My phone buzzed to life, compulsively I checked for a message from my partner. We had a huge fight earlier and now she wanted space. True to her word, it wasn’t her. Instead I read an announcement that the Guatemalan boarder would close in 72 hours to prevent the spread of Covid. I sank to the floor of my empty living room. I’d sold almost everything I owned in hopes of leaving life in Canada behind.
The decision came from three weeks in Peru where ayahuasca blew apart my priorities, with a clear message – love was far more valuable than my lucrative job in the newly expanding cannabis industry.
My partner had a parallel plant medicine journey in Guatemala, a global traveller for eight years, she had finally found a home. With her certainty of where she wanted to be, and my need to escape, I offered to pack up our lives and buy a one way ticket to Central America.
I gazed around the apartment. I hadn’t cleaned since the chaos of unravelling my life began, and was anticipating several more weeks to prepare. As I slowly calmed down, the reality I was actually well positioned to exit ahead of my anticipated schedule dawned.
I had banked on working for month in Canada, but when my boss learned my escape plan I’d been abruptly fired in a late night text. I had broken the lease on my apartment, and had to leave by the end of the month anyway.
Checking plane tickets, I still found options. My savings had been spent in Peru, but if I could sell my last, most valuable possessions, in the next 24 hours I had a shot.
My partner had changed my life when I met her. I had been living in my van, after the life I had built in the city had collapsed. Her friendship saved me from deep depression and she somehow still fell in love with me at my lowest point. This was not something to give up on.
Deciding to trust I could get rid of everything the following day, I simply started cleaning. I scrubbed all night, filling the garbage outside to the brim, eventually passing out on the floor.
I struggled awake to find an excited kid at the door to buy my surf gear. A good sign. Next went the tools. Perfect. I began pumping myself up for car salesman mode.
It was late morning when first prospective buyers approached. This was a bit of task as my vehicle was… different. A multi year art project and experiment, I had gutted an old right hand drive 4×4 van from Japan, rebuilt the inside to feel like a cabin, cut a hole in the roof, and installed a miniature wood stove. Trying to hustle this creation had being going on for some time, but no one was serious about it. I smiled, took the couple for a spin, showed off my handiwork, and promised a deal. They wanted to think about it.
Retreating inside I checked flights, finding only a couple left. Too little sleep, excessive coffee and stress were taking a toll. Reality was not matching ayahuasca visions, and I was starting to doubt the fantasy my partner and I had created was meant to be. I needed to be on a plane in less than 24 hours. The van was too weird. Sentimental attachment made me overvalue it, and I was out of time.
As early afternoon arrived my last shot at freedom got out of her friends car. I brightened a little. This person felt good. Driving around with easy banter established a level of trust, and when we hung out in the back of the van her dog and I bonded. I felt a tingle of hope. But she too needed to think about it.
I had still hadn’t talked to my partner, if I could sell everything, I had decided to surprise her. We both had always rolled eyes when people said “you just know” about finding their person, but we knew. It felt like a seriously romantic move, and testing our cosmic connection with fate.
The recent fight did not deter me, I knew I’d changed her life too. She had travelled the world for years breaking hearts, until discovering the way we fit together dissolved stories of not needing anyone else.
With nothing left to do I continued to obsessively check flights. Every time I refreshed the page they were more expensive. I was so close, but while going to Central America in an emerging pandemic was crazy enough, doing it with no money simply was not possible.
The late afternoon sky was starting to turn orange. I was drinking tea in a friends kitchen, both of us trying to keep believing in what I had decided to do. My phone rang. It was the woman about the van, she liked it, but wanted it inspected on Monday. It was 4 pm on Saturday. That was too late.
My cool broke, and in desperation I blurted out my romantic plan, promised every receipt I had, shared every shitty detail of the inspection I’d had at the shop, and assured her a sweet deal if she bought it that day.
After a moment of thought she pointed out this was crazy, and made an offer. It was higher than I expected. I high kicked and danced out to frantically close the deal before the insurance office shut down for the weekend.
The sun had set, and I was back in the apartment that held only bags now, with a stack of cash. I began to believe my scheme just might work, but I was not in Guatemala yet. Rumours of flight cancelations and quarantine cast doubt.
