My initial thought about my trip to Central America was this: it was an exercise in literally nothing going the way I thought it would. It was a strange month. Going into it, I had known that I would be visiting countries that were completely new to me in every way — new cultures, landscapes, diets, and daily routines. I was prepared for that. I was expecting “new.” I wasn’t expecting “strange.”
It took much longer to get everywhere than we thought it would. I have recently written a few times about the idea of the journey from place to place, of enjoying the ride as much as the arrival, but our bus rides really pushed my beliefs to the limit. I’m not sure if B ever finished his tally, but about halfway through our trip we’d already logged about 70 hours in transit, most of those spent on buses.
Each bus ride had its pleasant moments. We saw a ton of beautiful scenery during our day trips and were able to save some money on accommodation during our overnight buses. I was able to get some work done. We read. But no matter how many pictures I took or blog posts I drafted, I couldn’t help but feel like these bus rides were mostly just a waste of days that we could have spent actually wandering around, interacting with these new places.
My stomach was another issue, as I mentioned in a previous post. Most of the time I could ignore it, but there were a few evenings I had to turn in early because of the discomfort and a few nights in which I didn’t get any sleep at all. I didn’t want it to stop me from participating in any of the activities we’d had planned, and I definitely didn’t want B to feel like he had to slow down or change his plans to accommodate me. My stomach was a nuisance to me, and I felt like a nuisance to B.
We stayed up one night so that we could hike up the Tikal ruins at 4am to watch the sun rise — and then we couldn’t see anything through the fog. Our 6 hour ferry ride turned into a 27 hour cargo ship ride. B was disappointed by the lack of mangoes hanging from the trees. I could not for the life of me keep any of the monetary conversions straight. We spent hours wandering around San Salvador looking for places on our map that apparently did not exist. We kept ending up in Guatemala City for layovers, despite our best efforts to avoid it at all costs. I proved myself to be incompetent in literally every new thing I tried — snorkeling, fishing, volcano boarding, innertubing, being in a bat/spider cave — and B was really good at all of it, which made me look even worse in comparison. We were somehow always lost, once while we were stuck in the middle of a forest, barefoot, in the mud. B was supposed to continue on with me later this month as I make the drive from Chicago back to Los Angeles, but he ran out of money.
In Guatemala City I was pick-pocketed during the literally two minutes I spent on a chicken bus. Luckily they only managed to grab about 40 bucks in cash, as my passport was tucked safely away in a different place. They did, however, take my ATM card, which made it very difficult to access my money for the rest of the trip. I still had my credit card, and so I was trying to explain, at bank after bank, that I needed a cash advance and couldn’t use an ATM, but my Spanish was not anywhere good enough for a situation like this and no one in the little town we were visiting spoke any English, nor did most of the banks accept international credit cards.
So I cried. In a bank parking lot. On the curb. Crying was definitely not supposed to happen because, honestly, this situation was not anywhere as dire as it could have been, and I am a logical person and knew for a fact that I was going to be OK and that I’d be able to get money out at some point, and on top of that I knew that there were travelers out in the world experiencing situations that were actually dangerous and stressful and much more worthy of crying. But I couldn’t help it. It was one of those times when you are trying so hard not to cry that it actually almost makes you cry even harder, and then you just keep crying because you are angry that you started crying in the first place.
Now that I’m home and I’ve had some time to think about the trip as a whole, I think the whole thing can be considered an exercise in patience. And slowing down. And perspective. Especially perspective. Like most stories that seem to have all the makings of a crisis in the moment but are actually clearly and completely harmless in retrospect, this Central America saga is one that I know I will always find to be funny. I know for a fact that when I do go on a trip somewhere in the future where genuinely scary things happen to me, I will want to travel back in time to visit my 24 year old self and tell her, “Ok, Jack, you go ahead and cry in the bank parking lot about your ATM card and stomach parasite while you can; you have literally NO idea what terrifying things await you in far off countries in a few years. But go ahead and cry about your ATM card.”
But anyway. This trip was, I think we can all agree, definitely not an awful one — I’m glad I went, and we saw beautiful things and made hilarious memories and met some really wonderful people. But it also wasn’t the greatest trip I’ve ever taken. I think whenever you get home from traveling and your family and friends ask you how it was, they always expect you to gush about how amazing of a time you had, and how you wished you never had to leave. I can’t say that about this trip, but I also can’t say it was a bad one, so I’ve just been saying that it was weird. It was a really weird trip. And sometimes the weird ones are the ones that put things in perspective. And I know I would be very lucky to have another one like it someday.