American best-selling author, Greg Anderson, once said, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
I bet you $100 Greg Anderson has never been to Guatemala, because if he has, he wouldn’t be hyping up this journey thing so much.
As a man who loves to see the world and experience new cultures, I don’t find much joy in multiple transfers, airport layovers and overcrowded buses.
I realize that it’s necessary for traveling on a budget, but the process can be draining, especially here in Latin America, where efficiency and personal space is obsolete.
The topic is fresh in my head because I just returned from a weekend in Mazatenango, on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, where it took a mini-van, two chicken buses, a semi-truck and a pick-up, just to make the four-hour trip.
The one thing that has kept me sane over the past three years of traveling through Latin America, from roadblocks in Bolivia to puking our way to Semuc Champey, has been the ability to appreciate a moment in time.
The act of travel has allowed me to develop a mindfulness to keep frustration at bay.
The journey back from the coast was a perfect example of this, as it could have easily tainted my entire weekend.
The mini-van was packed like a sardine can, the bed of the pick-up truck was freezing, and the town drunk kept trying to rest his sleepy head on my crotch as I stood in the walkway beside his seat for the first of two 45-minute chicken bus rides. It was draining.
Fortunately, with a little positive thinking and “universal” assistance, a few small moments overshadowed an entire day of third-world travel.
Without the mini-van so packed, I wouldn’t have hung outside the open door and watch the Guatemalan countryside speed by while enjoying some fresh coconut water. Without the pick-up truck ride, I wouldn’t have noticed how bright the stars were on Sunday night.
More than anything, there was one moment that made the whole trip worthwhile. It occurred on our final leg back to Sololá, as local friends and I hitched a ride in the front cabin of a Semi heading for Guatemala City. We piled in with another dozen Guatemalans and made ourselves comfortable on the built-in bunk beds behind the driver’s seat.
As I sat there laughing to myself about this life of mine, I got into a great conversation with a young mother about traveling to New York while she was breast feeding her youngest of three.
Without batting an eye over the exposed milk jug, she asked me about life in the States, how it feels to fly, and she asked me to tell her son how important it was to study.
I showed them some of my travel photos and he asked if we could take one together.
It was a simple conversation, in a completely random setting that meant the world to me and it immediately changed my opinion on the day.
Just when I thought I had my mind made up about taking a break from traveling in Latin America, little moments like this happen and pull me right back into the allure.
The ironic thing about this love/hate, contradicting rant is that as soon as I finish this post, I’m leaving for a 12-hour, overnight bus from Panajachel to the Flores, Guatemala to meet up with a good friend and exploring the Mayan Ruins of Tikal.
And despite what Anderson says, I’ll enjoy those little moments along the journey, but for me, I’ll find the most joy once get off the bus!