"Please don't blog about this," my husband pleads, as we sit together in the dark - defeated - on the side of the highway that takes us from Panajachel to Antigua, Guatemala.

"It's really getting ridiculous. People will think this is all that happens to us, instead of realizing how awesome every other day of our life is," he continues, "In fact, don't even mention it on Facebook."

"Too late," I say with a smile. That's the amazingness of connectivity today. With an iPhone and a data plan, all our friends around the world who are on Facebook already know that we've been stranded for hours.

Greg had fiddled with every option to try and get us going again. I sat in the truck with the kids and practiced patience, a perfect opportunity to develop a much needed virtue.

Now it was dark, and it was clear we weren't going anywhere. So we decided to just go to bed.

Plans had been made weeks ago to meet up with friends in Antigua to experience Semana Santa. After the beach trip mishap, we had talked about not going.

I hate being stranded, and didn't want to take our chances of doing it again.

But since then, the truck had been in the shop. It had been 'fixed'. And we'd taken it out Monday. We'd driven around for several hours exploring the high mountains above Lake Atitlan.

We didn't have one problem the entire time. HOURS of driving. We even had friends with us to help out if we had been stranded. It would have been the perfect time for truck problems.

Instead, it happened when we were supposed to be somewhere, and hours away from friends who could help. Irony.

It's hard to describe those long, drawn out moments that pass while you sit waiting for something to happen so you have the freedom to continue doing what you'd really like to be doing.

Those minutes never seem to end. And it's frustrating to be 'victim' to something to which you have so little control. I want to go, to travel, to move - and yet I am prevented from doing so by external circumstances.

While hardly comparable, I think of Viktor Frankl as a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp, and the famous quote he shares in his book about what he learned during that time:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

I decide this is the perfect opportunity to work on doing just that.

My husband is already blessed with the gift of perspective. When he's riding in the cold-wind-blown back of a pick-up truck to the nearest town (that wasn't that near), while his wife and kids sit stranded on the side of the highway , and he's tempted to think, "This is hard," he corrects himself and thinks instead, "This isn't hard. Being widowed is hard (like his sister recently was). This is just an inconvenience."

Or as he sleeps cramped during half the night on the back bench of our truck, shivering without a blanket (because he gave up the warm, cozy spots to his wife and kids), he thought once again (as he often does in situations like this) of the people who were sold as slaves, and transported on a ship to the Americas, cramped in the fetal position, urinating and defecating on themselves for over 90 days.

That's hard. A situation like ours is only annoying, an irritation.

At least we had a beautiful view

Early the next morning, it's my birthday(!) and my hubby's up working on getting things fixed so we could spend the day celebrating in Antigua.

By 7:30 a.m., the truck actually starts and we're on our way. Hooray!

But our excitement is short lived, when it dies again 20 minutes down the road.

More fiddling and tinkering, and even a trip to town once again (given by the policia) to buy a new fuel pump.

But despite assurances by the store owner, the pump is too small and doesn't work with our truck.

Finally, we give up on fixing it. We pack a few small bags with necessities and valuables, and leave our mobile home to fend for herself.

We are going to Antigua, despite the odds!

Parker's birthday picture for me

No propane in our camp stove either, so cold beans, corn and chips for my birthday breakfast.

Parker's creativity wasn't hindered

Waving down a combi

Our forced circumstances give us the chance to experience the public transportation system in Guatemala - something we don't usually do while traveling, because of the convenience of having our own vehicle.

We wave down a combi (bus taxi) that gives us a ride to the city of Chimaltenango. There we wait and watch as buses pass by heading for Antigua, bursting at the seams. Will we ever fit on one?

Waiting for the bus to Antigua in Chimaltenango

This one is mostly empty. Too bad it's not going where we need to go

A little old lady getting ready to sell some food

A friendly local finally shares a tip with us: walk four blocks up the road to the bus station, and we'll find an empty bus there.

Empty is a relative term, but we do at least get seats. Me, Aaliyah (5), a Peace Corp volunteer from Wisconsin, and a girl with her dog share one seat meant for two. The aisles are filled to capacity in a space that's only big enough to stand sideways.

This is my seat

The "I love public transportation" face

 Within the hour we've made it to Antigua. Thanks to cell phones, we're able to coordinate with our friends and find each other in the gigantic market.

The next two days are spent exploring the picturesque, old-world style city of Antigua, enjoying the celebration of Semana Santa (click to see pictures and video), and eating lots of great street food.

We only suffer a few mishaps - Aaliyah (5) burnt her hand on a swinging incense burner that was part of a procession, and Kimball (6) ran into the window sill that jutted out into the sidewalk, resulting in a lot of bleeding.

