As 2020 approached and we said good-bye to 2019, we were hoping for the new year to bring new adventures in far away lands. What we got, was anything but that. A year with strict lockdowns, curfews and mask mandates, closed public spaces, schools, restaurants, land borders and grounded international flights was what the world had in store for us.
We’ve had a lot of people in the US who rightfully complain to us about the mask mandates and lockdowns. Let me be clear- we all deal with confinement in our own way. Some handle it better than others. Some people are okay with being stuck inside. Some people never really want to leave the confines of what is comfortable and safe. That is perfectly fine. There is nothing wrong with that, but we aren’t those kinds of people. We are movers. We like to be outside, playing in nature, discovering new things, exploring new places we’ve never seen. We like taking the road less traveled. That road has led us to many unexpected and beautiful places filled with some of the most amazing people and scenery you could possibly imagine.
As I reflect on everything that happened in 2020, or shall I say all the things that didn’t happen, there is a lot I’ve come to realize. One of the most important things that I often lose sight of, is that we are exactly where we are supposed to be at any given time. As hard as we fought to make it through border crossings and make our way south before 2021 began, we never made it out of Guatemala. There was a myriad of reasons that we ended up stuck in Guatemala for over a year during Covid-19. As I look back on some of those reasons, it’s clear to me that the world or God or whatever higher power you believe in, kept us there for very good reasons.
It’s really the butterfly effect. If you don’t know what that is, in chaos theory, basically when a butterfly flaps its wings, it sends ripples through the air that effect everything around it, which in turn effects all the things around those objects and so on and so forth. Essentially small causes (the butterfly flapping its wings) create large consequences, whether good or bad.
We had planned on only being in Guatemala to experience Semana Santa during April 2020. We made a quick run to the Mexico border in March to exit Guatemala and re-enter for an additional 90 day stay. When we left Guatemala and crossed in to Mexico, the Guatemalan border official told us to make sure we were back by Sunday because the land border would be officially closed come Monday morning. We cut our Mexico stay a few days short to make sure we made it back in time. We decided that we would rent a house in Antigua from Mid march through mid April, we’d get to see Semana Santa and then we’d head out and continue south to El Salvador and explore the rest of Central America before shipping our vehicle to Colombia. Little did we know, the severity of the outbreak of Covid-19 around the world would bring life to a grinding halt.
We had only crossed in to Mexico three days prior and when we arrived back at the border to Guatemala, they had hand sanitizing stations set up, mask mandates in effect and temperature checks mandatory along with a health screening upon entry. Basically they just asked if we had any symptoms associated with Covid-19.
We arrived at our new condo and made friends with our neighbors whose children were in the local International, Green and Montessori schools. The schools had been closed since before we even got to Mexico. Everything began to close down. Restaurants, Bars, Gyms… Everything. We would turn on the national news channel where the president of Guatemala would give presidential addresses and updates of the Covid-19 situation in the country. We figured we’d be locked down for 2 weeks, and then everything would probably go back to normal. Then it seemed like everyone around the world that got really sick from Covid started becoming statistics. The president of Guatemala mandated masks threatening a $1000.00 USD fine for anyone found not wearing one while outside. He grounded all flights in and out of Guatemala, closed all land and sea borders, closed all public spaces including beaches and parks, closed any inside venue including dining. Literally the only thing you were allowed to do was to grocery shop, pick up to go food, and go the the hospital and pharmacy. The president implemented a curfew during the week and prohibited leaving your house except for emergencies on the weekends. All public busses stopped running and all you had was local tuk-tuks, Uber and Taxi’s. Some of the drivers made you even disinfect the bottom of your shoes before getting in the vehicle.
Ok. This started to suck, but we figured it was only for a couple of weeks, while they figured out how to control any outbreak of this new virus. Except, it didn’t last for a couple of weeks. It lasted for 7 months. They even went so far as to eventually restrict travel between departments which is the equivalent of restricting travel between states in the USA (though departments are literally the size of small counties in the US I equate it as traveling through different counties rather than states). Each neighborhood had their own sanitizing station to sanitize your vehicle before you entered and before you left. People would volunteer to chemically disinfect your vehicle to minimize the spread of the virus.
After a few months of lockdown in the Condo area we were living in, the administration came and told all residents that the kids were no longer allowed to play in the parking lot nor use the park equipment even though it’s not public. At that point we decided to leave. We couldn’t handle being under house arrest. We didn’t do anything wrong. Why were we being punished? Nobody in our complex had even really left except for one family. Other than that, everyone that lived in the complex literally almost never left. One of the ladies was elderly, so instead of having her go shopping, she’d give us her grocery list and we’d get her everything she needed.
