RIO DULCE, Guatemala- “Hola Petra! Hola Petra!” is the call that we hear while walking down the streets here in Guatemala. If we are in a place for more than a day, the entire town has already met Petra, and they call out greetings to her whenever we pass. Petra usually kicks and coos and smiles hellos back at them.
Traveling with a baby in Guatemala is good.
The country of Guatemala seems to be one large baby village. Babies are everywhere in the streets, in grocery stores, sitting in the doorways of homes, on the counters of shops, around tables in restaurants. There is either an excess of babies in this country or Guatemalans really like bringing their children out in public. Babies are everywhere here.
And people seem to love seeing them.
Guatemala is a good country to travel with a baby. It is easy to meet people with a baby in your arms, you have an automatic in to start a conversation with a women who also has a little child on her hip — babies are something that most adults on the planet know a little about, babies are something that I now have in common with most of the world. I too, have a baby, and I am introducing her to the world.
In the Dominican Republic, it seemed as if babies were kept cloistered, in doors at all costs — the people there still liked meeting Petra, but it was a very one sided interaction: their own babies were shut up behind closed doors. In Guatemala this is all different: the streets are lined with babies.
And babies love seeing each other.
I have no idea how Petra is able to do it, but she already has the human propensity to identify her own kind. Her kind is other babies. Their skin color, hair texture, eye shape has nothing to do with it: if a baby is in front of us, Petra identifies it as being a bird of her feather, and she kicks and waves her arms, laughs, smiles, squirms, and babble talks in all out and total excitement. And the other baby often stares, completely focused on Petra, though usually not as expressively excited. It is my impression that Petra may be a little overly social, her excitement at meeting another baby is often enough to make it go comatose.
But they often become friends in passing, Petra is making friends of the Road. She holds hands with other babies, sometimes pulling their hair if they have any, the babies smile at each other, and talk some sort of squeaky baby language while grabbing at each others body parts. It feels good to watch my daughter make friends, even if they are still only babies with fish memories.
Friends of the way, friends of the road, making friends in passing is part of the game of traveling.
Guatemala has proven to be a good country for traveling with a baby. Strangers walk up to us often and ask if they can hold her, if Petra starts crying on a bus, someone — both women and men — will usually start playing with her to make her happy again, and if we are sitting in a restaurant and Petra starts to get bored and cranky a waitress will usually come up and take our baby from us so we can finish eating.
“You know how when you are in the States and a baby starts crying in public people give you dirty looks? Well they don’t do that here, they come up and play with your baby and try to make her stop crying.”
It is fun to watch people in new places play with my baby. They will often take Petra and run over to their friends, smiling, joking, and bouncing her up and down, and showing her new things to play with. Petra enjoys the attention. Chaya enjoys the break. I think the look on my daughter’s face as she gurgles, yelps, and baby talks her way into a new culture in a new land. It is perhaps the main occupation of the baby to figure out how to adapt to its world, and Petra has adapted to traveling well.
Walking the streets of Guatemala with Petra is to find a country full of smiles. Like a crowd doing the wave at a sporting event, smiles rise over the faces of the people we pass on the streets. They are not smiling at me — they could not care less about daddy or even mommy — they are smiling at the baby. By the time we arrive at the end of a street the whole place has been washed in smiles, calls of “Hola nena!” and “Que linda.” People stop in the streets to talk to us, we stop in front of houses that have babies sitting out front, our new acquaintances talk and play with Petra, and I get to ask my fool questions about anything that strikes my curiosity.
Traveling with a baby has made me and my wife vastly more welcomed in the places that we travel through. We are no longer a couple of odd looking strangers to be suspicious of, but a benign family to be welcomed. I feel more welcomed as a traveler with a family. The simple act of traveling with a wife and baby has opened up many hatches that I feel may have remained closed. Having a baby gives me something that I have in common with most of the adults on the planet — irrespective of culture everybody has babies. Traveling with Petra provides a meeting point between myself, a traveler, and the people and places I travel through.
It is my impression that the best way to rate a country is by how many people smile at you as you walk down the street. Traveling with a baby in Guatemala has raised this country into the upper tiers of the world smile index.
Images of Petra meeting Guatemala