It's no surprise that I'm drawn to stories of travel to exciting and different places while the pandemic (along with Europe, Asia and Oceania's travel laws) is limiting my travel. So today, we're going to take a little trip to Hawaii and Central America, both because they're a breath of fresh air from social distancing, but because these stories connect multiple members of Best Day's family. I made a point of sending Cynthia's story to a transcriber who grew up in Hawaii, and José and Eleanor had a long conversation afterwards about all the experiences she'd had in Central America; including eating chapulines. The first story is a day in the life, and the second is a family trip, and both of them are a wild ride.
A Week In the Life of BC Webber
It was 8 A.M. Saturday morning. Feeling the aftereffects of Friday night at the Vineyard Tavern, BC was walking down the hill towards the Wailuku industrial district. When he approached the shop where he worked Monday through Friday, he noticed that its windows were shaded and its doors were locked. He realized that he had mistakenly thought that today was a working day. BC never missed work unless, of course, he was detained in the County Clink. The shoeless, unshaven BC next dropped a quarter into a payphone and called his buddy Steve. He wasn’t about to do any more walking, and he had to find his car.
“Hey, Steve! Could you pick me up? I can’t find my car.” Steve was an acquaintance of BC of one year and knew of his antics. After a short drive to BC’s spot on the beach, his car, which resembled a topless green army Jeep, was located. It was out of gas but otherwise okay. The next day was Sunday and BC hitchhiked to Kihei for the 3 P.M. happy hour at La Famiglia Restaurant and Bar. By 6 o’ clock he was smashed and needed another ride home, but he had lost his T-shirt and could not hitchhike in his condition. He called John, a sympathetic older man who also liked to frequent La Famiglia’s Sunday happy hour.
“John, I can’t find my T-shirt! Could you pick me up and give me a ride?” John not only gave BC a ride home but gave BC one of his T-shirts.
Monday was a working day for BC and he appeared as usual at the Na Ka’oi Body and Fender Shop to sand and bond/hold. Body work was his life. He had studied body and fender in a Community College in Marin County, California, and he was one of the best in his field. It took an incredible amount of perseverance and patience to move his arm back and forth all day. It was no fun, but BC rarely missed work. He lived for pay day, which was every Friday. The Monday was passed on the Barrel. Usually on Tuesday BC was already out of money. He had to pawn off his friends for a meal or a ten-spot. His money lasted only because he had the office drawer hold $100 of his Friday pay until Monday when he would be broke from his weekend of heavy drinking which he did religiously every Friday and Saturday night. After all, a guy that worked as hard as he did, deserved a little fun, and drinking was what he liked to do best. BC wasn’t the type to buy all of his liquor from the grocery store. He liked to go to the bars, and this was expensive- so expensive, that he didn’t have any money to spare for rent, car, or food for the latter part of the week.
He was pau hana at four, and it was Wednesday afternoon. BC had $1.95 in his pocket. He bought a bag of sunflower seeds and a Millers at the minute shop and headed for his spot at the beach, slurping the Millers while it was still snug in its brown paper sack. When he reached the beach he sat down and began to work on the bag of sunflower seeds. After he had enough of those, he scouted the beach for branches and discarded lumber. He was going to have a fire tonight. It was one of his rituals. He would enjoy it more than usual tonight because of the chill that was beginning to settle in the air. BC was alone as the sun began to set. He was used to spending time alone. He sure had done enough of it in jail, but being on the beach, his fire was like heaven compared to twenty-four hours in solitary. BC was an optimist and always looked on the bright side. He had incredible resilience and could bounce back from every episode of his life without a sign of nervousness or regret. He was one to get on with his life. Life for BC was a drink of booze if he had the money. If he didn’t he would wait patiently, sometimes a little impatiently, until pay day. It looked like rain, so BC got the pup tent out of the Jeep and set it up in the light of the fire. He set his wristwatch alarm to go off at 6:30 A.M. and went to sleep.
Thursday was a good day for BC. After six months of working in the sun, his boss offered him a spot in the garage. One of the other men at the shop who had a riff with his boss, gotten cocky about his pay or something, and lost his job. One thing about BC: he could smooth up to people real well. He could get along with everybody when he was sober. When he was drunk it was another story. People could misunderstand his attitude for belligerence. The guy was like night and day.
