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Between Mexico & Guatemala: How I Moved on Despite the Pandemic

I remember those days in Mexico as the silence before the storm. In a time when borders of countries closed, tourists fearfully cancelled their travel-plans or spent a fortune for return flights home, I decided to not listen to the German or Mexican media or my parents, but take a decision based not on fear.

Sometimes life changes so fast, you still wonder if it really happened the next morning.

That is how I felt on March 14th when I woke up in Palenque, Mexico. After travelling for 11 months I had found a home in Guatemala, where I wanted to live and work a couple months more.

It was before I or anyone knew, a virus would put the world on hold. It was also before I knew, I would be trapped at the border between Guatemala and Mexico, desperately crying. Or that I would lose all my belongings (my precious 20-kg backpack containing my life).

Despite the news on the pandemic, I committed to not act out of anticipation for a worst-case scenario, but hold on to the awareness of infinite possibilities spiced with a good amount of determination to make the best within the given circumstances.

Many European travelers told me: “You will see, it´s going to be difficult” .

They were right.

“You have to be realistic. Mexico is not a safe country and especially during a pandemic, crime-rates will increase”, my father reminded me.

He too, was right.

And still.

My hopefulness was not shared by many, but I told everyone, I would work it out. Now I only had to start believing it myself.

Let´s start from the peaceful beginning at a crystal-clear pool surrounded by palm trees softly bending in the wind. We could hear the sounds of jumping Howler Monkeys playing int the tree-tops.

I had left Flores, Guatemala, for a visa run, which meant getting my passport stamped at the border of Guatemala, staying in Mexico for a couple days and returning to Flores with a fresh 3-months-visa.

How good it felt to know, I would return and see the many friends I had made. How good, I didn’t know then, I wouldn’t return.

Even though I had stopped planning during my journey and learned to go with the flow (in most cases, those plans don’t work out anyway), this time I had a plan:

Return to my beloved island of Flores and work at the same friendly hostel for a few more months.

Little did I know that life would find a way to turn even my simplest plan around, while I was relaxing in peaceful cluelessness at the pool in Mexico.

The entire town of Palenque was cut off the internet on that day.

The result was an increase in conversations between people, sitting at the pool and a decrease in faces silently staring at screens without meeting the eyes of the travelers around them. I like to think that we were all blessed with lack of WIFI, therefore lack of knowledge and absence of panic.

Let me tell you when the WIFI returned, we felt thrown back into reality so shockingly like being thrown to wild beasts.

That evening I decided to stay in Mexico for one more day, I did not know the border would be closed the next day. I did not know, it wouldn’t be one more day, but 6 more months in Mexico (until now).

On the following morning, the beast of reality lurked out of my mobile phone. There it was, written black on white:

I was not allowed to enter Guatemala with my German passport.

I had not been to Germany for almost a year and the stamps of 7 countries could prove that, so why did it matter that I had a German passport?

When a German announces the state of emergency, a Mexican orders another Taco, takes a nap and the next day she deals with the trouble.

I tried to get into that easygoing Latino-attitude, but after five minutes the German part of me sprang in scrolling for solutions sorrowfully.

By lunch time, I was upset enough to take a break from the news.

Food is always a light in the dark for me.

Later in the day I got a message from the hostel owner in Guatemala telling me they would close during the pandemic.

Over 10 employees got fired on that day, including me.

So now I had lost my job.

Would I see my friends again? Would I get my backpack with all my belongings, my credit card and my cash back?

There was only one way to find out: I had to go to the Guatemalan border to see if they would let me cross.

My friends from Guatemala confirmed they could pack and send my bag to the border.

Have you ever left home and discovered you could not return? You don’t plan for such occasions.

Have you ever left home and discovered you could not return? You don’t plan for such occasions.

And boy, did the girls find some strange things in my room. Two hours later my back was ready.

The next day I arrived at the border, sweaty from the hourlong bus ride, and my backpack was not there.

Will I leave you with a cliffhanger about what happened to my bag?

Yes I will.

I do so to convey at least the slightest idea of the frustration I felt on that day in March.

The point of me publishing this story is to share, what I learned from it.

When you cannot control something (if you get your bag or not, if you get a satisfying end to a story, if you can cross a border) – when you cannot control something, no amount of anger will help.

Panic will not help, but of course we don’t choose to panic, it overcomes us like a beast (you remember, the beast of reality).

But no.

The panic is not that beast.

That beast is the story in your head, the “what-if” scenario we make up.

The beast is the worst-case you create in your mind.

The best is our biggest fear that takes control over our brains and hearts.

When nothing seems under control, like so often this year, I like to remember how little control humans have on so many exterior events - even witouth a pandemic.

We like to think we have control, because it feels nice to plan and predict the future.

Now, I don’t mean we should see ourselves as victims of the circumstances.

So, what can we do when everything seems out of control?

We can influence the present. We can influence our attitude towards it.

We can turn inside and control our reactions.

I took a decision to let my backpack be transported to the border and get there myself, to see, if I could cross the Mexican border. I wanted to see and hear with my own eyes and ears, what my options were.

Maybe the decisions we take lead to nowhere.

But at least we tried and did not become victims of the circumstances.

The energy of taking action is better than waiting for change to happen, because it feels self-empowering.

Taking action despite doubts is still better than soaking in worst-case scenarios.

I did not get my backpack at the border on that day. I drove home without it for another 5 hours on bumpy roads, returning back to my dear friend who shared his pasta with me on that evening.

I wasn’t happy or at peace, but I was satisfied, because I tried to help myself instead of allowing myself to get drained in fearful “what-ifs”.

“Nothing is possible“ and “everything is possible” are two sides of the same coin.

The choice is yours.

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