Just two days in and it is crystal clear that I will never open my mouth in the shower in a foreign country again. I didn't even realize that I was an "open mouth bather" to begin with. Traveling can be such a learning experience. If that's what this whole journey is about - being more aware - then that's a pretty good start. Let's not talk about rinsing the toothbrush, either. It's settled; bottled water for everything. I am considering washcloth baths with only filtered water for the foreseeable future. That, and maybe licking myself where I can in order to avoid over-extending my plastic footprint in the name of environmental responsibility.
Maybe I should have paid more attention before I left the states. Just the prior evening, I had cut my finger on a Swiss army knife gifted to me. I chose not to receive that as some type of omen. Otherwise, I may have seen it as a warning for what was to come. You may not realize exactly how much blood the tip of your finger can hold, but it's a lot; like enough to get one of those "Be nice to me. I gave blood today" stickers that the Red Cross hands out when you donate. There didn't seem to be a Band-Aid in the northern hemisphere to hold what gushed for the next 24 hours. The bandages I did manage to pack were minimalist at best. By the time I boarded the plane, I was sporting a bloody swath of tissue wrapped around my finger held together with tape, the equivalent of having toilet paper stuck to your shoe without you knowing it but this time on your finger so not only is everyone aware, but you are, too.
My son drove me to the airport and sent me off early the following morning, saying goodbye to me and hello to his newly acquired 2009 Honda Accord with 190,000 miles. Considering the insane line at the gate and Philadelphia airport, (were they giving away Stones tickets?), and the short period of time to transfer at Dallas Fort-Worth airport, everything went relatively smoothly.
Once in Guatemala, I took an Uber to Antigua and was dropped off but at the wrong location. My sense of direction is not so much a sense as it is a gamble. Google Maps telling me to head "North on Avenida 7a" is not helpful. I look at the sun. I open the compass on my phone. I remind myself I am a man and supposed to have some innate ability to lead helpless women and children out of a forrest. None of this matters. I just start walking until I realize that the number of meters left to my destination is either increasing, and then turnaround, or if it's decreasing, keep going. After many stops and turns and an aching back, I made it to where I was staying, not an easy find.
I had arrived in Guatemala and events seemed to be moving according to plan. Yes, I said the "P" word. That was my first mistake because within 24 hours, my girlfriend had informed me that she had just tested positive for Covid. My son, who, with my daughter, had spent the evening before with us both, was about to leave for Israel, and I was grappling with doubt just in case Covid worry wasn't enough. It wasn't crippling doubt but let's say it was bruising. Is "bruising doubt" a thing? If not, it should be, like a gateway to eventual crippling doubt.
I did my best to get some sleep and woke up to begin my weeklong Spanish immersion program. My main teacher was fantastic. He used "Segundo Libro", the exact same book that I had in high school, (the one with the drawing of the Flamenco dancer on the cover for those Watertown High School alums who want to walk down carril de la memoria with me but he didn't offer extra points for each banana sticker brought from another country like Ms. Pond did).
Halfway through, I started to feel off, but I chose to ignore it. I was getting warmer but so was the temperature and I assumed that was all the correlation required. My stomach felt a bit weak, as well, and thoughts of Covid started getting in the way of the attention required to listen, interpret, and respond in kind. By the end of our morning session, I wasn't feeling great.
Walking back to the homestay for lunch, I felt both physically and mentally tired. I buried the idea that it had anything to do with Covid, at first, instead opting to blame travel and learning a foreign language for four hours as the more probable cause. However, as the prospect of being positive for Covid and potentially exposing others to it took front stage in my mind, I decided to take a test just to be sure.
Once back in my room, I opened one of the rapid tests I had packed. I was positive. My heart started racing and I immediately started doing some mindful breathing and told myself it will all be fine, and I will just figure it out. It was relatively early in the day, and I would have time to do whatever it was that had to be done.
I immediately called the school. There was some debate back and forth about getting any of my money back (most of which, thankfully, I did). I was told I had to leave both the school and the homestay since I was in a shared bathroom situation and needed to find alternate accommodations, which I also did. I then called my son who was now in the airport waiting to board a plane to Israel. I was most concerned about him.
"Dad, listen. I just took a second test, and it was negative." I tried to explain that that didn't necessarily mean anything and after some tense exchanges, I recommended he take ten minutes to take it all in and we reconnect, to which he agreed. He messaged me back shortly thereafter that he had disclosed to his advisor on the trip and was good to proceed. They were being very cautious, anyway, and had quarantine procedures once in Israel, if needed.
I let my daughter know, as well, since she was with us, too. "Dad, I had it already. Honestly, I think I'm immune but thanks for telling me. Were both lines dark?" Wait. Did she just say both lines?
It was then that I remembered that "C" is not for "Covid". It was for "Control", for which I now felt totally out of. I was negative! I even read the instructions and still misinterpreted my test.
