“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.” ~ Alain de Botton
You were surprised when you woke up to see that Granny and Grumpy were still here. Having just been a trio for nearly three months, you were excited to see that you had more people to give you loving attention. After our morning oatmeal, we set out early to catch a collectivo bound for the Spanish colonial island of Flores. Just four days before, we had a heck of a time trying to withdraw or exchange money in Flores, one of Guatemala’s tourist capitals, but managed to find a bank that traded in American currency. Down to just 140Q ($20US), we set out to explore, take color photos, visit local artisans and exchange some more money.
Collectivos are the same size as twelve-seater vans back home with four extra seats crammed in, but they never just hold sixteen. The only seats left in our collectivo to Flores were at the very back so we all squeezed into a seat that would normally hold two. Even Grumpy is about a foot taller than the average Guatemalan so our knees dug into the seat in front of us. It wasn’t long before we had 24 adults and a few children crammed into our ride and though we were stuffed in the back, we had a front seat to the real Guatemala. At the bus terminal, we hopped into some tuc tucs that whizzed us around and Granny white knuckled it until we reached our destination.
We arrived in Flores at the perfect time. No one else was awake except for the local faithful that filled the grand white Catholic church that sat at the highest point on the island, and it was not too hot to take our time snapping great photos. Granny is the “Family Historian” and takes great pride in photographing every moment worth remembering. As we walked the narrow cobblestone streets, we imagined what life would have been like more than five centuries ago when the Spanish settled this rock in Peten Itza.
After walking off the entire perimeter, we made our way back across the bridge to the city center of Santa Elena to try our luck with the bank. The line was more than fifty deep and took over an hour and a half to finally reach the point of exchange. However, since exchanging our US currency just four days earlier, they changed the rules and no longer wished to accept $20 dollar bills. After much bilingual pleading, it was evident they could care less about the fact we were down to our last few Quetzales. Completely out of options, I jumped in a tuc tuc and asked him to take me to every bank in Santa Elena. He took me to one that always exchanges US currency and I gave him an extra tip for waiting so long for the exchange. Now 3500Q richer, it was off to buy some hand made Mayan creations.
Asher, we had a blast popping in and out of the little shops, marveling at the carvings and textiles. Shopkeepers helped you into a Mayan sling and unfolded dozens of scarves to drape around Granny. We were famished with all the excitement from the eventful day so we popped into an eclectic lakeside restaurant to enjoy everything from falafel to pad thai. The bohemian feel was accomplished with colorful pillows, candles dripping over an antique typewriter, mosaic art on the walls and inspirational messages scribbled onto the ceiling by hundreds of inspired travelers. Not much had changed since your mother and I visited this restaurant five years earlier and as we sipped on our strawberry banana smoothie, with the breeze from the lake hitting our faces, we had no choice but to be in the moment. It was great to see Granny and Grumpy enjoying themselves so thoroughly.
The great thing about unplanned long-term travel is that there are always new experiences that help lubricate introspective thoughts. Just as we emerged back onto the colorful streets, a huge parade of horses galloped past us, returning our thoughts to a simpler time. Likewise, strolling around El Remate reminds us of what is really important in life. Slow paced village, slow paced thoughts. Colorful vistas, colorful thoughts. New experiences help shape our world view. New experiences, new character.
On the way home, we again slid into the back seats, the only ones remaining, and Granny and Grumpy began getting to know everyone around us. Your mom translated as Granny chatted with a mother nursing her two year old who was standing to reach the breast. Granny passed out some candy canes she had left over from Christmas and Grumpy amazed the kids with his tricks. He put one piece of candy cane in his mouth and held another piece by his ear. He made it appear as though he was pushing the candy into his ear and making it emerge from his mouth, then he would suck it in his mouth and it would come back out his ear. You fell fast asleep and though we were exhausted and sweaty and the Latin folk music blasting from the speaker next to Grandpa’s ear was about 100 decibels too loud, the ride flew by from all of the wonderful human connections we made.