Then & Now: Three Years In Review, As Seen From a Hammock

April 2, 2011 in Africa, Austria, Belgium, Belize, blog, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Europe, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Inspiration, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, North America, Travelogue, Tunisia, United States

It’s my favourite thing, sitting in the hammock, watching the lago. It’s beautiful at any time of day, but there’s something about sneaking down there after dinner when the water is rosy pink as the sun slides behind the volcanos.

The deep quiet, as if the whole universe is holding its breath, while the colour drains from this crater at the top of the world and is replaced by shades of steel gray, is magical.

When creation exhales, twilight explodes in sound:

  • Dogs barking
  • The quiet drone of Mass being sung from the cathedral
  • A chorus of insects singing the first star into the sky
  • The whisper of the bamboo forest retelling the day’s best stories
  • The lap, lap, lap of gentle waves hitting the shore, telegraphing a Mayan story in morse code from the other side of the lake


The warm air cools as Xocomil (show-coh-meel) who chose not to blow this afternoon, breathes softly on my shoulders, bringing with her the smoke of hundreds of wood cook fires across the valley and the scent of caldos y tortillas.

Fireflies blink and flicker, like Christmas lights left up four months too long.

Steel grays are replaced with inky blacks and I notice the orange trumpet vine in charcoal relief against the still silvery sky.

The volcanos don’t exist tonight, they’ve been replaced by a thick bank of fog that makes me wonder if they were ever really there. Perhaps, instead of sitting on the edge of a crater lake we’re really perched on the very lip of the world and just beyond the cloud bank lies nothing but black and stars. These are the things I think about when I hang in my hammock.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about a lot of things. Not the least of which has been the gift of the past three years with my family. In January of 2008 we nervously sold our house and by spring had boxed everything that still mattered to us and cut loose the bow string of our life.


Kids on our “sanity check” 500 mile cycle tour of Maritime Canada, aged 4-10

The children were aged 5, 7, 9 & 11. Our friends (with a few notable exceptions) thought us quite mad. Our kids were little. We weren’t entirely sure they were tough enough. We were prepared to be flexible, to regroup, or possibly to fail altogether. It was a scary leap out of the boat, even though we’d traveled lots.

The plan seemed solid enough: take a year and bicycle through Europe, perhaps the fringe of Asia, definitely make a stop in Africa, then, come “home,” buy another house, get a “real job,” and carry on, having slaked our wanderlust.

The best parts of life are always the things we least expect and can least plan for.

Imagine our surprise when, one night in a shabby hotel in the shadow of the Bastille Monument in Paris, we looked at one another and admitted it: Our year was over, but we weren’t going to stop traveling, maybe not ever… our gap year had become our lives.

Most of our loved ones understood. A few still don’t. Those who know us best just smile, and keep a light on for us.

We began with clear cut plans, goals, fall backs, safety nets and money in the bank (which evaporated one night when we were camped on an Adriatic sea cliff whilst the stock market crashed.)

We’ve learned a lot since then. About the world. About ourselves, mostly.

Tonight, as I hung in the pea soup fog, smelling the jasmine that haunts our garden especially fiercely at twilight, I reflected on that. On where we started. Where we’ve been. Where we’re going.

So little of that has to do with Geography, in the end.

  • We still have a plan, but we don’t over plan anymore.
  • We’ve got goals, but they’re more loosely defined.
  • We’ll always have safety nets and fall backs, but we’ve learned how to support ourselves as we go, so hopefully those become less necessary.
  • We still don’t have much money in the bank, but neither does anyone else we know, so who cares.


We’re leaving this jewel of a Lago in just two short weeks. I miss it already. We’ve got the “next big thing” in place, we know, roughly, where we’ll be in six months and how we’ll fill the space between now and then. There’s much to prepare, and loads of lovin’ on friends and family to be done in the interim.

This has been a wonderful place to spend six months, the longest we’ve been in one place in over three years. It’s been a perfect spot to refresh, reflect, re-group and renew our passions. It’s been a wonderful place to celebrate the beginning of our fourth year on the road. It’s become home in so many ways, as we’ve found community, friendship and belonging in the most surprising places. We’ll be back; one day.


The kids two weeks ago, crossing the Guate-Honduras border, aged 8-14 (and our cousin, Ruth!)

The children are now aged 8, 10, 12 & 14. In two short weeks we’ll have two teenagers in the house. We’ve gone from wondering if they’ll “make it” to wondering what kind of crazy adults they’ll be having grown up with the world as their classroom.

The things we second guessed when they were tiny now seem silly and what made us nervous then, makes us laugh as we hear them articulate their own passions and interests and why they’d rather live this life than any other to backpackers around our dinner table.

I sat and laughed until I cried with my friend Imelda on the porch this afternoon. Our children were playing in three languages: Ka’chiquel, English & Spanish on the lawn, games they made up as they went along. Spanish is everyone’s second language and the one most heard as they laughed and raced and swung from the vines. This is why I love our life.

Today could not ever have happened if we hadn’t swallowed that massive lump of fear and turned our back on “normal” for good. We’d have missed Imelda and her sweet children and never been the wiser.

We’d have missed the Barkers and the Wellmans and the Adams and the Maishes and Monya, our bread lady in Tunisia, and Jeff & Wendy and Scott and Alex and the Wrights not to mention Dennis, Ruth, David & Phil or the girls from Australia; the list could go on and on for hours. We’d have missed them all, and never been the wiser.

The thing I have tonight, that I didn’t have three years ago, is confidence.

  • Confidence that we’re doing the right thing.
  • That it will all work out, that we won’t starve or die by the trail, and if we do that it will all have been worth it.
  • I have the confidence to grab “the next big thing” with both hands around the neck and shake every last bit of joy and excitement out of it.
  • I have the confidence to say that this is an unqualified good thing for our family and, in fact, the thing we seem to have been made to do.


It didn’t take three years to get here, and it hasn’t been any one moment or any one realization. Rather, it’s been a series of baby steps, rewarded by a series of baby victories and lessons learned from others, or sometimes the hard way, that have delivered me safely across continents to the hammock this evening.

The fog obscures the volcanos and I wonder if the rest of the world has dissolved away, but in the end, I know it has not. It’s out there, waiting, and very soon, we’ll go out and find it.