When I was watching the news this past week, and hearing about the wars all over the world: Ukraine, Middle East, Thailand, etc., I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs, "When will men learn to negotiate?" Then later in the week, I was talking to a gentleman who I know casually, and I started to tell him about the 'trip of a lifetime' as my sister and I call it. I decided to write about it and I think you will understand why. I will not mention any names because I have not spoken to most of the people with whom we travelled, and do not have their permission.
My grandmother, mother, sister and brother were down in the Caribbean at one point, and travelling around the area. I was in a tough place because I had just broken up with a boyfriend that I was so in love with and wanted to be with forever. Anyway, with nothing happening in the area I was living, I decided to join them and our long-time Mayan family friends down in Cozumel. I had no idea what to expect when I got down there, but I called our family friend and he told me Mom and family were there, but not on the island at that point. I took the risk and went down there, hoping I'd find them. (Remember, these were long before the days where everyone had a cell phone.)
When I got down there, my Mom and sister met me at the airport (a miracle). Our friend had run into them at the airport and told them I'd be coming. My grandmother and brother had returned to the U.S. by then. So we three made a decision to head across to the mainland, travel a bit and hopefully end up in Tikal, Guatemala. We had every trust in our Mom, who was very well read and knew her way around. She and her Mom had done a lot of travelling, and at that point, we had done a lot of travelling with her. So we started our trip...
We had a travel book, probably Frommer's, so we could be somewhat loose in our plans. At the beginning (when we were still on the ferry) we met up with a med student from Sweden and a girl from Montreal. We talked, as travelers do, in whatever language we could communicate in. 'Where are you going?' We think we are going to Tikal; let's see where our trip takes us. They joined us and so did a British couple who had been listening to us on the ferry. We started down the coast, and by the time we got to Belize, we had a guy from Chicago, a guy from Boston, a guy from Wales and another Canadian gentleman. When each person joined our 'group', he or she asked about our travels, asked where we were headed, and decided to be flexible in order to travel with our group. In my experience, travelers are usually interesting people. We made our plans on the spot, within the limits of where we were; we were on the east coast of Mexico and we wanted to go to Tikal and Guatemala City, so we had some choices. We all got along and did what we needed to do to communicate and enjoy our trip. Each person was interesting and we learned about each other's culture. At that point, even Boston seemed like another culture, and 'Garlic' was from Chicago, itself foreign to me. Not one person had to be the controller of the trip. We had to be flexible in order to even reach the next point in our travels. We used mostly busses, but we also flew in a small plane and took a long train ride to Mexico City. Climbing the pyramids of Tikal and walking through the jungle was one of the most beautiful things I've ever done. The sound of Howler and Spider monkeys was deafening when we were at the top of the pyramids. We even had a Guatemalan take us to a tree where a Howler was right above us in a tree; it was incredible! We stayed a few nights at the park, but we were told by a German traveller not to go to Guatemala City (it was not safe for Americans), and that we should leave Guatemala immediately. That is when you learn who you are travelling with. We took a boat up a river to leave the country the back way, and had to stay overnight on a small island with no hotel. A Guatemalan brother and sister caught us an animal for dinner, cooked it on the fire, then let us stay in some palapas they had, for that night. We were so deep in the heart of the jungle, that when I looked down, the ground was a half inch thick with moving bugs. But one of our group had a guitar, and he played and we sang to get our minds off of it. The natives, a young brother and sister, were two of the kindest people we met on out trip. We were able to communicate with them in our limited Spanish, and they did whatever they could to help us. The next day we were pulled over off the river once, but we made it out safely! We made it as a group that negotiated our way out of a country that was not at peace right then.
We travelled together to some of the states within Mexico, hiked Palenque and Montealban. As we went, of course some of the members dropped off along the way. We wished each other well, and talked about how much fun it was. We exchanged addresses with every one of them. My mom, sister and I ended up taking a 36 hour train ride to Mexico City, on which I had a swollen tooth and gum that was so painful I could barely talk. But we met people on the train and talked, sang and danced with them the whole way. I will never forget this one woman who had everyone clapping their hands and singing as a group. It was fun, and once again we communicated in whatever way we could, negotiating our way to make the most of the train ride.
The whole trip was so fun and adventurous, I have never again had one like it. We met interesting people from all over the world and travelled together, not having a pre-set plan in mind, i.e. where should we go tomorrow, where should we stay, where should we eat, etc. We negotiated our way through three countries, some of it scary, and made it out without any fights, arguments, disagreements, etc. Think about how flexible we all had to be to make it happen and make it fun! I listen to the news now because I like to be informed, but every time I do I think, "Will men ever learn to negotiate?" I have lived it and negotiation works.