How hiking in Guatemala blew my mind!

Sam with local Guatemala girls

There comes a time in a gal’s life when reality finally meets dream, dream meets real life, and real life meets perspective. If you’re confused, I blame the missing fragments of my mind. They’re lying like shrapnel somewhere between the cobblestone streets of Antigua and an ethereal cloud forest near Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

(Though, they could also be lying in the bottom of some drainage system in the jungle, beside the remnants of a pulled-pork tortilla I violently threw up less than a week ago. Could be?!)

In February, I hosted She Walks the Walk’s first official GWA!! That’s Global Walking Adventure, if you’re new to these parts.

Overall, my heart is a soaring, squishy place filled with great memories and renewed aspiration. It’s hard to put into words seeing this thing get off the ground after all the universe has dished out these past few years. I am grateful. I am humbled. And, my mind has been blown.

Here is just a fraction of the learnings I’m taking away after traipsing through this gorgeous slice of Central America.

Expecting North American urgency in a Central American country is ridiculous.

We were three average ladies with a common goal: find our way to the host hotel in Antigua from the neighbouring village of Santa Ana, a quick 25-minute jaunt away. Wouldn’t the answer be a no-brainer for a company called She Walks the Walk?

Myself and two early bird guests had spent the night at my parents little home in Santa Ana. It was the perfect set-up to begin our adventure, but we now stood agog at the unfolding situation: copious duffel bags and travel packs surrounded us with no tuk-tuk in site. Not a single, sputtering one.

Naturally, we took to Uber:

“Your ride is 16 minutes away.”


“Your ride is 4 minutes away.”


“Your ride has been cancelled due to the number of people and bags.”

You don’t say!

This fun game went on until Sam finally accepted that Uber was toying with us. We eventually had the brainwave to contact our hotel who graciously agreed to send a cab. And then we waited.

And waited. And waited. Again, this place is JUST AROUND THE CORNER. But schlepping all of our bags was honestly not in the cards. Our gear situation was designed to be transported for us; we’d carry only water and any snacks/rain gear in our daypacks.

Otherwise, every nook and cranny in our duffels had been stuffed to the brim with school supply donations. I’m talking socker balls, heavy pads of construction paper, crayons, and calculators galore. I was also personally carting around a few extra tents of the non-lightweight variety to bring to my friend Mario.

So, the hotel. Surely they could sort it, right? Unbeknownst to us, they summoned a cab from Guatemala City. This might be a good time to point out that Antigua is approximately 45-minutes to 3-hours away depending on traffic.

“They’ll be there shortly.”

Ummm, pardon??

After watering a gentle street-dog who wondered what the tizzy was all about, we came up with a solution. I must have plenty of other contacts in Guatemala to leverage; after all, I’d been coming here for more than a decade! Maybe Matt knew someone who could come and fetch us? Of course he did.

(Not unlike the street dog, you may also be wondering why I did not have this piece of logistic buttoned up. Well, it’s because I didn’t. I’d always been told Ubering was possible in the town of Antigua, and since we were a wee hop, skip and a jump away, it shouldn’t be a problem to transport a small team of women and their respective hiking gear just 2.3 km down the road, right?)


The morale here is this: if you’re heading to a foreign country, throw away the rulebook that promises an entitled you fast and efficient service (talking to myself here, but if you want to take notes, I’m not going to stop you!) Their ways are not inferior either. They’re just, different. And isn’t that the point? Aren’t we here to slow the f*** down and stop stamping our demanding feet?

Things will go wrong.

I mean, it’s travel, right?

People will get sick.
Protests will shut down the roads.
And Mayan Shamans will have family emergencies.

(Yes, even spiritual gurus fall victim to “something urgent has come up” moments.)

The important thing is not to panic! Life gives us a work-around for everything. Take Jen, for example.

After enduring THE MOST STRESSFUL PASSPORT RENEWAL SITUATION I’ve ever heard — enter the sleek white passport, fit for dignitaries and emergency situations alike — Mother Nature sucker punched Jen. And I mean, hard. Didn’t she end up down for the count after our first day of hiking… What kind of travel God does this to someone after all they’d already endured just to get there?



