A good friend once remarked that I’m the most positive person he’s ever met. It used to annoy the hell out of him. I hadn’t really thought about it before he said that, but I guess I tend to keep any negativity hidden from the world. I see it and feel it – but usually avoid saying it.
My house sitting experience in Guatemala has been quite a learning experience – that’s my most positive spin on what began as a potential disaster. So, now that my days in this mountaintop casa are numbered in the single digits, and I’m fairly confident I’m no longer a target for the neighborhood gangs, it’s time to search for the lessons – time to find the silver lining in this experience.
But first, a burning question I’ve been asking myself:
“Guatemala: Is it you? Is it me? Or is it the situation?”
I arrived in Guatemala with some pretty high expectations after listening to the rave reviews from some of my friends who absolutely LOVE this country. So now I keep asking myself:
“What is wrong with me?”
“Why am I not feeling it?”
“Where’s the magic?”
Last Sunday, I spent part of the day in Antigua searching for that elusive magic. I left my laptop at home and wandered into town with the intention of losing myself in the wonderful shopping, quaint cafes, and the magical vibe of the city. Shortly after I arrived, the sky opened up and it started to pour. So, I grabbed my umbrella and waded through the flooded cobblestone streets (determined not to let a little rain rain on my parade) and then I ducked into Cafe Bistro and ordered a grande cappuccino. Sipping my cappuccino, I sat back and relaxed, still feeling quite optimistic.
Finally, the rain let up so I headed up the street in search of some cute Guatemalan fashion. I popped into a shop, tried on a few of the frilly, lacy, embroidered tops and remembered I’m not frilly or lacy… so I moved on.
Continuing on my mission to find the magic, I headed for the mercado (local market). A light drizzle persisted as I waded through the puddles and the trash, looking for something even remotely interesting. And then it dawned on me – I AM SPOILED! I’ve spent more than half of my life traveling to exotic locations (been to around 55 countries…) and have spent hours getting lost in the maze of markets in Bali, Thailand, Morocco, and India. I am so spoiled!
Guatemala, it’s not you – it’s me!
Well, it kind of is me, but it’s also the situation…
This house sitting situation, that is. A situation that began with me questioning my personal safety and later found me silently praying for just one more little 6.8 earthquake to give me an excuse to cut my 5-week commitment short!
The Current Situation
When I signed up for this house sitting gig, I knew the house was located outside of Antigua, I just didn’t realize HOW FAR outside Antigua. I underestimated the inconvenience of the remote location. The mountain road leading into town can be treacherous, especially “Dead-Man’s Curve” an 180-degree, steep, blind, cobblestone curve that is sometimes impossible to climb in the rain. I’ve seen cars get stuck there even on a dry day, spinning their wheels and going nowhere.
I’m driving an old Toyota Rav 4, one that had been totaled in the US and found a second life in Central America, and I don’t completely trust it. As a result, I avoid driving at night so I’ve missed a lot of the evening charm of Antigua. I’ve missed out on the live music, charming restaurants, and cute pubs because of my fear of breaking down on that mountain road in the dark and being kidnapped by a gang of armed thugs.
I found this house sitting gig on Trusted Housesitters and, during my first Skype session with the homeowner, I asked about safety. He described the high-tech security system and the two vicious guard dogs. “You’ll be fine!” he said. (Read more about “Fears of a Single White Female” here.) And he’s right, locked behind the castle walls, I probably would be just fine. But that’s not how I want to experience Guatemala!
One day during our pre-departure briefing, he jumped out of the car and accidentally left his pistol lying on the seat. It got me thinking, “WHY does he feel a need to carry a pistol?” I found out later (from a neighbor) that he is involved in a neighborhood feud with a local restaurant owner. There was a physical altercation, he ended up in the hospital with quite a few injuries, and there’s now a lawsuit pending.
So, I discovered I’m spending five weeks house sitting in the midst of a mountaintop neighborhood feud. I can’t help but wonder if “the enemy” senses a perfect opportunity for revenge and I feel kind of like a sitting duck.
