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 [...]
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
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
April 6, 2010, 2:03 am
I wanted to ask you, how do you imagine/plan the early life of your child. What are your parental dilemmas.
Will you keep traveling when your child will be, say 7 – 10 yo. While travel already exposes your child to a plethora of new experiences that other children don’t have, psychologists also state the need of a stable human environment around the child (beyond parents). You probably know about the so called “third world kids” (TCK).
What are your thoughts on this, if I may ask. How do you envision your traveling lifestyle in relation to the early development of your child, up to teenage years.
PS: Thank you for the verizon answers.
April 6, 2010, 3:15 am
Petra legitimizes you. I think it’s natural to put up defenses when a stranger comes around, but with Petra somehow you become normal.
My wife’s brother has two children, now 16 and 15, and they were never allowed to spend the night at our house or the grandparents. To let others take their child as you allow with Petra would never happen.
It’s really sad too, but they are just very paranoid and don’t take any chances.
April 6, 2010, 8:51 am
You have an amazing life, Wade.
And Petra will too. What a past she will have! Full of experiences and inspiration. I think of the slideshows people have on their 21st birthdays. Most baby photos are of them stuffed somewhere in a blanket in a little room. A lot of them having a photo with a TV show character as their most extreme photo. Look at what you’ve provided for Petra. She’s being held by amazing people with different cultures, maybe giving them a memory. You’ve literally given her the world. And its so good to see!
April 6, 2010, 10:15 am
***the need of a stable human environment around the child***
I think the earth is pretty stable. A person that grows up in the same house all their life can have a pretty unstable environment if the parents are always worried about money, losing the house, family troubles etc. A person that grows up moving a lot, or even travelling, can have a pretty stable environment if the parents make it so. Yes, there is a need for longer term friends as kids get older. I would think this could be done, although it could be difficult. I think one of the hardest things will be to find others that Petra can relate to as she grows up. What will she talk about when she meets kids that have never ventured far from thier TV? I would guess she will relate more with grown ups, and travellers than she will with most other kids her age. But I also think she will likely be great at making friends and being a good friend. She will also likely be better at making good friend choices, and less likely to attach herself to some group of “cool” friends who will get her in trouble.
But then with kids, you never know….Some of the most screwed up people come from the most stable environments and some of the greatest people come from screwed up environments.
April 8, 2010, 2:50 pm
Though we will need to work maybe trying to find other traveling families to partner up with sometimes. As much as I enjoy my misanthropic tendencies, communities are good for a family to have. — I think that’s the crux of it right there. Humans have been nomadic for most of history, but they traveled within tribal units or clans. A group of only 3 individuals traveling would have been very strange and probably would have invited attack and death by a larger more powerful social unit. As such traveling nomads of past times did have stable relationships and friends. I think you and the psychologists are spot on. Depriving a child of stable friendships will exact a heavy psychic toll, but travel and stability doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Your job will be to form a modern day tribe you can travel with, one that will meet Petra’s developmental needs.
August 6, 2010, 3:42 pm
Hi, its so neat to see this blog! I have a friend who is traveling to Guatemala next week and is wondering about taking baby food with her. Did you take baby food when you went? If so, did you have to pay duty on it? Was it a problem in anyway to take it? Thanks!
October 15, 2010, 12:19 pm
I am happy to hear positive things about travel with a baby in Guatemala & thoughts on taking a small child everywhere as my husband & I are taking our what will be 8mo old there. Our last trip there was without child in 2009. I brought my baby to Mexico from Canada at not even 2mo old to live here for a year or so(my husband is Mexican). I hardly know Spanish, but my husband does at least. Everyone thought I was crazy (even my doctor in Canada who I am not returning to). Am nervous about the long trip (12hours there) how will the baby be? happy to hear about the success on a long bus ride,we are going to be driving which may be easier for stopping. Please write more.
March 21, 2011, 6:20 pm
Hi! How old was Petra when you took her to Guatemala?? I am taking my daughter who just turned 1 year old to Guatemala City at the end of May we will be there for 2 months. My friends and family have started scaring me into thinking that I am endangering MY child! Did you have any concerns or do anything before you left the States to prepare her for Guatemala. My daughter is getting her Hep A shots early. She is used to traveling and Im pretty sure she actually likes it. babies just seem to adapt to new places easily. Anyways I would love thoughts or advice on anything before we head off!!
Thanks for writing this. 🙂
January 3, 2012, 2:30 pm
Thank you so much for your article above. It seems our little ones are probably only a few months apart. Like you, we have not been afraid to travel the globe with our little one, so I am not worried about the travel or the adjusting part of it all. Rather I am looking to see recommendations on what to do with our 2 year old. We will be going to Lake Peten Itza in a few months and I can’t seem to find many websites with advice on that area. We frequently travel with our backpack so that we can take him on hikes, etc. Do you know anything about this area?
Kuddos to you as well for traveling with a baby. We have people tell us we are crazy all of the time. It is definitely an adjustment to traveling, but is a good adjustment. He is literally one of the most social little guys I know!
All the best,
October 28, 2015, 9:20 pm
Hello, I have a 20 month old and I’m looking to travel to Livingston, Guatemala. my grandpa owns a home there and I’ve visited before while I was 14, (now I am 22) I am excited. I Dont remember babies much but i wasn’t looking for them neither. I do not believe in vaccinating though and am from NY, usa where i everything is so obtainable and internet is like a second god. Any advice you can give me. I am concerned with diseases and food and milk acessability. (I do not breastfeed and he is used to a bottle before his 2 naps and bedtime) also concerned with stroller. I can bring a carrier but I have never used it besides once or twice, but never longer than an hour or two. Also how much money should I bring or how much does the trip cost
January 14, 2019, 12:00 am
So glad we cam across your post.
We are headed to Guatemala with our soon to be 8 month old for three weeks.
Just wondering what you did for travelling from city to city with Petra….did you bring your own car seat?
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