Recently, Billy and I went out to lunch at a popular open-air restaurant on the
main tourist drag in
Panajachel. They serve up local Guatemalan fare here, full
plates of pork, chicken or beef with sides of rice, guacamole, fresh buttered
vegetables and your choice of garlic bread or tortillas for 28 Quetzales, or
As we were sitting there in the restaurant enjoying our meal, some tourists
about our age walked by. They slowed their pace down enough for Billy to say to
them “Hey, the food’s great here, why not give it a go?”
The man looked interested, the woman looked horrified.
I chimed in with “Order the Amuerzo Economico and you will pay half of
the prices marked on the menu.”
The man took about 2 seconds to decide that this was certainly a good deal, and
made a move to sit at a table next to ours.
“We’re going to eat here?” The wife questioned.
Clearly she held resistance to entering this clean, brightly decorated eating
I’m telling you it was no dump. There was a flat screen TV on the wall (for when
the soccer games are on) and lively Salsa music on the stereo system. Clean, hand woven
Guatemalan table cloths covered every table which also supported flowers in
vases and salt and pepper shakers in the center. Original indigenous artwork
adorned the walls.
The woman, who was noticeably beautiful and well-kept, had her hesitation
distinctly written all over her scrunched up face.
“I hope they speak English here,” she said as she flopped down.
“I want a Coke. Do you have Coke? What do you have to drink here?” She said in
rapid-fire English. The waiter who was bi-lingual – at least in the basics of
taking her order – kept up with her rush of questions pretty well.
“You have chicken or pork? I’ll take the pork. Honey, they have chicken or
Meanwhile, the husband and Billy were chatting away about retirement, finance,
travel and what-have-you, having a grand ol’ time.
Bottles of Coca-Cola and empty glasses promptly arrived at the table and again,
this poor woman looked stricken. Simply appalled.
I couldn’t imagine what the problem was, and actually I was rather intrigued by
her responses to things as her husband was seemingly so relaxed. I tried to
catch as much of her reactions out of the side of my eye, not wanting to feed
into it or rush to make things better.
Mrs. Visitor had her own drama going on and I found it mesmerizing. Apparently
some of the syrup had leaked out at the top of the Coke bottle, causing a tiny,
dark, sticky, blob to appear.
She looked at her husband, then at me, then at the bottle, then at her husband,
then at me, then again at the bottle. She disgustingly ran her finger at the top
of the bottle and now she had that tiny sweet dollop on her finger. She again
looked at her husband (who was obviously ignoring her by now), then at me, then
at her finger, then at her husband, then at me, then again at her finger.
By now I am thinking “She has no Kleenex in her purse?
If she has been blown off course by this small and
common occurrence, what is she doing traveling in this
I couldn’t imagine how her meal would go.
I mean no disrespect.
Readers have contacted us with the dilemmas of having a spouse who does not
share their love of adventure, travel and trying new things. And Billy and I
have often spoken and written about different traveling styles. In fact, Chapter
10, Two Sides of the Retirement Coin from our book,Your
Retirement Dream IS Possible addresses many of these issues. And here I
was watching this very scene play out in a 3 dimensional movie called Life.
Since no one was rushing to her rescue to give her a hot, clean, wet, soapy
cloth or whisk her away to a 5 star restaurant complete with apologies,
eventually Mrs. Visitor looked to her left, then to her right, and rather
guiltily, wiped the syrup off on the table cloth. I don’t imagine it ever
occurred to her to ask the waiter for a napkin.
A part of me felt badly for not coming to her deliverance. I know she was simply
afraid and out of her element, and I “got it” that there was frustration or
anger from her at her husband for taking her here to
Guatemala to begin with.
(I can only imagine how that conversation went.) And here she was, in desperation, and her husband wasn’t helping her one bit. It was
very obvious that this well-groomed, slender woman was face-to-face with the
edge of her comfort zone… and it was not pretty.
Delicious fish platter
In my defense, I think I was just stunned and completely transfixed. I wanted to
know what was going to happen next in this mini-emotional-episode. I had
forgotten that my
almost 3 decades of world travel had trained me to put a
tissue in my purse for unexpected events such as this one.
Another side of me thought “I should offer a few quick survival tips to our
Readers. They might find it useful when they are traveling.”
So here they are:
Bring baby wipes.
Women have babies all over the world. No matter where you are, if you are in a
location that has some semblance of civilization, you will find baby wipes in
the grocery stores. Go to the baby section, find the wipes. Put them in your
purse. Then when you travel on buses, get into a taxi, find a chair that has
strawberry syrup on it or find that you need toilet tissue in the bathroom, you
have a clean, damp cloth to come to your aid.
Put napkin or wipes down soda bottle necks. If you are eating
outside in warm weather and are having a soda, often flies or bees will gather
for the sugary syrup. Place napkins or said wipes down the bottle neck between
pouring liquid into your glass and you can avoid a nasty creature falling into
your pop. When traveling overseas, it is commonplace to wipe off the mouth of
beer and soda bottles or cans before you drink out of them, even in upscale locations.
Use sliced limes to clean your fingers. Eating a platter of fish or
shrimp at the beach or lakeside (which are often served on your plate whole and
with the head attached) can
leave your fingers messy. Wiping them on a thin napkin at your table can
sometimes leave you unsatisfied. Use the sliced limes to clean your fingers and
then utilize your napkin. In this way you won’t have tiny bits of paper stuck to
your fingers to annoy you further.
When entering or leaving a restaurant in Latin America and your eyes meet
another diner enjoying their meal, say ‘Provecho! This basically means
“Enjoy your meal” and it’s a very polite and social thing to say. It shows that
this is not your first picnic, and that you are an all-around-nice person.
Don’t let your comfort zone limit you. Life is for living. Grab a
bite and relish it. Situations and circumstances are not always the same as they
are “back home” and that does not mean it’s a bad thing. Who cares if you make a
mistake? So what if one lunch wasn’t your favorite? A smile goes a long way –
not only for those around you, but give one for yourself.
You deserve it for being brave enough to take a chance.