Illustrating Antigua (and then some…)

Antigua was amazing. After only being there for a few weeks, the city, its people, and its environment already have a piece of my heart. There is so much I could say about the city and my experience there, I don’t even know where to start. I could talk about the daily surprise thunderstorms and how you would have to be crazy to go anywhere without a poncho, rain jacket, and umbrella all stuffed into your backpack. I could tell the story of my first homestay lunch, where a language barrier caused complete silence until the tablecloth caught on fire. Or I could talk about being confronted by a group of rambunctious school teachers on Cerro de la Cruz, who gave me hugs and laughed at my inability to speak Spanish. Another particular favorite of mine is when my homestay and I were insulted through song in the garden by our house.

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My incredible homestay family.

Another thing about the city, how absolutely stunning the city itself and the surrounding environment are. The streets are lined with colorful walls that hide homes, schools, and restaurants alike, not to mention the secret life of the rooftops. I made many friends on the rooftops.

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The Casa rooftop is fabulous.

Then there were the churches. My heart almost stopped every time I walked into any of the historic cathedrals, although this also happened whenever one of them would spontaneously set of a firework on the next street over. I found myself attending mass for fun.

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Staring at the mountains around the city never got old, and honestly became a favorite pastime of mine. They were jagged and unpredictable, and covered entirely in jungle. They made for some interesting architecture too. I learned that there was no fear in building your house-complex on the side of a cliff. The neighboring town at the base of Agua made a pretty nice example of this, and at night it almost looked as if it were a bunch of floating lights.

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There’s so much I want to say about Antigua and the other places in Guatemala and Belize, but no matter how much I do write, there will always be more to say. I even tried to keep a journal that I will probably never get to the end of. So I decided, after some aimless sketching on Cerro de la Cruz, that maybe documenting and talking about my experiences by drawing them would be a better plan of action. I made this decision a little late in the trip, so I am still working on them and many of them will be from pictures. I have been (and still am) drawing different scenes that stood out to me as characteristic of the places I went and my experiences there. They are of landscapes, people, and even mundane scenes that I had simply gotten used to seeing. Sometimes they include color, if I think the scene needs it. I write the date and place on the picture as if it were a written journal entry, making it a visual journal. It may not recount the events the way a journal usually would, but my hope is that these drawings will be just as effective, if not more. After all, they say that a picture is worth one thousand words, and the events of this past month are worth one million.

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I have a lot of words to catch up on.

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-Weatherly

The Time for Reflection

As everyone is posting their farewell blog posts, now is the time for reflection. However, I feel like a lot of our posts will be similar, so let me try to keep this short for you…

As I look back on this past month, I still can’t believe how fast it’s gone by and all that I was able to do because of it. I’ve done more than I thought was possible to squeeze into a month, and I don’t regret a second of it. 

During the course of this trip, I went from the metropolis of Houston, Texas to the Highlands of Guatemala, the black shores of Monterrico, Belize’s New River, and then out to the Caribbean at Caye Caulker. From Ocean to Ocean, this trip was an experience that I will never forget. It was also filled with a bunch of firsts…

This trip included my first time…

Traveling to Guatemala and Belize,

Staying in a homestay,

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Hiking a Volcano and seeing it erupt,

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Seeing the Pacific Ocean and black sand beaches of Monterrico,

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Coming back to a city covered in ash,

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(this is only a tiny fraction of the ash that covered the city)

Attending class in a foreign country,

Making chocolate from scratch (and then drinking it!),

Chocolate competition

Standing in ruins in the downtown of Antigua,

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Wearing a hairnet (and looking great),

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Bartering for souvenirs (I got a lot… oops)

Seeing a Tapir, jaguar, toucan, bushdog, and a whole zoo of other Native Belizean animals,

Standing on top of an ancient pyramid higher than the trees,

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(multiple, I might add),

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Eating Lobster,

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Seeing a manta ray, Shark, and Green Turtle (all in the same day too),

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Getting bit by a bird,

Going kayaking on the sea,

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Seeing a Seahorse (can you find it?),

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going swimming with my professors,

And feeling truly at home in a foreign country.

This month has been one to remember, and one that I won’t forget. And who knows, maybe you’ll see me in another new country getting some more firsts under my belt next summer.

