In 2018, I bought a passport as a 28th birthday present to myself. Neither of my parents have owned a passport, so this was a huge deal in changing family lines. I don’t believe in resolutions, but I do believe in goals. My goal was to leave the country multiple times before I hit 30–simply because I noticed this as a trend of successful people. I thought that during my road trip, I’d hit Canada as my first passport use (I went to Mexico a couple times long ago–before passports became required in 2009). Unfortunately, coming home as quickly as I did meant missing this chance. But I hadn’t realized an even better opportunity would be awaiting!
Late September, when my Mom began to feel a little more stable, I went to the farmers market seeking ways to feel normal and to recalibrate to being home for awhile. While there, I saw my friend, whom I’d often score delicious Poke from, and he asked if I’d help sell his vodka. Sounding like a fun endeavor, I agreed. I had no idea that it would lead to the most exciting adventure possible.
The second week of October came, and my Mom was ready to get back into the swing of life–and told me to go back to living my life as best as possible. So I started selling for Luna Sea Vodka in Santa Cruz, CA. While on the road, I found myself chatting about Santa Cruz frequently, and relished at the fact that this was a chance to return to that community.
Sales came naturally to me–a tall blonde with the ability to drink–and I thoroughly enjoyed working with my longtime buddy. He apparently had a tequilla business in Guatemala while living there, and shared many of the details with me. So when he called to say he needed to go down there to help a friend, and he wanted me to go with him, it came as no surprise. “We leave in 3 days.” “Ok, lets do it.” “Yeah? :)” Yeah. :)”
And of course I was naive to think it was just work-related. There were only a few moments of “work.” He took me out of the country with intention of confessing his long time crush for me. I was happy about it. We’re very compatible.
Now on to Guatemala!
It is significantly more affordable to fly out of Tiajuana than it is to fly out of CA, so we drove down to San Diego, parked at a friend’s house, and made our way to the TJ airport.
Once on the otherside of the infamous wall, “Empathy” was written out in tied ribbons. It was beautiful to see. We got on our flight, and had to catch connecting flights before making it to the outskirts of Guatemala, where we had to drive in to reach Antigua.
During the connecting flights, I had some of the best food–Mexico City airport has AMAZING tortilla soup, and surrounding hotels serve delicious breakfast buffets with fresh fruit, carnitas, roasted peppers, among other food. I know its strange to say, but that was some of the best tasting authentic food of the trip–Guatemala doesn’t use much spice, and the only memorable food there came from French restaraunts! I was warned about this, didn’t believe it, but now would try to fill up on food at the airport before landing in Guatemala.
Antigua is…simply beautiful. It is entirely easily to romanticize: old architecture, cobblestone streets, luscious parks and trees, ample night life, scenic volcanoes all around. Active volcanoes. The first morning there, I woke up at 7:30 to hear cracking sounds. “Did you hear that?” “Yeah, that’s the volcano.” Deven, my boss/friend/boyfriend, showed me pictures from when he lived there–the volcanoes regularly erupt and living within the lava range puts people at risk for death. The pictures showed glowing lava, burned houses, and piles of deceased people. This is their norm.
We walked down the street–away from the plushy hotel (Camino Real), to an authentic breakfast place (the food was very bland, although cheap. maybe $5). On the way there, I saw a few people begging in the streets, with tin cans, and felt reminiscent of San Francisco. “Did you see that?” “Yeah, I thought there’d be more of that in the third world. It reminds me of walking through SF.” “Yeah, but in SF, it’s not the police, firemen, and EMTs begging.” My eyes widened as I looked back. Sure enough, it was the infrastructure begging to get money for gas. Apparently, the state does not pay the gas or maintenance for public vehicles, which leaves the ill and ill-fated left in to suffer unless they have money to pay and bribe officials to take care of them. This left me feeling eerie, and very grateful that Deven called in his old bodyguard for the nightlife escapades.
