Central America Trip Update #1: Hola from Guatemala!

The past two and a half weeks have been a blur of airplanes, refried beans, cobblestone streets, beautiful cathedrals…

…ancient Mayan pyramids, broken Spanish, sick kids, sweaty nights, tropical birdsong, swinging hammocks, freshly made tortillas, a lost (and now broken) baby bed, bumpy boat rides…

*Look ma, no seatbelts*

…volcano vistas, eight people crammed in a taxi, and rooster wake-up calls.

As I began writing this post, sitting in a little cafe in a lakeside town called Panajachel, an old sappy song came on that threw me back 13 years. Ryan and I sang it as a duet in our adopted Japanese church, our way of saying goodbye to beloved friends we’d made while living there our first year of marriage.

It’s been quite the journey for us, from that first year in Japan, where we struggled with culture shock, homesickness and newlywed struggles, while simultaneously falling in love with the people, the culture, and with travel itself.

Somehow these years have seen us through eight moves, multiple career changes, starting four businesses, having five children, and visiting over 40 countries together as a family, all the way to sitting here today in Guatemala.

*The island town of Flores, seen from the lake it sits in*

I’m tempted to say it feels like coming full circle, except it really just feels like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and there’s no turning back.

Our life is so vastly different than I ever dreamed it would be, and that’s good news.

I used to want to travel a safer road, avoid risk, play it safe. We’ve done anything but that, and I’m surprised at how good it’s been.

Speaking of good, that’s how today felt.

I woke early to get the kids ready, so I could walk them to the Spanish school they’re attending for two and a half weeks while we slow down and stay in one place.

After dropping them off, I indulged in a few moments down by Lago de Atitlan, watching it wake up under the watchful eyes of the towering volcanoes on either side.

Then I spent the morning working on my laptop at a favorite restaurant and coffee shop, before picking up the kids and hearing colorful tales about their day.

On our way home, we ducked into a small tienda to purchase glue, pencil sharpeners and cups, before buying tomatoes, cilantro and a big stack of freshly made tortillas for lunch (all told, we spent about $3.75). In the afternoon, Ryan and I sat outside discussing business details while the kids played in the yard of our rental house.  #happysigh

*The house we ultimately rented, after stressing out over it for several days.* 

But not every day feels like this.

Only two days before, I was a bit of an emotional wreck, trying desperately to find a rental house for our family, before we ran out of time in our temporary digs.

We’d had sick kids for a week, including a baby who brought chicken pox all the way from Canada (we discovered it four days into our trip). We’d barely had a decent night’s sleep in over a week and were feeling sick ourselves.

*Creatively (read: desperately) trying to dry out still-wet laundry in a tiny hotel room before we had to pack up to leave town.*

All our laundry was dirty (read: puked on) and the machine at our rental was broken, the kids were being whiny, our rental house was too small, and I’d gotten freaked out by a turbulent boat ride the night before.

As I said earlier on Instagram the other week, travel is a package deal.

Good and bad, easy and hard, magical and maddening. We have to accept it all.

But as Ryan was encouraging the kids on one of our very bad, no good, terrible days when we all had cruddy attitudes… we were made to do hard things. All of us (yes, you too).

*Having fun at the ruins… sort of. We’re all pretty exhausted in this picture (case in point: note the heavy bags under my eyes, LOL!), but trying hard to have a good attitude and see what we came to see.*

Our kids are tougher than they think. They can adjust their attitudes in hard situations, choose to care for one another, and work together as a team.

Ryan and I can pull it together and find strength we didn’t know we possessed, even on our hardest days. We can lean into one another, instead of withdrawing or blaming, and we can choose joy and contentment even in those times when we’re wondering why we left home in the first place.

And God is here with us, in all of these moments, sustaining us and growing us into (hopefully) better and more grace-filled people than we were before we left.

That’s the beauty, both of travel, and of choosing to live a life where we’re not afraid to push off from the safe harbor and embrace the risk that comes when we unfurl our sails.

*Tuk-tuks fly past us on the main street in Panajachel*

A quick overview of what we’ve done so far:

  • Spent a couple days exploring the charmingly crumbling colonial city of Antigua.
  • Flew up to the northern reaches of Guatemala, to Peten department, where we explored the isolated ruins of Uaxactun and the more popular but stunning ruins of Tikal, as well as spending a day on the petite island town of Flores.
  • Flew back to Guatemala City so we could catch a ride up to Lago de Atitlan, where we’ve been ever since. We’ve plunked ourselves down in the town of Panajachel where we’re spending a couple weeks doing our version of slow travel… trying to live a little more like the locals, studying the language, shopping at the markets, working and running our businesses, and just doing regular life with a different view. We’ve put the kids into a Spanish school 5 hours a day, and Ryan and I are both studying with a tutor an hour per day. On some afternoons and on the weekends, we’re doing our best to get out and see as much of the surrounding area and sites as we can.

*Incredible temples and ruins at the Mayan city of Tikal, in Northern Guatemala*

Where to next?

On April 1st, we head back to Guatemala City for the night, just in time to catch a flight early the next morning to Merida, Mexico. We’ll be attending the worldschooler’s summit there from April 3-8, and then take another week to do work, school and take day trips around the Yucatan peninsula.

From there we cross over into Belize on April 15th, then onward to Costa Rica and Nicaragua after that.

If you’d like to follow along with our travels, you can find me sharing regularly on Instagram.