(Could this “situation” be partially responsible for numbing my feelings for Guatemala? Perhaps…)
I’ve survived two 6.8 earthquakes in the past four weeks. Just after the second one, I was feeling sorry for myself because the power was out so I couldn’t have my coffee. Then I went for a little walk and saw a local woman carrying a large bundle of wood on her head, and I realized how minor my coffee issue was.
I’ve been living in a castle surrounded by neighbors living in primitive tin sheds and I see how difficult their lives are every day. Just existing is a struggle. They don’t have the luxury of flipping a switch to turn on the coffee maker and I felt guilty for whining about it. I think I’d rather experience Guatemala while doing something worthwhile with a humanitarian group rather than just existing as an entitled Princess in my mountaintop castle. (Maybe next time?)
In the months leading up to my Guatemalan journey, I did quite a bit of research. After all, I was considering moving to Guatemala and wanted to learn as much as possible. One thing I learned – June is the rainy season.
Now, I’ve endured many rainy seasons in my lifetime. Four years ago, I spent six weeks in Thailand’s rainy season. The Summer day typically started out lovely. As the afternoon heated up, the clouds increased and exploded into a brief thunderstorm. It didn’t last long and was actually refreshing as it cleaned and cooled the air. The sky was bluer and the trees were greener!
Guatemala’s rainy season is much different. According to many locals I’ve spoken to, this is the rainiest rainy season they’ve ever seen. In the month I’ve been here, the sun has been a rare sight. Most of the time it’s fifty shades of gray with a layer of cottony clouds surrounding the castle. It makes travel and exploration difficult. It has numbed my brain and dampened my creativity.
It makes me crave the sun!!
(Editor’s note: As I sit here doing a final edit, the sun has returned and it’s a stunningly beautiful day! Mother Nature must have been reading over my shoulder!)
So, where’s the Silver Lining?
My mountaintop casa boasts the most amazing volcano view, but that’s about it for entertainment. Ice cold beer and stunning views. No TV and unreliable wifi (so weak I need to write from a cafe in town!) make for some very long evenings. I try to talk to the dogs but they only speak Spanish.
Fortunately, the homeowner has a collection of at least 500 movies on DVD. I spend most evenings catching up on movies, discovering great ones like “A Good Lie”, “Age of Adeline”, and “Zero Dark Thirty” and rewatching some of my favorites – like “Silver Linings Playbook”.
I had considered joining a gym in Antigua but didn’t want to do the treacherous drive daily. So I started walking every day – down the steep mountain road and back up. The local people think I’m insane, but at an elevation of 7600 feet, it’s a great workout! The property also has a small gazebo (usually used for massage therapy) and I’ve turned that into my yoga and workout studio. This is the first house sitting gig where I am committed to making my health and fitness a priority instead of becoming a lethargic couch potato like I did during my UK house sits last winter! Working out also keeps me mentally sane (well, kind of) on those gray, rainy days!
Bright and Sunny Future!
A few months before arriving in Guatemala I was wrestling with the decision of where to move after Taiwan. Guatemala looked good on paper, but then Nice stole my heart. Still curious about Guatemala, I decided to use this house sitting opportunity to see what my life would have been like if I’d made a different choice. Fortunately, this experience has confirmed that Nice is a much better fit for me! Guatemala is great for a visit, but I don’t think I could live here.
In order to avoid public whining, my Facebook posts are usually nice sunsets, erupting volcanoes, or beer. I manage to capture a few moments in the beauty of a volcanic sunset or lake views from my brief visit to Lake Atitlan, and it creates the illusion of uninterrupted bliss. Friends comment “I want your life!” or “You’ve got it made!” without understanding the bigger picture.
Those people are mostly right – I DO have it made and I know it. I’ve got the freedom to choose these crazy house sitting adventures and to learn from them – always finding the silver lining – and for THAT I’m incredibly grateful.
Thinking of getting into House Sitting? Learn from my mistakes!
Feel free to contact me with any questions!