Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Sunday, August 11, 2019


My son and I arrived to Cusco at different times. He came from Puno via bus, I traveled from Arequipa by plane. I had no desire to visit Puno and wanted to stay in Arequipa as long as possible. After a month there, the city felt familiar and, as one does after awhile in one place, I had a routine that felt comfortable.

Still, I looked forward to Cusco. I had booked an apartment as a pleasant change from hotel rooms. And then there was Machu Picchu! Cusco is the major hub to get there as well as to many other Inca ruins in the area.

My first look at the apartment was disappointing. Yes, it was spacious with two bedrooms but the kitchen could hardly be called a kitchen, not even a kitchenette. There was no refrigerator, no pots and pans for cooking, and although the website had said "oven" it was just a two burner propane unit on a table next to the tiny sink.

Forrest, who had arrived earlier in the day, reported the shower was just lukewarm, the WiFi wasn't great, and "Look, Mom, how dirty the floors are--" the bottoms of his bare feet were black. Also, within a few hours, there was no water at all!

The water eventually came back on. Apparently this is Cusco's dry season and water has to be rationed. I understood that since we experienced the same thing in Guatemala when we lived in Panajachel. I kept water stored in jugs for these times. But I had just arrived here and it was all too much!

I went to bed feeling very frustrated. I kept checking on for something else. Finally, I decided not to be rash or impulsive and to give it 24 hours.

The next morning, Forrest left on his 5-day trekking journey along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. As for me, nothing looked better in the morning light. As so often happens during these kinds of situations, I sat there crying and thinking if only Bruce were here, he'd make everything better. We'd see it as an adventure and would immediately set to work tackling the problems together, rather than me sitting here alone wondering what went wrong.

I imagined how Bruce would handle things, what he would do first. From my vantage point in bed under three heavy blankets, I saw a clock on the wall in the not-really-a-kitchenette. It wasn't keeping time (one more lame thing about this crappy place.) I knew that right off Bruce would get one of the AA batteries I brought for my camera and put it in the clock. So I dragged myself out from under the covers to get the battery and put it in the clock and set it on the right time.

The dear little clock started ticking, a comforting sound that made me feel immediately better. What else would my capable husband go after?

"What should I do next, my love?" I asked him, and then wrote out a list of simple tasks we'd undertake if he were in this situation with me.

One of them was to talk to my contact person for the apartment. I put that one way down on the list, because when you're feeling discouraged and sorry for yourself, you don't want to talk to anyone.

Finally, after I completed everything else, I messaged the person, saying I had some questions about the apartment and could they come by. At 11:30 a.m., there's a knock on the door, and it's these two smiling women, one with a baby in a backpack. Turns out they're mother and daughter, and I'd been messaging the daughter as my contact person.

I ask about turning on the heater, about turning on the hot water, about cleaning the floor, and what about no pans to cook with, not even a little one to fry an egg. The mother said, "I'll clean the floor right now!" I told her I wouldn't mind doing it, but I had no supplies. During all this, I saw a man in the hall carrying a mini-fridge down the stairs from another apartment.

I said, "I wish I had one of those here," and they said, "We will bring you one, and pots and pans later today."

While the mom mopped, she asked why I was in Cusco. I showed her a picture of my husband, saying he died last year and I just needed to get away from everything familiar. She understood, said "Ah, tu eres soltera," told me her mother was also a widow and very independent, just like me. We had a nice conversation, although with the stress of the past couple days, my Spanish wasn't very good.

When they left, everything looked so much better after having all the rooms mopped. It felt clean and, with the sun now shining brightly through the apartment, more like home.

Around six pm, they come by again with a man who's probably the husband. He is carrying a mini-fridge, still wrapped in plastic from the store. The women have a big box with new pans, cooking utensils, a cutting board and a knife. Also, a brand new broom and dustpan. The mom calls me Karencita which is so sweet. And they dropped the rent by $50.

This day that had started off so badly with my dark thoughts, ended with joyful gratitude, a day I would never forget. I felt hopeful, blessed, and just happy to know people like this would be my landlords for one month in Cusco.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Hola from Chile and Peru

My youngest son and I are traveling in South America this summer. We are one month into our trip, the first week spent in Coquimbo/La Serena, Chile to see the eclipse. This eclipse had a very narrow view for totality. You basically had to go to South America to experience it. Not that either of us are eclipse chasers, but as long as we had plans to go why not arrange things to see that?

We saw it from the beach, which was incredible and this photo doesn't do it justice. They never do. You've got to have some kind of special camera to really photograph totality. But with this shot we can appreciate how dark it is, like the sun has set, yet it's still quite far above the horizon. 

We only stayed in this area for a week, as it was quite expensive. Every day I walked for hours on the beach. It was cold, since it's winter now in Chile, but not too bad in the afternoon with the sun shining. I loved those beach walks, especially the pelicans! I admire how they're so relaxed and companionable, but when it's time to eat they go after it with a vengeance, dive-bombing straight into the water. I never tired of watching them.
We bussed from La Serena north to the Chile/Peru border, stopping here and there along the way. It took about a week until we finally crossed the border and headed to Irequipa, Peru, where we decided to stay for a month.

