I chose the particular name for this blog because I tend to be somewhat of a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person. There was no concrete plan for the majority of my travels, and I didn’t want one. However, when Alex decided to meet me in Guatemala for a week I had to change course and take the time to plan. Our prospective list of things to see wouldn’t come close to getting done if I didn’t have the moving parts set up, so I spent the days before his arrival on research and reservations.
The week flew by; we visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal (though Tikal lacks the other-worldliness of Machu Picchu, it more than makes up for it with the green and out-of-control wildness of the surrounding jungle), the black sands of Monterrico, the peaks of Volcano Pacaya, and the colonial city of Antigua. It was a whirlwind week, the pace of which was a major change for me. It was fun to see things from the perspective of someone who has just arrived and is fresh on the travel trail. It was equally apparent to me that I have less energy to tackle the non-stop adventures than I did when I began.
We had toyed with the idea of visiting a spa after the Pacaya Volcano and finally went for it – spa prices in Guatemala are laughably inexpensive. It was a lovely way to tie up the trip, although it felt ridiculously indulgent. I turns out I was only just getting started with ridiculousness.
After Alex left on Saturday, I packed up my things, bid farewell to our airbnb host, and boarded the first of two night flights to New York City. It would be the first time I’d set foot in the states since leaving in May. I arrived exhausted and bleary-eyed after less than five hours of sleep and wanted nothing more than to get to the hotel, get checked in, and go to bed.
As my shuttle drove me through the streets, however, I was strangely energized with that over-tired, loopy, somewhat giddy feeling that happens with that state of mind. The people, the lights, the stores, the restaurants – all of it was so exciting I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenes in the streets passing me by.
I have to add that Amy, the friend I was meeting in New York, has a husband who travels very frequently for work. He generously used his points to get us a room at the JW Marriott in Central Park. Needless to say, when I walked into the opulence of that hotel, my mind boggled a little at the change from my previous surroundings. After being told my room wasn’t quite ready I had to find something to do to keep myself awake in the meantime; I was fairly certain sleeping on the plush couches of the lobby was frowned upon.
Too tired to go in search of other food, I sat down in the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast knowing I would pay more than average for the meal. Beautiful carpets and crystal chandeliers and over-polite servers were everywhere. “Would you like some orange juice?” That sounded good, so I said yes, and nearly choked on the perfectly pulpy, freshly squeezed juice as I cracked the menu and realized it was $8 per glass. I ended up spending more on that meal than on one night’s lodgings during my time in South America. I was finally able to get to my room after breakfast and again struggled a bit – the lights were so complicated that I couldn’t figure out which button to push to turn them off, so I finally yanked the cord out of the wall and promptly fell asleep. When I woke, Amy had arrived.
Amy and I have known each other since we were five years old. We met in the sandbox of my backyard; my family had just moved back from Spain and Amy claims I spoke only Spanish to her when we met. I don’t remember this but trust her memory. During middle and high school we exchanged notes all the time, and for some strange reason I kept all of them. Two years ago, Amy got married and I was petrified I was going to be thrown into the awkward position of publicly speaking; it always seems the microphone is inevitably passed down the table in a wedding whether the bridesmaids are ready or not. Determined to have something good to talk about should that happen, I started reading through some of our old notes, and I found a gem. When we were 16, Amy visited New York and wrote me a note while she was there. She wrote: “Stibby, the year we turn 30 we are going to go to New York to have a shopping spree.” I showed her the note, and since we are both about to leave our 30th year, we decided this needed to get done.
Prior to meeting up, we’d made plans over multiple messages. She had asked if we should do something “ridiculous” like getting facials. I replied that I felt everything we did should be ridiculous. And it was. The hotel room, the shopping, the champagne that her hubby had sent to the room, the jumping on the bed, drinking wine out of cheap water bottles in Times Square and watching the endlessly fascinating people walk by for hours, the fact that we both got our credit cards declined in the same day and the resulting phone call with the company explaining what seemed to them a weird transition from Guatemala to NYC, the strange but funny man hitting on us named Dug who semi-bragged about his “three and a half” DUIs at a tiny boxing bar, the caricature artist at 3 AM who drew two faces unrelated to ours and Amy’s subsequent argument with him. Then there was the excellent food: Thai, and sushi (and sake!), and so many other things I hadn’t had for four months. Through it all, I had moments of giddiness where I couldn’t suppress the smile on my face and the excitement at being back on home ground.