Day 432 - Cuilapa, Guatemala - 8083 km

Luxury is the enemy of observation

Guatemala has been the big surprise of this trip. Such a colourful country, a long standing traditional culture and many adventures to undertake in its spectacular volcanic landscape. Not that I was expecting something entirely different, I just didn't know much about it, other than an inaccurate picture of poverty, drawn by references from my childhood, when the church I was in did projects for local communities here. Back then, about 25 years ago, my parents had financially adopted a child. Seeing the children in Guatemala I got reminded to her picture on the fridge door that hang there for years, every year replaced by a new picture. It turns out, after some research, she is a teacher in elementary school now and lives in Patzun, a village I crossed some days ago, but I found out too late to meet her.

The picture from the fridge stuck with me while meeting the local people in Guatemala. It’s interesting to actually see the beautiful surroundings these ‘poor’ people live in. I'm talking about breathtaking landscapes, the greenest hills, the bluest lakes, and the prettiest sunsets. Children playing in the dirt, surrounded by chicken and dogs. Simple lives lived in paradise. Some of these pictures are typically being used by charity organizations to raise money. But what I see is just normal people living their lives the way they are used too. Establishments are so minimalistic people interact much more with nature and each other. They don't have much, but seem to be happy.

One of these days I crossed a little bridge, somewhere far out in the hills. I had only seen farm fields and little villages for hours. There was this little stream, tucked in high palm trees. I made a stop on the bridge. Below me the water streamed over the rocks. A pretty view. In the distance I saw a woman in bright pink clothes, doing laundry in the river by hand. It was the most idyllic picture. Then I thought about how we do laundry in our developed homes, the noisy machines in a dark room, spreading dampness through the house. This women here in her river stream, looked much better. 

When I meet other travellers on my journey I often talk about 'the good life'. What does it mean? How much is luxury or comfort part of that? Most bike travellers didn't choose the bike because they don't have money for a car, although people in the developing world think that sometimes, which is funny. In Iran I often had people offering money because they thought I was poor. The reason why I'm on this journey is not just to see the world. It's also to retreat to a most basic way of living: a bicycle and a tent. It's a conscious choice of simplifying life, challenging your abilities, and be open to the beauty that's around you. It's not always easy. Many times I wish I had a car, or booked a nice Airbnb instead of my tiny tent, but on the long run these moments of being stripped from everything and absorbed into nature give me the most rewarding feeling of something achieved and experienced. I sometimes feel I can relate to the coffee farmer working all day under the sun all day and returns to his small home of some corregated metal sheets. His family is waiting for him with the chickens, the pigs and the dogs. He lives in the dirt, but I think he is happy. Same as me cooking spaghetti in the field and showering with just half a liter of water before going to sleep in my tent. 


“Luxury is the enemy of observation, a costly indulgence that induces such a good feeling that you notice nothing. Luxury spoils and infantilizes you and prevents you from knowing the world. That is its purpose, the reason why luxury cruises and great hotels are full of fatheads who, when they express an opinion, seem as though they are from another planet. It was also my experience that one of the worst aspects of travelling with wealthy people, apart from the fact that the rich never listen, is that they constantly groused about the high cost of living – indeed, the rich usually complained of being poor” – Paul Theroux