Sometimes life just flows along smoothly. There's no hiccups, no bumps in the road. Sometimes life is so good, it's scary... because you wonder what mishaps might be on their way.

That's how life has been lately. Everyday I wake up in our little rented house in Panajachel, Guatemala, and I spend the day with people who I love and who love me, doing the things I want to do.

I write, edit my photos, read great books, go shopping in a very cool local market, take pictures, hang out with friends, and get loved by my sweet children and my amazing husband/hero.

I'm also contrasting my life to the challenges that friends and family are facing - financial, spiritual, physical challenges. Challenges that are really big and frightening.

I am filled with so much gratitude for our incredible life, but it's so sensational, I'm almost frightened. Really.

Over the past couple of weeks, some minor snags occurred - a few sicknesses, a head cold, a website hack. They were a little draining, but nothing I couldn't handle.

Since we were all on the mend, we decided to take a weekday trip to the coast.

Greg really wants to start the process of learning to surf, and Guatemala is supposed to have great surfing. Plus, we've been busy working, working, working, (on this and other projects) and haven't been out of Pana since we arrived over 3 weeks ago. Our nomadic spirits are needing to stretch.

The decision was made and preparations began. We collected our truck from the mechanic (where it has been since we arrived, getting some maintenance done).

Frustrations ensued as we began cramming our belongings back into the cramped space of our home-made camper. We cracked a few jokes, to diffuse the exasperation, along the lines of "Traveling is just too hard, I don't think we should do it anymore."

Finally the bare necessities are stowed away, the kids all loaded up, and Greg sits in the driver's seat to start the truck.

It turns over, starts, and then dies. He tries again. Nothing.

"What is up with this truck?" I wonder. The mechanic is summoned, and after an hour of tinkering, the truck is running again (something about an air leak in the veggie system).

Now it's much later than we'd intended leaving, we do so anyway, only to get slowed down by zero visibility in an intense cloud of fog in the Guatemalan highlands.

I mean crazy fog. Like, can't see the car in front of you, fog.

Twisting, turning and winding, traveling at 10 miles per hour, we could barely see which way the road turned.

Occasionally a part of our lane would be missing, washed off to the valley floor below, or we'd have to dodge potholes or pedestrians. It was intense, and kind of fun at first, but after an hour it got really old. Can't we just make some real progress here? (Not to mention we were all really hungry, and no one was out selling food in the fog.)

Like all irritations, it finally passed. The fog cleared as we descended from the mountains, and we at least found some junk food to snack on, and then later some chuchitos (Guatemalan tamales) and roasted corn on the cob.

Soon we're cruising along at (Guatemalan) freeway speeds. We pass sugar cane fields and processing plants, and I'm slightly tempted to stop and learn about how sugar is made. But we're enjoying 'making progress'. Sometimes that's a part of 'enjoying the journey' - relishing in the driving, watching the world pass by, and knowing you're getting closer to your destination.

We did stop for mangos. We couldn't resist.

By evening, we make it to the coast. We stop to eat pupusas for dinner at a roadside stand, then headed along the coastal road in the dark to find a place to camp.

Roadside pupusa stand in Sipicate, Guatemala.

We first fell in love with these on Ambergris Caye, Belize. They're an El Salvadoranian food.

Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right place, and sometimes we wonder if we'll find something suitable. But like always, we finally find a great spot, right on the beach.

The kids are asleep when we stop, Greg pops open our roof top, and we climb into bed, lulled to sleep by the sound of very large waves, and free from the torment of sand flies.

The morning is delightful. We walk the beach, dig holes, wade in the waves, sunbathe and enjoy the heat.



By mid-day, when the sun really started to beat down, we went in search of a surf board to rent. Greg was starting to feel the head cold that I'd had last week, but surfing was the reason we'd came, so surfing he would do.

Chuchitos (tamales) for lunch, with tamarindo juice in a bag.

After a few turns through town, and a lunch break, we find a guy that has a board for rent. Only $150 quetzales (US $20) for 24 hours, not a bad deal. Greg can spend the rest of the day today and all tomorrow learning to ride the waves.

He paid and was leaving, when the guy called after him, "If you bust it you have to replace it." Greg filed the information away somewhere in his head.

We found the spot that would be camp for the night, and Greg proudly grabbed his board and headed out to the roaring sea, despite his pounding head.

Watching from the shore, I could tell that the waves were wearing him out. They were massive and relentless, and he wasn't able to make it past the second break. But he did what he could, and made it to a semi-standing position... once or twice.

