It was a tough goodbye this time.
Simon choked up in tears when I left, and it hurt to say goodbye to my twelve-year-old buddy, not knowing how long it would be until I saw him again. The rest of the kids, equally hard! Leg hugs from a few and kisses from all.
I left San Pedro on Tuesday after staying up all night for a 2:30 AM interview with a Podcast based out of Norway, "Zero To Travel." Christina and I had a blast telling a little bit of our family story. Looking back at all we have been through as friends and as a married couple is something that always brings us closer.
The following morning I packed up a backpack with two pairs of shorts, a sweater, and a bag packed with 30lbs of Maria's coffee to take back with me to Canada. Leaving Guatemala to paint wasn't our first choice. Still, as we looked at our finances, we took stock and conceded that some more sacrifices would have to be made to continue our Guatemalan life and projects.
And so it was! I quickly lined up some contracts with former employers in Canada, booked a plane ticket, and was on a chicken bus to the capital before I knew it.
I arrived in Guatemala City around 7 PM, with my flight scheduled to leave at 6:00 AM the following morning. The suggested time for check-in by the airline was 3 AM. Since I had stayed up the night before, I dared not book into a hotel to sleep from 8:pm-2:00 AM out of fear that I would not be able to wake up.
So, straight to the airport, it was!
I sat in the empty airport and read, talked to my kids on FaceTime, and tried to sleep in the spot where the line was to form eventually. It was unusually hot and humid, and I couldn't sleep. Finally, 3 AM rolled around, and I was the first in line to check into a flight for the first time in my existence! I went through security, and they asked me to remove my shoes. I was incredibly embarrassed that no one else was around without their shoes off. Nope, there was no blaming someone else; that smell was all me.
I got my shoes back on as quickly as possible, no mask worn could've helped. I actually felt sorry for the girl handling the bins! When getting ready, I had stolen the nylon socks from Simon's laundry pile the previous morning. I'm always in sandals in Guatemala and don't usually need socks.
"Wheeew" I was relieved when that moment was over.
I cleared customs with an exit stamp and was off to my gate, now thinking about the next three layovers where I would need to take my shoes off again. A situation that could only continue to deteriorate into more embarrassment!
I boarded and found my emergency exit window seat. Unsurprisingly, I fell asleep the moment after my row had been briefed on the emergency aisle security measures and protocols. In what seemed like a moment I was woken up and everyone was getting off. "Wow! I was tired," I thought.
Being one of the last off the plane, I was extremely tripped out to find myself stepping back into the Guatemalan airport. Directed towards the arrivals, customs, and baggage pickup carrousel, I couldn't help but imagine I had just gone through the best time warp possible, and all my work in Canada was done! However, this is not a fairytale. A mechanical issue had prompted the Captain to call off the flight and have all passengers get off the plane. Although I never left the country, I filled out a customs form and waited in line to get a new visa stamp for legal "re-entry."
It was weird. By this time, I was in the twilight zone with the bit of sleep I had over the previous 72 hours. I looked at the United Airlines cue as I re-entered the departures wing and laughed. "The first shall be last."
After another 6 hours in lines and the mother of all stinky-sock security check performances, I was back in business, same seat, same plane, minus (I hoped) the mechanical issue. I was re-routed and given a hotel stay in Houston at the Sheraton hotel along with three 10$ meal tickets as an apology from the airline.
Except, the hotel shuttle didn't come. And by about 10:00 PM, some other passengers from Belgium that were in the same situation as me figured out an Uber and invited me along with them. The cool part about this is that I could connect with them and gave them one pound of coffee along with the story of where it came from. With them, I could also send a bag of Maria's coffee to the artist in Belgium who had reached out to us months ago when we were first starting.
She painted this picture of Mimi, one of our kid's club regulars, picking up plastic along the shoreline for the coffee packaging labels.
By now, I imagine that Heather Hunt, our collaborating artist in Belgium, is sipping, or very-soon-to-be-sipping, on Maria's coffee for the first time, thanks to the whole mishap with the airline! Isn't life fun?! Thanks, United Airlines!
I was thankful for a hotel with hot water and very nice smelling shampoo to wash my socks. I jimmy-rigged a sock drying system from the courtesy hotel pen jammed into the blasting vent on the wall. My socks were dry in no time and smelled just like Spring Mist.
I eventually landed in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon to keep things rolling.
A fascinating part of the journey that I had been anticipating was the hitchhiking from Vancouver to Rossland. For me, hitchhiking has always been an exercise of "fishing for good people." In my experience, you put your thumb out and are (almost always) bound to find amiable people with whom to visit and share stories.
I hopped onto the sky train to Commercial drive and Broadway and took the B-line to boundary road. From there, it was time to walk towards the highway with my now only 28lbs of coffee. Once on the road, I did my best to find a suitable and safe place to put my thumb out, but there was none. The highway, by design, is made to not be good to pull over on. I walked and walked and walked and cursed my decision to bring a 30, now 28 lb bag of coffee with me. I walked with the bag on my head balanced like the Guatemalan ladies carry their corn, with a thumb out to only eventually be picked up by some cops once it began to get dark out.
They were the most excellent police officers I have met in my life.
While devastated, disillusioned, and beyond tired, my conversation with these two gentlemen gave me hope in humanity as they dropped me off at a Tim Hortons in Coquitlam close-(ish) to a sky train station. This journey was increasingly becoming an adventure of feeling what life was like for Canadians now stuck in cycles of poverty. An essential part of this story is that my phone was dead. But, even with the charge, I have no Canadian phone plan. Without a vehicle and phone, I could experience a tiny bit of just how difficult life is for those who have, for whatever reason, landed up without a home and job. If you don't have a car and need to get out of the city, you better have people you can count on. Most in these situations do not.
After checking out a few hotels, I decided I could not justify the outrageous pricing for a night, "That's almost an entire 20 days of wages in Guatemala", I thought. I rode the sky train back into Vancouver to find the bus station also now closed. I surrendered to sleeping on the sky train until it shut and, finally, on a street bench for the night, tightly gripping my two bags.
(To be continued!)
The purpose of my trip back to Canada is to raise the funding (and awareness) of our project needed to provide another calendar year of finances for our projects and living expenses in Guatemala. Our goal is to work for, and raise, a total of $44,200. By taking this break, we will be able to focus solely on the programs that have taken off so well this past year, but only once funding is complete. Thank you all for your support.
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