Courage to Know When to Turn Around

Sorry to leave you hanging. As some of you may already know, our plans for our trip changed rather quickly. No, we are not broke. And no, I am not pregnant (much to my mother’s disappointment).

If I were to pinpoint the moment as the catalyst for us turning around, it would be at the beginning of Guatemala sitting at a wooden table on a floating dock in a restaurant. We were in Rio Dulce where the Canadian woman opened the orphanage, marketed as a hostel for backpackers. I was riding high on the admiration that she’d built a meaningful life for herself inside the context of a world that tells you the only way to make it is to get a good 9 to 5 job.

The main objective of this trip was to find a location where we could start some sort of business to support our lifestyle. The Guy and I were having a conversation about potential places to settle and I began talking about how much I love lakes and miss seasons. He began talking about Lake Siltcoos (in Oregon) where he spent a large portion of his childhood. My main concern with living abroad was making genuine human connections in a place where we’d inevitably be viewed as outsiders. One idea led to another and we quickly decided we’d return to Oregon in search of lake front property.

Somewhere in Mexico, I’d already began feeling like the places we were going were very similar to past destinations. By then, we had a combined time of over 2 years in Latin America. I was thirsting for a different continent.

After the conversation, that feeling continued to grow and I began vocalizing it. But The Guy wanted to complete what we had set out to do, which was to reach the Panama Canal. I knew that it was very important for him to complete what he said he’d do, but I told him that sometimes it also takes courage to go back on your own word if you know it’s right for you. It wasn’t right for him yet.

So we left Guatemala after several weeks and entered El Salvador. Let’s just say that El Salvador was ill equipped for tourism. The men waiting to “help” tourists across the border were abundant. And desperate. One man saw us 5 miles from the border and quickly hopped on his motorcycle, attempting to yell at us through the window. At the border, two men immediately began pointing frantically where we should go and accompanied us through the paperwork. In the beginning, they said there was no fee. By the end, they tried to charge us $100 USD for their services. With the fresh memory of the immigration agent whispering to me in English that there were no fees for completing the paperwork, I gave the guys the equivalent of $23 USD and told them not to treat tourists like they were stupid. It wasn’t right.

We drove into Los Cobanos and began searching for a hostel. There was nothing to be found except a golf resort and a hotel resort. After asking directions several times and driving back and forth on some back roads, we finally found a hostel on the beach. It was still $30 (they use US dollars there) for us to stay, but with no other options and the dark of night heavily upon us, we stayed.

The next two days yielded nothing but extremely hot weather and no recreational activities. We spent our time lazing in the ocean and sitting in their hammocks. A few nearby hostels had obviously closed down, most likely due to unprofitable circumstances. There were only two eateries nearby who also charged exorbitant rates for meals (about 7 to 10 dollars per plate). This may not sound like much, but it was for the conditions of this small town in El Salvador.

These two sunset pictures were the best things that came from that location:

Sunset at Los Cobanos
Same sunset, 20 minutes later

On our second night, we laid in our hostel beds that had mouse droppings scattered through the sheets and stared up at the ceiling. The window screen had been ripped but during the day, I’d sewn it back together and taped it to keep the mosquitos out so we had at least a mild breeze running through the room. The ceiling had designs painted on several panels. The other panels were still white and unfinished. A dark water spot had began taking over one of the designs, leaving a mutated painting like a natural Picasso forgotten in the back of a closet. We talked about the large murals painted on the hostel buildings and the beautiful tiles in the shower floor that were now covered in lime build-up and mildew. Someone had really loved this place once upon a time.

After a moment of silence, The Guy looks over at me and says, “I’m ready to leave whenever you are.”

The next day, we went back to the border and drove through all of Guatemala. At the Guatemala/Mexico border, there was an accident which brought traffic to a complete standstill. A two lane road (one going north, and the other south) became 3 lanes of cars parked alongside one another all facing north. It was the same story from the other side. You can imagine how difficult it would be to clear out 3 lanes of traffic facing each other with no room for anyone to go anywhere. We stayed in that traffic jam for 7 hours. I passed 3 hours of it by throwing a loud dance party in the car by myself. The Guy did not join, but a little girl in the truck in front of us was thoroughly entertained. We finally inched up to a hotel at the Guatemala side of the border and resumed our trip in the morning.

Guatemalan traffic jam

The next two days consisted of 15 hour drives through Mexico. We reached Northern Mexico by night. Gas stations are generally open 24 hours, but in Northern Mexico, they were closed and the surrounding towns were all rolled up resembling ghost towns. No lights were on, no street lights were available, and absolutely nobody else was on the road. I began wondering if it was time to worry, but I figured no use wasting energy on things that hadn’t happened yet.

With a lot of luck, we reached the Texas US border unscathed at 12AM and crossed over without even an inspection. I was ready to kiss the ground.

We stopped at a McDonald’s and observed how different the meat tasted. The Diet Coke also tasted very funny, its blend suited for the American palate. My cup of water had a hint of flouride, was too soft, and tasted all wrong, but then again I’d been spoiled for months with bottled water.

With another stroke of pure luck, we rented a room in a newly built Motel 6. We turned on the heat and marveled at how well the unit functioned, pranced around opening the complimentary soaps and shampoos, and drank tap water straight from the faucet. The water was cold and clean. But best of all, we threw our toilet paper directly in the toilet and watched it flush away with great force in a loud whoosh. We snuggled under the freshly pressed sheets and felt no springs under the weight of our bodies.

Clean, brand new Motel 6 to welcome us back to the United States

The Guy immediately drew a hot bath and I took one after him. I felt guilty wasting an entire bathtub of hot water but it didn’t stop me from running the water so hot, that I couldn’t get into it. It burnt my feet and my back but I persistently dropped myself in and out like a hot potato until my skin adapted. It felt like all the dirt that had collected for the past few months was soaking right off of me. It was luxurious in a way words cheapen the experience.

As much as I was relieved to be back in the United States, I have to admit there were many things I was quickly missing already. The food options available in the US are vast and, of course, delicious. However, I couldn’t help but notice how heavily meals sat in my stomach and how few options for healthier fare were available.

The highways are brightly lit, perfectly paved, and have abundant signage. Everyone follows the rules. I missed the dirt roads and how people drove according to common sense rather than what a sign told you. I was already missing that extra bit of freedom.

It took only hours for me to be bored with the scenery, unimpressed with the perfected way our grocery store items are lined up in neat little rows. Where do all the ugly vegetables go? Humans are funny that way aren’t they? The human condition is never satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated immensely the comforts that I’d been missing. But there is something a bit detached from reality about it as a whole.

I suppose that’s why we are now searching for lake front property – to grow our own food, and live a bit farther away from the cities and all the things they require (chiefly, a higher income).

Making a big change like this seems to require that I be very excited about it. But in fact, I am actually fearful that I will not fall in love with this new lifestyle. As it currently stands, I have experienced living in many cities. I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like about them. Quiet lakeside life will be no different in that respect. There will be new things to fall in love with and new things to dislike, and I’ll never know what they are until I try.

Besides, I’ve gotten better at predicting what makes me happy at the tale end of my 20’s. It only took a bit of grief and a lot of paying attention to get here. I am most excited about committing myself to writing in a way I never had the option to do before. And of course, a beautiful lake, which has always breathed the lifeblood into my soul.

I suppose that if I reach the point where it no longer feels right, I will need the courage to know just when to turn around. Here’s to hoping I won’t need it.


2 thoughts on “Courage to Know When to Turn Around

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