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Perpetual Traveling Carnies Guatemala

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They live on the road, they travel full time in circuits around Guatemala, they have fake names that I can hardly understand, and they seem squeamish about having their photos taken. Carnival workers are travelers, or derelicts. I met up with a couple of them who run a traveling pizza booth in Rio Dulce, on the eastern fringes of Guatemala.

I saw signs for “3 for 10” pizzas. That is, three pieces of pizza for only 10 quetzales. My ears perked up a little, this is a good price to pay, $1.25 for a meal. There were probably three or four of these little pizza stands in a row that extended under bridge that spans the Rio Dulce. I also noticed that they seemed to be in conjunction with the carnival rides and games that were being put up by dirty looking, worn, and ragged men in great haste.

“It looks like a carnival,” I mentioned to my wife. It was.

That night I went to try out the 3 for 10 pizza deal. It was actually 10 quetzales for one piece of pizza cut into threes (get it?). But it was still an alright deal, and I talked to the guys as they reheated my catch.

“Is this a carnival?” I asked, knowing that carnival was not the appropriate word, but used it for lack of a better one in my Spanish repertoire. The guys looked at me funny, but knew what I was getting at, they confirmed that my observation was correct.

I began asking them about their work, and one of the guys jumped into the conversation that I opened up with enthusiasm. He told me that he is always traveling:

“I am always a tourist,” one of the guys said with a bright smile, and we began talking of traveling and living on the Road.

The pizza guys were in their late twenties and were cleaner dressed than their brethren assembling games and putting up rides, the pizza guy that I began the conversation with had a real clean face and seemed to enjoy fielding my fool questions spoken in understandable, though awkward Spanish. He smiled kindly, deeply, and his eyes sparkled as I took an active interest in his words. There seemed to be the hidden impetuous for us to talk with each other, the sort of pull that holds a person in their place when it is time to move on, the sort of push that makes someone walk across the street to talk with a stranger.

“So you travel all the time?” I reaffirmed.

He said that he had been traveling with the carnival for over three years straight. He was the same age as I, and he perpetually travels in a circuit around Guatemala: “A Peten, Flores. . . ” From the glint in his eyes as he spoke of his travels, I knew that he did it because he loved it — and he found a way: he sells 3 for 10 pizzas at the carnival.
We exchanged names, I asked him what his was twice but could not understand his response: the carnies had nicknames, and I was not able to capture his. He continued to tell me about traveling around Guatemala, he said that he slept in the pizza tent at night, right next to the ovens and bags of dough. He had been doing this non-stop for three years.

I told him that he lived a good life, he fully agreed with me, smiled, and, without bullshit, said that it was so. He spoke as a man who thinks he had mastered life, who knows he is more cleaver than the others, the sort of person who has the knowledge of what the key he holds unlocks.

On another evening binge for pizza, I introduced the traveling carnie to my wife and baby. He said that he had five children — somewhere — but it seemed as if he did not see them often. He seemed driven by the urge to go, the Wanderlust, the strongest affliction a man can know. Any person who tells you that the life of a travel pizza vending carnie is good is either a traveler or an absolute derelict.

Sometimes there is little difference between the two.

It is not often that I meet a person who has traveled more in their country than me — and I include my own country in this — and it has always struck me as seeming a little odd that I am able to visit more places in a country in a couple of months that most people who live there do in a life time. This partly has to do with money, though I do not believe this to be the 100% reason. Most cultures of the world, including my own, do not encourage perpetual wayward travel.

There has to be something wrong with the man who has packed away 3 years of perpetual travel into his belt, much more so the man with 10.

Most people in the world travel because they are either on a short vacation to a hotspot, on a once in a lifetime fling, or it is for a reason: for work, because you are on the run, because you have been ostracized, because you have nothing left in your community, nobody likes you anymore and you are going to show ‘em by never coming back!

It is my impression that many cultures of the world view long term travel as a punishment of sorts, as an unfortunate fate to drift from place to place, without family, neither loving nor loved. Many people say that they want to travel — and I believe them — but most of these people want a home more. If given a choice of traveling perpetually or having a home, it is my impression that most people would choose a home: most people DO choose home. And I think they make the best decision.

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I am fortunate not for the fact that I travel — I travel because I am a misanthrope who cannot handle dining room conversation — I am fortunate because I found a wife who is willing to raise a family with me on the Road. I made a play for it all, and up to here I have gotten it. This was my big score in life — my overtime victory in game seven of a best of seven series.

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My friend Andy Hobo Traveler summed up long term travelers well:

“They are the wanted, the unwanted, and the hermits.”

Some are wanted by the law, or the tax man (or wish they were), some ostracized from their homes, wives, and communities, and others just don’t want to deal with social responsibilities, they are comfortable and fully entertained in their own introversion.

But I would like to add another cloak of definition to the Hobotraveler’s inference: all of the above are stricken by the Wanderlust. There are far more wanted, the unwanted, and hermits sitting on bar stools than out traveling.

What category did this traveling pizza vending carnie fall into?

His face was clean and his expressions soft, his eyes were bright, he was passively friendly, he stood out amongst he fellow carnival workers in that he did not have the look of a scabby dog kicked by its owner a few too many times — it is not my impression that he was wanted. He had five kids, so it is my guess that he was not unwanted. It is my guess that he was stricken by the Wanderlust, a mobile hermit.

For many men a home is a cage, a family, kids a brood around their necks, friends mean responsibility and obligation. The quiet agony of wandering is often preferable to domestic chaos. I did not asked my friend why he left his family, his village, his community — perhaps he traveled to make enough money to send home to his family? — but something told me that he traveled by choice. His smile was too pure when we talked of the traveling life for him to have been an exile. Traveling is the great default position of those who know that they can do it, it is an easy way out, an ever present option:

“I can just leave.”

This is a dangerous statement to the person who knows that they can utter it in seriousness. Once you taste the Open Road, you know that wherever you go, whatever happens, in nearly every situation you find yourself in, you will always have at least one option:

“I can just leave.”

Other carnies in Guatemala setting up in Rio Dulce

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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, Guatemala, Travel Lifestyle

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3054 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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