In 2006, my second year studying Latin American Studies, I decided to have another real-world Latin American adventure. Guatemala seemed like the perfect place.
Spanish Class in Antigua, Guatemala
Decision made, I enrolled in Spanish class in Antigua, a cute and colourful city in the Guatemalan highlands with all the sights you would wish to see in close vicinity!
During the week, I studied Spanish for 6 hours daily, living with a local host family. For dinner, we would have Guatemalan dishes with a heavy dose of salsa!
(Author’s note: be careful, when your host mom tells you to mind because it is hot … she really means HOT! I needed 12 glasses of water to put down that fire, and I am a sucker for chilies!).
Come Friday, after our classes, my classmates and I would indulge in the school’s happy hour. All you can drink free freely rummed-up Cuba Libres!
The weekends were spent touring the country, like the beaches of Monterrico (Pacific coast), the Chichicastenango market, Lago Atitlán, and the Mayan temples at Tikal in the Petén Jungle. To this day, I still regret that I never tried a chicken bus!
Highlight #1: The Petén Jungle, at Tikal
One weekend we decided to go and have an adventure in Tikal, the ruin of an ancient Mayan city in the middle of the Petén jungle. We woke up at dawn to see the sunrise from the highest temple (TIP!). We were with a group of around 20 -30 people, thundering through the jungle. But once up there, all of that just falls away into the background. What a powerful moment it was to sit up there, towering over the jungle at 64m high, watching the forest awaken. The most impressive part was when the howler monkeys started demarcating their territories over kilometres of wilderness. Of course, in my naive 19-year-old mind, I thought they were lions. HA-HA. Not that the jungle ever really sleeps. I remember lying in my hammock at night laughing nervously, wondering if a jaguar was going to eat us!
Highlight #2: Panajachel – Lago Atitlán
Another determining moment during my time in Guatemala was on my way to Panajachel at Lago Atitlán. I met a cute 5-year-old girl with a beautiful blouse. Naturally, being an impressionable tourist still collecting supposedly “authentic” moments, I wanted to make her part of my memory collection. At first, I was appalled that she wanted payment?! I just couldn’t equate that cute face with the entrepreneurial spirit she was portraying. However, now, after having my nose in tourism literature for years, I say right on! Power to you girl!
Epiphany – Let’s study Tourism
Now, I see this girl as the epiphany that led me to understand the nuance and local dynamics of tourism, as well as its impact, as an industry. The research projects and travels I’ve undertaken over the years have taught me how local people appropriate tourism to suit their own needs, but also at some time can get overwhelmed by its overpowering presence
FYI: Guatemala was also my first experience with a real Eco-toilet. 😉 Well,…., it was green, let’s keep it at that. In the end, that probably was the deciding factor that tipped the scales of my bachelor thesis toward a nature/ culture theme.
Love with a passion, live your life to the fullest, laugh without restraint, and travel consciously!