If there’s one skill of the nomad life I’m terrible at it’s this: staying in a place for only a week.
It’s torture — a week seems to be just enough time to find myself settled and fulfilled by new routine before uprooting again.
As I’m leaving San Ignacio today (Monday), I’m feeling that sentiment sharply.
Somehow, in my old life, I did this on the regular while vacationing. When I look back and think about traveling through Mexico or Asia or Europe, spending three short days (or even TWO?!?!?!) in a single place and acting like that was normal, my mind is blown.
Indeed, my original “itinerary” when I was playing with the idea of doing this was jetting across Asia and Africa, spending only two or three days in every town or even country. (A BIG LOL TO THAT.)
Most of the other travelers I run into are on this kind of track, so much so that some guest houses are shocked when I tell them I plan to stay even a full week.
But of course, what I’m doing is very different now. I’m not on vacation anymore. I’m not even on a work trip. I making my way across the world, full time. To do that, one has to keep moving. Sometimes I’ve relented, staying in a particular spot for two, three weeks, even a month in Panajachel.
Ten minutes ago, I was at a cafe, having breakfast, when a couple of tourists collapsed down next to me on the bench-style seating. I immediately looked around. Was the place full? No? Why did they have to be so NEAR me then?
It didn’t help that one of the guys was tapping the table and intermittently humming sections of the song playing that wasn’t even close to accurate. (Really? You don’t even speak Spanish. There’s no chance you know this 1970s Puerto Rican ballad.)
But really, it wasn’t about this guy and his humming habits. It was more about the fact that it was morning and I had my computer and I was near the lake and feeling peaceful, and these are generally among the list of situations in which I want as little human contact as possible.
I needed to get out of there, to go somewhere where no one was looking at me or sitting near me or threatening to blurt out: “So, where ya from?” like I’m just dying to answer that question AGAIN at 9 a.m. on a Monday.
OK, OK, before you call me cold or anti-social, let me explain.
For a full work week. In the middle of several projects. With self-imposed deadlines creeping around the corner.
Normally this would have stressed me out far too much — Would I be able to spend time with my family and also Get Things Done In a Timely and Efficient Manner? — but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to feel some of my anxiety and need to maintain a relentless pace melt away.
I am trying to turn off my “work brain” more often and allow time for activities that won’t later be spun into an article, video or photo gallery. Finally, I’m starting to feel some semblance of balance when it comes to my work life and the time previously reserved for teeth brushing and sleeping.
Getting there has been a journey.
You see, everyone dreams about leaving their jobs and working for themselves because they want to be their own boss.
But not many people take time to think about just what kind of boss they would be.
Coban, Guatemala — there’s a good chance most people you know who have trekked to the country haven’t spent much time, if any, there.
Unlike the areas surrounding Lake Atitlán and Antigua, Coban really has no tourism infrastructure and therefore lacks the coffee shops/sightseeing guides/English speakers that you can find in those other places.
In fact, when travelers do pass through, it’s almost always with the intention of getting to Semuc Champey, a breathtaking natural limestone feature creating stepped pools and waterfalls in the Cahabón River.
That’s why I showed up in late October, and it’s a worthy reason.
But as I found, over two weeks in town, there is much to love about Cobán itself — from its stellar coffee sourced from the surrounding hills to its massive commercial district full of vibrant markets to the beautiful national park within walking distance of the center.
About eight days ago, I was sitting at a cafe in Cobán, Guatemala, when the reality set in.
My absentee ballot for the midterm elections had not come. Something in the system had gotten screwed up. I called the North Carolina voting office and they confirmed: my registration had gotten lost.
“You can show up in North Carolina on election day,” the woman on the line told me, “or you can not vote.”
Nearly 3,000 miles away, I buried my face in my hands, distraught. I cried for a few minutes. Then I whipped open my computer and began plotting to do just that — to change all my plans and reservations and show up in my home town just four days later.
Over the months I’ve traveled throughout Guatemala, I’ve met many friends here, and occasionally, as we’ve discussed the U.S. in conversation, I’ve asked them a question:
Quieres ir allí, algún día?
Do you want to go there, someday?
Though no one I’ve met has voluntarily spoken a single bad word about the U.S., the answer, to this direct question, usually involves a shy shrug, perhaps a bowed head.
A friend I met recently here in Cobán replied with this:
“I don’t think I’m wanted there.”
Another friend, in Guatemala City responded, shaking his head:
“I can’t put myself through that.”
I could predict the answer, but each time, it breaks my heart over again.
It makes me think of the caravan of migrants currently making its way through Mexico and toward the U.S. border — the group of a few thousand young men, mothers and babies from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that has so captured the nation and become something of a political prop heading into tomorrow’s midterm elections.
Sunday morning was one of them. Well, I’ll be honest, Monday and Tuesday, too. I stared at the ceiling for a while, and finally rolled off the bed onto the hard floor in the dark.
Oh, you might be thinking — if you’re new to this column — I thought this series was supposed to be about inspiration.
Well, yes. It is. But inspiration doesn’t come easy, doesn’t drop into your lap. Getting to the inspiration part is often messy, often frustrating, and real as hell. Those transitions are just as truly parts of inspiration as are the finales.
I realize from afar, travels like these can seem like they are nothing but rainforests and empanadas. But in reality, this journey has been a great melting pot of things. In the last four months, I have experienced some of the most memorable moments of my life. I have met so many people. I have seen such beauty that it affects my heart rate. I’ve cried, more than I thought possible, from awe, from beauty, from gratitude, from kindness received.