While in Antigua, we went to:
-Cafe No Se (a world-famous Mescal bar. Ilegal Mescal)
-Santa Domingo Hotel (notoriously haunted–it is)
-Door 11 (cool little outdoor bar)
-Cierre de La Cruz (the “work” portion–a photo shoot)
-Divas 2 (a brothel–prostitution is legal in Guatemala)
-The Ruins (a church from the 1500’s)
-Zacappa Rum Bar
-Mercado (an underground market place that police won’t enter)
-McDonalds (this is FANCY. See main photo)
The laws around Antigua was rough to wrap my head around–bars had to close at 11pm, yet there was open panhandling, theft, and prostitution in the park. The Mercada is a market place that EVERYONE goes to for anything, yet is run by the gangs and cops refuse to enter because they will get murdered. Everyone is for sale. Want to stay at a bar later than 11? Give them 100 Qezalas ($13.36 American dollars). Want to have someone killed? How about 500 Q? (Ok, I don’t really know that, but those were the vibes).
Whenever we would go out for dinner, the body guard would stand across the street, staring at the front door and us. It was so uncomfortable–to know that I am lower middle class here, but considered incredibly rich there to the point of needing an extra set of eyes. Eventually, I convinced him to hang out with us in Cafe No Se. Apparently mescal communicates.
Naturally, aside from communication issues (I don’t speak Spanish unfortunately), I got along with everyone I met. There are a lot of nice people there, even with the blunt class difference. At one point, a lovely women, in her best English, invited me to go to yoga with her! It was for the day we were leaving so I had to decline, but that is definitely an example of how people and activities don’t vary all that much from country to country.
While hanging out, we ran into an old friend of Deven’s–a friend who is a cop. He allowed us to take a few funny photos with the vodka in the woods with a cop car. We can’t really use them for public marketing, but it is still hilarious to have.
After the photo shoot, a friend, a cop, and a body guard decide to go to the local brothel–and got me special permission to go inside (Deven refused to join if I couldn’t be there–something about being noble, and I liked that). I was the only woman in there not working–women are not allowed in because they can compete with the working ladies; and even if they could go, the local women HATE the name “Diva’s.” Prositution and sexual bribery is rampant there.
While there, I got some of the women laughing with my broken spanish (I befriended the body guard until he was willing to help me learn some words. Side note: by the time we left, I could understand 40% of what was going on). I called them all “Bonita” and from what I could understand, they did not find it degrading to work there. They were able to choose their own Johns, it paid better than the majority of other work, and the owner was a woman! It isn’t at all what I imagine the underground prositution ring in America to be like. I felt safe the entire time, and the women didn’t look dead in the eyes. At one point, I began dancing on the stage with one of the girls, laughing and smiling. When we left, she gave me the most sincere hug, and all the men cheered for Deven as we walked outside–his arm around me. That was quite the loud experience–especially for someone who had never left the country.
While this was an absolutely crazy experience–it was possibly one of the more enlightening ones. On the drive in to Antigua, we kept passing what is called “Automotels.” Here, for a nominal price, rooms are for rent by the hour for couples, prostitutes, and secretaries. I couldn’t understand before seeing Antigua first hand. Most people only make 200-500 Q monthly ($26-65 American dollars), which leaves them packed into houses with multiple families to afford rent. This means no privacy for love making between couples. No place to explore sexuality. And to be a working woman outside of Divas, there is very little option but to find a job where the boss is bribed with sexual favor. So Automotels exist. And are popular. I found it very sad, but all of the locals–men and women–assured me how necessary and normal they are. Everything is merely perspective.
Once the first couple nights passed, we calmed down and acquired more wholesome experiences. There are several ruins around Antigua, as it is a city of deep historical value. We went to the church from the 1500’s, which was beauitful, and cost $0.25 American money to enter. It rained while we were exploring, and I was instructed to quickly hide under an umbrella–the water is very contaminated there, and the rain is known to make everyone sick. I tested this theory later on, and it was right.
After the decreped church, we went to the Mercado, where I was able to obtain some local fruit (soo yummy), a few presents, and perspective. This place was like a flea market meets a farmers market meets a mall, meets a fire hazard. Aisles were barely wide enough to walk through, with items for sale looming far overhead. The meat was rotting, as it was not on ice, yet people still bought it. The fruit was brought in at 5 in the morning by local farms. It was a bustling, huge place that would be easy to get lost in–and I mean literally lost. I quickly made my purchases and got out, it was overwhelmingly stuffed in there.
