February 20, 2015


We are now over 5 months into our journey to South America, and there’s one thing that has perplexed me for many months. No matter what little Mexican and Central American families own as far as material possessions, no matter how small their house or few dollars they earned, the vast majority is happy. Why is this when they have so little? Ah, but that’s the thing. Too many in North America (NA) feel that in order to be happy in life, you have to have more “stuff”. Whether it’s high-end clothing or that new car, plumped up kissers or a collection of Mont Blanc pens, we feel the need to accumulate. Through the magic of advertising, from birth we are programmed to believe that to have more “stuff” than the person next to you is to be happy. “You need this NEW and IMPROVED Twist Tie in order to be happy…until the NEWEST AND IMPROVIEST Twist Tie comes out next week.” Wait, are you sure about that? Because we’ve been traveling through some very, very poor areas of what some would consider Third World countries and these lovely people are not just happy, they want to share their happiness and homes with you. Most North Americans (NA’s) have more “stuff” than them, so why are we so, well, angry? Why is it that North America is considered the land of success and prosperity yet we seem to be so disgruntled and bitter for no particular reason? Let’s find out together. (NOTE: Though to date we have traveled through mainland Mexico and 5 countries in Central America, the values remain the same. Because of that, I’m going to focus on Guatemala as my Latin American example. Why? Guatemala is the country that really made us think…and, love…and, learn.)

Ladies Sorting Coffee Beans

We spent weeks living, talking with and observing many different cultures and lifestyles during our time in Mexico and Central America. And in that time we have come to this conclusion…They have it figured out when it comes to being happy. You know what they have that we don’t? Appreciation and respect for true simplicity in this life. Wherever we go, the same basic needs are always there. Food, water, shelter, family. That doesn’t change from country to country. But what they do embody is a genuine appreciation for all they have. Only packed down dirt for a floor? They sweep the leaves and pebbles off that floor every morning to make it look nice for the day. A freshly picked basket of garden veggies and some homemade tortillas? They’ll make sure you eat first as guests are considered family when in their home. They also have respect for their neighbors, their family and themselves. They have respect for their culture and what those who came before them created and achieved. Do you see where I’m going with this? Let me give you a much deeper example.

Terry Doing Dishes_1

We stayed for a week with a lovely Mayan family in San Juan la Laguna on Lake Atitlan. This was a home-stay that Terry found on Air B&B, the lure being that you are essentially coming to live with and be a part of this traditional Mayan family. When we swung open the front sheet metal gate, this is what we found: a perfectly swept dirt and rock path that led to 4 separate, small buildings that housed a husband and wife, their 3 year old son, their 20 day year old daughter, the grandmother, a sister and her husband, 4+ dogs and countless chickens. Oh, and one cat. Yes, you read that correctly. A newborn. Our Mayan family welcomed us with glasses of purified water, freshly sliced watermelon, and a charming room with 3 beds and a private bath. While the young family of 4 stayed in one room, we were given the ‘suite’ while the grandmother stayed in the smaller home in the back with easy access to feeding the chickens. I set up our camping chairs in front of our ‘home’ and chuckled as the grandma pronounced it her seat and settled right in for most of our stay. Our young hostess, Esmerelda, quietly nursed her daughter while standing at the stove making sure dinner was coming along nicely. Terry and Jack sat at the front of the yard with our host, Pedro, and his son, Pedro Antonio, as they attempted to fix a problem on Pedro’s 125cc motorcycle, the family’s only method of transportation. Esmerelda shared with us many traditional Mayan meals and special teas made from leaves grown in the region. The home was very clean, very small, but filled with something too many American homes have lost – pride. Not an arrogant pride that haunts many egos in our culture. But pride in what they have, not in what they have not. Pride in walking the streets of their small town and introducing us to their friends. A smile and “Buenos dias” was shared with every local farmer as they carried enormous sacks of coffee beans or sticks uphill to be weighed and purchased at the mill, the strap of the sack pressing tautly along his forehead as it beared the bulk of the weight, the hands free to carry a machete or sickle. No matter the circumstance, there was always time to smile and greet each other on the street. Always. This was appreciation for the new day you were given. This was respect for your neighbor and the family the next generation they were raising.

Working on Guatemalan motorycle



So, let’s highlight a few things and see if we can’t get out of our own way long enough to make a few changes to our daily lives:


  • Stop with the “stuff”. “Stuff” won’t kiss you goodnight nor will it be there for you when you’re ill. Besides, who wants to have more to dust or clean?
  • I don’t care how much it hurts, crack one open for the man sitting across from you on the train. Shoot a big grin to your kiddo when they least expect it. If they smile back, you all win. Spread the good instead of the toxic.
  • Don’t love your life? Do something about it, and please stop your whining.
  • Stop for a minute and do a history lesson. Did your great grandparents need 4 TV’s to stay entertained?
  • Slow down. Why are we in such a hurry? Maybe it’s time to lighten the calendar instead of cramming in more. Who cares if the family next door juggles careers, kids and an attempt to make it look like a darn good time! Which leads me to…
  • Spend more time with yourself. How are you going to know how to take care of you if you don’t even know who you are?
  • Surround yourself with family, blood or chosen. They make us laugh and are honest enough let us know when we’re doing things right or wrong. They know how to keep us “real”.
  • Finally, you get what you give.

Grandma in The Chair

Trust me, all that I have described are lessons that all 3 of us have had to learn along our journey. A choice to change means you have taken the time to listen to yourself instead of being driven by the actions and suggestions of others. Choosing a life with less “stuff” means a lightness that you’ve craved though never knew just how much until you took the chance. It’s been quite nice this 2-wheel classroom we’ve been rolling through these past several months. Who knows where we’ll be in another 5 months! Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to learn, and we’re ready for the challenge. Cheers.