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  • Writer's pictureRachel Denning

So… We Bought Land in Guatemala

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Surprised? The nomadic family has bought land?? Are they planting roots?

It's been kind of quiet on Discover Share Inspire (2020 update -- my blog name ages ago) for the past few weeks.

Ever since our Unconventional Family Convention I haven't blogged much...

Well, it's because we've been kind of busy... finalizing on the purchase of 2 acres in San Jose Chacaya, a small indigenous town in the highlands of Guatemala, located above Lake Atitlan.

Surprised? The nomadic family has bought land?? Are they planting roots?

I've simply got to say, I'm kind of surprised myself.

Two years ago, we set out on our Epic Expedition, intent on driving from Alaska to Argentina. We thought for sure we'd be somewhere in South America by now...

But that's how our life goes.

We set out for Costa Rica in 2007, intent on making it our permanent home, only to return back to the States in 2008.

We moved to the Dominican Republic in 2009, certain we'ld plant roots there. But then we moved to Georgia later that year, determined that we would live there at least 2-3 years. Six months later, Greg was offered the 'perfect' job and we moved to India... this time confident we would be there for 5-10 years as managing director of the non-profit organization.

However, just a short five months later (May 2010), we returned to the U.S. once more, expecting the unexpected, child number five. Deciding to give birth in Alaska, we made the drive from Atlanta, intent on leaving the 'Last Frontier' after the birth, but before the winter came.

Then we were in a car accident, and stayed through the cold, dark Alaskan winter until the following spring, as our 3 year old Aaliyah spent 3 months in a body cast.

We've learned that life is what happens when you're making other plans.

We finally left Alaska in April 2011 with Argentina as our ultimate destination. We never, ever imagined that we would still be in Guatemala, let alone end up buying land here. That was never on the radar.

True, several months ago we seriously considered the option... then decided against it. We'd even reasoned that if we could pick anywhere in the world to set up 'home base', it wouldn't have been here.

Instead, Guatemala picked us. Or more accurately, God picked it for us (and it's hard to argue with Him.)

So, now here we are, quite honestly happy and contented with the new adventure before us... homesteading in Guatemala. Gardening, animal husbandry, vermicomposting and lots of other cool things we never knew much about before (plus plans for a big expansion on our self-reliance humanitarian project... more on that coming soon.)

Why are we doing it? ...and are we giving up travel for good?

We LOVE to travel, and I don't think we'll ever give it up. But there are a few reasons we sincerely feel that doing this here and now is the best thing for our family at this time:

To Have New Experiences

One of the attractive things about travel is the opportunity it provides for new experiences.

Life can become hum-drum, doing the same thing day after day. Travel offers variety.

We're attracted to homesteading here and now because it is an entirely new experience for us as a family. We've done little gardening, or raising animals, or building things. Our kids have never done it before (they've been nomadic since our oldest, Kyah -- right -- was 4 years old.) It's all very exciting... and fun.

I compare it to being on the road, living in our truck for nine months as we drove from the States to Guatemala. When we finally rented a house with an oven and could bake stuff... WOW! What a great adventure.

This past year, as we worked on our Perpetual Self-Reliance Project, the desire to have our own little farm really grew... it was an experience we really wanted.

Even the 'simple' things like planting seeds can be an incredible adventure -- especially when they're new and different from what you've previously been doing.

As an 'Insurance' Policy

With the economic uncertainty of the times, the collapse of national economies, and the devaluing of currencies, it only seemed wise, we told ourselves, to hedge against possible... 'calamities'.

We're no dooms-dayers, but as my husband likes to say, "The U.S. government is only straightening deck chairs on the Titanic." Our income is based on the U.S. dollar. It's only smart to prepare against the possibility of it's devaluation.

Not only will the Homestead provide great experiences, but it will also grow food and potentially create an additional income stream. Once it's established, we can continue to travel, but always have this 'insurance policy' to fall back on if things get tough.

To Fulfill Dueling Desires

Many people have two dueling natures -- the yearning to travel and explore, and the hankering to dig in roots, built a comfy home with a library, grow a garden and raise a few animals.