After the Mercado, a drink was needed. We went to the Zacappa Rum shop–a rum from Guatemala that is beyond delicious. And there was a beautiful downstairs lounge. We got to leave the shop with Rum only made for Guatemala–only 6,000 bottles of this particular rum are made there yearly. It was sweet, smooth, the perfect gift for large, long standing accounts. After making the purchase, we walked around the shops a little bit. There was a beautiful jade jewelery store, and because we were both getting jewelery there, the salespeople brought out glasses and encouraged us to drink the rum while we were hanging out! I’ve never heard of this before, especially considering how little we were actually spending there.
The next day, on our way out of Antigua to Guatemala City, we stopped in the McDonalds. I was not excited, because I abhor fast food, but it was different there. Because the cuisine is so bland in Guatemala, many families will host graduations, birthdays, and other special events at McD’s. And this place was FANCY. It was huge–hundreds of people could fit there. The outdoor patio was lined with bushes, and in the center was a beautiful water fountain. Background to the fountain is an active volcano, and another set of ruins. It was here that it started raining and I didn’t immediately run for shelter. I woke up with swollen glands the next morning. The rain is seriously a threat.
Guatemala City: The Final Day
Guatemala City is the nearest airport, which is still an hour away. I was assured that Guatemala City is very dangerous and not as fun to explore as Antigua, so we got in pretty late to avoid temptation. If someone who lived in Antigua thought a place was dangerous, that felt like a safe assessment to trust.
While there, we found another old friend of Deven’s–a French chef. He was on a romantic date with his wife, but they welcomed us with open arms. The restaurant they were at had the strangest sign–the glass door had a “NO GUNS” symbol etched into it. Okay, probably a dangerous place. The food was delicious, though. And for being the top restaurant there (exquisite ambience and design, unique wine decanters, the menu included foie gras) we only spent per plate what one would normally spend at the Olive Garden for a big meal. Being American here really did mean being rich. It was such a strange feeling–I felt so blessed, humbled, and sad all at once. Nothing in America has ever felt so imbalanced to me. I work hard, but I will never have to work nearly as hard as the natives there have to just to survive. My work gets me fancy meals and into other countries. Their work gets them a shared house and fear of starvation.
After the decadent meal, we went to a local bar for Deven and them to catch up. It was at this place called Rattle and Hum. It was super cute as part of the bar sat outside, with stools on the sidewalk. The strange part was the parking. When we got out of the car, a small group of men asked the friend for money to “watch his car.” He handed him money, and I asked him why, when we could literally see his car from our seats. “If I didn’t pay them, they would break into my car. I’m paying them to not break into my car. Sometimes they’ll even wash my car if I tip them enough.” The criminals have found a way to get paid. Crime was blunt yet organized.
After a few hours, we finally returned to the hotel, with 5 hours before we had to get to the airport. The flight left at 6, so we decided we had to get there at 4. The airport didn’t even open until 2:30, so this seemed reasonable. Our return flight was booked earlier, with Interjet, who got us there. The flight in was cool because it offered unlimited drinks, and a tasty sandwhich.
We got to the airport with 15 minutes extra at 3:45, only to find that the Interjet terminal check in was closed. There was no way to check our bags. So we ran up to the Interjet office where we became the first of 8 customers with the same complaint. Interjet refused to let us onto the flight because we did not arrive 4 hours prior to take off. “But you’re not even open at that time, and there’s more than enough time to get us ALL on the flight!” “Well, those are the rules.” After several calls and back and forth, the “best” they could offer was to charge us an extra $500 per person to get us on the next flight, and only get us to Mexico City, where we would need to buy new tickets to Tiajuana. Defeated and angry, and tired, we returned to the hotel to get rest. Thank goodness the uber ride between the hotel and airport was only $1.50.