It seems travel is the great equalizer. You can do everything right, bathe in hand sanitizer, not eat the lettuce and still find yourself saddled with a queasy tummy. Imagine being sick in the cloud forest of a foreign country, shacked up with a veritable stranger in a tent. (Granted, those tents WERE the bomb. And her roommate was the absolute BEST. Still…) Nobody wants to be anywhere but in their own bathroom when that storm of nausea wakes you up. Seriously.

Jen opted to roll with this literal punch.

When she stuck her ashen face out of the tent that morning and squeaked out the deets of her painful night (local camp dog, Juliet, confirmed the contents of Jen’s stomach were unfit for any living thing), it was obvious that she’d not be hiking with us. Day Two of her Walk was not to be. It meant she’d forego crossing the famously rickety sky-bridge she’d dreamed of for months. It was supposed to be her bad-ass Indiana Jones hiking moment…Instead, she’d settle for a day’s sojourn in the Trek Truck with our camp crew.

Understand these lovely men don’t speak English. And Jen doesn’t really know them, nor does she speak Spanish. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, nothing if you have the right attitude!

Jen got the chance to bond with Juan Carlos and Patrizio, something I missed out on altogether! They treated her with the same care they would their sister, worried about her well-being (“Sam, she is not eating”) and trying to keep her entertained (“it was boring… we had to get gas and groceries”). But Jen didn’t need entertaining. She was seeing parts of Guatemala we didn’t get to. It was all back roads and tiny Mayan villages for her, gaining a legit glimpse into everyday life for these hard-working beautiful people.

Jen in Guatemala

I’m proud of Jen! And she inspired me to remember a truism I’d almost forgotten. Most of humankind cares about one other. Although we often focus on what divides us, when we see someone down, our inherent nature is to pick them up. This is a universal tenet I am grateful to have witnessed.

Not everyone values what we value.

A big part of our GWAS is the inner journey. I’ve taken great care to curate an experience that forces us to go within. From meditations to a journal filled with prompts, I was MOST excited about this part of the adventure. After all, who doesn’t want to know themselves better?

What I learned is that going within is UNCOMFORTABLE (reports of literal pins and needles came trickling in) and not for everyone. This doesn’t mean it isn’t valued, or can’t come to be valued. And in fact, a few of our participants were moved to tears on a couple of mornings. (Oh, how I love a good cry… In myself, in others, let it all out, baby!)

She Walks the Walk Meditation

But I’d forgotten that some people already know themselves quite well. Others may find it daunting if the answers they seek are evading them. I also realized that leading this kind of spirituality requires me to drop my own defences. And you already know I’m sometimes tangled up in insecurity.

Bottom line?

Something we find important, beautiful or “cool” (like a hotel with 110 stone stairs you must first traverse in order to reach your room) may not be so “cool” in the eyes of others. We can curate “cool” as much as we want, but beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder.

Conversely, magic is found in the unexpected things.

These are the unscripted moments we didn’t anticipate… Like, a team of random strangers coming together to form such an authentic, caring bond. That we’d vibe so well was not necessarily unsurprising, but something I’d not stopped to consider either way. How magical it was to just be ourselves! To giggle while leaving a trail of farts in “Snake Gully”… To metaphorically piss ourselves when a proper English lady lets out an indelicate belch after her well-earned campfire beer. These are the moments I’d never considered would make such a difference.

And I’ll cherish them all!

Did you have parents growing up? Did you have the option of going to school?

One of the most profoundly mind-blowing moments for me personally was meeting local guide, Lola, in the Mayan town of Santiago. I knew that Lola was a graduate of the MAIA Impact School, an organization I’d been closely following for a number of years. What I didn’t know is that her strength, grace and determination would affect me so deeply.

As a young Mayan girl, Lola’s options for her future were already limited. The three strikes against her? (1) Being female, (2) being Mayan and (3) being poor. She’d be expected to help take care of the family and by virtue of the aforementioned circumstances, there was a high probability she’d become a mother before the age of 25. Education would typically end at age 12, with the pressure mounting to stay in the home and help her younger siblings.

