Surrendering expectations in Lake Atitlan

Traffic. Closed roads. Detours. Our car judders over the cobble stones as we try to negotiate a path out of the city. Brightly painted ‘chicken buses’ hurtle down narrow streets spitting black clouds of smoke into the air.

All of these things remind us that Antigua is a walking city, not a driving one. We have been lost in its one-way labrynth and diverted due to religious processions for lent enough times to appreciate the fact that sometimes, having a car can be a hindrance rather than a convenience.

But not today.

Today we are heading to Lake Atitlan, famed for both it’s natural beauty and cultural richness. Images of it are what drew me to the country initially and our original plan was to base ourselves there, rather than Antigua.

But we all know how plans go.

Today, however, I’m excited. And also a little nervous. Our Guatemala experience has gotten off to a rather shaky start (if you consider depressive episodes, melt-downs, arguments and emergency landings shaky); my expectations of how things would pan out have been consistently turned up-side down, causing me to recalibrate on an almost daily basis.

That’s the trouble with expectations. I’m not sure if or when I will ever accept the fact that they are huge waste of energy, both in the making and the readjusting.

Going to the lake for just a few days, rather than the few weeks or months we had initially planned fills me with anxiety for just about every imaginable outcome. If it’s not what I’d hoped, then my dreams of this natural and cultural jewel will have been just that, a mere fantasy I have busied myself with these past few months. I almost don’t want to like it too much though, since we won’t be staying longer than a few days.

I know. Even positive outcomes can fill me with fear. Brene Brown calls it ‘impending joy’ – the fear of good things not lasting.

We emerge from the city past a military check point like no other I have ever seen. Armoured Jeeps converted into tanks line the side of the road; weapons of medium destruction ‘manned’ by fresh faced boys in crisp uniforms. I shudder, still not used to the hangover of crime and violence which carries into the present day from the not-so-distant civil war.

Once on the Pan American highway I can feel the stress of Tyrhone’s engine trouble and halted paramotor career melt away. It’s just me, him, a couple of small backpacks and the open road again. Ain’t nothing much better than that.

We need this. A change of scenery and a chance to catch our breath.

After about an hour the highway is cloaked in a thick mist. We crawl along, unable to see more than a few meters in front of us. It’s crazy. I roll down my window and stick out my arm, surprised by the chill of the air. We haven’t come very prepared for cold weather. I’m not wearing closed in shoes, but I am grateful for the hiking pants and fleece I thought to bring, just in case. Tyrhone perennially wears shorts and a t-shirt so he’ll be fine.

We turn off the highway and wind down into the town of Solola. It’s cold and grey and a light rain falls over it. We follow the road through the town and around the mountains, imagining the view which is hidden by thick mist.

“It’s the Great Wall all over again!” Tyrhone laughs, remembering the fog which comprised our biggest memory of that day.

It was a great day, I think to myself, realising that the wall itself had very little do with it.

We pull into Panajachel, a rather unremarkable town with the standard Pollo Campero (Guatemalan KFC, but better) and a few dodgy looking hotels. We drive down to the waterfront lined with deserted tourist restaurants and can almost but not quite make out the outlines of the three volcanoes presiding over it as the wind picks up and the rain falls harder.

After checking out a few overpriced and underwhelming hotels, we head towards one we read about, El Sol, owned by a Japanese family with good reviews. It’s spotlessly clean and surrounded by flowering trees with a view of the green hillside behind it. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve seen so far, and it has parking.

And bunnies!!

We wander through the neighbourhood on the outskirts of town, gathering supplies for the evening. The weather is going to keep us indoors, with hopes that tomorrow will bring some sunshine. We walk into a store which is almost pitch black. A bare bulb flickers on. The friendly shop keeper emerges from the darkness with a smile that lights up the place more than the 60 watt.

He assists us with selecting a nutritious swag of Cheetos, chocolate chip cookies, ice ream and soda. Traditional Guatemalan fare, basically.

I balance it out by purchasing a few bruised bananas from a kind local woman.

Our experience of Lake Atitlan is nothing like I imagined so far, and yet, I’m having fun. It’s just me and Tyrhone on another adventure, staying at a Japanese hotel in Guatemala (with resident bunnies!), eating junk food and watching Parks and Recreation on his lap top.

Living the dream. Not the one that I concoct in my mind about how things should be, but how they really are.

Blessed. Happy. Fun.

Because travel stories are like life stories, you have to live your own.

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Surrendering expectations in Lake Atitlan — 23 Comments

  1. I love this, “It’s just me, him, a couple of small backpacks and the open road again. Ain’t nothing much better than that.”

    It’s exactly how I feel when we’re on the road. Nothing else matters. And there is a sense of calm between us because the daily mundane is gone.

    My favorite quote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Allen Saunders

    I’ve always been a planner, it’s something bred into my genes, I think. But as I grow older (and hopefully a little wiser) I’m learning to let go of the plans, it’s a work in progress, but I usually find whatever we’re doing, to be that much more fun and adventurous when I just let go.
    Patti recently posted..It’s Like Airline Miles, Only Better ~My Profile

    • Yes, I hear you Patti! Plans are kinda fun in and of themselves, but often planning is a way of my escaping my reality. Not sure why it is so hard to live in the moment, but I am attempting to do it a bit more as it makes for a more peaceful. Love that quote. Also love the one about making God laugh by telling him your plans :-)

  2. I really love the photo of the people procession for lent. I just love the expressions on everyone’s face the 3 ladies having a chat the little boy holding his lolly bag and the girl drinking her water. I just love it . Would be a great one to enlarge.