Even since we started traveling, we've always wanted a 'home base' -- someplace to keep our books, and grow some plants. We've never done it because it seemed to be an anchor -- thirty years of debt, insurance payments, taxes, PLUS you have to stay there to take care of it.

Exploring the option in Guatemala, we finally saw how to have our cake and eat it to. Here, we can buy land outright, and with small yearly taxes and no required insurance. PLUS we can hire a full time/live-on gardener/guard to take care of the place when we want to take off and explore. We can have the best of both worlds.

To Focus on Education

Education is very important to us, and as our children our getting older their education has come more into focus -- especially during the last year we've spent in Guatemala.

We want to take some more time to solidify a sound educational plan -- one that will develop character and inspire excellence in our children. Travel is definitely a part of that plan, but so is time for reading, projects and hard-work. Having a homestead provides real-life opportunities to learn important skills and to work -- because you have to or else.

More importantly, Greg and I need to focus on taking our self-education to the next level, in order to lead the way for our children to follow.

I plan to blog a lot more about education and the approach we're taking.

To Become Self-Reliant

As a traveler, you're pretty dependent on the world to supply your needs -- food, accommodations, and everything else. That can be a great experience.

But children also need to learn how to be self-reliant -- to learn skills that will allow them to provide for themselves... skills that are being lost in our modern day buy-everything-at-Walmart world.

People are losing the connection to where food comes from and how to grow it; how to raise animals; compost; collect and store water; and how to sew, build and create things from scratch -- among other things.

We want to learn these skills for ourselves, and teach them to our kids. The only way to learn is by doing.

To Connect to the Land

Travel is an excellent way to learn about the world -- to expand your current reality, to embrace new ideas and customs, and to see the variety this globe has to offer.

But nomadic living doesn't provide a lot of opportunity to connect to the land, to watch things grow and to experience the duality of constancy and change that nature provides. It's hard to plant a seed and watch it grow when you're taking off to some place new next week.

Certain lessons can only be learned by staying in one place for awhile. Our ideal is to provide a little of both nomad-ism and root-planting for our kids. Right now, we're going to spend some time planting those roots... for a little while.

To be Immersed in the Culture

Travel can be very touch-and-go. You can visit a place, dip your toes in the water so to speak, and then move on.

But to really get to know and understand a place, you have to live there, become a part of it, and see it day in, day out, week after week, month after month.

Connecting with the people, the customs and the culture happens by living, not just traveling. Our home base is located in a small indigenous village, with no other expats. This will provide a very unique opportunity for our children, who already have a good Spanish base and are now picking up some Kaqchikel -- one of Guatemala's 21 indigenous languages.

To Make a Contribution

Creating our own Homestead is only half the reason for buying land here in Guatemala. Another major motivating factor was our desire to take the success of our Perpetual Self-Reliance Project to the next level. (Now known as Cultiva International -- 2020 update).

Guatemala has the fourth highest malnutrition rate in the world, and the highest in Latin America. This is largely due to the fact that corn is the staple of their diet. We want to be able to help a community to improve their nutrition by introducing principles of permaculture and square foot gardening (among other things), so that families can be self-reliant and have better nutrition.

I'll be sharing more information about this project later (and be asking for your help to spread the word.)

Is this the end of our Alaska to Argentina trip?

Right now I'll honestly say... no. We plan on continuing our adventure. There is no set time frame in which we have to complete our trip. And if it includes setting up a home base in Guatemala, then that's okay with us. Once we finally head south again, we could make it to Argentina in as little as six months to a year.

Of course things can always change... you know how life goes.

(2020 update -- we spent nearly two years in Guatemala, then drove to El Salvador and Nicaragua while pregnant with my sixth child. She was born in Costa Rica where we spent 18 months. We then moved to Europe for two years, and then returned to the U.S.A. for three years. We still have plans to finish our 'Alaska to Argentina' trip one day 😉)

Surprised? Have you ever wanted a home base? Do you have one, and now want to travel?

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