After putting myself on a self-induced traveling freeze for the last eight months, I finally took off for Guatemala on my first foray back into Latin America with my adventuresome friends, Claudia and Vanessa, for Claudia’s special birthday trip. For me this journey to Guatemala served as a clever way to spend time with friends before heading out on my 2nd career break and enjoy a “real” vacation.
Unlike my previous travels in South America, this brief 10 day trip with an organized itinerary courtesy of Claudia’s tio, had the feel of a “real” vacation in that I was able to enjoy all aspects of the current trip without worrying about the logistics for the next leg of the journey – researching bus schedules and prices, finding suitable accommodations, deciding on productive ways to spend my time. For this vacation, all of the logistics were planned in advance and all I was obliged to do was sit back and enjoy myself. At this point I realized that in the life of a long-term traveler, there’s no shame and in fact, it’s highly important to give yourself a rest with all of the planning and let someone else plan your itinerary. Whether it be through an organized tour or tagging along with a group of friends, letting go of the logistics control reins can be stress-relieving and not to mention, can also expose you to experiences you never would have happened upon on your own.
Another note about this particular trip is that it’s my first of the non-solo variety in several years. I learned to appreciate the simplicity, anonymity and stress-free decision making of solo travel during my eight months in South America, but regardless of the perks, several of my more memorable trips with groups of friends remind me that I do in fact prefer traveling with other people, people I already know. This whole meeting people on the backpacking trail and traveling with them was okay, but it’s a completely different when you’re stuck in close quarters with someone who you can fart in front of without shame (Thanks Vanessa!). This being the case, I was thrilled to travel with known friendlies again. I also used this trip as an opportunity to assess any oddities I may have developed from traveling alone for such a long time. Aside from showering with my laundry, I’m still on the right side of normal.
A note of Guatemala’s safety issues
Upon announcing my intentions to travel to Guatemala, I was immediately reminded of the warnings about safety and given my history with safety issues in Latin America, I deem it necessary to summarize my specific experience in Guatemala before continuing with the stories. Though Guatemala certainly doesn’t have the greatest reputation abroad (I believe the murder rate of Guatemala City is the 2nd highest in the world) and yes I would agree that it’s more dangerous than anyplace in the U.S., it’s not the death trap people have perceived it to be. Outside of Guatemala City, locals will tell you it is safe to walk around at night and from my own personal experience, I never felt any more uncomfortable than my normal paranoid self. After being robbed in Chile, the safest country in my itinerary, and checking the police blotter in my disgustingly “safe” hometown of Ballston Spa, I naturally assume I’ll be robbed anywhere now, so unless my instincts are really red-flagging me, I’m not going to indulge the dramatic stories of crime and violence. The bottom line is: the country of Guatemala can be safely enjoyed without all of the dramatics.
That said, I did safely enjoy myself in Guatemala with my biggest threat being a scorpion lingering near my bed in Monterrico. Aside from that, I was able to enjoy a whirlwind sampling of the best Guatemala has to offer from Mayan ruins, market shopping, Pollo Campero, black sand beaches and colonial cities.
Next up: Tikal National Park