I spent a week in August traveling through Central America (Guatemala and Belize). Let me start by saying it was a great experience. I met people from all over the world, ate some great food, experienced many things for the first time, and acquired some new knowledge.
In all of the greatness that occurred over my 7 day adventure, there were some key lessons learned as well as some realizations.
Cash is King : I was able to visit Tikal National Park (which was an amazing experience. Our guide, Edgar, was phenomenal. Check him out if you ever visit) during my time in Guatemala. Upon arrival, I was informed that though my payment for my hotel stay, meals, etc. had been processed via my Visa card just fine, entry fees to the park would be accepted in cash only. Well...I was out of cash. It was surprising to me that in the year 2014, at a place as popular as Tikal, that an instance of non-acceptance of credit would have occurred. The nearest ATM was 30 miles away and would cost me $60 USD shuttle there and back. This brings me to my next point...
Talk to Strangers : In the midst of the cash conflict, a
man stranger whom I'd had a conversation with earlier at the airport came to rescue. He asked what the situation was, and I explained that I was unable to pay our park entry fees due to the park not accepting credit. He asked for a moment to consult with his spouse, and ultimately was able to let me borrow $300 quetzals (about $38 USD). Had it not been for the small talk at the airport, he might not have even offered in the first place. Thankfully, I assured him that I'd pay him back as soon as possible. But how?
Technology Saves the Day : PayPal! Thousands of miles from home, I was still able to whip out my iPhone, open my PayPal app, and send a payment. I intended to send him $50 USD for the trouble. Only one problem...no Internet.
World Wide Web : The place I stayed at Tikal did have Internet, but they only turned on the electricity for 5-6 hours a day. At that moment, we were in one of the off-peak periods when the electricity was turned off. No electricity = no Internet. I patiently waited for the residence to be re-electrified. Though the Internet connection was frustratingly slow, I ultimately was able to process the payment. This experience made me realize how dependent I am on electricity and high speed Internet. Those two luxuries had become things I'd taken for granted and grown to expect. It also made me think...though I'm frustrated with speed of the Internet, there are still many people who don't have Internet access at all. How long before Zuckerburg & friends make the Internet available to everyone, all the time? I think this will further revolutionize the way we communicate.
Universal Language : I was fortunate that many Belizeans speak English, but not so lucky in Guatemala. Though there were a substantial amount of English speakers, the primary language in Guatemala is Spanish. I know a few key Spanish phrases, but not nearly enough to hold a conversation. When my lack of fluency failed me, and I lacked a strong enough internet connection to use google translate, smiles helped my case.
Talk to Strangers (again) : Upon crossing the border from Guatemala to Belize, I was made to know that a road sitting on the major bus route was being blocked off by a group of protestors. This was affirmed in walking passed a pile of what looked to be burning tires and a large assembly of picketers. It was then I realized that the 126 kilometers between myself and Belize City might be a bit of a hurdle. After about 20 minutes of walking, and another 20 in a taxi, I made it to San Ignacio. San Ignacio had a bus station and sat on the route to Belize City. It was still early afternoon, and I should have had plenty of time yet to catch a bus to Belize City. Not today. The bus routes had been cut short because of the protest, and I watched the last bus to Belize City ride off into the distant (and figurative) sunset just as my taxi arrived at the terminal. What to do? As I contemplated the next move, a
man stranger pulled up in his vehicle, rolled down his window, and asked if everything was okay. This man was a Belizean local whom I'd crossed paths, and exhanged a few words with on my trek passed the protestors earlier. He offered a lift using his own vehicle to the bus terminal in Belmopan (his hometown) which was far enough from the protest area that I'd still be able to catch a bus to Belize City. Strangers prevail again. About an hour later, I had safely made it to Belize City. Utlimately destined for Caye Caulker, all that separated me from the final destination was a rather large body of water. It was smooth sailing from there.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this adventure. I came back to the States with a fresh set of eyes, an enhanced sense of humility, and a renewed spirit.
All in all, great trip. Ask Jaren.