On Friday BC’s stomach was growling at 10. He was really ready for his $400 pay. He had gone the last two days without eating anything except the remainder of sunflower seeds and a cheese sandwich he had bummed off Paul, his coworker. He had also been without substantial alcohol in his system, and he was ready to get back into his high again. When he went out to check his car at 12, he found a parking ticket on it. It said: for failure to register vehicle, $15. BC took the ticket and shoved it in the glove compartment with the six other tickets that were there. He didn’t care because the car didn’t belong to him anyway. The expired registration was in the name of Sook Quac Mac, a Vietnamese refugee who had abandoned the vehicle at the body shop when he had left Maui for the mainland. The immigrant had been commuting in the seven-year-old Jeep, a VW thing and found it too unreliable to carry him back and forth steadily to his place of employment in Lahaina. BC adopted the thing because he had lost his license back in California, he was never able to register in his own name. For BC the thing was an ideal beast car. Although it had battery problems at first, it was working alright now. The thing had one setback: it couldn’t go into reverse. Now with the tickets on it, BC had second thoughts about using it anymore. He decided just to leave it in its parking place outside the body shop and let the police do whatever they wanted with it. Walking was so much healthier anyway.
Magical Central American Adventure
We set out on June 3 2008 to visit Adrian, that’s my son, on his journey through Mexico and Central America. He has been traveling for 5 months, loving the nomadic life and its adventures, hardships and people, following his passion for visiting Mayan ruins and expanding his knowledge of their culture and spiritual life. Every day was a new adventure, and Adrian was an amazing guide, translator, and inspiration. He is lean and muscular from the traveling life, daily rigorous yoga practice, and a Spartan diet. He converses in Spanish with the locals. There is an atmosphere of energy and excitement about this rugged beautiful part of the world. The landscapes, villages, and towns are endlessly interesting and colorful. For me it was reminiscent of traveling in Europe in the 60’s where everything seemed captivating, unknown, and far removed from North American culture.
June 3 we arrived with our backpacks at the Mayan village of San Marcos on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala in the middle of tropical storm Arthur. Dusk had set in. Stood under a rough shelter at Las Piramides, the meditation center where Adrian had been staying for a month, waiting for him to finish a class. We were soaked and cold. It is the rainy season. Two Guatemalan boys tried to get an exorbitant sum of money from us for carrying our bags a few hundred feet. Luckily we had brought flashlights since there were few lights. Our cabin was a simple wooden pyramid with shared bathrooms. Made a chamber pot out of a milk jug. Started to have flashbacks of summer camp! It rained for 3 days, as we sloshed to yoga, meditation, and esoteric teachings classes given by the beautiful Guatemalan owner of the center, Chaty. Met people from all over the world, ate breakfast (Adrian cooked us oatmeal and we made coffee in a saucepan) in a rough outdoor kitchen. Started to feel like 19 again, or at least 30. In the town we ate some really good dinners for prices like 5 or 6 dollars each. The culture is a combination of European and Mayan.
Colorful Mayan markets a boat ride away in Panajachel. I buy a big scarf to keep me warm! What was I thinking bringing all those warm weather clothes? Chaty takes pity on me and gives me a big bulky sweater.
We decide to go south and east to get to warmer climes. Arrive in Antigua Guatemala, a lovely colonial town. It is evening and we show up at a very popular hotel without a reservation. By a miracle they have a room for 3. All the rooms face a fantastic tropical courtyard where we have breakfast. The room and breakfast is only $72.00 for the 3 of us. I of course buy colorful scarves at the market. The graceful Mayan women wear very beautiful hand woven clothes, as do the little girls, and effortlessly carry heavy baskets of goods on their heads. People are very friendly. Everyone is trying to sell something. Adrian goes out in the evening to play his guitar in the zocalo (town square)
On our second day in Antigua, we decide to hike up an active volcano at 2 in the afternoon. The brochure says this hike is “not hard”. Am I old or what? This hike is just about the most grueling I have ever done. Straight up the mountain for about an hour, then traversing about a half mile of volcanic rock to get to the top, where a river of molten lava was running bright red. The smoke was intense, and it was hard to breathe. My rain poncho caught on some rocks and melted! Right under my feet were little rivers of lava. I’m feeling a tad nervous. It starts to thunderstorm, and pours all the way down the mountain. My guidebook, which I cleverly read after we have finished the hike, says not to hike up the volcano in the afternoon, as there is a risk of lightening, and a Canadian man was killed a few years ago. As with everything in Guatemala, the hike takes at least two hours more than we were told.
