It was 2am, and all was dark around us as we careened through the mountains of rural Guatemala above Lake Atitlan. The turns were so tight that our driver had to swing the van onto the other side of the road, so it was a good thing we didn’t pass another car for hours. It was my friend Alyson and I, and we were fleeing the country before the ban on flights locked us in for an indeterminable amount of time. Our flights for the next day had been canceled due to an international lockdown, and the entire country of Guatemala had gone into quarantine two hours ago. Our new flight, which Alyson had secured by some genius stroke of luck and waiting on hold for 3 hours, left at 6 am, and we had a 4-hour drive to the airport through the night.
Lake Atitlán as seen from San Pedro, Guatemala.
We’d left the USA only 6 days before, and at that time, things were very different. People were just beginning to talk about Corona, although San Francisco (where Alyson lives) had already been more on alert than Denver was when I left, less than a week before. We’d discussed cancelling our trip but laughed it off, because we’d had no idea the seriousness of the situation or how things would change in just a few short days. When we arrived, Guatemala had not yet had a single case, travelers were bountiful, people were happy. To give you an idea of the lack of concern, we witnessed a woman in the market lick her fingers, stir them in a communal vat of beans for sale, and then put them back in her mouth, and nobody seemed to care. On the day we left, even tourist towns were quiet. A local friend we’d made looked around the empty streets of San Marcos and declared he had never seen it so empty in his life. “The people will suffer. Travelers are how everyone here makes their money,” he said quietly.
We made it to the airport in time to make our flight, which then had to go through Costa Rica as no flights were being permitted in or out of the US. As we sat on the runway in Costa Rica, crossing our fingers we would make it out to Houston so we could each find individual flights back from there, our flight attendant told us that Costa Rica had shut down all flights as well. We were already in the midst of takeoff, so we made it out. After 48 hours of no sleep and a hair-raising adventure in more ways than one, we each made it home. I peeled off my clothes outside, left my suitcase in the backyard, and took a much-needed shower, and dropped right into bed.
Papusas with salsa and cabbage slaw.
Through the exhaustion and the panic in the midst of uncertainty and fervor, the thing that struck me most was the kindness of strangers and the comforting sense of calm community as we tried to make our way home. Friends reached out on Facebook with ideas, offering to call airlines or the US embassy for me because I couldn’t get an international call through. A couple we’d briefly met on a hike up Mount Pacaya a few days before offered that we could stay with them in Houston when we all made it back to the States. Friends went to the grocery store for me and stocked my pantry so that I could go right into my 2-week travel quarantine as soon as I returned home. Neighbors offered to take care of my dog and watch my house if I wasn’t able to get a flight out, just in case.
My business, Puff, Pass & Paint/Cannabis Tours, operates 100% because people have the ability to travel and attend events. With mandates to close down cities, limit gatherings, and for the good of our employees, we had to cancel classes and tours for thousands of people around the country. People and businesses began to panic and flounder, until we all started to think outside the box about not only how we could stay afloat, but how we could help others do the same. The transition seemed to happen in only a matter of days, the helpless anxiety turning quickly to action: the new normal.
Ready to fly at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City – a 4 hour midnight drive from Lake Atitlán.
We see so many negative things in the news, and don’t get me wrong, I understand entirely the seriousness of this situation, but intensity doesn’t necessarily have to equate to negativity. I think we can take this as an opportunity to expand our expectations of what is possible and also develop a whole new kind of community. We started thinking of ways to provide our customers with free online events to keep them engaged and sane instead of stir crazy, which ended up in a new series we like to call “Puff, Don’t Pass, Paint” of mixed media, watercolor, and drawing classes. First we did one, then we did another, then we started virtual events and classes every day, including hash tours, growing classes, and cannabis cooking sessions. I started teaching painting classes nearly every day for our live Facebook audience, and I went from feeling hopeless and stir-crazy to satisfied and connected, as I watched more and more people log on every day. They chatted and painted with me for an hour and then sent in their masterpieces so that we could share them with the world. I started to feel hopeful again, like maybe not all was lost.
As a person who likes to be constantly active, social, and is always busy, I also found myself facing down a lot of time alone and without many tasks to do. After a few days, instead of rushing, I’m learning how to space out my tasks and be mindful while doing them. I’m starting to feel ok with relaxing on the couch and reading a book, or taking a bath, or strolling with my dog (with appropriate social distancing) at a leisurely pace instead of rushing quickly until he poops and I can head home. I get a bad sinus infection whenever I’m extremely stressed out and overwhelmed, especially if I’ve got travel in the mix, and a good friend who is a natural healer once told me that “if your body needs a break, and you don’t take a break, it will force you to take one by making you sick.” I kind of feel like that’s what the earth is doing right now, forcing us to take a rest, to spend time with and reach out to our friends and family, to find new and different ways to genuinely connect, in a world that offers so many options for communication that is constant but meaningless and mindless.
These are really tough times. I’m scared for myself, my parents and grandparents, my business and our employees, my friends’ businesses, peoples’ jobs, the economy, kids who aren’t in school and don’t get to eat, elderly people who aren’t getting the supplies they need. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of despair, and I won’t lie, I’ve done that on a day or two, but the key is telling yourself it’s temporary and that all of us will rebuild even better what we’ve done before. In the wake of closing all of our events, I was having an allotted meltdown one day, and our National Manager Josh sent me a text just when I needed it. It said “this just means we can do it all again, and even skip some of the mess along the way now that we’re experts.” I think we can do that in every way… in our businesses, our jobs, our relationships, our entire lives. We needed a time out, and I for one, am going to make the most of it. Let’s learn how to be kind to ourselves and each other again.