I knew he was exhausted when, less than a half hour after diving in, he started paddling back to shore. As he reaches the sand, a gigantic wave sends him tumbling head over heels - a confusion of water and sand and arms and legs - and slams the surf board into the beach.

Dread and disbelief replaces exhaustion as he finally stands up and looks at the rented board, with it's nose now bent at a 90 degree angle.

"NO!" he yells in frustration. "This is a $600 board. He said I have to replace it if I bust it."

In vexation and irritation, he throws himself and the board on the sand. It's one of those 'worst possible' moments, when you realize that something 'bad' has happened, and it makes you feel kind of sick.

I stand quietly by with calm acceptance, take pictures, and think about how I'm going to blog about this story. What else could I do? I guess if we have to pay for the board, we have to pay for the board. That's a part of life. You risk, and you lose.

Finally, to break the ice, I walk over with my pretend microphone and ask, "How are you feeling right now Mr. Denning?"

"Exhausted…and like I just bought myself a new board," he says with a smile, "I can fix this, and still use it." I'm surprised, but not surprised at my husband's typical, optimistic response to challenge.

But it's his contagious positive attitude that's helped to create the awesome life we have. It's our willingness to risk, to take a chance, to 'break our board' if necessary, to lose, to fail.

Really, it's the only way to succeed.

The beaten surfer

A broken, rented surf-board, despite it's inconvenience, doesn't mean we 'shouldn't have come,' or 'shouldn't have tried', and it won't end Greg's future fate as a surfer.

There might be obstacles you face while living deliberately, but it doesn't mean ultimate failure. They are just temporary road blocks.

We do decide to do some research about repairing surf boards before returning this one. Greg goes into town to recharge our sim card so we can have internet and consult with the all-knowing Google. The kids and I stay and play in the sand.

After our consultation, we're feeling much better realizing our options. Fixing busted surf boards is totally doable. Maybe it won't be so bad after all.

Cleaning off the kids, we load up in the truck once more and return to face our fate. The guy - a semi-pro surfer - is understandably upset, but after some discussion decides to only charge us $750 quetzales (US $100) to have it fixed.

We drive into town to find a cajero to withdraw the funds, but - shock and surprise - there is none. It's too much of a sleepy beach town. The nearest ATM is 25 kilometers away.

With the head cold, no more surfing options, and now news that we'd have to make a 50 km round trip just to pay for the board, all Greg wants to do is go home. We return once more to tell our 'friend' that we'll have to send him the money- we're going back to our house in Pana.

I'm glad to go back. Sometimes, it's nice to sit on a beach and do nothing, and work on your tan. And sometimes it feels great to do a lot of work. It's kind of like enjoying the driving and arriving, instead of stopping to smell the roses. That's what I felt like right now.

Progress is steady, but our eating schedule doesn't match up with Central America's. It's 5:00 p.m. and we're hungry - but no one is out selling food yet. It's not dinner time until after dark.

So we drive, and drive. Greg feels worse, and worse. The sun sets. It's dark. Finally, we spot two little ladies in front of their house with buckets on a table. They've got to be selling food.

"Tenemos chuchitos, deliciosos" she tells us. (Translation: "We have really good tamales.") Sign us up. We're in.

We park and walk to stand in front of her house where we devour 14 chuchitos and a couple of glasses of atole (a hot rice drink).

The nice, plump Guatemalan women smile at the kids, ask their names, and offer to keep a couple of them. Then they invite them in to see their pet parrot, and grant us permission to use their bathroom.

Their house is a strange conglomeration of connected rooms with cement floors and tin walls. There's a table to the left, a couch on the right, a stove in the 'walkway', next to the parrot cage. Behind that is the 'bathroom'.

The walls are corrugated tin, in this 3ft by 4 ft room, and reach only 4/5ths of the way to the ceiling. There's a toilet, minus a toilet seat, a bucket for flushing, and a 50 gallon drum, which I know serves as the 'shower'.

The only light comes from a single bulb that's in the other 'room', and shines in with faint rays over the tin walls. After my turn, I help Aaliyah go, and that's when I see the log in the corner which is holding up the ceiling - it's covered with 2 cm ants, which seem extra creepy with the dim lighting.

As we say our 'graciases'  and goodbyes, and walk up the hill to our truck, we notice the neighbors. Through a slit between the tin ceiling and walls, a stream of light is emitted, which illuminates a family gathered together in a house that is no bigger than a small room.

Wow. We sure are rich. And blessed.

The truck begins it's descent to the lakeside mountain town that is our home. We're tired. Greg's sick. The kids are asleep with full bellies. We're anxious to get there.