I love it in Arequipa. The weather is fantastic, sunny and in the low to mid-seventies every day. The prices for lodging and food are quite reasonable, even cheap, especially compared to Chile. I've checked out a few places for long-term rentals for maybe next year when I'd like to come back and stay for six months. I could totally live here for $500 to $800 a month, including food and incidentals. So I just might do that.

Here's my son buying two hand-knit alpaca sweaters for just $10 each. Both he and the vendor were very happy with their transaction. He's wearing one of them, isn't it beautiful? And so soft! I haven't found one yet, but I'm keeping my eyes open. Today I bought a hat. Everyone here wears hats because of the intensity of the sun.

I'm posting photos regularly on my Instagram @travelingnonny if you want to see more of my travels through Chile and Peru!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Keeper of the Memories

One of the toughest things I've experienced in the ten months since my husband died has been carrying the burden of our memories. I would never have expected memories to be anything other than a pleasant, welcome diversion. One of the frequent comments people made was something to the effect of "You had so many good years together, and all those memories."

Like those who made the comments, I too would have thought it would be a positive thing. Having 48 years together was lovely, although naturally I wanted more. Reflecting back on our life should be a comfort, right? 

In a way, yes and in a way, no. When something comes up from our past, whether good or bad, who do I share it with? I can't turn to Bruce and say, "Remember when....?" Instead, it stays within, crying to be shared with the one who, like me, knew it from firsthand experience. 

How I'd love to talk over some of those rough times with him when they come to mind:

"How did we ever get through it?" 
"Things worked out pretty well after all, funny about that."
"What do you wish we'd done differently?"
"Here's what I learned from it, how about you?"

Being left as the sole keeper of the memories is not as pleasant as one would expect. It can be a lonely job. In the book The Giver by Lois Lowry, there's the giver and the receiver of memory. The receiver's duty is to take in memories of the society from the giver. When the giver passes on, the receiver carries on until a new receiver shows up, and then the other becomes the giver.

I think I need to appoint someone in my family as Receiver and I will be the Giver, for as long as it takes. Although in the book, they are not appointed, they just are. So I'll keep my eyes out for the right one.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Where in the World am I?

It's been less than two years since my last post in November, 2017, but to me it feels like forever. Time is like that when everything changes and your world goes topsy turvy. Two years ago, my husband and I were living in Salt Lake City and planning our next move/trip/lifestyle change.
At home in the Guatamala highlands, near Lake Atitlan

On our list was Cambodia, India, the Philippines, definitely Vietnam. And maybe back to Mexico because we had loved living in Comitan, Chiapas. When we left Comitan, our landlord said the apartment would be ours if we ever came back. Considering we could live comfortably in this friendly mid-sized town in southern Mexico for just $800 a month for everything, we certainly discussed moving back.

But God had other plans for us. A year ago, my husband had emergency surgery for a dissected aorta. It ruptured on the operating table, before they were able to properly prep him for surgery. Miraculously, they did save his life and he did wake up from the surgery. Although he had a long road ahead of him if he were to fully recover from the trauma his body had gone through.

It was four months of ups and downs, much fasting and prayer for healing, many hospitals as they moved him around based on whether he was progressing or not. In July, it seemed like he might make it. Finally, he seemed to be improving. My hope was renewed.

Until an infection they'd kept at bay with powerful antibiotics flared up again. With a vengeance. Within days he was admitted to LDS Hospital, since the care center in Salt Lake didn't have the means to handle the situation. I saw him go downhill so fast it scared me. I felt this was the end. I cried buckets of tears that week.

He passed away on August 23, ten days after our 48th wedding anniversary. On our anniversary, he'd been lucid and even written a sweet note in a card one of our sons brought to him to sign for me. Five days after that, I knew it was over and five days after that, he was gone.

He died surrounded by our family, surrounded by love. He had fought valiantly for four months after surgery to recover and stay with us. We were grateful for the courage he showed through this battle, but also grateful he was now released from his pain-racked, very ill body to return home to his Heavenly Father.

I've been blessed to feel his spirit with me often since that day, my eternal companion. We were married in 1970 in the Oakland, California temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for time and eternity. Our church believes that families are forever, that the bonds of marriage and family are not for this life only but can continue on after death. The work done in our holy temples is simply that of uniting families for eternity. I've never been so grateful for that work as I have since Bruce died.
Quetzaltenango temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
So where in the world am I? Currently staying with one of my sons and his family in Cedar City, Utah, while I get my bearings and decide what should be my next move.

I'll end this by sharing a picture of Bruce and me taken in 1970, our first Christmas as a newly married couple, heading out to travel to Illinois to spend the holidays with my family. We were so young! We had no idea what lay ahead of us, but as long as we had each other nothing else really mattered. And that is still true.