Completing the circle

Trip Start Feb 24, 2012
Trip End Aug 04, 2012

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Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Thursday, May 24, 2012

We entered into Guatemala for the first time in three months. It felt like crossing the finish line and coming home. 

As soon as we entered and started seeing the familiar propaganda painted up for cell phone companies, the Gallo beer ads, and political slogans we felt a twinge of homecoming.  Then when we were driving along and commenting on how good the road was – suddenly we ran into a roadblock because a bridge had been washed out during a rainstorm at some unknown time. 

Then we turned around and took a really bad dirt road.  On this road we had to wait in a long line of cars and trucks because the bridge here was only 1 lane.  So there was a bunch of entrepreneurial people set up to sell food to the waiting cars.  And then a guy in the brand new Toyota Hilux pulled up behind us with a man carrying a shot gun in the bed of the truck.  We knew the man inside the tinted truck was most likely the local mayor.  None of these things happened to us in other countries.

At the border entering El Salvador we met men working for immigration that checked our passports and then told us their stories about entering the US illegally.

In Honduras we were stuck for an hour and a half in one place because the police decided to set up a check point and stop almost every car.  When we got there the policeman asked me what I was in the back of the car.  I told him personal belongings.  He in coyly asked if I had anything for him.  Not knowing what to say, I said no.  We both smiled and he motioned for us to move on.

In Nicaragua we were stopped by 4 police checkpoints and gave two of them a "donation."  One specifically asked for money to buy a cold drink because it was too hot out.  At another one we were forced to buy a $20 fire extinguisher.

In Panama we had to drive across a dam to get from the west to the east.  There was a booth where you paid a fee to cross it.  As we were paying a cop the fee to cross the dam another cop came running out of the booth.  He asked to see our passports and then with too much enthusiasm to be sober, started chanting U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A at the top of his lungs with an exuberant fist pump in the air.  We thanked him kindly for his excitement for our country, got our passports back, drove away, and then started laughing at out absurd the scene was.

Each country has it's own idiosyncrasies and secrets, but it is those in Guatemala that we have lived with for two years that feel so familiar. 

Returning to Guatemala it feels like meeting with an old friend.  We don't need to wonder as much about those weird quirks, we get them a little bit and accept them, and love them.  We understand to some degree why the bridge hasn't been fixed, why the mayor needs a shot gun in the back, and why people say vaya all the time with the air of passive acceptation of bad situations. 

We don’t need to look at the map as much.  We know where we want to go.  We revisited our favorite restaurants. We saw friends.  We can drop slang words that would help people know we were familiar with their country.  It feels like home.

Another great thing about the circle we just made is that we were able to see the changes from the rain.  We headed south at the end of the dry season and everything looked dead.  There were trees but everything was dried up and thirsty.  On the way north we drove through the same landscapes but they looked completely different, everything was a brilliant green.  It was the full circle from extremely dry to extremely moist in just a few weeks from just a few rain showers.

Now we are setting out for the second stage of the trip: driving through Mexico to Minnesota.  This was the part of the trip that was the most debated – for safety and logistical reasons.  But over the past three months in the hours we have been driving we have discussed where the new finish line will be.  As much as we have fallen more in love with Central America we both want to go back to school in the states. 

So even though we left Guatemala a couple of months ago with farewell parties, now it feels like we are really leaving.  It will not be the last time, but for the moment Guatemala is no longer our home.  Now onto the new finish line in Minnesota - a new place to call home for a year.  But first to see as much of Mexico as we can in six weeks.
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