But Lola endured a trauma no child or (human being, period!) should ever have to come to terms with. She’d witnessed her father’s murder when she was just ten-years-old, and not long after, her mother was also taken from her. The role of parenting moved down to her eldest sister, thus creating a complex system of expectations that she’d stay within the family to give back.

Lola had dreams, though.

She longed to be educated. To be independent. She also had significant drive and talent, something the MAIA Impact School picked up on. Her family discouraged this education because it would take away from their own survival needs; how dare she put herself before them?

With perseverance, Lola was eventually given a scholarship to attend the school that has helped shape her current life. Today, she is working on her Masters and very focussed on her career. She remains closely-knit to her family of origin and gives of her time and money as much as possible. Now married, she’s also contending with a husband who puts up a fuss when she hangs out with her sister (who recently became a first-time mother at the age of 40) and any of her other siblings.

The woman is a tower of strength! And proof that we don’t need to accept the circumstances into which we are born, or that may be thrust upon us as we grow older in life.

Lola of MAIA Impact School and She Walks the Walk

Lola also shows that it’s okay to have dreams for ourselves. Her siblings are so proud of her. They’ve accepted this path she’s on, one that will prove an invaluable example of empowerment as her new niece grows up in this challenging world.

It only takes one person who understands your vision to keep the motivation going.

Our first day on the Trek was challenging. Nobody but me knew what to expect, and nerves were all over the place. What would the terrain be like? How long would this steep incline last? If this was considered the “easiest” day, what about the others?!

Added to the great unknown was the altitude. For some in our group, it was their first time exposed to less oxygen up at 2,400M+. Huffing and puffing would be our new normal until bodies had time to acclimatize.

We were all working out our own kinks and moving forward in our own ways. Spirits were high. Because, Guatemala! We were walking in sublime territory, surrounded by lush vegetation and misty cloud. It felt as though we could touch heaven (at least, for me, it felt like that; I imagined myself being as close as ever to my father…)

Just before our lunch break, Jen and I took a moment to marvel at the view. I could see her getting emotional, and since I’m an empath, I also became emotional. We’d been chit-chatting our way through some aches and pains. But then she turned to me and said, “Sam. I get what you’re trying to do here. This is hard for me. But I’m walking in Guatemala, and I need this!”

An outpouring of tears cascaded down my cheeks; tears that held three years worth of hair-pulling uncertainty. We exchanged hugs and a few selfies to commemorate our moment of bonding. It was then that I realized I needed just ONE PERSON to tell me that they understood. That they could see and feel the vision I’d been trying to offer.

Jen did that for me, and I will forever be grateful.

All we want in life is to feel seen. Standing at that viewpoint in all her vulnerability, Jen reminded me that one person can make a difference in our lives. It just. Takes. One.

They want what we have and we don’t want what we have.

Doña Paula lives with her sister-in-law, mother-in-law and two of her children. All three ladies are talented back-strap weavers, producing intricately woven goods for the surrounding villagers and now, us vagabond tourists.

But Doña Paula is living out a real-life nightmare — the kind of thing we’d hear about on the news and over which so much debate has divided our countries. Her husband and two of her kids have left the country “the hard way” (please read between the lines) in search of a better life across the border.

Her story is not even that typical. People are fleeing in mass exodus, driven out by brutal gang violence, joblessness (only 3 out of every 10 Guatemalans have a formal job) and even religious persecution. Most are already living in poverty. Many are living in poverty along with fear and terror.

They want what we have. Freedom. Opportunity. Education. A chance to thrive.

What they don’t realize, is that our society is not all that its cracked up to be. And don’t get me wrong. I love Canada. I’m grateful to live here. But looking around, it seems like most of us are always whining about our lack, burning ourselves out to get ahead, and for what? An extra purse? I see waste. I see greed. I see squandering of opportunity.

If only we could step into each other’s shoes just for a short time. Our evening spent with Doña Paula, learning how to roll out round, flat tortillas (for the record, this is not easy!), made me question our two realities side-by-each.

What would I be doing at that exact time back home?

Probably watching Netflix. Probably complaining about something not being as I wanted it to be.