The lockdown got to be so intense that everyone we made friends with decided to go back to their home countries. They couldn’t handle the oppression we were suffering. But to be honest, the thought to return to the USA never once crossed my mind. Not that I’m averse to returning to my home country, but I was hoping against hope that the world would reopen and things could go back to mostly normal. I figured 2 years is about how long it takes to develop a vaccine, and that in 2 years time things could go back to normal. Whether people choose to vaccinate or not is none of my business and it isn’t yours either. People do what they think is best for them, so let them be.
After 6 months of strict lockdown, restrictions started to ease. We were finally allowed to travel between departments in October. The land borders to El Salvador and Honduras finally opened but all other restrictions were still in place. No public spaces were open, all restaurants were still closed except for take out, schools were still closed, we were still under curfew, etc, so we had to make sure to be back before the streets were locked down or risk being arrested. The US embassy stayed closed until January 2021. We had been trying since April 2020 to get an appointment for Kaden’s passport renewal because it expired in January 2021. We waited 9 months for the Consulate to reopen. 9 full months. They only allowed us an appointment because I told them we were planning on leaving in 2 weeks to head south.
In October 2020, we decided we’d had enough of Antigua and needed to be more remote, where we wouldn’t be bothered if we went outside. We rented a house on the beach in El Paredon. We had a huge pool and were beach front on a private beach. It was quite an amazing month considering what the last 6 months had given us. By November 2020 our month long stay at the beach was up, we were finally allowed to walk around the streets, flights had been rescheduled to start again and Guatemala was trying to welcome tourists to help jumpstart their economy. We moved in with some friends in Chimaltenango where we weathered Hurricanes Eta and Iota. It destroyed parts of Northern Guatemala and the Caribbean sides of Honduras, and Nicaragua and Eastern El Salvador and Costa Rica. By the time the Hurricanes were overhead where we were staying, they had become tropical depressions and we stayed safe. The same could not be said had we been traveling and doing the things we originally wanted to do at that time.
In December 2020, the president was again talking about another potential longterm lockdown. Having just gone through that and spending almost a year in house arrest, we were frantic trying to get all of our stuff together to get out of Guatemala ASAP. We missed going to a few places and seeing all of the things we wanted to see because of Covid, but through it all, we were right where we were supposed to be.
When we finally left Guatemala, we had to take our covid tests and were given 72 hours to find our next location. We were kicked out of the CA-4 and told we had 5 days to leave and renew our visas. That fiasco is documented in a different blog. Long story short, we made the long drive down to Nicaragua in 3 days with literally 20 minutes to spare before our covid tests would have expired and we would have been denied entry into Nicaragua. The Costa Rican border was still closed and there were no flights leaving Nicaragua. We were stuck. But, when life hands you lemons…. The lemonade of the situation and part of the butterfly effect, Kaden made a new best friend in Nicaragua, we became friend with some great people and they quickly have become like family. Had we left earlier, we may have never met these amazing people and Kaden would likely not have made this best friend. We are not locked down, we are not mandated to wear masks unless in a public building. Everything is open and most everything you’ll want to do is outside anyway.
In waiting and suffering the profound effects that were put on the entire world, we have found good fortune. We have known a lot of friends who have had covid. A few that nearly died. We have friends of friends whom have nearly lost entire families to it, leaving orphaned children. We see the long term effects that covid has had on our friends that nearly died, but we ourselves have not had any direct friends or family that died from it.
So I hope this year of reflection gives each and every one of us something to be grateful for. We’ve all mourned the loss of normality as we have known it our whole lives. We may have mourned the loss of jobs, friends, family, wealth, homes, etc. But what do you have in your life that you can be grateful for? The neighbor that dropped soup off at your doorstep when you were sick? The friend who took your kids for a playdate when you needed a minute to decompress? The time you finally got to spend with your family who has been missing you so much but they don’t know how to express it? The ability to leave social media or clear out your friends list so you keep your inner circle closer? The ability to see through the bullshit and really realize what’s important? Take the small victories. Be proud that you’ve come this far. You’re still alive, you’re still breathing. You still have a chance to do something you never would have thought of doing until now. You still have the ability to create the life you’ve always wanted. But remember, there’s a reason you are where you are. You’re exactly where you are supposed to be.