Without enough money on my credit card, I took a deep breathe and called my mom to negotiate a ticket. She resisted. I charmed, pleaded, and finally played hard ball pointing out that if she didn’t do it, I was just going to call someone else. I hope I never have to deal with a kid like me. She bought my one way ticket for the following afternoon, arriving at midnight the day before the boarder closed.
I left in those quiet, cold and dark early hours of the morning. With two packs strapped to my body, and a carry on in each hand, I navigated buses, taxis, ferries, trains and phone calls telling me to stay. Almost at the airport the police called, insisting the van was still in my name, and being impounded. The irritated officer was ready to explode as I told him I was leaving the country. I gave him the new owners phone number and hung up. I could afford zero delays, yet somehow I ended up in Dallas international waiting at the gate for the last plane into Guatemala City.
Stress levels on the plane were extreme, a cough or sneeze absolutely taboo. We landed and a cheery Guatemalan doctor slowly took everyone’s temperature. After some suspense the plane was deemed corona virus free. My Canadian passport and recent trip to Peru raised the immigration official’s eyebrow, but she gave me the stamp.
Relief was a waterfall. Anticipating further tests from the universe or authorities, I cautiously navigated the airport, expecting the ever-present heavily armed and masked personnel to escort me into quarantine, but suddenly I was outside being swarmed by taxi drivers.
Twenty four hours later, I found myself speeding across a massive lake, less than an hour away from my love, sun setting behind volcanoes. Feeling deeply satisfied, I pondered how I had not told my partner I was coming. I had no idea where to find her in town, and knew no one. We had not seen each other for three months, and both had many new experiences in our time apart.
During our last phone call she had given up on seeing me for a very long time. As I wondered what her last 48 hours must have been, doubt started to eat away at my enthusiasm, particularity when I remembered she didn’t like big surprises.
By the time the boat docked, it was dark and I was in full panic. What had I done? What had she done in the past 48 hours? Covered in backpacks and both hands full I began to climb uphill along the only street. I decided to look for a room and figure things out in the morning. Maybe I would call her that night, I thought.
Peeking inside the first few shops I suddenly saw her, working her new job in a cafe. Frozen in the darkness of the street I watched her, triumph and desire, now overpowered by fear, formed a complex knot in my guts. I hesitated, this was not how I wanted to surprise her, but I had seen her and could not simply walk by.
With a deep breath I stepped inside. She was busy with a customer and didn’t notice my entrance. Suddenly terrified to approach the woman I loved, smiles and excitement somehow impossible I blurted.
She looked up, eyes widened.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE??!”
She was, understandably, shocked. There was no smile and she looked terrified too. Hesitantly she ventured out from behind the bar. We awkwardly hugged, but then she backed away. No kiss. I could not move, something was not right.
“I’m sorry, I’m just in shock, why didn’t you call?” She tried to explain, wrestling with something inside.
“You said you wanted space” I offered weakly, I had no other words, still reeling from my own shock
I had never anticipated the need to explain myself in that moment. Moving both our lives across the world, hours before it locked down, I assumed would speak for itself.
She was visibly uncomfortable, and clearly confused. It was a moment outside of time, until finally a customer approached for a drink. I grabbed a sandwich and retreated to a corner table to wait for her shift to end.
Ignoring curious glances from patrons I stared into the night. Why didn’t I just call? How could I have thought this was a good idea? Why had no one pointed this out? They did, I remembered.
I had not heeded advice for weeks, only listening to my crazy heart.
A few hours later we were alone, together in her jungle hut. She nestled up against me, a cool breeze drifted through her open window, and we gazed at lights of a town across the lake. For a moment everything was peaceful, but could not last as we began to unpack the situation.
She revealed she had done ayahuasca again, had a deeply disturbing trip, uncovering repressed traumas, and unexpressed insecurities. She wanted to share the situation during our last phone call days before, but greeted with only my panic if I could leave Canada in time we had only fought. By the time she was ready to tell me everything, I had left the country.
Seeing the boarder close, she had assumed time to organize her thoughts. My bold arrival terribly timed and too shocking for a troubled mind. I felt rejected, cursed by the ayahuasca vine, and furiously assumed this was the end. Something huge shifted and a dam broke, giving us both freedom to express brutally honest feelings, releasing months of misunderstandings.
