Thirty-five hours of travel time: We handed the keys to the landlord at nine o’clock on Tuesday night, strapped on front and backpacks, and began our walk to the Moscow Metro. We “slept” in the airport, too early a flight to bother with anything else. At four a.m., we checked in—going to Dusseldorf first (friendliest airport I’ve ever been to—even the money changer was charming), on to Miami, and arriving in Guatemala City at just past eight o’clock in the evening.
Flying in over the city, probably one of the most dangerous places I care to imagine, a strange sense of calm, of familiarity, even of home sunk into my sleep-deprived eyes, unwashed armpits, unkempt beard. We had worried about getting out of Russia, awaited the unforeseen visa problem or next twist of the bureaucratic knife. We’d fretted about the American customs nightmare. We’d gotten through it all unscathed.
At the airport, Mario the driver was waiting for us with a sign and a smile, and we put our luggage into the back of his SUV, buckling in for the last leg of our journey. Driving through Guatemala City, I found that I was muddling the signs, reading the Spanish as if it were Cyrillic, exchanging Ps and Ns and Rs. It was as if I were working the last lingering remnants of the last nine months out of my head.
And, we finally turned the corner near the basketball court in Antigua, a spot where Emma and used to sit watching skateboarders as we waited for the chicken bus. We made it onto the road leading up to Aldea El Hato, where the journey ends, turns to dirt and mud, pieced and held together with earth bag road repairs. Of all the places we’ve lived and been, I’m not sure anywhere else feels like home. Mario finally reached the pila, where village women wash clothes, and we got out like second-nature.
There was just the hill left. The hill is giant and winding. In rainy season, it distorts and becomes awash with mud, oozing out over the cliff edge. The steps are planks of wood struggling to keep packed dirt from seeping into a smooth slope. At the top, one must cross a small stream of water drainage coming from the higher mountain. In the dark, sandwich between heavy rucksacks, one flashlight between us, Emma and I took the path in shifts, me leading the way about twenty feet at a time then turning back to shine the light for her.
It had taken us thirty-five hours, door to door, to walk back into Earth Lodge again, and our great friend Drew, whom the workers refer to as Don Drew, had stayed up to greet us, despite being blood-shot and stinky, with hugs, with beer and shots. So, we lasted another four or five hours just letting the place get back into our bones and livers. Finally, at about two, I tried to help get Emma’s bag down to our room, drunkenly turned and fell down a concrete stairway. We were back.
I’m a week removed from writing my last blog, one in which I recounted the great exploits of life in Moscow, and now I’m sitting in armchair in the corner window of Earth Lodge, a place that has me back in Guatemala for the third time, because of this view, these people, this village, these avocados, this simplicity. We’ve come to help. We’ve come to be taken in again. I can’t wait to see what the next four months has to offer.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.