It’s Not That Scary: The Guatemala Stories (Part Two)

iPhone / Camera / Video Camera

People who know me at all right now are probably asking themselves, “Okay, fine, Pamie. You went to Guatemala. Now skip to the part where you fall.”

First of all, how dare you.

Secondly, it’s right here.

The best part, other than the fall, is how you can hear how nervous I was to use even a single word of Spanish. This was the very first time we’d ventured out to see a family. At this point I’d already interviewed the mayor on camera, so you think I’d feel a little less stressed out, but no. I was pretty nervous and feeling like – I don’t know – like we were a bunch of people descending on this tiny little shack-house in the middle of a village in the middle of nowhere… which is kind of what we were.

So anyway, I fell, and my biggest regret of the entire trip is that I panicked with shame and instantly turned off the camera, missing the next few seconds, which were the best. Immediately, everybody turned and said, “Cuidado! Cuidado!” I already knew the word for “careful” in Spanish, because I am a klutz. So I started going, “Esta bien! Esta bien!” and then they were all laughing at me. Jeff turned around and said, “You got up SO FAST. I heard you fall, I turned around and you were already up!”

And I said, “Roller derby.”

You guys! I fell and got back up! May Q. Holla is back!

(For those of you who are like, “Why does what Jeff said to you sound so familiar?” Right here.)

A few days later when we were getting into the back of one of the cars, Bryan shows me how he has his knee in a brace. “It’s not roller derby, but I’m also hurt here.” This was like, the third busted-knee story of the week, the other two sporting Tae Kwon Do injuries. “What happened?” I asked him. Like he was giving me directions to the gas station he was all, “I was in Pakistan when our car was hit by robbers who knew I had just gone to the bank. I was thrown from the car and landed on this knee. But roller derby, that sounds dangerous.”

I was traveling with super polite badasses.


I’m not someone who normally takes five-hour car rides to go help people in poverty, so I knew I was going to need motion sickness meds. But I didn’t need to be embarrassed – I ended up dishing these things out like Pez. Everybody was getting sick on this trip. The roads are not really roads and the chicken buses are huge and scary and people drive like there’s a winner at the end of the day for Most Reckless.

We also had to take the longer, alternate road to San Pedro, since the main road to Panajachel was closed for repair and, you know, all the banditos I’d mentioned earlier. Each day had at least two hours in the car. But more on being sick in cars later.

blanket and pillow from the airplane

Swiping these items might have been the smartest thing I did. Because, oh –


–the second meeting in Los Angeles began with an instruction guide on how to check for bedbugs, which we did as soon as we finally, finally got to our hotel in San Pedro, a full twenty-bajillion hours after I left my apartment in Los Angeles. No bedbugs, but the pillow smelled like someone else’s face. My own blanket and pillow, both made for someone about two feet tall, were my best friends at night.

Tiny bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka / corkscrew

Other than this, my true best friend at night.

The corkscrew was for Robin, just in case she forgot one. At the end of our bedbugs meeting she had looked across the table at me and asked, “Do you drink?”

I couldn’t tell what the right answer was, so I just said the truth. “Yes.”

“Oh, good.” She said. “Because they don’t. Not at all. It is annoying.”

Annoying, mostly, because we knew as two girls we weren’t going to get to go out alone at night in Guatemala, and we knew the chances were two married guys who don’t drink aren’t going to take two ladies who want to drink into a Guatemalan bar. So we each brought contraband. I didn’t need to worry about the corkscrew: Robin had accidentally packed two. I was very grateful to have Robin on this trip. She was way better than Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which again was a very good friend to have on the trip. We were rooming with extremely sweet Nikki, who — while ending up being a very good friend — wasn’t much of a drinker. Robin and I had to get creative. Which we did. But by our final night in Solola, when we ate dinner on the edge of Lake Atitlan, I’m pretty sure I saw everyone take at least one sip of beer.

Anyway, discussing my friends of Guatemala leads me to my Guatemalan enemy: Toilets.

baby wipes/tissues/hand sanitizer

Which one of you tweeted me that I will want to bring a container of baby wipes with me? Because you are the best thing that ever happened to my Twitter feed. Everybody in my group thanks you, even if they don’t know they were supposed to. By the third day Robin started calling me “Mom,” as in, “If you need something, Mom probably has it in her backpack.”

sunscreen/itch spray / bite salve / DEET

I would load my backpack with extra emergency items, because everybody else was getting bitten, swelling with welts (sometimes on their faces!), red-cheeked and chapped, needing to find a way to squat over child-sized toilet-seats in outhouses (DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW IMPOSSIBLE THAT IS?!).

Here’s a little video I call “Donde esta el bano?” because that’s what I asked before I was just… following some people (I would later get to know, but at the time they appeared to be complete strangers), not knowing where I was, what was happening, or if it was a good idea to walk so far away from where the car had stopped for what I thought was picking up some water or something. I just know that it started with pigs screaming as they were being bagged and tied to truck beds.

Look, I’m not one to discuss bathroom stuff, but the only thing that kind of sucks about traveling is that you end up experiencing some seriously sketchy bathrooms. And that’s never any fun.

Bottled water/toothpaste/face soap/Visine

Nor is it any fun when you aren’t supposed to drink the water, put it in your mouth, or put it near your eyes. (Cut back to Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which I used one night to brush my teeth. I’M A BADASS.)

bandaids/super antibacterial wipes (Hibistat)

I was about an hour or two into helping install a cookstove (I was soaking bricks to prep them) when I saw that I had cut open a burn on my hand and had been soaking it in well water. I immediately headed to the backpack, where I poured hand sanitizer into the open wound, then used these Hibistat wipes to burn off pretty much all my skin, and then bandaged myself up. People were giving me “concerned” looks, but I wasn’t needing the sewing kit… yet.

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