Guatemala: Three Revelations

GUA > LGA 8/1/16

Three things revealed themselves on this most recent trip to Guatemala.

1) I do not wish to move to Guatemala, and pursue a life there. [Traveling back to a place I once believed this to be the opposite feeling, I can attempt to note the differences between experiences.]

2) It is probably in my future to have some extended garden or tiny farmland, in order to cultivate a more balanced life. OR "Worthwhile projects are never complete."

3) A more succinct work thesis - that the reason I travel, film, and photograph and share these things with the public, is to compress the distance between you and a story; a story you either don’t have access to at this moment, or didn’t know you needed to hear, see, or experience.

Four years ago, for two months out of half the year, I lived simply on a $500/month stipend. During two of those months, I worked for a nonprofit, traveled to fairly remote parts of the country, and lived in an incredible hotel in the heart of a town at the edge of a lake. I saw peers, colleagues, and ex-pats living affordably, in a lush and verdant “city” on a body of water, whose sheer beauty was always dwarfed by three majestic volcanoes. I grew more than fond of the novelty of a tortilleria on every block, where I picked up a bag of freshly hand-formed, hand-patted, and hand-grilled tortillas, daily. You couldn’t shake me from my ritual walk to the market for two bananas, one or two avocados, and a mango for breakfast every day; nor could you convince me that the Guatemalan tipico fabric and woven textiles (rooted in ancient Mayan culture) doesn’t make for the most beautiful clothing in the world.

And so, with the illusion that life is and was the most grand it could be, I - at 22 years young - thought I found a future home. When? I didn’t know - but it felt concrete.

At present, I have made up my mind that this is not a future home, but a place to continue to travel for healthy lengths of time (7-10 days is, in my opinion, an unhealthy and too-brief amount of time to spend in an entirely different culture, especially in Latin America). I still dream of improving my Spanish with every visit, to acquire colloquialisms that indicate I’ve retained something more than just a a tourist t-shirt, to show that I care.

Definitely in line with a future trip is a coffee roasting apprenticeship with Mike from Crossroads Cafe, or at least visits to multiple coffee fincas, and understand more than just a coffee cupping (although until that happens, I will continue to try to make Tandem Coffee’s weekly 12pm cupping with Emily, or find Counter Culture Counter Intelligence Training Center and further the knowledge from afar). With conversations about climate, fresh coffee berries still on the branch, and green beans ready to roast, there is so much more to learn about this anxiety-inducing, creativity-fueling spoil of the ancient + modern world that we know as coffee.

My personal request for any man or woman who endeavors to preserve an ancient cultural tradition, or if you fancy yourself a budding loom-weaver, or fabric savant, do yourself a favor and go to Guatemala. Go into the highlands, go to the lakes, go to the pueblos where ancient techniques are being lost. People are not buying - and thus supporting - the hand making of brand new guipiles, because the market for second-hand and vintage vestments are becoming so saturated that the demand for new textiles isn’t there, and thus this special, niche skill might be lost forever.

(Refer to Heidi Villatoro's Atipico, where she is trying to cultivate a business to allow men and women to continue practicing these arts here.)

Walking through fields of cilantro, lines of young avocado trees, and witnessing the solar-driven dehydration of herbs, fruits, and vegetables in Cantel, on Marco Cruz’s organic farm, it was hard not to want all of it. For lunch we had humble - but sizable - plates of veggies right from the garden, picked that morning. Carrots, potatoes, beans, corn-on-cob, avocado, all stewed with the beef stock for our bowl of soup. We drank cardamom coffee and snacked on dried apples, plantains, and habaneros from steps away. This is the beauty of having some land to cultivate and appreciate. 

Marco, who runs a cooperative of organic farms in the region, spoke of how he could have been working in the capital, making more money than he would know what to do with. He is a decorated member of the country’s military, and has more degrees than I thought I knew he had. His pursuit of knowledge of many areas is inspiring - he is one of those generalists I so admire. Yet with all of these scholarly and military feats, he consciously decided to become an organic farmer. He tells us it is because he was searching for balance, and being at home and with farmers and proactively engaging with his land is what’s going to shape a day-to-day that brings him the most joy. 