The mind is a funny place to be (or at least mine). Whether I realized it or not, I had already spun a Covid narrative before even taking the test and the "C" immediately denoted a positive result despite what I saw right in front of me in the instructions and having done the identical test (with the exact same misinterpretation) weeks before.
On that earlier uneasy walk back to my room, not feeling well and knowing that I was very acutely exposed myself the evening before, I had already drawn the conclusion that I was positive. Furthermore, I established that I would single handedly be the reason Guatemala would be on lockdown, plunging their economy into a recession and further escalating the immigration crisis. Or...I could have been negative. But, for my mind, was that ever really an option? Was it?
Now kicked out of my homestay and an official Spanish school dropout, I had managed to cause an unnecessary panic that would span two continents and three different countries. And it wasn't even 2 PM. I quickly messaged my son to let him know. I got a laughing face emoji so at least he took it all in stride. I reinforced to my daughter that she is, thankfully, more intuitive at navigating the world than I, so she shouldn't be worried, and I apologized to my girlfriend for the extra layer of guilt and panic I added on. What a start so far!
I settled into my new place - essentially a closet with a bed and a toilet but a nice small rooftop area surrounded by beautiful volcanic vistas. "OK. Time to reset. Nice place. 3:30. Good weather. Take a breath. Still time to reclaim the day and think about the week", or so I thought as I was paying for the room. At that point, my finger started bleeding again to which I had only become aware because the poor woman at the desk was pointing to blood streaming down my forearm and spotting her desk like a crime scene.
What did I say about omens, again? I chose, one more time, to look the other way and instead simply said "Lo siento. Hay mucho sangre. Necessito un Band-Aid" as I proceeded to extract napkins from my backpack to wrap around my finger and clean up the evidence left on her desk.
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I have decided to not attach any outcomes to this adventure, or do my best. Only on day one and the lesson of letting go was loud and clear because I was already experiencing and unexpected outcome. And it was about to get a lot louder.
That night, I woke up with terrible stomach pains and sweats. I stepped into the bathroom and fainted for a moment (I was seated thankfully) to wake up soaking with sweat, breathing heavily and generally not feeling good at all. I hydrated and thought, perhaps, it was an aberrant occurrence and went back to bed.
The next morning, I did some yoga and meditation on the rooftop under gorgeous skies and despite feeling a bit off, still, managed to walk a half hour in town where I caught a 10-minute ride to El Tenedor del Cerro, a hilltop area with sculptures, artwork, a restaurant and a zip line.
For a delusional moment, I even considered a zip line excursion. That was until my body had other plans. I didn't even feel like walking. I was tired and achy, and my stomach wasn't having any of it. I managed to find a place to rest and journal a bit while sipping on a lemonade and then took my time wandering the grounds slowly.
I returned to my room and from there, remained in my bed, minus short visits to the adjacent bathroom, for the next 15 hours. Though the achiness had subsided by the following morning, the residents in my gut had apparently booked their stay for another two days and, as such, I was at their disposal as to how far I could wander off from the room, not to mention when I would be allowed to eat again. My stomach was their Airbnb and I was the pre-eminent Superhost.
It's not the first time I have traveled where my stomach reminds me who really is in charge. I suspect it's far from my last. It is not lost on me that this is how the trip started. Through it all, I wrote, I did yoga in the morning to the best of my ability. I meditated. I kept in touch with loved ones. I slept. I let go of the monkey mind as it kept creeping back in.
I wasn't great throughout it all, though. To begin with, the start of this journey was sure to be one with moments of anxious second guessing, regardless of exactly how hearty the constitution of my gastrointestinal system was. The mornings tend to be the worst. Regardless, I tried to come back to the breath. Take it all in. Stay in the moment. Not attach.
This was where the practice really mattered. It's easier to be in the moment when the views are gorgeous, the sun is shining, and the adrenaline is flowing. Try it when it feels like an alien is trying to escape from the inside, you're in a room with no windows in a foreign country and you have no idea what is next. At least for me, it's a lot harder, but more necessary.
Had the plan not been disrupted, I would never have a rooftop view of Volcan de Agua and even witness a recent eruption of Volcan de Fuego. Sitting atop the roof looking straight at the volcano from afar, it reminded me that you have to get some distance sometimes to really view the full picture. That's what I'm doing. That's what this week was about. Was I going to hold doubt close or stand back a bit and understand it as simply part of a larger landscape?
I don't think everything is necessarily a test but if there is some larger push leading me where I need to go, this first week has been as good as a test as any. And, overall, I have found gratitude, perspective, and even a little humor.
I still have a long way to go when it has to do with reading the Flowflex Covid-19 Antigen home test correctly. It was negative the whole time. But, when it comes to reading doubt, uncertainty and gaining a bit of clarity, I guess you can say I tested positive.
Until next time,