I missed a lot.
Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not the best way to set the scene as I begin to unfold the tales of my last month. But when it comes to Guatemala, I missed a lot.
I thought I learned a lot about myself on my Sri Lankan travels. Things like: I’d rather take a taxi in my first moments in a brand new country, even knowing it was going to cost me. Like: I always wanted to book my first night or two so I could take comfort in knowing I had somewhere to go. Like: after three weeks in a third world country, I would want some of the comforts of home. I thought I learned these things about myself in Sri Lanka, but in Central America, I learned so much more.
Because of what I thought I knew, I booked my first two nights in the small village of Santa Cruz la Laguna on Lago de Atitlán. It wasn’t a hostel, so I missed the chance to meet other travellers right from the beginning. Or so I thought. But I guess I’d sort of accepted that I wouldn’t meet many people in the first few days, so I didn’t think it would matter so much that I didn’t pick a hostel. It had taken me two whole days in Hikkaduwa to find Steve, and that being my only experience with solo travel, I assumed it as the standard.
But I met someone my first day in Guatemala. In fact, I didn’t even have to make it to Atitlán first.
From the airport, I took a shuttle to Antigua because there were no taxi drivers. As I’d walked out of the airport I’d braced myself for the onslaught of Guatemalan locals eager to snag a tourist fee for a short trip. But when I’d exited the sliding glass doors of La Aurora International Airport all I saw was a sea of unsmiling, indifferent Guatemalan faces. They were there for their families, fuck the gringa.
When we got to Antigua, my driver palmed me off to another driver and I carefully crawled into the van, exhaustion setting in. Inside I found two Japanese faces turned expectantly toward me, and the side-profile of a German boy. The Japanese couple were eager to know me; What’s your name? Where are you from? Where are you going? The German didn’t care who I was, or where I was from. As he ignored me, I reminded myself yet again of my first few days in Sri Lanka which consisted of me sending photos of everything I was doing to my mom and writing in my journal while I drank bottles of Lion solo at the bar next door.
Through my conversation with the Japanese couple, the German and I did discover that we were both travelling to the same town on the lake, Santa Cruz la Laguna.
What are you going to do there? he asked me, finally turning around in his seat to face me.
I don’t know, I don’t really plan ahead. Have you planned something?
That was the first time I saw him smile. He shook his head no, smirking as if he had a secret.
That first night, I wandered off into the pitch-black evening along the ‘boardwalk’, with no idea if I’d actually find my German friend in the hostel on the other side, but it was worth a shot.
We talked until about 1 a.m. He said he’d walk me home because it was dark and potentially dangerous, but he didn’t. I forgave him only at the moment that I walked safely into my cabin back at my own hotel, but he didn’t know it until he got to San Pedro the next afternoon.
I thought I wouldn’t find a friend in those early days, but I did. Maybe if I had been more open to changing plans, if I hadn’t been so sure that I understood my own travel preferences, I’d have gone to San Pedro with him the next day. The truth is that we only spent two days together; not even. But there was always the chance that there could have been more. He went on and did the things that everyone else does in Guatemala. All of the things I missed. Climbing volcanoes, going to Chichicastenango and buying hammocks, going to Flores to see the ruins and swimming in the green water of Semuc Champay. I didn’t get to do any of that. I just ran out of time.
In Guatemala, I only found the time to realise where I was; on this trip that I had anticipated so much. The trip that I wanted desperately to change something for me. But you just can’t predict something like that. You just really have no idea what you’ll find. You can’t even imagine. I only had time to make my first friend. And I left him there; physically anyway.
Then, I ran away to the airport in an unmarked taxi at 3 a.m., with two Canadians whose names I don’t remember. We got pulled over by the police on that pitch black highway. We were sure we were going to get robbed, but we didn’t. Guatemala was a sea of unexplored adventures for me, I just didn’t have enough time. I had to go to Honduras…