Sunlight and sweat awakened me to one of the most spectacular views I had ever seen in my life; a massive volcano towering above a crystal lake. It was perfect, and the beauty of this life I had been denied disgusted me. I cracked, crying, emptying my bags of her things, while she wept silently in her underwear, wanting to make my pain go away, but knowing she no longer could. I gathered the few possessions I still owned and left.
Walking down a dusty road, in the mid day heat I felt betrayed. I had not used my head, followed my heart, and ignored everyone who cared about me. I had taken ayahuasca seriously and it had tricked me. I had no place to crash, and as a recent entry was essentially a blacklisted individual, assumed to be contaminated.
Being outside I was in violation of quarantine, and I only wanted to be alone and think, ashamed to share my failure with another living soul. I scrounged wifi and found the perfect solution – an ad for a retreat centre offering total darkness and silence.
Alone in the dark with only the catastrophic failure I meditated, wept, thought, planned and tried as hard as I could to let go. Memories, fantasies and reality both tortured and tempted me, but eventually the darkness brought revelations, reminding me that I had succeeded in leaving a unfulfilling life behind, and many mysteries still lay ahead. Three days was all my broken ego could handle, I had gained some of what I needed, but as I sat watching the sunrise I realized my heart would simply not give up so easily.
Guatemala had closed transport between towns and mandated a curfew. I would be forbidden to leave my quarantine while the last flights to Canada left. A women about to enter the dark retreat offered her apartment for the exact amount of time I needed to complete my isolation.
With no other option I prepared for more solitude and to figure out what to do next. As I settled into my new home, and connected to wifi, my phone once again buzzed to life. It was her. A raw and heartfelt email expressed more layers to our story, and that she too had an unwillingness to let go.
I was hesitant. I have had more than my share of romantic betrayals, but with lots of time for talking in quarantine we exchanged emails, phone calls and messages, before deciding to meet again. Once it became clear I would not infect Guatemala with covid I managed to exit town, and navigate roadblocks to see her.
At the last checkpoint the police asked to see my passport, and seeing the date I was denied. I was at the end of my rope. I’d completed my quarantine as the government requested, and spent weeks alone in sadness with no human contact. I flipped out. I yelled, waved my arms, argued in broken Spanish, but no matter, I was not getting in.
The fear of covid was so great no one cared I had stayed home past the incubation time, I was a white traveller fresh on the scene; the heart of the problem from the local perspective. Furiously I went home, packed everything I owned, and made my way to the docks.
There was only one other chance I had. I found a boat driver to take me directly across the lake to a random dock, bypassing all road blocks.They smiled and knew exactly what I was doing, naming the price they wanted. I thrust them the money, and with wind in my hair, full of adrenaline, sped once again towards my muse.
We docked at an empty resort, I tipped him and he sped away. The very next day the local municipalities would restrict boat traffic on the lake, with captains being fined for exactly what I had done. I climbed back up to the jungle hut.
We discovered that the night we separated, when we both spilled exactly what we thought of each other, we had uncovered what we needed. The realization dawned that if I had actually called beforehand, I would have been met with her doubt, and likely not gotten on a plane.
After I took plant medicine I was blasted open, finally able to express with confidence the love inside me, and was able to act on something my logical mind would have, perhaps correctly, deemed foolish. When she drank she found darkness that needed to be honestly addressed to let me fully into her heart. Ayahuasca deserves credit for working a magic that Kurt Vonnegut perhaps describes with “The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.”
As a thunderstorm swept across the lake, understanding of the magic that had solidified us settled in. I was humbled by how indeed trusting in my heart, while applying and believing the strange wisdom of plant medicine had actually worked. Pleasantly awed by life’s events and finally enjoying the view, once again safe in my lovers arms, we watched a volcano erupt and began our new life in Guatemala.
Patrick McConnell enjoys wandering the universe inside and outside his head. His adult life has been spent in the great outdoors, hanging out with plants, finding excuses to move every couple months, or sifting for truth in depths of the internet. He is a great listener and highly food motivated. He is inspired by the natural world, mind altering experiences, people watching, extraterrestrials and “mistakes”. Currently he shares stories on www.adjustablenormal.com.
Image courtesy of Benjamin Davies.