Guatemala was the country that changed everything for me. When I first traveled to the country in 2011, I had never been on a plane, never left the country, and never ventured anywhere for more than a day or two without my parents. As I boarded the plane, I was full of apprehension and fear. However, once I stepped off the plane, everything changed. Guatemala swept me off my feet, sending me head-over-heels in love within a matter of minutes.
Before I even headed back to the United States, I knew that I would be returning. Almost exactly one year later, I did.
In the weeks leading up to Guatemala, I was full of excitement. It was the only thing on my mind. Every few days, I posted a countdown on Facebook. I emailed all of the friends I had made the previous year, letting them know I would be there in just a few days. I talked to those going on the trip – the teachers that had gone last year and seven other students who had never been to Guatemala before, and the excitement grew. I couldn’t wait to share my favorite place on Earth with others.
However, underneath that excitement was a little bit of apprehension. What if it wasn’t as wonderful as I remembered? What if I was disappointed?
I spent the day before I left frantically finishing schoolwork before throwing clothes and all of the school supplies I had accumulated over the year for the school we volunteered at in Joyabaj into two suitcases laying on my floor. The end result was two suitcases that I could barely lift and a bedroom floor covered in stuff that I hadn’t been able to fit. (My packing skills could certainly be improved!)
That night, I didn’t even bother to sleep. Our flight left at 6am and with the 2-hour international flight check-in time and the hour drive to the airport, we had to leave my house by 3am. I saw no sense in attempting to get three or four hours sleep, knowing that I was too excited to actually fall asleep.
We arrived at the airport early, as I had been concerned about being late, and stood around as we awkwardly waited for the others going on the trip to arrive. As it was a cyber-school trip, no one really knew anyone before the trip and as other students arrived, we continued standing around awkwardly. Finally, when everyone was there, we said goodbye to our parents, checked our bags, and headed through security.
Our flight flew from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, with a 2-hour layover, before continuing on to Guatemala City. Though the layover gave us a nice chance to walk around and eat something besides barely-edible airplane food, all I really wanted to do was get to Guatemala.
The last hour of the flight was probably the longest hour of my life. My apprehension combined with my pure excitement resulted in a lot of seat-bouncing and “how much longer?”s.
We finally landed in Guatemala City, collected our bags, and headed through customs. The Guatemala City airport is my favorite airport to fly into because it’s so spacious and easy to navigate. Plus, I’ve never spent more than 20 minutes in the line for customs and never encountered a rude employee.
After exiting customs, we made our way outside where our driver was waiting for us. As soon as I stepped through the door, I took a deep breath and all of the worries I had left. I was right where I was supposed to be.