Too bad I left my oils in the truck. It's the last time I travel without at least a few of them in my bag!

On the bus ride leaving from Antigua, we manage to secure to rows to ourselves - Kyah (9), Parker (8) and Kimball (6) in front of me, Aaliyah, Greg and Atlas (18 mos). Sweet!

But before we've left, a small, little old Mayan woman asks Kyah if she's going to move over. Kyah answers honestly - No - to which the old lady replies, "If you don't move over, I'll hit you."

The boys stand up so Kyah can scoot, and the little lady sits down, her head barely visible above the top of the seat. Soon she's also scooted more, and made room for a teenage girl to join the four of them. (We're impressed as this young girl later pays for the old women's bus fair, and lets her sleep on her shoulder. Talk about respecting your elders.)

It's just the beginning of the adventures which stretch for several hours, through multiple cities and at least four bus changes.

We wait and wait for buses which don't seem to be running, due to it being a holiday (Good Friday). We pay extra for buses that we have to climb in through the back door, pushing and squashing and scrambling to get ourselves in as the bus drives away.

A drunk guy, who is proud he knows English, talks and talks and talks to Greg (who stands most the way). Friendly most of the time (but annoying), there's a few moments I feel he's going to start a fight with my husband. (My husband won't tolerate that.)

I try and keep myself from sliding off the bench, with one cheek on a seat shared with two others people, while the bus careens through windy mountain roads, and Atlas fusses and cries on my lap.

Defying all logic and laws of science, somehow they continue to add more passengers at each stop, and more people to each seat.

I consider myself lucky on bus number three, when the co-passengers on my bench reach their destination. Hurray! I actually get a window seat, and my entire butt has a place. This means less sliding and moving on each turn, since the other passengers will hold me in place. Aaliyah dozes on my lap and sleeps until the next bus change.

Bus number four is less crowded and we all have our own spot to sit. As we descend from the highlands to the shores of Lake Atitlan, Panajachel looks so beautiful nestled on the lakefront.

I'm so happy to see her, and to almost be 'home'. I'm also feeling a deeper sense of gratitude for our dilapidated truck, whom I wasn't liking very much the last few days.

How comfortable to be able to travel at our own pace, and in our own seats as we explore the countries we visit. I shouldn't be so hard on the old girl, she's given us so many great experiences.

She still sits on the side of the road where she died (we caught a glimpse of her as our bus went flying by), waiting for Guatemala to open back up for business after the holiday weekend, so we can get her repaired.

Five years ago, in 2007, we drove from the United States to Costa Rica in a brand new,  beautiful, bling bling, Nissian Armada. We never had any car problems with that thing. But we also paid $700 per month just to 'own' her. That's more than we spend on food for a month now.

Coming to terms with it all, yes, this truck has been a pain in my ______ at times. But she's ours. We own her, instead of owing on her.

We're free from indebtedness, and that is worth more to me than having a problem free vehicle.

So, we still love you, Big Red. And we'll get you 'home' to Pana.

And we won't be leaving again anytime soon. She's going to get all the bugs worked out before we attempt any more adventures. (Hopefully this will be the last 'truck broke down' story...at least for Central America??).

Read more 'truck broke down' stories:

In reality, the 'truck problems' have been few in comparison to the number of miles we've driven - about 23,000 miles in the last year. They've been simple things like fuses blowing and brakes wearing - pretty normal for the number of miles we're 'putting under our belt.'

Ironically, it seems that we only started having mechanical problems with this truck once we crossed south of the border. Since then:

Having vehicle problems doesn't mean you stop driving or going anywhere. It's just a part of life. It won't keep us from exploring, either.



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24 Responses

  1. Lana

    My car in Thailand is a royal pain in the butt, too. Its been smooth for 6 months. Counting my fingers.

    And I hate buses like that. I remember once crowded four people to a tiny little seat going around the steepest and curviest mountain pass in Thailand and also needing to go to the bathroom so bad I could die. But its cheap….I can get half way across the country for $5.

  2. Don

    Nice perspective shift. 5 or 6 years ago I killed my car’s engine. That was when I discovered the “joy” of commuting. I read more books. Dreamed more dreams. And rediscovered the thrill of bicycle riding. All of which were positives gained from the negative situation.

  3. Joanie Tester

    I am thinking that young girl was paying for the older woman out of fear of being ‘hit’ LOL. Glad you all are safe. This is one adventure I would most likely not enjoy. You all are very brave and I applaud you. Stay safe.