We leave Antigua in the afternoon to go to the remote Mayan village of Lanquin, supposedly about 6 hours away. As there are no shuttles running at that time, we hire a private car for quite a lot of money. The car shows up an hour late (at 3 PM), and instead of the mini-van or 4 wheel drive I was expecting, a very young guy shows up in a really beat-up Toyota Corolla that looks like it’s from the 80’s. The front window doesn’t close properly, even when the driver got out and pulled it up manually, so I have to wear a rain poncho in the back seat. It was a grueling 7 hour drive in the rain and fog, feeling every bump on the road. I was praying we would get to Lanquin. Just when I thought we must be almost there, we get on to a dirt road for another hour. Luckily I couldn’t see in the dark that we were driving along the edge of a mountain. We arrive at 10 PM, and luckily find a nice room. The next morning we discover a beautiful backpacker’s resort set in the tropical hills overlooking a river, so move there. We have a lovely thatched roof bungalow near the water, with a hammock, for $20 a night. Meals are eaten communally, so we meet some interesting people. There are all kinds of travelers, mostly a lot younger than us, and many like Adrian – very idealistic about living a non-materialistic more spiritual life close to the earth. The town is authentically Mayan, with a local market and school kids giggling at the Gringos when we say “hola”. They are friendly, though. I think most people have never been out of the area. The women wear colored lace shawls over their tops. We take a walk down a laneway, and meet a Mayan family on their front porch. The man is interested in asking us about the US. Luckily Adrian can speak Spanish, and we converse for a while.
There is no ATM in the town (closest one 2 hours away), and nobody takes credit cards. This scenario is common in Guatemala, and you always have to remember to have a lot of cash with you. Food is amazingly cheap in Lanquin. A big bag of mango is 15 cents, bananas 3 for 15 cents, tamales are 15 cents each, as is a traditional drink of chocolate and rice. And by the way, the Mayans make these incredible chocolate bars! I no longer have to worry about being too cold – it is HOT.
We decide to trek up to the magnificent Mayan ruins at Tikal in the north of Guatemala. Stop at the quaint town of Flores for the night where we have an idyllic dinner overlooking a lake. Next day we go into the jungle at Tikal. I feel like we are in the Congo. Huge tropical trees, mosquitoes everywhere, clothes never dry. We take a sunrise tour of the ruins at 4:30 AM. Climb up one of the temples and watch as this ancient Mayan city slowly comes into view. The temples are huge and majestic, deep in the jungle. Adrian plays his bamboo flute in the resonant Great Plaza. Later in the afternoon we return to Temple V, which we climb via steep wooden steps. Adrian sits on top meditating for about an hour. At night we go to sleep with the eerie moans of howler monkeys.
Where to go next? Young newlyweds Josh and Kaitlin tell us they are taking a 5 AM shuttle to Belize. We were thinking of going there anyways, so – why not? In the morning we find out that these two have absolutely no money, because at dinner the night before, as we were about to eat, the hotel (most expensive in Tikal, and one of the few on our trip that took credit cards)) informed us that we had to pay cash for dinner since their phone lines were down. Luckily we were able to give our friends the $1.50 each to exit Guatemala, since there are no ATM’s in Tikal. The road to Belize is one of the worst we have ever driven on, mostly dirt and potholes.
The bus drops us off at 8:30 AM in San Ignacio, a town in the interior of Belize. They speak English in Belize, but only to tourists – the local language is Creole. It is market day. After a quick coffee where we telephone a place we found in the guidebook to make a reservation, we head with all our gear to check out the market. A woman with a captivating smile and British accent invites us to sample her granola. We later notice that she is a Mennonite. We check into the Maya Mountain Lodge where we have a charming thatched roof bungalow in a tropical paradise. The lodge is owned by American ex-pats and old hippies Bart and Suzi Mickler, who have been living in Belize for 30 years. They serve delicious meals on their beautiful patio. That afternoon, as we are walking into town, a woman waves and calls to us. Turns out it is Janet the granola lady from the market who has a small farm across from Bart and Suzi, and has also lived in Belize for over 30 years. She invites us over for tea in her English tropical country garden where we meet another American neighbor, as well as 4 of Janet’s 8 strapping Creole-speaking children (of course they speak English too with a low gutteral accent). Janet has quite a story. She was married to a German man, Manfred, until his untimely death 4 years ago. As a teenager in the late 60’s Manfred left home and traveled all over India and Asia with no money (he had everything stolen in Morocco at the beginning of his journey). At one point he was marooned on a desert island for 4 months (yes, really), when he had a falling out with the captain of a ship he was sailing on, and the man dropped him off on this island. There was a big article written about Manfred’s adventure in a German magazine. After he and Janet married, they traveled with 2 young children, until they settled in Belize where they had 6 more children. He became a tour guide, and worked for Bart and Suzi. Janet and Manfred wanted to sail off into the sunset together after their children were grown, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Our second day in Belize we canoe through Barton Creek Cave with a guide and 2 other people. It is completely dark except for our lights. We pass by Mayan pottery embedded in the walls, as well as a real skull. Very eerie. Our guide, Andy, has two brothers who live in Edmonton, but he can’t visit them, as the Canadian government has stopped issuing visas to Belizians because of some scandal involving forging of Belizian passports.