Here: the simple act of creating a meal for THAT day (refrigeration is a luxury most don’t have there) put me smack in touch with what I’d learned long ago, but had quickly forgotten:

Our society is NOT better. Our ways are NOT the best. If we could tone down our greed a little and maybe redistribute some of the world’s equity, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

And there she was… Doña Paula. Smiling, laughing with us. Inside, probably aching to see her babies. Her family now living very divided lives. One side sent off in search of something better, with no guarantees of anything. The other side, holding down the fort as best they can until their turn to make a move arrived.

Making tortillas with Dona Paula

To quote my brother who has spent years in Central America and married a beautiful soul from Honduras:

“We have our perspective and they have theirs. We want what they have (escape the rat race??) and they want what we have access to. It’s like that riddle: what is it that poor people have an abundance of and rich people want? NOTHING.”

And the most mind-blowing thing I learned:

That although our geography is different, our skin may look different, our circumstances, viewpoints, beliefs, desires — different… What unites us is that we all seek the same thing. We all have dreams, fears, family we love, family with pressures. Hopes for the future. Hopes for today. Sorrow over loss. Over what could have been. Over what was and never transpired in the first place.

We are here on this human journey for a nanosecond. And what we do with our time is up to us. Guatemala has restored my waning gratitude, making me realize how lucky I am just to be alive. The kindness of its people, they’ve blown my mind. Adiós por ahora, Guatemala 💗.

This post is dedicated to an elderly driver named Bruno, who walked half hour in the heat of the Tikal jungle to find me a “healing tea” native to the area, after hearing about my wretched night of sickness. And yes, it worked!

10 Reasons to Say YES to Adventure!

Selfish. Ridiculous. Impractical. Nutballs.

I’ve been called these things before, and in many respects, they’re all true depending on your outlook. Is it selfish to take time for you? I dunno… Can you continue giving when completely depleted? Is it ridiculous to prioritize a scoot around the Grand Canyon over re-paving your pot-holed driveway? Maybe.

Saying YES to ourselves is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

I don’t care who you are — we all need to recharge from time to time! If that means taking a walk in the forest, so be it. Busting out to Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It’ in your basement, rock on. Whatever your jam, you should spread it on and spread it when you need it. (SICK METAPHOR alert!)

And saying YES to something like an adventure is also not nutballs. See, adventure, changed me.

It all started back in 2009 when I finally faced the sinking feeling that despite all the fullness in my carefully curated adult life, I had nothing that really lit me up. (Please don’t ask me why I didn’t take up knitting or some other less costly endeavour… ) I took a chance on myself and decided to climb a mountain. With zero experience and no specific interest in the outdoors. You can verify this by asking my fam: Sam Plavins was decidedly NOT an outdoor girl.

But it’s HARD to say YES to ourselves. Because it’s an acknowledgement that we’ve been putting everything and everyone above our own needs. And, can also do the math. Carving out some YOU + YOU TIME = LESS TIME FOR LOVED ONES. Super. How do we feel about THAT?! Show me a woman who wants her family to suffer and I’ll show you the devil herself. It doesn’t exist. (Guess what? They will be fine and in fact, perhaps better to be left to their own devices for a while!)

The reality is, most of us keep plodding along. Telling ourselves we’ll wait until we have more money (newsflash: we’ll never have enough because human nature keeps us notoriously dissatisfied) or push the thing out until we have more time (another illusion: we have no control over our time here. It could all end tomorrow, and I know you know what I’m talking about).

Anywayssssss, in the spirit of urging you out of your funk, I’ve compiled this 10 Reasons to Say YES to Yourself (and take that Mother-Effing Adventure). Hope it helps!

