I was beginning to wonder this morning if we hadn’t bitten off a bit too much on this trip. Rain, fatigue and long travel days (and nights) were taking their toll. I was questioning what the kids were really getting out of this experience. Eight more weeks in Central America felt like an eternity.
Perhaps most difficult part was the fact that the deeper we’d ventured into Guatemala, the more difficult it had become for Jorge and me to communicate with our limited Spanish.
This morning, we took the ferry from Panajachel across Lake Atitlán to San Pedro. When we arrived with no hotel reservations, this small, quirky out-of-the way town seemed about to do us in. As we stood a block from the dock, we read from the guide book that no mid or high range hotels existed. I found myself becoming annoyed for not paying more attention to our itinerary.
This hillside lake town was mostly traditionally dressed Maya, with some travelers, and a few quirky uncategorized who came and never left, as is often found in off-the-path, but still marginally touristed towns. We set out to find a hotel. The first hotel we saw was unthinkable.
Jorge reluctantly said we’d take it.
I saw fear on the kids faces, and though I was trying to disguise my own anxiety, it was apparent to the children that things weren’t looking good.
No doubt frustrated by their parents’ poor Spanish and motivated by the need for a toilet seat, a clean bathroom, and a porch hammock, the kids took action.
So here’s how they saved the day and found a lovely room: Weighted down by their backpacks, Dylan and Abigail intrepidly walked in the gate of one hotel after they next. They’d look around for the office and find someone to help. Speaking in Spanish, Dylan would ask if they had a room for 4. Abigail would pipe in, also in Spanish–2 adults, 2 children. Then they’d ask to see it. Led to the room by the clerk, they’d set off up the steps, and I’d follow a distance behind.
I’d look on in awe as they’d do all the things they’d watched Jorge and me do–they’d check out the bathroom, look behind the shower curtain, and check the bed. And they’d say what they’d heard us say: they’d make a nice non-committal comment and as they’d walk back out of the room, Dylan would ask the price. Abigail would remind the clerk that two of the people were little kids and always asked if they’d charge less for kids. They’d inquire about the hot water and Wifi. If there was no lake view, they’d ask if there was a room with a nicer view. Then they’d thank the clerk, and explain that they were going to walk around and think about it a bit. It was like a little Jorge and Susannah, except that entire interaction was conducted in Spanish.
Their efforts paid off. After the sixth hotel, all unsuitable, they finally found one. It was clean, had three beds, two hammocks (!) and a private patio garden. They negotiated half-price for kids and as they started to walk away, the clerk, obviously entertained by the duo, said he’d take off another 25 Quetzales if they came back and took the room.
So for the moment, as I watch the kids swing on their hammocks, I’ve stopped wondering what they’re getting out of this trip, if we’re watching too much soccer on TV, spending too many hours in hammocks, or not eating enough vegetables. Today they arrived as strangers in a town. Within an hour, they were swinging on twin hammocks on the porch of their tidy garden room.The lesson to me is that we did, in fact, bite off a bit too much to take this trip. But, I’m beginning to see that biting off a bit too much makes us better parents. If we loved them by keeping their days planned and pre-booked, we’d miss out on giving the kids the chance to have experiences where they are genuinely in control of their destiny.
In our first-world life, it’s hard to find a situation where children are forced to use problem solving skills when it really matters, weigh priorities which directly impact their comfort, and negotiate with adults, more than just trying getting more screen time.
We joke that after growing up with such intense traveling summers, they’ll never want to leave the comforts of home again when they’re adults. But tonight, that worry doesn’t matter as much as the realization that through these trips, the world has become internalized for each of them in a way that they will never loose.