We decide to return to Guatemala rather than head to the coast of Belize. After a taxi to the border, we take the Guatemalan version of Greyhound to a town called Rio Dulce. The seat cushions are shot, and of course the bathroom is not functioning. I think all the trashed buses in the US end up in Guatemala. I have never seen so many decrepit vehicles. And many old American school buses end up in Guatemala as brightly painted “chicken buses” (regretfully we did not get to try one of these). The bus driver tells us the bus is leaving at 1:00, but it doesn’t leave until 2:30! That’s Guatemalan time. Rio Dulce seems like the Jersey Shore of Guatemala, filled with resorts and marinas. Our second day we take a two-hour boat ride to Livingston, a town on the Caribbean that has a Jamaican flavor. We spend most of our time there at a local restaurant eating their fabulous traditional seafood stew.
Where to spend our last 2 days? After some debate we decide to venture into Honduras to visit the Mayan ruins at Copan. Once again, we arrange private transportation, since there is no convenient shuttle. This time, though, we get a fairly modern van, and a lovely helpful driver named Carlos. Copan turns out to be a quaint, charming touristy town (definitely not what I expected in Honduras) – sort of the Honduran version of New Hope or Niagara-on-the-Lake. There are lots of cute cafes and gift shops, and we have our first really good cup of coffee on the whole trip (apparently Central America exports most of their good coffee). We stay in a charming family-run hotel right in the center of town where we pay $25.00 for 2 simple but clean rooms. We eat traditional pupusas (filled tortillas) at a local restaurant where our entire bill is about $6.00.
The Mayan ruins of Copan are not as grandiose as those of Tikal, but very beautiful and interesting. It is amazing that there are still so many ruins in both places that haven’t yet been unearthed. Temples with huge 500-year-old trees growing on top. In the afternoon we decide to take the advertised “2-hour” horseback ride to visit 2 other Mayan sites. Our guide Eduardo, a kindly man in his 60’s who speaks only Spanish but really over-articulates so we can understand much of what he says (with Adrian translating the rest), shows up with 3 decrepit-looking horses. We set out, with Eduardo trudging beside us on foot. These are (luckily) the world’s slowest horses. I am a bit horrified when we start out along a highway with trucks whizzing by. The horses seem to know where they’re going. After a while we get on to smaller roads, and soon tie up the horses so we can trek up to a site where we see houses where athletes slept and trained. As we set out on horseback, we are once again on the highway, this time facing traffic. My horse seems a bit frisky, and the trucks seem about 2 inches away from us. I totally freak out, yelling for Eduardo to help me, so he runs up and leads the horse, then we cross the highway so we’re going with traffic ( I admit I wanted to end the horseback ride right there, but was persuaded to keep going). Luckily we get off the highway onto country roads that wind through beautiful hills, and we stop at a hacienda for a cold drink. Then we see one of the most interesting Mayan sites – the place where women gave birth. At first it looks like a bunch of lichen-covered rocks, but as our guide speaks, we see the frog carvings (symbol of fertility), the seat where the shaman sat, and the seat where the woman sat. There is also a graphic life-sized carving of a woman giving birth.
We get off the horses in town, and head for the most expensive restaurant in our guidebook for the last night of our trip. People are wearing shorts and flip-flops at the charming Twisted Tanya’s, an open-air restaurant on a second floor. We hit happy hour -- the cocktails are 2 for $3.50. The fixed price menu is $18.00. Our meal is fabulous from beginning to end, and Gary tells our waiter that the food is as good as any New York (or Philadelphia) restaurant. Turns out the waiter grew up in New York.
It is raining for the first time in a week as we head back to the hotel. A lot of the power seems to be out in town. We enter our hotel in total darkness. Once again, thank goodness for those flashlights we brought!
The next morning we have a nervewracking 40 minute wait for our ride to the airport (a 5-hour drive). The travel agency is closed (it is 7 AM) and we have no cell phone number. Finally the guy shows up, and we get to the airport safe and sound.
My mind is still filled with the sights and sounds of Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, and of course our time spent with Adrian. I hope I have conveyed some of the magic of this wonderful adventure!
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Curated by Caitlin Cieri