  1. Your HEALTH. Girl, if you’ve got your health right now, THIS is the time to act. Thinking we can defer these epic goals of ours until we’re a little bit richer, older, wiser is a fool’s game. I’m dead-ass, too. You can always do that home renovation… but will you always be able to hike? What happens if you lose your mobility? What happens if you’re catapulted into a care role (like we were when my father took ill)? HEALTH IS WEALTH. Don’t wait. Do the thing.
  2. Travel is CHANGING. And not necessarily for the better. Pent-up demand is putting pressure on flight costs and who knows what the future looks like for air travel. If you care about our planet, you’re only going to feel worse about your carbon footprint as time marches on. Making a thoughtful, calculated decision with the information in front of you NOW is far better than the “wait and see” mentality.
  3. Find out what your MADE OF. I mean, you’re already super amazing and bad-ass. But what if you could stretch yourself? How would it feel to walk in sand for days? What would happen to your confidence if you stood atop that mountain for the first time? From a girl who had no business strapping on those crampons… let me tell you, CONFIDENCE is the first game-changing impact of Adventure.
  4. Open NEW DOORS. Over my 13+ years of adventuring, I’ve been blessed to meet some incredible folks. Some of these people have become allied business partners, dear friends, and spontaneous fellow adventure-seekers (read: always up for some random Sam Adventure whenever I call). Staying inside my little radius over here keeps my world small. It also keeps me safe, but safe is boring, predictable and ordinary. You’ve got one life. Who will you meet that could make a difference in your world? And vice versa!
  5. Face your FEARS. We all have them… Heights is a common one. On all my mountaineering adventures, invariably there would be someone deathly afraid of heights. And yet. There they’d be… putting one foot in front of another, pulling their weight up the mountain, learning to trust and let go. Would the rope and caribeener hold? Would our guide keep us safe when near those exposed ledges? Absolutely. Sidebar: I’ve never been afraid of heights, but I am afraid of losing control. I have had seizures in the past and they always happen when my cortisol levels shoot up. In other words: when Sam is stressed, she can seize! On my first mountain climbing adventure, I had no idea how my body would react to the thinner air. 22,000 feet is CRAZY HIGH. So of course I went for hypnosis before I left! Whether or not all that brain re-wiring helped remains to be seen. But I didn’t wig out, nor did I have a seizure. Fears faced!
  6. Behold the POWER OF YOUR BODY (and mind). I used to bemoan my meaty thighs, far too generous to get me anywhere in the ballet world. It’s the same reason you will NEVER see me in shorts. This is an annoying (being kind here) hangover from my body dysmorphia years as a teen. But over the years, I’ve seen what this body can do. And I’ve seen what MANY DIFFERENT BODIES can do. It’s unreal. The human body is built to be in motion. It can endure. It can repair, literally overnight. And it will shock the hell out of you if you let it. I was lapped by Octogenarians on the Camino Frances, absolutely humbled by the stamina of these older folks. If you don’t use it? Prepare to lose it. So take advantage of your here and NOW and don’t wait until you’re “fitter,” “thinner,” or “stronger.” (To be sure, it’s not ideal to show up for an Adventure having just loafed on your couch for all 8 seasons of Wentworth.)
  7. Unearth the EPIPHANIES. One of the most life-changing moments for me was that half hour at the top of Pequeño Alpamayo in Bolivia. I held up a picture of my family, at the time, the girls were 2 and 7. I professed my gratitude into my camera to them… for supporting me in my wacky adventure. But it was in that moment that I had the profound realization: “Why NOT me?” “Why would I feel guilty over having this joy?” “Don’t I deserve this after all I do for everyone else?” It was then that I stopped shaming myself for chasing my own happy. Imagine the epiphanies that could come from a night in the Atlas Mountains, where all you hear is the distant bleating of a goat and the sound of that gentle stream a few feet away.
  8. Expand your PERSPECTIVES. Adventure can happen in our own backyards, but it also can take you to the other side of the world. What can we learn from the people in Jordan? Can we crank up our awareness on the ACTUAL most precious resource on the planet? (Hint: it’s not diamonds.) Water! This country is the second poorest of all when it comes to water. What does this mean for the future? How can we help? What do we take for granted over here? Can we shift what we value in life? Could we reprioritize some of the initiatives we support? What can we learn from the farmers in Guatemala? How many pounds of snow peas does it take for them to make just $1? When we’re at the grocery store, how will this mindfulness change our consumption? Our waste?
  9. Fall in LOVE WITH YOURSELF. Ladies, I’m not joking here. It sounds like a load of hooey, but we can’t love others unless we love ourselves. I’m talking, falling in love with your stinky, aching, uncomfortable self. In the middle of nowhere. Yup… this happens. We become softer and more tolerant towards ourselves when thrown into the unknown. We rise up. We make decisions, choose the left path and not the right, trust ourselves, our guides, each other. We find all our needs met and realize that being on our own is not only COOL, but necessary for our soul restoration.
  10. Set the EXAMPLE. For those of us with kids, what behaviour do we model for them? Do we glorify the 60-hour work grind? Do we preach save, save, save, school, school, school? Our values will always guide us, but if we’ve ever wanted something different for our children, it needs to start with how they view us. I was once asked advice from a close friend about her daughter wanting to take a “gap year” over starting university. For my friend, it felt scary to have her 18-year-old go out into the world and explore. What if she never wound up pursuing any further education? I mean, WHAT? SPUTTER?! COUGH! We need to show the next generation that “YES! Contributing to society and working hard matters.” But so does taking chances, and letting go. I hope that my daughters view my “life is short” mentality as one option they could adopt down the road. We are over-conditioned to value money, possessions, structure and certainty in society today. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Show them that deviating from the plan can also be healthy!