  • Natalie

PS… If you’re ever going to Antigua, PLEASE BRING ME WITH YOU.

bye bye, Belizarama

Oh hi! I’m home now, I was shocked at all the free water restaurants gave us in the US. I forgot it’s all purified, small reverse culture shock. We went to Belize, we moved fast, so it was all hard to keep my mind in tact. Also hard to keep my pictures in tact, I will recap through broken panoramas. Let’s jump right in to Belizarama alongside our buddy Alan:

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We all got to learn how to make tortillas, it was really fun. My whole time abroad I spent eating all the corn, as much corn as I could. My project was on corn. People there eat a lot of corn and it can be good or bad, good because it will keep a person full for cheap. Bad because it shouldn’t be the only thing a person survives on, but it is what is most affordable and accessible for many. It’s a weird balance of appreciation and many things, but I love corn. Look @ our lovely TA, Catherine, grinding up some corn. Requires many many muscles! I was very bad at making tortillas. The same women who showed us how to grind… corn, then showed us how to make pottery, I was also very bad.

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We drove all around the country of Belize. Up down left right. Crossed all the way to the north near Yucatan in Mexico to a town called Orange Walk. It was filled with people who worked in the sugar industry and had many Belize-Chinese restaurants. There’s many unique pockets of immigrants and blends of language that I fell in love with. Anyway, there’s a new long slithery river, appropriately called the New River that we maneuvered our way through with the help of a lovely guide. He knew a lot about the local wildlife. He also drove and drifted really fast, I had a blast, some others… I don’t know.

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Ever since we left Antigua for the lowlands, things have been quite warm. By warm, I mean extremely humid and hot and very very sweaty. Saw our last bits of Maya ruins at Lamanai after twirling through the New River for 2 hours. It was quite hard to process a lot of what we were standing over, even after the amount of readings and interactions we had with the land, grasping even just a bit felt rough. On the bright side, I learned how to crack tree nuts to extract palm oil while there. Don’t use limestone, use harder rocks. There is only limestone on the top, I learned that the hard way and had to make a trip all the way down and back up to crack a few.

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We left there and then spent a couple days in the island of Caye Caulker. I zoned out for the majority of it and stuck my feet deep down in the sand, had bad iced coffee and focused on finishing my project. It was quite a nice way to wrap up the trip, relaxing. I didn’t take many pics, I took it slow. But here’s a snip snap from inside the room we presented in.

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Felt like a proud dad listening to all these people I got to get close to present something they all felt a lot of love for. Leaving was tough, it felt like a weird end, but wow was it all a fun fun ride. I have nothing else to say, here’s a pic of my hand and a morphed Kendall. A see you later to all. bye bye Belizarama

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hasta la vista!

Antigua is the first city I have traveled to where I feel so incredibly torn to leave. I have traveled to various places around South East Asia, Australia, and the United States, but I have never felt so quickly, and deeply, attached to a city as Antigua. I will always remember the street I walk home to, 2a. Avenida Sur, whether from a class at Casa Herrera, an afternoon at the main park, or a dinner with friends.

I would know exactly when I am less than a block away from my homestay, because I  the vibrant colors of the houses on the street are so recognizable. I would pass by a massage parlor where Gustavo, the owner, would greet me and “quiz” me in Spanish jokingly. He would ask me what day it is, or what time it is, and I would scramble in my head for Spanish words to try to answer, then we would both have a good laugh at it. One time, he said if I got the answer correct, he would give me a big chocolate bar. Jose, our home-stay dad, later tells me that he and Gustavo has been friends since they were eight years old. Everybody in this city is like family.

I would then pass by Maglia’s Cafe, the coffee shop I have adopted as my own. The baristas there, Jorge, Milton, and Leo, quickly became people I call my friends. Even when I was in a rush to get home to make in on time for lunch or dinner, I would pop my head in to say, “hola, como estas?!”. When I had a morning or afternoon off, I would sit inside for an hour or so to chat with them, whether about my day, their passions in life, or our common interests in art, photography, music and food.

At the end of the day, it was not the amazing landscapes, beautiful architectural ruins, or delicious food that resonated with me the most, but instead they were the small, sweet moments with people I built relationships with. I was a foreigner, a stranger in the city, yet they welcomed me with a contagious compassionate energy. From my four weeks in Central America, I learned exponentially from listening to these people’s stories– things that I couldn’t get from readings, photos, or visiting sites. If there is one thing I took away from this trip, it is to never underestimate the empowering effect of human connection. Hasta la vista, Antigua. I’ll be back!

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Antigua, I Love You.

