My counterpart Danielle and I went out to lunch this afternoon at “Casa de la India,” Nebaj‘s only Indian food restaurant. We were chatting about our family and friend’s reactions to our respective decisions to forgo real paychecks for a year in the Guatemalan highlands, when in tromps an older woman in hiking gear. We had the best seats (on the comfy couches by the fireplace), which was clearly a disappointment to her at first until we invited her to join us. She looked something like what I fancy I may look like myself in 40 or 50 years, weathered skin and long hair with lots of rings on her gnarled fingers and a purse that was clearly woven in another hemisphere. She was back in Nebaj for about a month to hike and take Spanish classes. The last time she was here was almost 12 years ago and the town had been very different then. Much quieter, less smog, less people. But it was still stunning in her opinion and nothing beats the local hiking, as we’ve been told by many people. That’s why she came back after all these years, having now retired and enjoying her – freedom and remaining years of health. She had traveled here alone, well into her 60s, without much Spanish and certainly none of the local Ixil Mayan dialect. And yet she was here.
When we told her what we were doing in Nebaj, having just moved here with intentions of staying for the next 13 months for the sake of an organization and a cause we were only just beginning to fully understand, she said something I’ve heard many, many times before, “Wow, I wish I could do something like that.” I could write a thesis on that statement, and it was, interestingly, exactly that statement that Danielle and I had been discussing before this woman’s arrival. Danielle replied, “But you are doing something like that, you’re here.”
To have the physical and emotional health to take off into a foreign land is not beyond the scope of most young people, in fact it’s become quite the norm. (To do it twice in a row is possibly a sign of emotional ill-health, according to my own parents, but that’s another story.) To be a retired woman in her 60s who takes off alone into a foreign land is certainly not the norm, generally ill-advised and heavily questioned by one’s family…in other words, my hero. I can only hope that at that age I still have the health (and finances) to take off again, if only for a month or so, and that I still have the clarity of mind to not get lost in the “I wish’s” and instead just go do.
We have tentative plans to hiking together tomorrow. I hope I can keep up.