Even though international travel is something I have been interested in all my life, I have very effectively used two excuses for never doing it until now:
1) the cost, and
2) with so many places in the world to choose from, the question of where to even begin (“if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice…”!).
But Meryl and Roger (my girlfriend Samantha’s mom and stepdad), two very seasoned world travelers, decided they were going to take a trip to Guatemala the final week of 2010, and invited Samantha and me to join them. Samantha was excited from the get go, and readily accepted. I, however, was confronted with my time-tested excuses, plus a couple more for good measure: 1) would I be able to even get the time off from work? (I haven’t been at my present job long enough to use any paid vacation time yet), and 2) Guatemala was not even on my short list of desirable international destinations – really, I knew next to nothing about it. Would it, and our general itinerary, interest me? Being sympathetic to my financial situation/concerns, Samantha’s parents spiced up the offer: we only needed to pay our way in airfare, and they would cover our meals and lodging. Take that, trusty primary excuse #1 (and #2, for that matter)!
After some deliberating, and then successfully getting the time off approved, I accepted their generous offer. I didn’t have to worry about a passport: I had been in possession of one for eleven and a half years (a classic example of intentions not acted upon)! I did need to get my vaccinations in order, though, and figure out some other logistics, but this was all very doable. Before long, I found myself packed and ready to go. Samantha and I flew out of LAX at 12:30AM on Christmas Day, and arrived in Houston around three hours later, where we met up with Meryl and Roger, who had flown in from San Francisco. The four of us then took the same connecting flight to Guatemala City, and arrived there at 12:30PM (Guatemala time). Rather than give a play-by-play account of our eight full days in Guatemala, I thought I’d offer up some highlights and personal takeaways, and let the photos do the rest.
Three Reasons Why Going to Guatemala Was Such a Positive and Broadening Experience:
1. Practicing Spanish:
To a kid growing up in northeast Philly in the 1980s, Spanish was nothing more than another seemingly pointless subject we were required to take in school in order to graduate. I have used it from time to time in my life, but it was immensely satisfying to be able to put what I had learned (and somehow retained) to practical use in an actual Spanish-speaking country. For instance, when I heard a pop song I liked playing in a mercado, I was able to ask various sellers (none of whom spoke English) if they knew what it was, until finally one did. Then, armed with both the name of the song and the singer (“El Próximo Viernes” by Espinoza Paz), I was able to ask the vendors selling CDs for it, and eventually scored a copy. I look forward to teaching it to myself on guitar and adding a song with Spanish lyrics (other than “La Bamba”) to my repertoire! It was also incredibly fun to actually converse with locals, learn about them, and even crack jokes in another language. Though my Spanish was broken and flawed, I knew enough to effectively connect with people, especially with the aid of body language and gesticulations. It’s hard to convey just how good this felt and, of course, it made me value exponentially the Spanish I have already learned, and served as motivation to learn some more (not to mention consider gaining some proficiency in other languages, as well!).
2. The World Is Now Slightly Smaller:
I now have an experiential point of reference when I hear about Guatemala and Central America that I previously did not have. Having actually spent some time there and appreciated its culture and its people, if even just for a week or so, I have expanded my sense of connection to it in a way that transcends theoretical or intellectual understanding. The people in Guatemala were overwhelmingly warm and friendly, and were incredibly patient with my gringo attempts to communicate in Spanish – not just people in service positions, but all of the locals I encountered. In addition, we met numerous travelers from all over the world, and inevitably a few who happened to live close to us in L.A. I even met a guy, while walking down the streets of Antigua, wearing a Philadelphia Phillies shirt. Small world, indeed…
3. Tikal National Park:
One of the highlights of the trip, and one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited – period – was Tikal. The mysterious and impressive Mayan ruins combined with the abundant and exotic wildlife currently calling the place home (it is, after all, located in a tropical rainforest) are enough to ignite any curious person’s sense of wonder and send it skyrocketing. Being amidst the ruins of an accomplished civilization that is no more, I was humbled by the passage of time, and by nature’s continuity and ultimate dominance over the affairs of humankind. I couldn’t help but ask myself questions like:
What will be made of the remnants of our civilization when they are unearthed someday? Will tourists frolic and pose in front of them? Will other creatures find utilitarian purposes for them?
I also couldn’t help but want a pet spider monkey. 🙂
Photos from Antigua Guatemala:
Photos from Volcán Pacaya:
(to be continued in next post…)