Surprise! An Extra Day
When we returned to the hotel, there was a stroke of luck–another company, AeroMexico, had a flight going out afternoon of the next day for a reasonable rate (it was cheaper than the alternative Interjet offered). It wasn’t direct, but it didn’t have such strange rules. We’d be in America on Halloween. So we called up his friends, and made a day of fun out of our “misfortune.”
Earlier in the year, I had a repeated dream of playing catch with my friends, but the ball would turn into a yellow and orange butterfly, friends would disappear, and peace would surround me. A butterfly in dreams represents change, and yellow and orange denotes happiness. I decided that this trip, right after my states’ journey, is the catalyst to that change. So I went and got a tattoo in Guatemala City from “Soul’s Anchor Tattoo.” It was a third of the price I was quoted for in Santa Cruz for the same art, artists here don’t expect tips, and this artist was the coolest with clean style. Somehow the only English-speaking artist at Soul’s Anchor (English was self taught through music) was interested in Crystal healing and was well traveled. The conversation was about as amazing as the art itself. My self-given souvenir will always be on me, and it sits as a reminder to accept change in all forms.
The day involved more decadent meals at his French chef friend’s retaurant, Metiz. I don’t think I ever ate so much fancy food. Meats, carbs, creams, all complimented by full bodied wines. After lunch, we drove over to Cayala. Cayala is like the Miami of Guatemala City. It is a place where people essentially launder their money by buying over-priced condos in a sub-city that nobody lives in. The shops, such as Coach and Tiffany’s, don’t generate enough foot traffic to make rent, yet are paid by the owners of the complex to stay in business. It was another gross-feeling place disguised by beauty and detail. It had the smoothest streets, LED lights draped between buildings, fresh paints, but barely any life. “Who buys these?” “Mostly drug dealers.”
We returned to Metiz’s after Cayala, where we sat drinking fine whiskey until it was time to grab some sleep before the next flight attempt. We made it to Tiajuana, and eventually San Diego the next day, on Halloween. Novemeber 1st was the final descent home–it felt insanely long after the 22 hours of sleep we managed to get over the course of 8 days.
By now, you should know my blogs tend to host a story of synchronicity. This one is no different. After missing the first flight, Deven was justifiably upset. I did my best to keep it positive: “You never know, maybe that flight crashes and the universe didn’t want us on it.” He called his Mom and she gave him a similar response (her and I are similar spiritually–before going, she wanted to be sure I was bringing my protection crystals to offset any negative energy cast at him for having success).
I never realized I was the one who would benefit greatly from that missed flight.
My online classes started 10/30, with assignments due on 10/31. When we got to the San Diego hotel, he sat with his head in his hands “I am so sorry I made you miss the start of your classes. Are you going to be ok?” I was a little sad “I may have to drop them, but this trip was worth every minute. I’ll figure it out.”
When we got back to Santa Cruz, I unpacked, and got straight to classes. I had missed too much in half of them (I was enrolled in 4). There would be no catching up, and any catching up would only get me a “C” with severe stress (I’m currently a 3.8 GPA). So I called my advisor…to find out I had a new advisor, who is from my hometown despite the school being 300 miles away. Her and I bonded, and I told her my simple education goal: to finish the last units of my degree as quickly as possible. She seemed confused. “You live in the bay area though? And you want online classes? Are you picky about what you major in?” After an hour of her finaggling ideas, she called me back. Apparently my old advisor had me in a mix degree program that would require me to drive to Lake Tahoe for classes. And I would have 3 semesters left as a full time student. She fixed it–I would need to stay enrolled in 2 classes (which I was fine with anyway), switch my major from Global Business Management to General Studies of Business, Literature, and Politics, and take one final semester. It saved me a year of time, nearly $15k in student debt, and I graduate May 16. If we had not missed that flight, I would have remained enrolled in those classes and potentially started this current semester with a very rude awakening.
Aside from gaining worldy perspective, a few stamps on my passport, becoming humbled while learning what it feels like to live akin to upper class, falling in love, and changing family lines through travel, I gained an official graduation date. I couldn’t have planned a better premier out of the country. And I am so grateful.
As always, thank you for following my blog. I don’t know what will be posted next, but I can promise it will be heartfelt with meaning.