I bought boots, guys. I bought some rad hiking boots because, after researching what to do in Guatemala, it seemed everyone just frolicked on volcanoes. Never mind that the reasons I chose to travel there had nothing to do with adventure sports. I was attracted to its indigenous culture and rich colonial history, its literary traditions and distinctive cuisine. But I seemed to be in the minority. Everyone else was happy living out their Indiana Jones fantasies.
Hence, why I decided that I too should tap into some undiscovered athletic aspect of my personality and buy myself some hiking boots.
I spent my first days in Antigua vehemently postponing a trip to Pacaya, the volcano everyone agreed was “easy.” I lurked in the many corners of ruined churches and abandoned convents. I revisited the fantastic accounts of Conquistadors and New World subjects that I read in grad school. My mind was populated with visions of what life would have been like as a nun, my chosen vocation if I had been born in that godforsaken age. (Not because of religious inclinations, duh. But because a bunch of them got to read and write and have a semblance of a career.)
Museums that mostly lay ignored had me as their enthusiastic visitor. My mouth watered at the 20 variations of avocados and delighted in the fact that fruit actually tasted like fruit in Guatemala, and not some sickly pale variation. My favorite day involved taking a Taste Antigua food tour, where I polished off about 8 different dishes. My senses were ignited.
But finally, finally, I caved and signed up for the Pacaya tour. This is by no means a huge physical feat. The hike up takes about 2 hours. A few places are pretty steep, but it’s not anything that feels remotely dangerous or painful.
The payoff was not that great.
Sure, the volcanic rock and ash looked otherworldly. My lungs probably thanked me for the abundance of clean, fresh oxygen. But I’m pretty sure I would have been perfectly satisfied taking a motorized vehicle up there, looking around and then turning back.
Still, I wanted to have the full Guatemalan experience. Maybe I’d feel different on another hike, one where the fog wasn’t a cocoon of gloom and doom. I like water, kayaking on the lake should be fun! And if you go to San Marcos, you must take a yoga class. It’s simply what people do.
Yet, when I arrived at Casa del Mundo and saw the kayaks, all I could think was of an aborted mission back in Thailand, where my kayak kept going around in circles. And when I spent the day in San Marcos and inquired about yoga classes, I realized it would conflict with my massage appointment and I would oh so much rather have my feet rubbed by a stranger.
That’s when it dawned on me. This is my vacation. Screw trying to be someone I’m not.
And if there’s something I know I’m not, it’s this: a sporty girl. I’m the one who cheers you on at 5ks but thinks it’s crazy that you actually see that as an enjoyable activity. I’m the person who would rather be dateless for a decade than join one of those softball leagues single urbanites use to hook up. I’m the lady who hates you on sight if you use the word “practice” when referring to yoga class.
But, you may wonder, isn’t travel about stepping outside of your comfort zone? Of course! I don’t regret going hiking. I’m glad I tried it at least once. Because now I know I’d much rather do something else with my time. Plus, I can’t help but think that most of my adult life is full of discomfort. As much as I like my job and the people I work with, I’m deeply uncomfortable with an office. It feels infantilizing. I’m totally awkward on the phone and in bureaucratic settings. Dragging my dirty clothes to the laundromat it uncomfortable. Having to pay taxes is uncomfortable. About the only thing I don’t find uncomfortable as a a grown up is my ability to do things without my parents’ permission. Mainly buying alcohol. And traveling.
I know there are people that get great satisfaction from pushing their bodies to the limit, strengthening those muscles, breaking their own personal records. They see exertion as proof of their vitality. Good for them.
For me, though, my body is my hedonistic best friend who worships Bacchus. Traveling is one of the few chances I have to be myself, really myself, without expectations hovering on me. So no, I did not hike up Indian Nose to catch the sunrise. Or perfect my vinyasa thanks to some overaged hippie. Or walk 2 kilometers between towns when I could take the damn boat for 5 minutes.
I slept like a baby and naturally woke up as the day’s first rays of sun filtered through my window. I had a humongous breakfast and made conversation with the townspeople. I floated on the lake and felt its cool waters sway me.
That is what Guatemala is to me.
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