There is no secret here. People are catching on all over. In Maine (I keep reminding folks after the Farmland Trust’s Annual meeting last October), we have the country’s highest number of small farms (and growing), with the lowest average age farmer. Lowest average age + Most small farms = The young farmer movement is HAPPENING!

The green thumb comes first. The farm, second. The balanced life of health and uplifting conversations with communities about food, farming, and the future: continual.

Mike at Crossroads Cafe in Panajachel told me on Sunday that he can’t believe it’s been four years since we saw each other last. I compared the amount of completeness I observed in his self-built home. When in Guate in 2012, his home was merely a cement and stone structure, merely the bones. No windows; construction and painting materials lay everywhere. He and his wife Adele were camping in tents in what would become their master bedroom. We drank coffee at sunset on the rooftop over his future living room.

He then remarks that in life, the things you start and build will never be complete. He has been building this property from empty hillside for 12 years. In four years since I was there, he notes the amazing feeling of “completeness” - but only by comparison. When I describe the house then, versus what we were communing in those couple nights ago, the differences are remarkable, and yes, he says, it does feel more finished. But he cautions that it never really ends, and just to know that life maintenance will persist, and to just keep fording along through adventures and misadventures.

In my eyes, this thought of Mike’s augments the connection to a living, breathing home with farmland. A farm plot will never be finished if one takes good care of it. Treats the soil better than when you first began working in it, and it hopefully never becomes a finished product. This is one of my more notable reveals for the future.

Not two weeks ago, leaving a work trip in Charleston, SC, and meeting friends and family in Atlanta, GA, I made the conscious (albeit easy) decision to pit-stop in Irmo, South Carolina. Here stands the temporary apartment of dear friends John and Ashley. They moved recently, and plan to move again after just closing on a home in the next town over.

Although I didn’t make much of it during the expedient dinner, John said something that stirred me. In passing, he confesses that he doesn’t always follow the media/writing I send out into the world. He says that it makes him feel a tiny bit depressed that he’s not doing something similar. I take pause at this idea, because if not for my closest friends and family, and for a personal record of history, why am I sharing in the first place?

The past week, in Guatemala, I tried to be conscious of what and how I shared content through outlets such as Instagram, Facebook, and this personal blog. There is no “holier than thou” or “look at me” complex I am feeding, but why now am I so self-conscious? I don’t mean to alienate myself or my friends. I aim to include you all in these stories.

It wasn’t until last night, in the 240 square foot Crossroads Cafe in Panajachel, nearing the end of a three hour visit with Mike and Adele (the cafe owners and friends from four years ago), that Mike articulated what I could not to John two weeks ago. 

Just as I have been, Mike at the cafe has been bitten by the travel bug. It will forever remain a blessing and a curse, because once one’s eyes have been opened to the people and places and cultural differences around the world, it’s hard to close them; to return to a life categorically more stale than that initial adventure from whence he or she first embarks.

Because of this fact, aided with the employing of cameras, I choose to engage with everyone I can, in order to learn their story. I choose to understand the reasons behind different meals and cuisines, expression of different ideas, and more, with the hope that someone seeing or hearing or experiencing them, is influenced. Whether it be an enormous inspiration, or one more subtle, it is possible that someone else’s story impacts your life.

And so, for you, John, and for anyone else who might occasionally feel down when they see something I share, I hope to clear up any ill-seeming intention to boast about travels and work. 

[“Fear of Missing Out” - neé FOMO - is bullshit. Everyone has their own journey, their own timeline. So the next time you ignore a story, dismiss a point of view, or denigrate the integrity behind authentic thought and image sharing, remember there are storytellers like me who aim to shorten the divide, and bridge experiences for anyone who remains open to them. ]

Stay with me on this, and down the line, as I try to positively shorten the distance between you and a good story.