my travels.

I wasn’t surprised, as this is something strangers say to me quite often. But as usual, it frustrated me. And this time, I decided not to let it go.

Sorting through Antigua’s “danger” reputation

The idea that Antigua, Guatemala might be especially “dangerous,” never really occurred to me until after I arrived, and was putting on my jacket to go grab some street food that first night.

“Make sure you don’t walk down dark streets,” my host, Cesar interjected.

Sensible advice, of course, no matter where you travel, but usually people don’t take the time to say it. He continued, off-handedly, as he stirred a pan of sautéing mushrooms.

“Tourists gets robbed a lot. Girls get robbed a lot.” He eyed me. “And you’re a tourist and a girl.”

At his direction, I unloaded half of what was in my bag back into my bedroom before heading out into the evening, including the professional camera I had planned to use to photograph the street cart cuisine.

“One more thing,” he said as I thanked him and told him I’d see him later. “If you do get robbed, just make sure you don’t die.”

Live Inspired: that healing fresh air

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates •

I live outside now.

Maybe that seems obvious, but I didn’t really think about it until a couple weeks ago, when I was working on my casa’s terrace in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.

I started calculating how much time I was spending completely indoors, and I realized it was almost never. I’ve become accustomed to this without realizing it, but already I can’t imagine it any other way. I believe all this fresh air has somehow healed me.