We’ll soon be off to Quetzaltenango, in the highlands of Guatemala, to visit our son Mike who teaches science at a school there. One of my favorite things about traveling is the anticipation of the trip. I stretch out the pleasure by planning it for weeks. I read about where I’m going (in this case Francisco Goldman’s Long Night of the White Chickens, David Grann’s fascinating New Yorker article, Murder Foretold: Unraveling the ultimate political conspiracy, and a New York Times article on trekking the highlands). I talk to people who have been there, check Web sites, think about gifts I want to bring back for friends.
I plan partly because I want to do the best things available during my short time there. But, I also plan as much as possible to avoid disasters. The more exotic and challenging the destination, the more I like to have some idea of what it will be like so I don’t make mistakes–get lost, get robbed, offend people, have them offend me. A little planning makes me feel more confident and maybe that way I’ll blend in and avoid looking like a naïve tourist just ripe for fleecing. Since I have short, stick straight blond hair, blending in poses a particular challenge in most of the places I travel lately. When I went to Haiti, people regularly reached out to touch my very foreign-looking hair. “Madame Blanche!” On the other hand, how often do you get to feel that remarkable?
Ultimately, though I enjoy the planning and anticipation, some of the best parts of travel are those you don’t plan and can’t control. These are little Zen lessons of being in the moment, as on our last Guatemala trip when I came upon the interesting Mayan women (pictured above) in Santa Catarina, near Lake Atitlan, or the mother and her adorable baby (below) in the square in Antigua.