Every once in a while, I wake up and wonder if I’m still dreaming, if my life in Guatemala is actually a really random story that I’m conjuring up in my sleep back in New York. I stare through my mosquito net and wait for a honking taxi, the siren of an ambulance, or an alarm clock to wake up the dreaming me, but on she snoozes.
Not to say that being in Guatemala is dream from which I need waking. It’s just that it’s still so surreal–even after two months. My looming deadlines are no longer closing dates for issues of a magazine, but rather when I need to cross the border to get my three-month visa renewed. One moment, I’m eating fried chicken and corn tortillas in a smoky, dark corner of a market, and the next, someone’s passing me foie gras at the house of a well-to-do local. The A train and our Honda have been supplanted by boat rides and used bikes–Shon is a riding advertisement for the soccer club, FC Barcelona. Instead of skyscrapers, we have volcanoes; instead of the Hudson, we have a crater lake.
Surreal or not, most of my days could be checked off as either good or very good. Little by little this place is starting to feel familiar, if not like home. But every once in a while, I still have one of “those” days, when I can’t help but to play devil’s advocate with optimism, and all my fears, worries, and doubts flaunt their shapely, curvy selves. These girls are mean and skilled at making me forget why I left behind a great city, a great job, and great family and friends. They insist that I made a mistake. It’s on these occasions when I wake up and really wish that other me, the one in New York, would just open her eyes already.
Saturday was one of “those” days. I blame being sick (though draining, it was nothing serious) and freelance frustrations, among other things. Fortunately, Saturday was also the day that Shon and I had planned to go for a hike.
There are myriad trails around Panajachel. They exist not for recreation, but as a way for people in surrounding villages to get to and from Pana on foot. So far, we hadn’t explored any but had heard that the hike to a village called Buena Vista was great. Shon packed a peanut butter sandwich, I gathered up fear, worry, and doubt, and we started out.
The beginning of the trail to Buena Vista runs along a dried river bed in Pana before it cuts into fields of green onions and climbs up a mountain. It’s a dirt trail that eventually turns into an intermittently paved road. It works its way through forests, runs along the perimeter of small plots of tilled land, and passes by the occasional cinder block house. It goes through a tiny village with seemingly as many churches (three) as stores and works its way above a small town called Tierra Linda. As we hiked along, we saw men and women working in fields and a few traditionally dressed senoras carefully balancing goods on their heads as they made their way down the mountain.
After two hours of uphill hiking, with a few stops for water and photos, the dirt road leveled off onto a fairly flat plateau, and we entered Buena Vista, which seemed to comprise no more than a handful of houses separated by large plots of farm land. We continued to follow the road until it dead-ended at a grassy, goat-covered hill. From there, we had a spectacular bird’s-eye view of Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, and the three volcanoes across the water. The vista was indeed buena, in fact, it was even more amazing than promised. We ate our peanut butter sandwich and took a thousand photos. We watched the clouds shift, and the boats move along their lake routes.
It was beautiful. And, of course, now is when I should say that I had some amazing revelation that made a bad day good and that brought a warm and fuzzy feeling to my heart. Sadly, I did not levitate off the ground or see Jesus in the clouds. But I will say this: Exchanging smiles and greetings with senoras on the trail, getting totally winded with the uphill hike, watching men and women go about their morning work, photographing the views, and focusing on something other than myself reminded me why I left behind all those great parts of my life in the States. I did it for the chance to see foreign places, to explore the unknown, and to see what I might discover outside of my comfort zone. To get a different perspective. To consider a goat.
Of course, none of this changed my fears, worries, and doubts. Like the best of best friends, I’m sure these characters will always be around. That’s fine, they have their place. In fact, they help motivate me. But recalling the reasons for my coming to Guatemala made me feel more optimistic, too. And if that mean, nasty trio is part of what fuels me, it’s optimism that gives me confidence and that has always managed to steer me in the right direction. Fear, worry, and doubt may make me want to wake up in New York, but optimism is what makes me content to be right where I am.