A summer spent behind a steering wheel

photo (4)Sitting on a lounge chair next to our hotel pool, I watch the sun burn pure white as it descends towards the Caribbean Sea. In my hand is a cold Salvavidas, Honduras’ national beer, and the breeze coming off the water completes the picture of paradise. I’m staring at every over-worked employee and pencil-pusher’s daydream and I find myself distracted… I look at the sky colors changing yet I see interstates and traffic jams, Walmarts and dish bins. I see me cleaning musty tents, hiking sweaty miles in strong summer heat, bracing for sleep on cold desert nights, and I do it all with a group of people I’ve never met.

I’m thinking, unlike most people on a beautiful Caribbean island, about my job. It’s July already; the snow is gone, the days are long and another season of adventures, of first and lasts, is about to start as I return to the road and to my country to trek America.

From my lounge chair, opening a second Salvavidas, I think that indeed, the leaders of TrekAmerica live a blessed life. We work ferociously long, exhausting and rewarding days for half the year and have the other half, the off- season to travel more, work another seasonal job or do both. I chose to do both.

I decided to combine my Spanish skills with my leadership abilities to guide tours for a Central American company. There are no tents to clean; I stay in hotels with air-conditioning and a bathroom, there’s no flat tire to change or gas to refill; I don’t ever drive, and I don’t have to fight rabid raccoons away from my campsite at night because someone has left a bag of marshmallows on the table. As well, I don’t have to ritually sacrifice a group member in the morning to obtain hot shower water and I never have to cook or clean up after anyone. The pool, Salvavidas and Honduran sunset are also part of the paradise package job.

And, they want me to stay. They want me to watch this sunset, sleep inside (in a bed, not on the ground or on a picnic table) and lead all-age groups from Mexico City south to steamy, Panama City, forever!

I look at the sky, the colors around me are turning hazy pink in front and light blue behind me. The sun has sunk below the horizon and left a trail of gold atop the water. It’s stunning. Yet, this paradise lacks.

FirstCnayonPICThese comforts I receive in Central America, (despite being a third world region) the squishy bed, the island free days, even the air-conditioning, can never replace or be better- than the experience of radio-jamming and road tripping, of living outside with ten to twelve other people, of running from torrential rain and lightning while sitting at a campfire, of pushing a van and trailer out of inches-deep mud (that I may have accidentally driven into), of dressing up in weird costumes and grocery shopping just because we can, or of watching these same people see the Grand Canyon and the lights of Las Vegas for the first time. A travel bond is formed that no other experience can compare to.

And so, as much as I love how I look with a perma-tan and eating fresh mango and papaya daily, summer would not be complete if I wasn’t sitting behind the steering wheel, repetitively listening to a song I hate (but will end- up loving by the end of the trip).

Swallowing the last of Salvavidas nĂºmero dos, I notice the sky darkening quickly and it’s time to meet my current group for dinner. I leave my lounge chair and think about the work ahead; not a lot of solo lounge chair time for the TrekAmerica leader. But, for the people you meet, the impact you have and the memories you keep it’s all completely, 100% worth it.