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How a Novelist Became an Innkeeper

How a Novelist Became an Innkeeper

It’s close to midnight, two weeks into a precious writing residency in New Hampshire where I have come to finish a novel. My telephone rings.

From Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, a few thousand miles away, comes the voice of a woman I’ve never met: “I left the key to my casita on the bed. Can someone let me back in?”

I’ll get right on it, I tell her. A few hours earlier, I had spent an hour on the phone with a plumber discussing the installation of a new Jacuzzi and ordering wood for the sauna. The day before, I had arranged for a guide to take two guests on a hike to see the sun rise above the volcanoes, and the day before that, an airport pickup for a family of five from Indiana, and dinner on the terrace for a couple from Germany celebrating their honeymoon.

With my property manager out sick, the past few days have been busier than usual, but it’s a rare day in which I don’t find myself occupied with at least one guest staying at the modest place I’d bought 23 years ago as a refuge for writing. It now includes two houses, four casitas, two docks, a fleet of kayaks, a sauna, a yoga platform, a waterfall and a pizza oven.

I’ve been a writer all my life. But these days, my role as an innkeeper occupies me almost as much as fiction. I never intended this, but introducing travelers from all over the world — particularly those from the United States, the country of my birth, whose State Department website has posted warnings about travel to Guatemala for years — has become a central concern of my life.

My history in Central America began more than 50 years ago, at age 11, when my mother took my sister and me on a six-week sojourn on buses and a train from the Texas border to San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas. My experience of Indigenous culture that summer opened up my world.

A decade later, I was invited to join an orchid hunt in the highlands of Guatemala. Never mind that a civil war was going on.

Our slashed tires didn’t keep me from falling in love with the country — most particularly, the 50 square miles of turquoise Lake Atitlán, and the people who made their homes there, who still dressed in traditional Guatemalan clothing made from hand-woven cloth, cultivated maize on the hillsides and followed the Mayan calendar.

I vowed then that I’d return to the lake, though years passed before I did. By then, I’d raised three children and watched them head off for adventures of…

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