I’ve been home for a day, and already I’ve craved refried black beans and plantains three separate times. I tried to sleep in, but woke up at 7am out of habit. The coffee here already tastes… bleh. And I keep forgetting that I can throw toilet paper actually in the toilet. It’s been an abrupt change from my life in Antigua and my life in Belize to my life in the US; I really was surprised when I realized I had stopped sweating everywhere I went. As thrilled as I am to see my friends, my family, and my dogs, I can’t help but miss Antigua, Tikal, Lake Atitlan and Caye Caulker. We had a beyond incredible month doing everything you could possibly think of and more, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I want the next group of students to have a FANTASTIC time on this study abroad, just like I did. So let me make a few suggestions:

  1. Stuffed fried jacks in Caye Caulker. A must. It’s the perfect breakfast AND midday snack.
  2. Choco Museo is worth your time!!! Say hi to Orlando at the Choco Museo by the arch for me. He’s super enthusiastic, and a great teacher.
  3. Bring an extra suitcase. I came home with my whole suitcase full of wonderful things I had bought and all my clothes in a laundry bag.
  4. Ask your host mother to teach you how to make fried plantains!
  5. Eat all the tortillas you can.
  6. Snorkel in Caye Caulker, even if you aren’t a great swimmer. Marine wildlife is the most fascinating to observe in its natural habitat, or at least I think so. Put sunscreen on your butt.
  7. When you go to Tikal, go back into the ruins after your first hike. Take time to explore them on your own, get a little lost in a palace. Who knows when you’ll go back!
  8. Go see the seahorses at the marine reserve in Caye Caulker! They’re endangered, and might be gone soon.
  9. Hike Pacaya. It’s really not that hard. If you think you can’t do it, take a horse up. Very little compares to the view you get from the top.
  10. Monterrico is a perfect place to practice body surfing. The waves are gigantic and not to be missed!
  11. Never say ‘no’ because you’re tired. You can sleep when you’re dead in America, or wherever you call home. Don’t lose a second in Guatemala or Belize that you won’t be able to get back!

I won’t say that this trip *changed* me, because that’s cliche. But I will say that I’ve never been somewhere that I’ve been itching to return to from the second that I got home. Antigua, I love you!

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The People Make the Place

I’ve talked a lot with some others in the program about how weird time feels while on this trip. The trip somehow simultaneously felt so short and so long. It flew by because we were doing so much every day. But I also can’t believe that everything that just happened, happened in the span of only four weeks. I feel like I lived in a whole other reality for a month.

My favorite part about this trip was, undoubtedly, the people.

The people in my homestay, who gave me a home away from home.
My host parents, Lucky and Jose, who emanate joy, and benefit the lives of all of their guests. I’ll miss Jose’s jokes, and Lucky’s expressiveness. The others in my homestay, who made it all the more lively. We would stay at the dinner table long after finishing our food, filling the kitchen with laughter. And of course, Monika, Scilla, and Andres, who became my little family.

The people of Antigua, who gave me a sense of familiarity.
The baristas at the coffee shop down the street, who I got to know even if only for a short time. I felt more like a “regular” there than I do in Austin. The people who lived on the same avenida as us, who would always wave or make conversation. The friendly De La Gente coffee brewing guide who shared his stories and thoughts with us and who we now all follow on instagram.

The Maya people, who generously shared their lives with us.
Delfina, who told us about how weaving was about far more than just money, and so many others, who showed us how much they cared about maintaining their heritage. Dolores, who candidly recounted the struggles of the civil war. Kawok, who allowed us to be a part of a ceremony, and freely shared his opinions about site access laws with me.

And lastly, the people on this trip with me, who I’ve now shared so many incredible experiences with.

From homestay dinners, to coffee tastings, to sleeping in a treehouse, to boat rides, to beautiful views, to archaeological sites, to workshops, to FOOD, to deep talks, to the jungle, to the beach, to snorkeling with sharks, this trip was full of moments I’ll never forget.

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*trying not to cry*

Whelp, it’s over now. Today, the first full day I’ve had in the United States in a month, has been really weird. Last night, I fell asleep in the clothes I wore on the plane and this morning I woke up extremely early to the sun just like I did in Caye Caulker (there it was at 5:30 in the morning). I also have to take a bunch of new antibiotics because I got sick on the last day of the trip, yay me!

