I’m sitting at a long, raw edge wood table. One designed for communal meals. Running along it’s center is a living garden. Plants grow out of it where centerpieces would be. Across the table, I can see Utopia Hostel’s bar. Wooden swings support coffee-drinkers and afternoon readers. Signs for yoga and chocolate tours adorn the walls. Looking up, I can see the balcony above that hosts an open air dormitory, and somewhere up there, is our bedroom nook. Behind me, and all around the open common area under Utopia’s roof, are mountains. Lush, green, tropical jungle. Oh, and Josh is here too. Quietly reading and soaking up the meditative and calming music that plays overhead. This is Guatemala.
The quiet here did not come without a price. The road from Raxuha to Semuc Champey (our current riverside destination) was only 83km, but the ride took us 4 hours. We were spoiled with asphalt for the first 45 minutes of our ride before the universe shook her fist. “Not so fast, Havekosts. Let’s see how badly you want to make it to Semuc.” The road quickly turned into a one-lane, gravel, boulder-and-rock-infested road, with nothing but dust and jungle for 60km.
These are the roads Josh often dreamed about before we left. They are the roads I couldn’t have imagined, and the roads I now dread. Since leaving the United States, we have been fortunate to have beautifully paved roads, few construction issues, and hardly any obstruction. This morning alone, we encountered relentless twists and turns, loose rocks so large we were forced to move at snail’s pace, and hills so steep I feared I’d tumble over Josh in front of me. With every turn of our wheels, we bounced and shook on the bike. Our heads rattled inside our helmets, and our heels pressed firmly against our foot pedals to stop us from tumbling forward. In the next instant, we’d be heading uphill, craning our torsos forward. As the sun crept higher, so did the temperature. At such a slow pace, we had no wind to relieve us from the heat, and our limbs quickly became sticky surfaces for our gear to suck on.
Twice, we were stopped by men holding ropes across the road. They asked us for a fee to let the rope down, informing us they were paving the road. When Josh expressed concern that they were taking all our cash, and that we may encounter more “tolls” ahead, they promised us there were no more besides them for the next 60km. Spoiler alert, they lied.
The final stretch to get to our hostel was brutal. We dug our wheels into the road and our heels into our foot pedals, doing everything in our power to slow the inevitable steep decline into the Semuc Champey valley. When the road ended and we had arrived, I felt my knees begging me to quit. My neck and head demanded time away from my helmet. My heart felt heavy, and I held back tears. I don’t know why, but I wanted to cry when I dismounted the bike. I felt defeated by the road. As if my body had taken a beating. I just need a shower and some food. That’s all. I’ll be okay.
Our room wasn’t ready, and there was no WiFi in the common area. It bothered me how helpless I felt without the internet. How reliant I was on instantly being able to check in with the world. How in moments when I feel physically and mentally worn down, all I want to do is reach for my phone and browse the worldwide web. I tried not to think too much about it. I tried not to think at all. I just wanted to shower and lay down without a complaint, without showing Josh how difficult the road had been for me, without showing defeat.
Once our room was ready, I planned to do a quick workout on the yoga deck. A little movement will help. I’ll stretch my hips and strengthen my muscles to protect my knees. This will be good. This will turn my day around! I felt bloated and dehydrated, but I did the workout. My toe, which has slowly turned into a severely concerning bunion over the last few years, was killing me. Nonetheless, I did my stretching. Nothing would prevent me from turning irritation and angst into good vibes only, bro!
When I was finished I went to find Josh, who was up in the only part of the property where the WiFi works. Signs are plastered around the single bench and foot stool: “Zombies Ahead,” and “Get off Facebook, go play!” He was downloading a movie for us to watch tonight when all the rest of Utopia went to sleep. He asked me how I was doing, and all I could say was, “I think I’m going to cry.” He sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulders. “That’s ok buddy, it’s ok to cry.” For a few moments, I just cried. I didn’t know why. But somehow, it didn’t matter. I didn’t need to know why. I didn’t need to unpack it, and Josh didn’t try to fix it. We just sat there quietly while I cried.
Then, with an ease I don’t normally feel when I’m upset, I started to talk. I told him I felt beat up and exhausted. That my body can’t take multiple ride days in a row. That the scarcity I feel when I ‘m not sure we’ll have food to eat or a place to sleep reeks havoc on my mental state. That my toe was pissing me off and though I hated admitting it, I wished we had WiFi. That not being able to check my e-mail or look at Instagram made me feel disconnected from the world. As if something important would happen and I would miss it. That I was afraid of letting him ride alone when I go to New York for a few days in March. I said I needed to slow down. That the pressure of needing to get to Guatemala City, where my flight to NYC is booked from, is making us ride faster and more often than I can handle. So freely these words came out. And so did the tears. And I felt no shame or embarrassment for being upset. For the trivially minimal concerns or the really big and important ones.
Josh validated everything. He told me that my feelings were a sign. It was good to say them out loud. That maybe the universe was trying to tell me something; that we were moving too fast and my emotions were the signal to slow down. That maybe we should, and could, revisit our plans down the literal and figurative road. I was comforted by this, and realized he was right. The physical angst I feel at times, the need to turn my day around or change my feelings, these are cues from something in me that is trying to communicate something. It’s my gut, begging to be heard. It’s my intuition, whispering to listen up and pay attention, because something isn’t right.
The rest of the day we relaxed. Josh took the restorative yoga and meditation class on the yoga deck, and I wrote. We met a couple from Belgium and ate family dinner with them. The man told us he had bicycled in 23 countries, and wanted to pick our brains as he planned to ride from Alaska to South America in May. Josh offered his parents’ place as a resting spot along the way, and he happily took down Ken’s information. We split a special brownie and played a board game called The Gift of Enlightenment by candlelight, and laughed painfully over the “craftsmanship” of a Quaker Oats packaged cookie. We fell asleep with the rest of Utopia around 10:00pm, bellies full from our meal and sore from our laughter.
The next day we hiked 45 minutes to Semuc Champey National park and swam in the natural pools. We tubed an hour and a half back down the river—sometimes a gentle ride and others rapid enough that our guides shouted “butts up!” so we wouldn’t graze our behinds on the rocks below.
I am proud of how much both Josh and I have grown in the last few months. How we have strengthened our partnership and broadened our perspective on life. How we have learned to become more flexible and adaptable while still setting boundaries and getting our needs met. I feel like I am coming into myself. I feel like an adult. An adult, but one who remembers to play and have fun. One who believes that being an adult is not about being serious, but about taking life by the horns and directing it with intention, gratitude, and ease.
I suppose I could have used this blog post to update you on where we’ve been since Bacalar. How we crossed into Belize and had to pay once again for the tourist cards we flew all the way to Tijuana to get stamped. How we were perplexed by Belize’s heterogeneous population and unclear about the culture. How we rode to the Guatemalan border in only a week and were met by the friendliest faces and gleeful smiles. That we magically were able to meet up with friends from home, because the timing of our trips happened to line up just so. That we spent a day in the largest park of Mayan pyramids we’ve ever witnessed, just an hour from the small island town of Flores in northern Guatemala.
But for me, memories don’t work that way. They somehow fail to fall into a chronological timeline of events, recalling themselves one by one for me to remember them by. My memories are like vivid dreams. I remember the feelings. The heat or cold and the way my body felt. The sound of someone’s voice, or the color of the grass. Ask any of my friends: I am terrible at remembering the details or history of events. But a day that holds a story? That I remember. Today was one of those memories. I didn’t think today would be a day to remember, but most of these dreamlike memories aren’t. They’re days I never planned to keep track of, and then something happens, and suddenly, it’s a day I will never forget.