If you’ve never done anything off the beaten path and want to rediscover yourself, send me a message. A whole world awaits, and it doesn’t need to be a She Walks the Walk adventure. Just say YES to yourself, already!


She Walks the Walk at Tikal Guatemala

Finding her rhythm on Canada’s Bruce Trail.

“I felt so liberated on the Bruce. That’s the way I want to continue to live.”

At 24, most women are starting their lives with a road map to successful ‘adulting.’ They’ve got plans and expectations. But not Kendra. She’s following her own internal compass. And her quiet confidence moves me. 

Kendra Slagter considers herself the “super outdoorsy, super adventurous” type. Born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Kendra’s thirst for the unknown took her to the far corners of Africa, where she spent a semester in Uganda during her third year of university. After graduating with a degree in Social Work in 2018, she then spent two months working in Kenya. She’s summited mountains. Hiked through rain forests. Always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible during her time out in nature. 

Last year, Kendra was chosen among thousands of applicants for a sponsored permit to tackle America’s famed Pacific Crest Trail, a 4200-km thru-hike that’s gained mainstream recognition thanks to Cheryl Strayed’s popular memoir Wild. Despite the formidable effort required to prepare for the journey — including selling most of her belongings to offset the cost — her March 2020 departure date came and went. Thwarted by the onslaught of COVID. 

Now unemployed, void of any plan, and stuck at home, Kendra found solace in tree-planting contracts as she began to dream about other opportunities for fulfillment. Her father was also in transition, dealing with the impact of COVID on his business and deciding his next steps. One day in September, while sitting at the kitchen table with her dad, an inspired idea hit Kendra smack in the face. She needed only to look out into her backyard. The Bruce Trail.

What if she seized this moment of downtime?

Kendra had grown up with the Bruce Trail right on her doorstep, spending weekends hiking short stages of it with her family. But the trail had lost its lustre once she began to experience the wider world and its infinitely tantalizing possibilities. Could she be convinced of the Bruce’s ultimate worthiness? What if she hiked all 944 km of Canada’s longest and oldest waymarked trail? What’s more, what if she tackled it with her dad? The serendipity of their combined downtime fuelled her imagination. Would he walk the whole thing with her?

The short answer, is YES to all of the above, but her story is a journey worth digging into. A tale of strengthening her self-awareness. Of facing intense discomfort. Embracing personal growth. And finding solace in slowing down. Together, she and her dad Ken supported each other through abysmal rain stretches and recurring injuries. But they never gave up, and completed the Bruce in 29 days, just as the snow was beginning to fall.  

Kendra produced a stunning video about her experience, which is how I discovered her. I was particularly moved by her reflections on the hike’s positive impact on her bond with her father. I knew I needed to know more about this young woman, who has already figured out that she doesn’t need to fit into some box society prescribes. So I interviewed her for the launch of my new SWTW Podcast. I’m stoked to bring you her story, which premieres on our first episode, here! You’ll find it wherever you get your podcasts.

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