The waiter pulls the white fancy chair back, so I can sit down. “Buenos tardes, señora.” I thank him and try to sit down elegantly after I put my little outdoor backpack on one of the other seats –which was pulled back for me too. While my company is going to the bathroom, I try to adjust to this new situation. I look around me and I suddenly feel so weird. I see nicely dressed people –mostly white people- having wine in fancy glasses, eating pasta or salad from a fancy plate, wearing expensive watches, pearl earrings, polo’s and lipstick. I look down and wiggle with my tows in my 13 dollar flip flops, pull up my simple but wrinkled light blue shirt, smooth my Thai backpack/travel pants with elephants on it and put my messy dry sea hair back – well I just fit in here perfectly.
I just arrived in an Italian restaurant for middle or high class Guatemalan people and I’m not feeling comfortable. My heart is beating faster and my eyes are all over the place, like I’m nervous. I’ve been put into a place in complete contrast to where I just came from -from poverty to a lot of wealth, all in a couple of minutes. The difference is so big, that I feel sad. I feel sad, because it shows me how unfair life can be. From a place that is covered in trash to a place that is covered in gold, in such a short distance: that’s the reality of Latin America. And it’s turning my stomach upside down. Also, because these kinds of restaurants are actually really normal in my home, in Holland. There, it’s not even for the rich: it’s for the majority of people because the majority of the people have a good life with enough money to pay eating out. I ate a lot in restaurants like these, but now I realize that I don’t really care about that. Other things are more important for me, and that’s what this journey has shown me.
To give you some more insight in these contrasting worlds.. I just arrived from Santa Ana, El Salvador, a city where I ate pupusas –typical El Salvadorian tortilla food- and fries for less then a dollar on the street; where the streets were full of holes and plastic trash; where people stared at me for being blond; a place where the most luxury thing I could find was the little pizza for three dollars And, before that, I was in Nicaragua for two months: one of the poorest countries in Central America. It was a place where you had to be lucky having running (fresh) water and electricity most of the times; a place where the roads were made out of sand; a place where the houses I would normally not call houses but little shacks; a place where wealth was a rare thing. I tasted a lot of chaos, uncertainty and poverty: but I loved it because those things interest me.
Now, I’m reading the menu of this Italian restaurant, trying to make a choice between three different types of shrimps, pasta and coffee. It’s not only a wealth overload, but also a choice overload. How am I supposed to pick one dish out of the fifty that the menu counts? I don’t feel comfortable, even though it’s just like a restaurant in Holland. I feel strange and different from the the rest of the people sitting here, while I normally felt like one of them. I realize how my perspective has changed. These last three months has showed me other ways to live then I did in Holland. It made me realize what my values and believes actually are, and it doesn’t really involve eating an expensive pasta in one of the most luxurious malls in Central America.
This lunch experience was nice, because it made me think about the contrasts of this region, not because I had good pasta. A little bit over twenty families earn around ninety per cent of this countries income; that’s fucking awful. But knowing more about this country and its reality, that what’s interests me; not which pasta is better or where to shop the best shorts. I’m interested in people and culture, because I experienced that this stuff makes me curious and energetic. Travel helps me discover that, because it gives me new perspectives.
I enjoy a cappuccino in a quiet restaurant in a tourist village, but I prefer having a coffee (that’s way too sweet) that a local kid in an indigenous village has given me. The hot shower I have right now is awesome –it put a big smile on my face- but I don’t mind having a cold shower when I’m surrounded by a beautiful Nicaraguan family who tells me all about their lives. A good breakfast made by the two Guatemalan girls is heaven, but I don’t care if I have to make my own breakfast if I’m high up in the mountains, close to nature. I don’t live for comfort; no, I live for adventure.
The pasta was nice, but I prefer the time that I had the
fresh fish Marina made for me – my Nicaraguan friend I met in a
little fisher’s village. While she didn’t have hardly any money, she just gave
me a fresh fish from the boat, I could even choose. Since I thought I couldn’t
cook it that well myself, she invited me over to their house, so she could cook
it for me. It was amazing. Not only the fish was incredible, also the whole
experience around it was special. I hopped on the back of the motorcycle of her
husband, while she and her little daughter were driving next to me on another
motor, getting to the house – probably not even five minutes away. We drove really fast, so at one point my hands were clung to Maykol’s shoulders, scared to fall - but it was awesome. I talked
with the family for hours, get to know them and their lives better and better.
I don’t want to be ungrateful, my shrimp dish in the restaurant was good, but it
was a totally different experience. I prefer having a meal in a way where I’m
part of the culture and people of that country. I experience warmth, love and happiness in that way. Also, it gives me a purpose: it inspires me to capture it and show it with the world.
So, this journey makes me realize what I find important: what gives me energy and what is not. I found myself in so many situations, that I discover what I like and what I don’t like, more and more. Travel can do that to you: new perspectives can help you rethink about your values, interests and believes. You’re put in all kinds of weird, amazing, unthinkable situations, so that you HAVE to think about what this means to you. Is this experience something that you like or hate? Is it something that scares you or makes you feel alive? Is it making you realize how good your life is or how bad it was? Is this what you expected to be it or is it the complete opposite? Do you feel really happy now or does it make you want to go back home?
I can already tell you one thing: if you go travel and see travel as an opportunity to discover more about yourself, you will.