Select Page

When I was young(er) and (more) foolish I backpacked around Central America with a friend. This was right after college, and during not just one civil war in the region. I was woefully unprepared, not nearly conversant in Spanish, easily sunburned, heavily-laden and terribly optimistic. Needless to say, it was an eye-opener.

The last time I was at my mother’s house, I picked up my journal from those days, and decided to see what I was doing at approximately this date, so many years ago. For one, I was saying that I’d be relieved, but not rejoicing if Clinton won the election, and so it was.

But the thing that marked this time of year for me and Debbie was the incorporation of a new expression into our meager vocabulary. The expression: La lancha? Ya se fue. (The boat? It already left).

We took what was then a six-dollar boat ride around saline-smelling yet freshwater Lake Atitlán, a 320-meter deep caldera in Guatemala, ostensibly to visit three different towns. We were dropped off at the dock of each town and immediately surrounded by kids, selling, begging, whining “regálame una moneda” (give me some money, please!)

After the first two towns with the kids, and the townsfolk peering out their windows, my friend and I decided to go a different route. We walked up the hill in the town and decided to hike back along the lakeside. Here we surprised families out for a swim and ladies scrubbing their laundry out on a rock and more than one set of boys skimming stones along the shoreline. These were not the people who clamored to see us, to sell us things, to have their pictures taken. These were people living their lives quietly, teaching their children, doing their chores when suddenly, two looming white giants appeared amid their early afternoon tasks.

There was no question where we’d come from. Certainly our rafting sandals and canvas backpacks dropped the dime on us as surely as our mispronounced and volume-heavy HOLAs! Our pale pale skin and Debbie’s cute mop of blonde hair and bright blue saucer eyes didn’t make the camoflauge any easier to execute.

So we hopped, from rock to rock, greeting families and excusing ourselves among the locals of the town whose laundry room, swimming pool and backyard we were speeding through. We finally got back to an alley that led back to the lake and started running through a cornfield to roughly where we thought the boat should be. Our hour in this town had surely elapsed, and with one boat a day, what in demonios were we going to do?

Here is when we encountered a teenage boy, the town prankster, for sure. La lancha? (the boat) he said. Ya se fue (It’s already left). And my friend turned to me and said, “I hate la lancha ya se fue.”

And it hadn’t, because if there’s one thing you could count on at that time in Central America is that nothing ever ran on time. And that though people might have stared at us and made the occasional comment and wondered what the heck we had done such that our families would let us wander the globe, unaccompanied, there was no way they were going to let anything bad happen to us on their watch. And they didn’t. And when the lancha finally left, we were on it. Y nos fuimos. (and we left)