An Unexpected Morning in Guatemala

I'm wearing a stranger's clothes. I'm sitting on a terrace with a view of the lake, morning clouds still covering the mountain tops, listening to the sounds of birds and boats in leggings and a too-large button-down shirt borrowed from a girl I met less than 24 hours ago in a different city.

I obviously didn't expect to be here. I went to Antigua just for the day, to take a cooking class and wander the markets on my one weekend on this work trip to Guatemala. The other two students in my cooking class happened to be women around my age who work for an international NGO. They were traveling onward to Lake Atitlan and over the course of an hour of cooking (and drinking unlimited wine), they convinced me to join them. Everything seemed to fall into place - they had an open seat in their shuttle, space in their hotel room, and extra pajamas to lend me.

And that's how I came to be here. One of the things I love about travel is that Travel Mary is so much more flexible and spontaneous than At-Home Mary. Without the weight of routines and day-to-day life, I feel free to change my plans and take advantage of some new opportunity for adventure. I rationalize - it might be the only chance I get to see/do/experience something wonderful!

So I, Travel Mary, go to Lake Atitlan with no change of clothes or toiletries, all my stuff still back at the hotel in Guatemala City. I sing along to a playlist of West African music as I drive through the Guatemalan Highlands, because we learn on the road that we've all spent time in West Africa. I sleep in borrowed pajamas and buy a toothbrush from the front desk of the hotel.

I drink coffee and watch the volcanoes appear from behind the clouds and know this moment alone made the trip worth it, made me glad I'd taken the risk.

I eat desayuno tipico by the lake and ride a boat across the water to shop and drink coffee in a different village. I try not to think about going over the cliffs as the shuttle drives up out of the cauldron of the lake on crazy steep, winding roads. I get to the hotel at 10pm, more than 24 hours after I expected - exhausted and hungry - and elated.

Even though they live in DC, I know I'll likely never see these women again. These magical travel friendships almost always prove to be limited to the time and place where they formed. But I'll always be grateful to them for the pajamas and the chance to see the clouds clear and the peaks come out over Lake Atitlan on that unexpected morning. 


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