A blaring buzzer abruptly invades my dreams. I have fallen from that castle in the air to land on the bed of my shadowy hotel room. My eyes are wide open, but I can’t see a thing. I frantically fumble for my phone atop the nightstand. I finally manage to swipe off the alarm, yet my ears are still ringing—most likely a residual effect from the rock music that filled the streets of Antigua until the wee hours.
I hurry through a shower. I notice that dawn is forcing itself around the curtains when I exit the bathroom. Soon there’s a knock at the door.
“¿Señor Nelson?” a woman asks from the hallway.
“El conductor lo espera.” (The driver is waiting for you)
“Ya voy.” (I am on my way)
I shove the last of my possessions into my suitcase before yanking the zipper to the end of its line. Catching up to the receptionist, I hand over my key just as she returns to the front desk. My journey back to Minneapolis has begun.
I am slouched in a seat in Guatemala City a little over an hour later. I look up from my Android to notice a lady with a tablet approaching me in the terminal. Conducting a survey, she wonders if I’d be willing to share with her what I like most about the country.
Having been to Guatemala a few times, I don’t know where to start. But my senses come alive. I picture the picturesque panoramas of Lake Atitlán, and the colorful villages scattered along its mountainous shores. I hear the high school bands parading through the streets of La Estancia on a sunny afternoon. I feel the splinters from inspecting a handmade door in a tiny shop tucked away in the highlands. I detect a hint of sulfur that continues to check in with me while hiking Volcán Pacaya. And I taste the zesty jocotes given to me in the lowlands of Usumatlán.
Be that as it may, I reflect on the individuals tied to these experiences more than anything. The pulpy jocotes take me to a sweltering day of homebuilding in the department of Zacapa. I vividly remember Daisy, the future owner of the residence, tapping me on the shoulder. The offering of red fruit was her way of turning me away from the work for a much-needed breather. The trail on the volcano leads me to Juan, the kind man who led our group up and down Pacaya. Not only did I get to know him, but I also got to meet his brother José, who we ran into while he guided other trekkers. The slivers from the carpentry stir up a conversation with a local woodworker southeast of Xela. I nearly chuckle upon recalling some of the jokes we exchanged.
The procession in La Estancia jogs my memory about the grocery runs I did with Nicolasa and Evelina to the town’s market. Their home cooking kept our crew of volunteers well fed for a week and a half. Lastly, the amazing views direct me to the drivers, such as Eladio, who drove my teammates and me across beautiful landscapes, stopping at scenic overlooks along the way. It was Eladio, in fact, who was parked on the cobblestones outside of Casa Rustica this morning.
My Guatemala Takeaway
Because he had picked me up from the airport a couple weeks earlier, I instantly recognized his moustache-capped smile when I stepped out of the inn. He told me all about his wife, kids, not to mention his pet turtle, before dropping me off at La Aurora International.
“La gente,” I reply. (The people)
Written by: Tyrel Nelson
Tyrel Nelson has been leading volunteer trips since 2007. He enjoys traveling the globe with his wife, Alyssa, playing guitar, hot yoga, cold-weather 5ks, and slow-pitch softball. He teaches Spanish and continues to write in his native Minnesota.