Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lessons from a trip to Guatemala

This heat wave and the power outages have reminded me of the time I spent in 2005 in Guatemala, volunteering at ARCAS, a wildlife rehabilitation center in the jungle of the Peten region in the north of Guatemala.

In many parts of the world, where heat and no easy way to regulate it are a part of life, people adapt their lifestyles. 

In Guatemala it was hot, and we definitely felt the heat and the discomfort, but we adjusted the way we lived. We ate lots of fruit, napped or relaxed in the afternoon, swam in the lake often. 

I'm sure the animals were uncomfortable too, but that was what they knew and it was just how they lived, with no complaints.


The stray dogs who hung around the wildlife rehabilitation center were covered with ticks, but they were full of vitality and they enjoyed hanging out with all the volunteers, who loved animals and gave them food scraps. 

Don't get me wrong, life is not easy for stray dogs in Guatemala, or anywhere. Most of them are hungry and poorly regarded by the humans around them. 

It was difficult to see this suffering and feel so powerless to alleviate it. In spite of that though, there was something so magical about that trip.

There was a feeling of spontaneity, of freedom from the thousand responsibilities of our regular lives that make it so impossible to just say yes! to potentially life-changing opportunities as they arise. 

Of being fully in the moment, so if I wanted to take a little street dog with me back to my hotel, knowing I would find some way to do right by her but not knowing how, I would do it.

On that trip, I was somehow free from the usual anxiety and sense of responsibility and the 1000 buts that generally get in the way of just following my heart.


With the result that in addition to volunteering at ARCAS, I learned to SCUBA dive in Honduras, disregarded warnings about shootouts near the border and in Guatemala city and traveled all over, alone, via bus, saw the incredible ruins at Tikal and climbed to the top of an ancient Mayan temple to watch the sunrise, 

cooked a vegan meal for a bunch of musicians in Antigua, volunteered at AWARE, Guatemala's no kill animal sanctuary, and rescued my god-dog Zula. 

Maybe a lack of the routine comforts we are used to puts us in a more spontaneous, risk-taking frame of mind. 

Maybe when we are away from the security blankets we normally cling to, we are forced to jump into the abyss and see what is there. Maybe the comforts of civilization and the familiar hold us back from our true potential, and every now and then we need to separate ourselves from the structures we are used to, in order to discover what we are capable of. 

Maybe--and excuse me as I give free reign for a moment to my inner apocalyptic wing nut--as the comforts of the familiar begin to break down with the advent of peak oil and widespread climate change, we will discover a forgotten spark of spontaneity that animates our relationships and restores our vitality and creativity

And more than any capacity for technological innovation, it is this potential that gives me hope. 


  1. Kirsten I think you are so right. I believe we do need to imagine a new creative way forward. Who the long run it ust might be a much better way.

  2. What a lovely memory. I have to agree. Every time I step out of suburbia and especially somehow when I'm in a simpler place with less trappings of civilisation and comfort, my spirit gets renewed and I feel adventurous and hopeful. Maybe it's the people? They have so much less and yet they smile easier. Do you think so too or am I just imagining it? Then I come home, and lose the spark in weeks.

  3. Beautiful pictures and what wonderful memories!

  4. Hi Kirsten, thanks - that was a great piece. I agree that when you don't have the usual trappings of home and the familiarity of places and things that w otherwise take for granted, we step out of ourselves and find creative ways of moving ahead with whatever is at hand. In a way, it's what I'm doing. My hind legs don't work so well but I've learned to adapt and move ahead with what I have with a little help from my peeps and Eddie's Wheels.

  5. Okay, I now want to run away :) You have had a very exciting life!

  6. Wonderfully said. We often work so hard to protect ourselves from any form of discomfort. But never being uncomfortable deadens our souls.

    It sounds like your trip had a big effect on you. It's good that you can keep that experience in your heart and continue to live it when you're hot and tired today. :)

  7. what a good story and great memories
    Benny & Lily


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