Tag Archives: guatemala

Returning to Guatemala

8 Jul

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.

Flying into Guatemala City

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.

Street in Guatemala City

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.


Pre-Trip Worries

5 Feb

My return to Guatemala is getting closer and closer. There are 47 days until our plane takes off. Each week we have a meeting to get together as a group and discuss things for the trip. I usually end up speaking at these meetings because it seems people believe things coming from someone their own age as opposed to a teacher and we want to get everyone excited.

47 days.

I’ve waited for this trip for so long and I’m so excited that it’s so close that I can barely sleep at night. I look through the pictures I look last year, reread my journal entries from the trip, and every part of me wants to be back there. Right now.

I anticipate seeing all of the friends I made last year, impressing them with my new Spanish skills, and seeing the bilingual secretary teacher whom I’ve kept in contact with and running up to her in excitement. I think about the market on Sunday and the yarn that I want to buy. When we go to Panajachel, I know exactly what I want to buy. I’m determined that this trip will be just as magical as the last one.

But what if it isn’t?

I hold the days that I spent in Guatemala so close to perfection that I’m afraid I’ve exaggerated in my head. Last year when I went, I had no expectations. All I had was a bunch of fears and a little bit of excitement. But this year, I know what to expect. We’re going to the same places we went last year. All of the people that I met last year will still be there. I’ve been waiting for this trip to come for so long that I’m worried that I’m going to let myself down, that it won’t be as wonderful as I’m expecting it to be in my head.

This time last year I was so afraid to go on this trip that I almost considered backing out. I was afraid to get on the airplane, afraid to try the new foods, afraid to be away from home, afraid to hike up the ruins, afraid to try to speak Spanish. This year, I don’t feel any of that. This year, my only fear is this. The fear that it won’t be the same, that I’m ruining something special by returning.

Has anyone else ever had these feelings about returning to a place that they loved? Is this just nerves talking? Is this normal?

First Payment Down and Flight Booked!

21 Dec

As of today, half of my trip to Guatemala is paid for! The flight was booked today. The countdown is officially on! 93 days until I return to my favorite place on Earth.

Since I’m so excited, I thought that I would share some pictures from last year.

This is the school that we volunteered at.

The entrance to the Mayan Ruins we visited.

Our first look at Lake Atitlán at an overlook driving into Panajachel!


I cannot wait to return – we’ll be going to the same places again and I’ll be seeing everything through completely different eyes. I miss my friends and my Guatemalan family and it’ll be so nice to spend a few days with them again. Plus, I am totally kicking myself over not buying a few things I passed up in Panajachel, so I am really looking forward to some shopping!

Fundraising Fun :-)

31 Oct

Guatemala is going to cost approximately $1500 again this year and I would like to donate some money to the school, to help them achieve their goal of adding on to the school so more students can attend, so I’ve set myself a goal of $1800 this year. That will mean at least a $300 donation to the school and more if the cost of the trip happens to go down (which may happen, it did last year).

I began my fundraising a few weeks ago with a bakesale at my library. It was a last minute thing and I was definitely not fully prepared but I still managed to raise a decent amount, which I was very pleased with.

I also sent out sponsorship letters to a few local places last week. I haven’t done that before so I don’t know how it will work out but my fingers are crossed for a response or two!

My next fundraiser is this Friday, at the local grocery store. I’m gonna have another bakesale outside. I’m hoping for a pretty good turnout, as that will be my last in-person fundraiser for a while.

I’m also working on a few big, really exciting things that I can NOT wait to share. I’m working really hard on them and hope to be able to share in the next few weeks.


5 Oct

Just got the okay from my parents that I can return to Guatemala in March with my school. Excited does not begin to cover how I am feeling right now. I know that this trip and experience will be so much different than last time but I am excited to have a new adventure in the place I love most. I have mentioned to a few of my Guatemalan friends that I will be returning and it seems they are almost as excited as I am.

I don’t know the exact dates or length of when we’ll be going or even exactly what we’ll be doing but at this point, it doesn’t matter at all. I am going back and it’s going to be amazing. ❤

Unfortunately, I have to raise the money for the trip first. I am not positive how much it will be this year but I am expecting it to be around $1,500 or $2,000. I have a general plan of how I’m going to raise it and my first fundraiser is going to be this Saturday at my library. I’ll be doing a bakesale and also selling some of the bracelets I made with the thread from Guatemala and maybe some candles. We have a festival going on in town that weekend so I’m expecting it to be pretty productive

March cannot come soon enough! ❤

My First Adventure

22 Sep

March 24, 2011 was the day that changed my life. Until that day, I had led an incredibly sheltered life. I lived in a town with only one red light, which I rarely left. I had been to one city in my entire life, and even then I was under the constant supervision of an adult, and I had definitely never left the country. I had never been on a plane, and, quite honestly, I was absolutely terrified of getting on one, as most of my family refused to fly. My life was boring and I was growing restless so I decided to do something about it and take a giant leap towards adventure.

I drove 6 hours across the state, to a city I’d never visited, to jump on a plane with people I’ve never met and go on an 8-hour plane ride, not only to a different state but to a different country at that. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever done, the day before I left I had decided I was crazy and absolutely not going, and I spent the first ten minutes on the plane saying “Oh my god, we’re going to die. I’m going to die. We’re going to die.” But, it was also the best thing I had ever done.

We flew into Guatemala City just after dark, where we were managed to skip having our bags searched, thanks to the entire soccer team in line behind us, and went straight to our hotel. The next day, we stopped at Pollo Campero for breakfast, and headed off to tour some of the ancient Mayan ruins. The ruins themselves were magnificent (it’s amazing to think about the people standing in the same exact place as you, thousands of years ago) but it was the personal victory I overcame that day that keeps it most memorable in my mind. I faced fears and obstacles I’d been carrying around for years and even though no one else knew or understood, I felt one hundred percent victorious at the end of the day.

We spent the next five or so days in the small, rural town of Joyabaj, which I will always argue is the nicest place in the world with the kindest people you will ever meet. We stayed in a lovely hotel (the only problem was the cockroach in my bed), right next door to the family that would become some of my favorite people in the world. Each morning we rode the bus with the students to the school where we volunteered. The bus rides were crazy and chaotic and unsafe by most US standards but one of my favorite parts of the trips.

I have so many amazing memories from the short amount of time I spent at the school that I could talk about it for days. The students warmed my heart and left such a huge impact on me. We somehow managed to cross language barriers to become great friends. We taught them the Cotton Eyed Joe dance, they taught us about their culture, we taught them a few words in English, and they taught us more about kindness and compassion than anyone ever has in my life.

I will also always say that the most freeing feeling in the world is riding on the back of the motorcycle through the Guatemalan streets in the middle of the night. The stars were shining bright, brighter than I had ever seen them, and a bunch of street dogs were chasing the motorcycle, and it was the best thing I have ever experienced. Even now, I think of that moment and long to return, to experience that feeling of pure freedom and bliss.

It’s no exaggeration to say that those few days I spent in Guatemala were the best days of my life. Every day since I’ve returned home, I have been longing to go back. There’s a box of crayons and pencils and other supplies in my bedroom for the students at the school. I write letters to those I miss most, even attempting to write in Spanish for them.  I have made everyone dread the moment when I jump into a conversation with “In Guatemala…” because I talk about it so much. And I still haven’t been able to properly get across what that experience meant to me. I don’t think I ever will. It has been my goal in life to live in Joyabaj, at least for a while, and I am counting down the days until I return this spring.

It just goes to show that these opportunities appear for a reason and sometimes, you just need to take a giant leap of faith and go for it.