WanderNWayne Goes to Guatemala

By “WanderN Wayne” Hammerstrom

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

Hearing My Own Story

from WanderNWayne’s LiveJournal November 15, 2007

Preparing for a seven-week journey to Guatemala as my first big step into retirement has led me to discover journals of other vagabond travelers who shared their expectations and experiences in a land of perpetual spring. I’ve catalogued their recommendations and had begun to schedule an itinerary between the bookends of my 2008 Guatemala arrival and departure.

Today, I decided to leave these guides at home. Instead, I want to hear my own story, to discover my own journey – to learn of myself by wandering off-path. How could I have thought that I would be able to recreate the stories of others, to follow trails of their experiences, to know more about myself through them?

By immersing myself into another culture, instead of hearing what others say about it, I might explore that which is NOT me. My life-view has served me well for 60+ years living in the United States, but how might other cultures see me; how do they see themselves.

I’ve been told to think of retirement more as reFirement; loosening the limits of living for work and igniting a personal passion for life itself. This becomes a change in attitude, perspective, and options. My journey begins not with packing my bags, but emptying them for possibilities. I want to open myself to seeking and learning, of self-discovery,

   ~ ~ ~

Don’t Be Chicken

Guatemala 2008

Don’t be chicken—ride the colorful, public buses (camionetas) in Guatemala. You’ll find these transportation services low-cost, entertaining, and an experience to write home about.

Guatemala bus terminal

These former school buses have been brightly painted and decorated inside and out. Locals use them to travel between destinations and the buses are usually packed-full of passengers and cargo. People cram into the small seats designed for children or stand crowded in the isle. Traveler’s luggage and vendor’s wares are secured to storage atop the bus or stuffed inside on racks above the windows. It’s not uncommon for food and drink to be sold inside the bus at stops or as the bus travels between villages. Due to the cramped conditions, purchases and money are exchanged overhead between passengers, row to row throughout the bus. Tickets are obtained from assistants (ayudantes) who muscle their way between passengers as the bus swiftly darts through traffic or passes slower moving vehicles on curvy mountain roads. Each diesel burning vehicle leaves behind a sulfurous black plume as they accelerate through the drive gears.

We sought out our bus to San Marcos by listening to dozens of drivers and ayudantes shouting bus destinations throughout the busy terminal lot. Our packs were tossed up to the roof as three of us squeezed into the child-sized bench seat. With our knees jammed into the back panel of the seat in front of us, the bus lurches forward. We pickup more riders who flag down the bus from anywhere along the route. They had waited patiently for our arrival, but our scheduled time could only be estimated. The isle was now crammed with bodies, fabric bundles, and flower bouquets for market sales in the next village.

Like a ship on the ocean, we are thrown from side to side as the bus swerves around obstacles. We hit our heads on the luggage racks above as the driver launches over speed bumps intended to slow traffic passing through an occasional village. Our knees are now in our mouths and our hands grasp anything not moving.

Drivers pass anything moving slower than themselves, ignoring the yellow decorative markings painted on the road surface. This is frightening at first, until you learn the implied rules of the road. When you are passing a vehicle as another approaches from the opposite direction, the three drivers have the following options: (1) the approaching vehicle can slow down to let you complete your passing action, (2) the vehicle you are passing can slow down to let you complete your pass, or (3) you can chicken out, slow down and fall back behind the vehicle you wanted to pass. The game is played as cooperation, not competition. But I wouldn’t want to try this at home in the United States.

© 2017 Wayne Hammerstrom

Wayne Hammerstrom has been a lifelong traveler who now wanders (WandrNWayne) serendipitously on journeys near and far. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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1 Response to WanderNWayne Goes to Guatemala

  1. ozzietales says:

    I was in Guatemala in early 2000, and enjoyed the culture and getting to meet the people very much. I can identify with your description of the bus ride, although that was my experience traveling the mountain roads of Mexico, where it didn’t pay to look down when our driver “cooperated” with an approaching driver. I trust you are enjoying your reFirement!


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