    • Rachel

      LOL – She actually turned out to be a very nice old lady, and was probably used to being a little more respected than my daughter was accustomed to. 🙂

  4. Chuck Bird

    My son had a Mercedes Benz station wagon that was converted to run on waste oil as well as diesel fuel. He spent many times stranded on the side of the freeway. It became a real cause of contention and hate until finally he unloaded it on someone else that liked the idea of using used cooking oil to run the car. I’ll bet they got over that soon and were selling it to someone else. Fuel pumps seem to be the weak links. Wouldn’t have this problem running on regular unleaded or probably straight diesel. I sure hope that you can solve your fuel pump dilemma soon as Argentina is still a long way to go. Good Luck!

    • Rachel

      Surprisingly, our ‘veggie’ problems have actually been few – brakes, transmission fluid and faulty O-rings on the fuel injectors have caused most of the problems. But the fuel pump issue may be veggie related – seems that it got ‘air locked’, which may have happened from an air leak in the veggie line… In general, we do have a larger, non-stock fuel pump installed that is better for pumping veggie.

  5. Lisa

    I’m so glad to hear you guys went ahead through local transportation! It’s tough to travel like the locals do with kids in tow, but it’s also so rewarding to get to meet and interact with people. It really is amazing how many people can fit in those vehicles. The most crowding I’ve experienced was 22 passengers, a goat, and lots of sacks of potatoes in a combi (minivan) in rural Peru. It was HOT!

    • Rachel

      I enjoy having these experiences – it is fun to get an ‘up close and personal’ view of local life. But it sure makes me more grateful that we don’t have to do it all the time with 5 kids. Whew.

      • Marty Evarts

        @Rachel: I have to agree with Lisa. I have always loved the social interaction you can have on the buses. It sounded like you and the kids had some interesting experiences, and maybe some annoying ones too. Your problems with the truck sound pretty minor, other than happening at less-than-opportune times. Greg’s got the talent to deal with it, and dig up the resources you need. Thanks for the post.

      • Rachel

        Oh, I totally agree. I’m just glad that while we have an 18 mos old, we can travel in a truck with a car seat to strap him in to. So much easier for me 😉 But still loved the experience – it’s good to have them, that’s why we travel.

  6. rashmi

    I read your story earlier about how the travel plans started.I was really fascinated by it.I dream of traveling and living a nomadic life like your family does. I really wish my dream to come true someday. This piece on truck breaking down is an example of your enthusiasm to travel and not stop due to any obstacles. I wish you all best for the travel experiences in future and hope to read more about your travel experiences and also the third part of your story. And Happy Birthday Rachel!

    • Rachel

      Thanks Rashmi,

      For the birthday wishes, and for reading and following! Keep working toward it, and you’ll make your travel dreams happen.

  7. Bernard

    This is an absolutely wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing. I to like to take the Chicken buses some times. you see all kinds of wonderful things, like a lady holding a bird, puppies, people selling stuff. Just another great way to get up close and personal with the culture, people and life changing experiences. Thanks for this detailed story with pictures.

  8. Sophie

    I’ve never commented before but always eagerly anticipate your posts about your family’s adventures. You always outdo yourself giving so much information and pictures that we the readers can literally live vicariously through you. Before reading this last birthday/ Easter post I was just wondering if the Easter bunny was going to find your kids in Guatemala… I now see they had a much more enriching experience that tops American Easters by a lot. What lucky kids they are to have such wonderful parents. Congrats on following your dreams and showing others through your blog and courses that it can be possible for others too 🙂 Thank you for all your inspirational posts!!

    • Rachel


      Thanks so much for reading and for finally commenting! I love to hear from my readers.

      We did enjoy this amazing cultural experience (and actually colored Easter eggs as well when we got ‘home’ to Pana) But no Easter Bunny (or candy) 🙂

      Thanks again!

  9. Stephen

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this article. Good thing you know how to repair your truck.

  10. Sue

    LOVE your stories ! (and loved reading about your essential oils kit – my first aid homeopathic kit is always close by 🙂
    Your kids look adorable and WOW what an adventure they are having – do you think you’ll maybe, one day, perhaps get to Australia? (I know you’d all love it)
    Thanks for sharing your stories – I’ll NEVER sleep tonight 🙂

    • Rachel

      We plan on visiting Australia one day…not sure when though. The world is sooo large, so many places to see. We’ll be in this hemisphere for some time, I’m sure.

  11. Jessica

    Hey Dennings! We loved reading this story! Life is life whether you are in the jungle of Guatemala or the jungle of Las Vegas (we really want your type of jungle!) Hope all continues to be an excellent adventure, I have no doubt it will be!


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