Day 0 (January 26)

I am repacking my suitcases and appalled that I have packed too many snacks, gifts and winter clothes. My winter jacket takes up a quarter of my suitcase and I am annoyed with myself.

Another wonderful meal later, my friend drops us off at YYZ. We breeze through security with the least queries or looks I have received in the last 10 years of my at-least-two-international-flights-a-year travel schedule. I am feeling a little nauseous and opt for a $3.40 ginger ale. I breeze through two movies on my 4.5 hour flight. Although I had to watch the last 30 mins of my second movie at double the speed. Every pause for an announcement meant missing a couple more dialogues of the movie whose name isn’t memorable after 36 hours. We have a half-hour transit in El Salvador and pray our bags make it on our flight to Guatemala City. I am getting my first experience of feeling like a foreigner with no third, fourth or fifth language to fall back on. Announcements are predominantly in Spanish. We’re not sure if the boarding call was for special people so we hold back so as not to appear too impatient. We step out of plane with our carry on bags. I insist on changing some money at the first currency exchange place. I don’t bother with reviewing the exchange rate and trust the cash handler when he handed me my quetzals. We wait at the baggage claim belt. Laurel feels we might be standing at the wrong place as some passengers from our plane are standing at the adjacent belt. I point to a sign above that shows our flight number. Between the gap between the two belts, I noticed my suitcase on the wrong belt and make a dash for it. Having successfully retrieved our bags, we step out with our immigration cards and get to push a button that could determine a random search of our baggage. Laurel gets the red light while I pass. My luck might be changing.

We walk out of the airport and our AirBnB host has a sign with our names. He grabs Laurel’s lighter bag and leaves me to pull mine. No problemo. My age fooled him to think I am more fit than my late sixties travel companion. Which I am not!

Laurel waking up to smell the roses … actually eucalyptus.

Day 1 (January 26)

As I dragged my suitcase from our Air BnB the next morning, I was disgusted at the bulkiness of my luggage. Yes, I had some extra winter clothes because of a 2-day return transit in Toronto, but surely I could travel at least as light as I do when I visit India.

As we were waiting for our shuttle from Antigua to San Pedro La Laguna, I received a couple of emails from a friend. As I replied I wondered how much I wanted to stay in touch with folks back home for the non-essentials. The bump to my head might be helping with the change in attitude.

The shuttle arrived 45 minutes late and I cringed watching the helper hoist my suitcase above his head to load on top of the shuttle. As we took up the last 2 seats in the shuttle, we found ourselves walking over guitars, fiddles and mandolins belonging to young hippies and I didn’t feel too bad about my physical baggage. At least for the next 4 and a half hours.

Our tour operator’s conveniently underestimated 2.5 hour ride was longer by two hours. The grand finale was a long winding path (not road) down to San Pedro La Laguna.

Laurel and I arrived in the dark in a small village along the shore of Lake Atitlan with two heavy suitcases. A tuk tuk driver befriends us as soon as we get off the shuttle and advises us that we could walk 7 minutes to our Spanish School or pay 10 quetzals for a tuk tuk ride. Although I had google mapped our walk to the Cooperativa School, I was only too happy to spread my wealth around. The driver drove around twisted cobbled stone roads and stopped outside the school. Throughout the ride, Laurel and I glanced at each other – Laurel wondering aloud if we were being taken for a different kind of ride while I was was wondering silently how torturous the walk would have been with our stupid suitcases. Ok I admit I am not a rugged backcountry hiker, but I am no novice walker either. And let me also explain – the roads in San Pedro La Laguna will put San Francisco’s roller coaster roads to shame. SP had SF beat with its narrowness, cobbled stoneness and its steepness.

We reach the school and a sign on the door has a phone number for Laurel and I to call. Griselda answers and informs that Alejandra, the matriarch of her family, would come in 5 to 10 minutes. And promptly arrives this chubby smiley woman ready to lead us to our casa (home) for the next 10 days. We rely on our smiles and ‘Hola’ to get acquainted – she with minimal English and us with no Espanol. She starts ascending a cobbled stone stairs / path between two rows of homes. Luckily parts of the stairs have lost the steps and we can drag up our wheeled curses from hell. Laurel and I stop when Alejandra disappears around a twist in the path and I burst out laughing, “We’re totally being punished for our stupidness. I won’t make this mistake again.” Laurel replied, “But I didn’t learn after my last trip even though I made notes after to pack lighter.” I was going to guess that the elevation gain was close to 200 metres but I decided to verify the health statistics recorded by my phone the next day. A meagre 4 floors or 40 feet. Impossible. It was at least 100 metres or at the very least 100 feet.

Alejandra walked us into her second home with a sympathetic “Lo Siento.” “No problema,” I downplay the challenge. We were going back and forth trying to figure out dinner plans at 8 pm with my limited vocabulary of 10 words, of which Si seems to get air play for anything and everything. (I was even saying “No Si” – Not yes would only make sense coming from a foreigner.) I finally pulled out my reliable amigo for the length of my Spanish homestay – the Spanish English dictionary on my phone and we agreed to let her cook us a simple meal. Gracias would become my second most used Spanish word.

After dinner, I decide to translate some experiences into binary code on a borrowed net book before I retire to bed.