When the plane finally landed, I looked out the window and saw mountains, mid-size office buildings and a sunny, blue sky in the background. After flight delays, switching planes, and sprinting in airplane terminals, we had finally landed in Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala. Emily’s cousin met Gabrielle Turner and I outside the entrance, and the three of us made our way to Antigua.
Guatemala is beautiful.
As we continued along the 45 minute drive to Antigua, I watched miles of tree-covered mountains, red hanging flowers, and green palm trees pass by my window. As I write this journal, I’m looking forward to seeing the beauty, culture, and lifestyles of another Latin-American country. This trip has a lot of traveling planned. We are going to see about 5 destinations in 11 days. It’s going to be crazy, but I’m looking forward to the learning experiences and adventures that are to come!
January 1, 2013 (Antigua, Guatemala)
For today’s journal entry, I want to reflect on this picture I took on one of the many cobblestone streets in Antigua, Guatemala. The group and I were casually looking for a fresh fruit market when I spotted a beautifully-dressed local woman approaching. I scrambled to grab my camera, and whirled around to snap a picture before the amazing photo opportunity passed me by. By the time I had configured a good enough camera angle, the woman had sensed someone was taking her picture. She stopped, turned around, and gave a glare so penetrating that it instantly caused me to regret what I had done. Though my intentions were innocent enough, the act of taking pictures of other human beings without permission is an ethical issue that Western tourists need to consider. That day, I learned a valuable lesson: citizens of other countries are not “photo-ops” or exotic wonders to be gawked at. Just as a Westerner would be appalled for a stranger to snap a picture of them, the rest of the world expects the same consideration and respect. At the very least, ask permission!
Though I originally intended for the picture to only show beauty in the local woman’s attire, I was surprised to see a few other sentiments that appeared. Interestingly, as I scrambled to capture the woman’s traditional attire before she passed by, individuals dressed in modern attire were passing her by. Standing on the edge of a store-crowded street with vehicles, souvenirs, and gringos in the background, the traje-dressed woman appeared to be an apparition of a time and place that has long passed. In the photo, her expression invokes in me a deep consideration for the cultural legacy of Guatemala.
January 1 to 3, 2013 (Semuc Champey in Lanquin, Guatemala)
After our 45 minute chicken bus ride to the area, we were greeted by local children who summoned us with the call, “Chocolate, Chocolate, dos por cincooooo!” With their big brown eyes and the way they purred “dos por cincooo”, there was no way we could say “no” to their offer. After trying original Mayan chocolate (which tastes nothing like “typical” chocolate), we happily made our way to the trails. For hours, we climbed steep paths, bathed in the natural pools, and finally headed down to the local café for lunch. Once we were there, we met a fellow traveler whose story caught our attention. After taking time off from his job as a real-estate agent, Tony’s goal was to ride to the tip of Argentina with only his motorcycle and a bag of personal items strapped on board. He started in Southern California, so we were meeting him about 1/3 into his journey, in central Guatemala. Tony offered awesome advice that we ended up recording in an interview. Tony’s words of wisdom were much appreciated, but the thing I’ll always remember is meeting a man who took risks and followed his dream of exploring the world.
January 3 to 6, 2013 (Flores & Tikal Ruins)
Tikal is a historic location in northern Guatemala that houses some of the oldest ruins in Latin America. Located in Flores, Tikal is one of the largest sites of pre-Columbian Mayan Civilization. Climbing the staircases of temples that once housed Mayan deities and seeing the remnants of Central American culture before European contact was an incredible experience.
January 7 to 9, 2013 (Monterrico)
Monterrico is a lovely, black-sand beach location on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. In Monterrico, the group an early-morning environment tour, where we saw some of the many species of Guatemalan wildlife. We held baby sea-turtles and released them into the water, shopped at local fruit markets, and received an opportunity to unwind in one of Guatemala’s most beautiful locations.
January 9 to 11, 2013 (El Chupadero and Departure)
El Chupadero is a small town in located in the central hills of Guatemala. Here, we finally got the chance to meet the students and teachers that Guate Bonita has been working hard for. Upon arriving at the school, we saw a modest, one-level building with dozens of elementary school children sitting outside. As we walked in the school gate, all the kids were looking in our direction. They were a bit shy, but as the day progressed, the students were laughing, playing, and running around with the group as with they had known us forever! In between all that, Guate Bonita helped dig a garden, cart out boxes of supplies, and distribute food, clothes, and medicine. I enjoyed interacting with such an energetic, bright group of children, and I’m glad to have made a difference in the quality of their education.