On a few inclines, we notice a strange lurch when the truck shifts gears as it accelerates. Seems like a transmission problem.

Just as we approach the zona de derumbes (landslide area -a place where the road was washed away), the road narrows, and inclines just a bit.

Greg presses on the accelerator, and gets no response. Instead we start rolling backward.

We maneuver to the 'side' of the road as best we can, but really we're completely blocking one of the very small lanes.

Our headlights and flashers warn oncoming traffic of our presence, but I'm still feeling very nervous stuck in the middle of the road…on a curve… and a hill… in the dark… on a mountainside… in Guatemala.

To be continued...



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22 Responses

  1. Rod Morales

    Lovely story from a day out with the family. Seems like you enjoy/support your hubby all the way , enjoying the simple and small things in life ( we ) most Guatemalans take for granted . Hope to continue to see more cool stories of your trips and stay safe whenever your sleeping in open spaces.
    Good luck godspeed 🙂

  2. Don

    WOW! I’m on pins and needles waiting for the conclusion. I hope everything turns out OK!

  3. Amy

    To be continued???? It’s like leaving us hanging at the end of the season on a television show!

    Glad you made it to the beach and Greg got to try out surfing. The food sounds delicious.

  4. Marty E.

    Love the photos. Seeing them brings back fond memories. Was this trip to the Tecojate area? I had a wonderful time in Tiquisate/Semillero.

  5. Tres Saxton

    Hey Greg, When you get to El Savador. You need to go to a place called El Sunzal. Here you will find a Righthand point break.Good for beginners. But, can get solid size. Are you goofy or regular footed? If you don’t know what I’m talking about. Talk to the surfer’s in La Libertad. You need to have someone show you the right place and the right conditions. Because, Next time you may break something else. Something you can’t fix with fiberglass and resin. (if you know what I mean) . Goodluck, and know that surfing is like life. Very challenging… and so rewarding. Never give up…

    • Rachel


      Thanks for the tips, we’ll have to check out El Sunzal. If surfing is like snowboarding at all, I thing Greg is regular 😉

  6. Darcy

    Greg and Rachel:
    I am one in all adversaries to continue on with any quest I am pursuing. You have reached a number of road blocks in your travels which on the most part is acceptable considering what you are doing. You have committed to this journey along with the many hours with your blog and website. But perhaps God is speaking to you about your current path. Consider to listen to your gut feeling as at times it is human nature to ignore it. These difficulties may be God’s way to tell you maybe your journey is nearing its end and you must consider the path God is showing you. I say this for concern for your well being. Perhaps it is one of those things and your journey will get less turbulent but please consider your options. From my vantage point this is what I see. Your tolerance certainly is much higher than mine but your contentment may not entirely come from what you are doing but your minds tricking you to accept your circumstances. I may be totally wrong but please don’t shoot the messenger. Regards Darcy

    • Rachel

      Hi Darcy,

      Thank you for reading, and commenting, and for your concern.

      God is very much the director of the paths’ we take, and we’re always amazed at where He leads us. He is constantly teaching us, and helping us to grow.

      I think that perhaps I focus too much (on my blog) about our ‘road blocks’ and difficulties. In reality, they are a very small portion of our overall journey (but make interesting reading, and great stories to tell).

      In comparison, our ‘difficulties’ have been mere inconveniences and hiccups, hardly course altering obstructions.

      If the time does come when God decides our journey has ended, we will be the first to listen. But I don’t think that time is now.

      Thanks again.


  7. Florence18Moore

    You are such a great dad, man! Very adventurous and having a great fun with your children’s… I miss that kind of activities with my husband since when he assigned at Los Angeles…

  8. Andy Z.

    Busted board, man I feel your pain! I had a “busted board” experience a couple weeks ago. We were in Phoenix for Spring Break and I wanted to take a couple of motorcycles out for a test drive. Long story short, I was about to take the bike I really liked for a second spin and dropped it in the lot. The bike only had 21 miles on it, Ugh! $500 later (I feel they were being super generous for a $1200 exhaust system I scratched up) I walk out a little wiser, though a big dent out of our emergency fund. It was a huge ego check, but a very powerful lesson that I can fail, learn from it and “fertilize” my life for success.
    Thanks for motivating me to move out of my comfort zone and fail more.

  9. Kyla

    I’ve been in Guatamala last year and I enjoy swimming in the beach. Hope to visit there again. And do the Board Surfing.

  10. Liz

    That was a great picture. Having some outdoor activity with your family really fun.


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