Something that many of you may not be as surprised by anymore, but has yet again certainly caught me off guard, is the almost inexplicable change in mindset that comes from a mere 18 days of constant, purposeful travel.
It’s like all the different versions of your life, and yourself, are something you watched on TV years ago. And all that comes back to you are the highest highs and lowest lows.
Belize is well over a week behind me at this point. San Ignacio came and went and it’s taken some convincing not to consider it time wasted. Truthfully, however, time spent with interesting, friendly company can never be considered a waste. I had a good amount of fun but really didn’t get to see or do anything I originally had planned.
A quick visit to a small Mayan ruin site, which was my first and actually pretty cool. The rest of the time, however, was spent eating amazing Indian food, drinking and goofing off with a wild bunch of Brits, Canadians, Germans, other Americans and locals. The hostel was incredibly fun, and the young couple who ran it were the definition of “chill.”
After staying a full day and night longer than intended, I knew the time had come to leave when a few of us walked into a bar, just before close, and ordered 20 beers togo (of which I had maybe three, don’t worry Mom).
The night prior, on a mission to find some late-night food, J.B. from Canada and I found ourselves in a makeshift barber shop. The barber and his buddy were having some rum and hanging out, so J.B. got a shave and trim, while I had a drink, chatted and watched the barber’s pet turtle crawl around the small shack.
To get into Guatemala, I hitched a ride with J.B., who was apparently ex-British military and now some sort or privately contracted liaison between African governments and rebel groups. We also gave a ride to a 50-something professional magician who turned up a couple nights before and put on a few private shows for the house. The Casino we stopped at briefly did not appreciate his card tricks and slight of hand routine as much as we did, however, and told him to put the deck away or get the hell out.
We were quite the crew making our way over the border in J.B.’s beat-up Volkswagen Passat (I know — but I couldn’t make this shit up if I wanted to).
My first stop in Guatemala was Isla de Flores, a small island set in the middle of a decent sized lake. I stayed only one night before heading out on a five-day trek into the jungle. It took two days walking about 5-6 hours per day anywhere from 20-30 kilometers to reach El Mirador, a massive Mayan ruin site that is still in the beginning stages of excavation.
We camped at a number of isolated outposts, complete with showers and a rough kitchen. It was not an easy trek but once we made it to El Mirador it was worth every tick bite and blister.
Climbing the 73 meters up to the top of the pyramid La Danta to watch the sunset with nothing but endless jungle in every direction, was an experience that even the most skilled scribes would have trouble getting down.
Fun fact: La Danta is also the largest pyramid (by volume) in the world, and experts estimate it took 3000 men working day and night for 300 years to complete it.
I made the first half of the trek with a decent sized group. In all, we had four Canadians, two Belgians, an Aussie, a girl from Ireland, a troublingly stoic Finish girl and then the Americans: Jersey Joe, Tall Nick, B from Sonoma and myself — plus two guides and a translator.
One of our guides, Ambrosio, has been doing the El Mirador trek three times a month since the 70s. He made the trip there, about 50 kilometers, wearing what looked like slip-on Crocs — and no socks.
Our translator, Toto, turned out to be maybe the biggest pothead I’ve ever met. Our first night, we were siting at the top of El Tigré, another large pyramid, watching the sun go down. Toto sits down at the edge of the group, looks around and announces, “Today is 50th birthday,” and precedes to role the biggest joint I’ve seen. Needless to say his skills as a translator were slightly diminished after that.
We ate lots of rice, beans and tortillas. We saw lots of bugs, spider monkeys, wild turkeys, foxes and other random birds and critters.
Once back in Flores, I mostly relaxed and goofed around on the lake. My last day there I canoed across the lake to where a local family had set up a massive rope swing and covered lounge area. Conveniently, they also sold beer and food. A new Australian friend and I rowed our way over and met up with three of the other people from my trek. There ended up being 15-20 of us relaxing in the shade, drinking beer and hitting up the rope swing. A damn good day.
In a small town like Flores, you can’t help but run into people you’ve met along the way, and there’s something really nice about that. But there’s also something exciting about moving on and starting over from scratch.
I made it to Lanquin yesterday, staying at yet another gorgeous hostel, the Zephyr Lodge. Set down in a plush valley with mountains on every side, and a sparkling river that’s close enough to hear the rushing water.
Last night this place was full of people and music, today it’s nearly empty — just me, my book, laptop and cup of coffee.
As busy and hectic (in a good way) as the last two weeks have been, they have also been filled with plenty of quiet moments for reading and introspection. I started and finished a book titled, The Last Lecture. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and start it as soon as you can.
While reading that book, I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of all the things that have ended for me, and around me, over the past few months, including the life of my teenage cousin. The authors words, and all those other things, have helped to remind me that living a life you have chosen for yourself, and one that you are proud of, is all there is and all there needs to be — for me anyway.