At 12:05am during an Indiana thunderstorm seven months ago, my heart skipped a couple of beats as I remembered that with the new day came the expiration of a large number of carefully saved-up flight miles.

I grabbed my computer, logged onto the airline site, saw that the miles had not yet been removed from my account, and within the space of a few minutes chose a date, a destination, and a random airport to fly out of (since I had no idea where in the country/world I might be in spring of 2017.)

Two and a half weeks.  

Sunrise with the howler monkeys atop Templo IV in Tikal National Park

A few weeks ago I set out in a winter snowstorm to make the long drive from the Cascade Mountains in Washington to Southern California to catch that flight from LAX to Guatemala, but a traffic snarl and subsequent rear-ending in Seattle left me with a concussion and a broken car (aka my home,) which meant that our final destination together for that particular journey was a body shop just outside of Seattle…1,142 miles from LAX.

Minor complication.

Normally, packing and arranging the various details of travel plans is a breeze – after all, I spend 100% of my time without a home base these days – but for a little space of time there even the most simple of tasks seemed like an insurmountable challenge and trying to sort out alternate flight routes to make it to LA in time for my flight just wasn’t happening. So I scrapped the original ticket, took a day to sort the chaos, and then set out again on overnight flights from SEA>LAX>GUA.

While sitting in a broken-head-induced blur in Terminal 5 at 1am, I learned that, since I had failed to show up for my original flight, the return flight had been automatically cancelled… which meant that I would not, upon arriving in Guatemala, be allowed through customs and into the country.

Another minor complication.

I’d had numerous people telling me over the weeks prior that under no circumstances should I travel to Guatemala, and situational snarls like the one I found myself in will make one wonder. But I refused to be waylaid and pushed ahead, certain of nothing but the fact that I needed to plant my toes in Guatemalan earth.

A few phone calls and $150 later, my return ticket was reinstated and I boarded my third and final flight to Guatemala City.

A lancha returns to the tiny, charming island of Flores in Peten, Guatemala

By the time I arrived in Antigua — after lugging a 25-lb backpack around for 14 hours of flights and layovers (why can’t they invent a camera that is weightless?) and a 1-hour bus ride over jarringly-cobblestoned streets — my body felt as thoroughly broken as my little hatchback home.

I’d arrived.
The sun hugged my skin.
It was 75 degrees.
There was no snow to be seen, anywhere… just colors and vibrancy and life.
And despite my broken body, my soul took a deep breath and my bare toes dug into warm earth and all of the chaos of the journey faded away.

Sometimes obstacles are guideposts and directional nudges.

Sometimes they’re simply what they are, with no need to attach additional meaning.

And always, they make the arriving that much more fulfilling.

I traveled to Guatemala at a time when both my body and my soul were very much in need of restoration, and I found that and so much more.

Mayan woman waiting for a lancha (boat) to take them home after a long day selling their wares in San Marcos on Lake Atitlan

Guatemala doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to safety, but I found it to be overflowing with beautiful, wonderfully kind people, a culture that begs to be embraced and explored, and a landscape so overwhelmingly beautiful that I never wanted to leave. I’ll be posting more about it in the days to come but for starters:

Guatemala is a country that I would absolutely encourage every single person to visit. It’s one of those places that leaves you always wanting more.

* If you’re a fan of travel but not actively collecting flight miles, A) Why?! and B) Start now! …and C) Don’t forget to use your miles before they expire!!