My Study Abroad Diaries: Guatemala

     Welcome everyone to the season finale of 2020, glad to see you all are still tuning in! I don’t know about you, but this year has felt like a decade's worth of turmoil and tumbleweed events, and I’m desperately ready for a new, fresh start in 2021. With all of the negativity and loss this year has been filled with, sometimes it’s hard to recall all of the good and exciting bits that have come from this year. For me, some of my best memories have been captured through my study abroad experience (before all hell broke loose), so I’m going to tell you about that today. 

     In January, I traveled to Guatemala with my school to participate in a nursing led study abroad trip. I’ve talked about being a nursing major many times, but this trip wasn’t exclusively focused in nursing. The trip combined community involvement, cultural immersion, and fun experiences (of course), and blended it with nursing. I will be breaking down my many stories and adventures of traveling through Guatemala for you today. I plan to write a more in depth article really honing in on the volunteer and nursing aspects of the trip, but at this moment, I feel it’s more important to discuss the lighthearted parts about the trip and focus on the journey it took me through.

 

Getting to Antigua 

     After flying into Guatemala City, we embarked on a 2 hour journey to Antigua, where we would be staying for a few days. There were a few times I really thought we were gonna crash into something, because let me tell you, Guatemalan motorists don’t play around. There’s really no clear lanes or lights, and the streets are filled with cars, bikes, buses- you name it, it was in the street. I felt like we were in one of  The Fast and Furious movies on those roads- and coming from a New Yorker, that says a lot. Thankfully, we got to our hotel in Antigua in one piece, and we immediately started exploring. We walked down the street to this little shop and stocked up on Guatemalan snacks and cerveza (shhh…). That night, we headed into town to see the iconic arches landmark and enjoyed the nightlife to prepare for our first day. 

 

Exploring Antigua 

     We decided to attend a local tour of Antigua with the amazing Roberto. He was so knowledgeable and showed us around beautiful Antigua. We traveled to historic sites such as  Santo Domingo, which is an old church and convent center now converted into a gorgeous hotel many couples travel to for their marriage ceremonies. We also walked through a Mayan museum, jade factory, and other historic landmarks in town. We made a few stops to the chocolate factory- which let me tell you, best aroma ever. They showed us the different kinds of beans they incorporate into their chocolate, and the process they use to make local treats like chocolate tea and their famous coffee. I tasted some local rum at the rum factory, and went for an afternoon shopping session at Mercado de Artesanias El Carmen, which is a local market and popular tourist spot.

 

Volcano Hike 

     On the second day, we decided to take a local excursion to Volcan Pacaya. Our tour guide had recommended it the day prior, and let me tell you, I was hyped to go on a volcano hike. I have never felt as out of shape in my entire existence as I felt while we were on that hike. First of all, I’d like to use the term hike lightly- because to make it to the top I needed to be an all terrain vehicle to even accomplish the turbulent trail. The ground was so unsteady and it changed from sand, to dirt, to COBBLESTONE, all on a complete 90 degree angle. The whole journey took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the top or more, and even when we were so high it seemed like we were almost there, there was still a while to climb to get to THE TOP. I felt like yakking halfway through, and indeed almost threw up- but we trekked on. When I finally got up to the top, the view was breathtaking. It was one of those moments unlike any other and I will never forget it. It was a view that I wish I could have captured. Everything about that moment felt surreal and I would love for the opportunity to relive it again and again. *Sidenote: I legit had enough service to FaceTime my friend at the top of a volcano in Guatemala, and that is such a flex (shoutout Verizon)*. Once we took in the 360 view from the top, we parkoured through hardened molten lava to get to the central part of the volcano. Oh, up until this exact moment- forgot to mention,this volcano is active. Once we got to the center, the ground was so hot we got the chance to roast marshmallows and made s’mores. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and I will treasure it forever. 

 

The Food 

     Now, some of you may not be aware, but I am vegetarian and primarily plant based. This was obviously a major concern for me traveling abroad, specifically to a third world country. Let me tell you, Guatemalans do not mess around when it comes to the kitchen. They chefed  up some of the most delicious and freshest plant-based meals. I had a vegetarian version of traditional pepian, which is a thick stew that happens to be a national dish in Guatemala. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten, let that be clear. I also enjoyed vegetarian burritos and tacos, green veggie soup with tofu, eggplant pasta, pizza, quesadillas, gelato and so much more. I will attach a virtual photo album to this article so you can all feel a little getaway in the midst of the Ronacation of 2020, and you’ll be able to see all the delicious foods I tried. 

 

Panajachel and Lake Atitlan 

     Our last destination was Lake Atitlan, which is a few hours away from Antigua. It lies on a cliff side at high elevation and overlooks, you guessed it, another volcano. Aside from the obvious gorgeous view- everything about Panajachel felt like it was out of a textbook. The weather was a warm (but not humid) 75 degrees, and street sellers with food and deserts greeted us at every turn along with live music performances. We decided to embark on a boat tour around the lake, and all I could do was bask in the sun and feel the water droplets from the motor mist on my face. I decided to stand on the edge of the boat (probably not the safest) and take some amazing pictures of the lake and surrounding lake side. Every night, my friends and I would wander around the city streets to do some shopping for local art and look for new food and snacks. Every evening felt like it was out of a storybook because it just felt too perfect. I seriously felt like I never wanted to leave. On the last day, we all visited a local park. Some of us zip lined through the highlands, while others enjoyed the trails of bridges a hundred of feet up off the ground surrounded by monkeys jumping across the ropes. I know- it was so cool. 

 

     As you can tell, I have a lot to say about my experience traveling through Guatemala. This didn’t even include the half of what I wanted, but at least you got the highlights. I will be attaching a photo album to this article so all of you can access it and see what I’m putting down. We all need a little getaway, so I’m hoping that the scenery and food will make you feel like you’re not at home- even for just a few minutes. I highly encourage studying abroad if you get the chance (and once coronavirus obeys her eviction notice). Once it’s safe to travel again, I do encourage you to get out there and indulge into a culture that is foreign from your own. I learned so much about myself and the world around me through all my experiences in Guatemala, and definitely plan to return in the future. As always, it’s important to remember to appreciate all cultures and not gentrify or glorify places solely based on tourist experiences. This is why I will be making another Guatemala trip article speaking on behalf of the people, and all the community volunteering and service I participated in. Once again, stay safe and healthy, don’t forget to breathe- you’ll be able to travel soon enough! 

 

Unit next time, with love. 

 

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