    That was a quick snap shop by you but so much is in it. Love love it.

  3. I love that bit about expectations, so true that they are a huge waste of energy. I’ve never really thought about it that way before… now I’ve just got to remember that every time I start forming preconceptions… and that will be a battle! I often struggle to live in the moment also…

    Oh, and I so love the bunnies! :)
    Katie recently posted..Relaxing in Taling Ngam, Koh Samui ThailandMy Profile

    • Hi Katie, I know. I think traveling is a boot camp for learning to be adaptable, but even still, I think as humans we have that instict to feel in control of our futures, even though we aren’t! I think I am learning just to be less attached to my plans. I make them, but am fully aware that they will most likely change :-) Happy travels!

  4. I get this. I absolutely love planning, love the anticipation of a trip, love looking at pictures of where I’m going, I even start envisioning myself there. But then somewhere along the way, those damn expectations start forming in my mind! Which obviously can lead to serious disappointment as we know. I know the key is being open to change (which can lead to amazing experiences), but yet it’s so hard to accept sometimes! So glad to hear that you’re enjoying Lake Atitlan! Cute bunnies!
    Sam recently posted..The redwoods are calling…My Profile

    • I know! I’m already doing it again!!! Spent the evening looking at apartments in Costa Rica and it’s TWO countries away! I bet you are planning your next one… Great to hear from you Sam and I hope all is well xoxo

  5. Hey Sarah,

    Bunnies! Love it!

    Your blog came at a perfect time. I struggle with “expectations” and yes, am frequently disappointed and have to adjust. There in bold type you wrote, “That’s the trouble with expectations. I’m not sure if or when I will ever accept the fact that they are huge waste of energy, both in the making and the readjusting.” So true, so true! Maybe seeing your words, and agreeing with them, will help me give up this silly energy waster. I’m gonna try.

    Thanks so much for sharing your adventures! You and your adventures are important to me.


    • Hi Pennie! They say that expectations are disappointments in waiting… or something like that. I struggle with them a LOT, with people, places and just about Every Other Thing. Oh and myself! So they are not doing me much good… Hopefully I can let them go a bit more each day, by being grateful for everything I have and each breath I get to take.

      And YOU are important to me too xxx

  6. This post took me back to the road (the International road) and the feeling of what it’s like to just show up to a place and see what comes of it. After awhile I stopped expecting anything from anyplace because I just didn’t have the time for expectations. I think I was opened up to so many new things because of that. I love following your journey, Sarah.
    Kim recently posted..Enough about you, let’s talk about meMy Profile

    • Thank you, Kim. I’m getting there, very, very slowly. But that’s okay. Honestly, I think I just entertain myself with stories of my future self in X place doing Y, but it is escapism, and does prevent me from being totally open to the present. ‘Stay Open’ is my mantra right now, in a time when our plans are completely up in the air and changing by the minute. It’s kinda crazy, but in a good way. I love following your journey too and glad I got to be a small part of it!! xxx

  7. Yes, expectations are very tricky! even plans… always working on letting go of expectations. It always works better when you do not have any. Lately, I noticed that I get things when I need them not necessarily when I want them. Just put your need out there to the Universe and you will be surprised what shows up in the future… If you need time in Atitlan, the opportunity will come! Love n light…
    Amyris recently posted..What does diving and yoga have in common?My Profile

    • Yes, you are so spot on Amyris! I get what I need too, not always what I want, because often what I want is not what the universe has in store for me… thankfully. I’m getting a little better at letting go, just a little bit. Love and light back to you beautiful lady! xxx

  8. When we came to Lago Atitlan (in 2008) we had no expectations other than some stories from a friend who had stayed months there learning Spanish. Our big thing, coming to Guatemala, was to climb a volcano. Our friend heavily suggested we climb San Pedro, and so we did. We were sorely disappointed at the top when we found out that A) San Pedro volcano is extinct (as compared with Pacaya near Antigua) and B) the reason people put them through the horrific 5 hour climb was for the views of Atitlan. Sadly, our climb was in the rain, and we were lucky to see our feet. It all makes for a great story though…especially since Ewan slid ~10 metres on his butt on the descent back into town! :)
    Emily recently posted..Conquering Pre-Conceived Notions and Fears on the Inca TrailMy Profile

  9. Sounds like the good life. : )
    I can relate on so many levels- the expectations. they get in the Fu%$*@ way every time. As of the last few days, I’ve been focusing on just enjoying life as it comes rather than being upset by how it hasn’t aligned in the way I assumed. Silly me. You’d think after 2 yrs of expat life and travels I would have learned- life always turns out different and often better than ‘expected” but i still find myself wanting to control life.

    Funny how our circumstances can be so varied but the expectations will mess us up every time!
    Lauren @Roamingtheworld recently posted..When converting to self-hosting doesn’t go to planMy Profile

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