But still, I wouldn’t trade any part of the last month for the world. I got to meet the best people and I’m confident we’ll remain friends because we’ve been snapping each other updates since we got home all day. I have a bunch of souvenirs and reminders that I’m excited to decorate my apartment with when I get back to Austin. Most importantly, I feel like I have a better understanding of the world and a better perspective on life from all the things I experienced while abroad.

It’s hard to pick a favorite memory, but a few that stick in my mind are 1. the food. I never considered myself a foodie or anything like that, and especially not much of a drinker, but the food and night life in Antigua are like, so much better than what I’m used to eating fast food all the time here in the States.

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2. Being in nature. I lost count of how many different environments we were in over just 4 and a half weeks. We made it all the way from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic in that time and I also got a tan, lost a shoe in the ocean, got extremely itchy from mosquito bites, jumped over snakes in the jungle, and got frustratingly tangled hair from the wind on all the boat rides. But there were also so many opportunities to become acquainted with forms of nature I’d never seen before and think about how people (not me) can survive and thrive in all these environments.

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That brings me to 3. the people. Our homestay family was made up of some of the most caring and generous people I’ve ever met. We couldn’t understand each other very well but always made every effort to listen and learn from each other. I made a list in my journal of all the cool people we met along the way as a way to remember them all. They were all so accommodating in their own special ways.

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This trip is especially sentimental for me because I just graduated so it’s really my last experience with UT, at least for a while. I’m so glad that I made so many new friends when I’m leaving so much behind as I move on to the next chapter in my life. Peace n love to all you guys.

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A Bittersweet Ending

I’m exhausted. These past four weeks have completely drained me, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy every minute of it. Some of my most memorable experiences have come from this trip. From hiking Pacaya and going to the black sand beaches of Monterrico with practically strangers, to coming back home having snorkeled with people I can call friends.

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Not only have I made great friends during this program, but I’ve also come away with three great mentors: Catherine, Alex, and of course, Astrid. This program was only so enjoyable because we had such great faculty to facilitate it.

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This trip is hopefully only the beginning of my study abroad experiences. I hope to spend my next two summers being a part something as amazing as this program!

This Is The End…*tear drop*

So… we have concluded our travels through Central America and have safely returned back to the states. I must say that it feels as though I was just home a few days ago. I cannot believe I have been gone for a MONTH now! Within that month, I have done so many things I never thought I would get an opportunity to do. From hiking an active Guatemalan volcano, to spending the night on the black sand beach that same day.

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I have witnessed lively waters of Lake Atitlan, taken wet and wild boat rides, and met some of the amazing and strong people of Guatemala. I have learned the magic of chocolate, coffee, jade, textiles, ceramics, Maya spirituality & architecture, and music, and even got to test my own hand at these crafts (and was the best at grinding the creamiest cacao beans according to Orlando, our Choco Museo tour guide, might I add!)

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Little ol’ me has even hiked through the lowland jungles of Guatemala to visit Ancient Maya Archaeological sites and have reached the top of several of these magnificent structures!

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And oh, don’t get me started on Belize! The sunsets, beaches, and creole accents of every local Belizean I came in contact with had me falling in love with the country more and more every day. I never wanted the dream to end and I couldn’t believe I had been ignorant of such a beautiful country for so long. I cannot WAIT to come back!

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I have found a home in my host family, made some amazing friends (whom I will DEFINITELY be catching up with back in Austin), and gained a whole new knowledge and appreciation for the people, and culture of the Maya, Guatemalans, and Belizeans during my short time learning through them. Having this experience come to an end still seems unreal and I cannot belize we had to conclude our adventures to come back home (womp womp). Although I am gone, I will never forget the memories I have made through this Maymester.

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Hasta pronto

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It’s almost unBelizeable that only a month has passed since we first said guat’s up to Antigua.

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From the Pacific to the Atlantic we traveled by bus, boat and plane across Guatemala and Belize. exploring a variety of natural environments and meeting many different people along the way.

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We learned a lot a lot about a country still in the process of recovering from a long and violent civil war and saw first hand the challenges nature can pose on people with eruption of Fuego. Yet at the same time we was able experience the resilience and courage of everyday people who despite the trauma, suffering and repression they have experienced in the past remain strong in advocating for themselves and their communities.

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Our stay in Caye Caulker gave me a lot time to relax…

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(excluding the hotel fire)

but even with all that time I haven’t been able to think of a good way to say goodbye so instead I’ll say “until soon”

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There is a lot more of Central America I’d love to see in the future!

-Alan