Zompopo Adventures and Tikal Legacies

The last leg of the program featured some goodbyes to the folks I befriended in Antigua Guatemala, and it featured some last minute places to visit before leaving: desperately wanted some atol (a maize-based hot beverage) from the woman who’s known for making the best atol, a visit to the french-latinx fusion crepe restaurant, a stop at a bakery on the way, and some ice cream (although, for my case, sorbet because of my lactose intolerance).  As great as Antigua was, I felt that I’ve done all that there is to do in the city, and so I welcomed the new change of destination my class was embarking through Guatemala and Belize.

At noon, we left Antigua Guatemala and rode in vans to Guatemala City to catch our flight to Flores. Once we landed in Flores, we met the bus that was taking us to the rest of the road trip.  This bus was massive, had curtained windows, and there were enough seats that everyone had two of their own.  Honestly, that bus was a creature comfort, as it became the one constant in this memorable road trip.

Once we made it to the Tikal National Park and had settled our stuff at our lodge, we hiked into the site of Tikal to witness in-person the scale these ancient Maya cities have and hold.  To be honest, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  We had been studying this site (as well as the many others we were going to visit), and yet I felt some kind of anticipation.  I had seen the photos of Temples I, II and IV, and I had studied as much as I could about this site and its historical significance to Maya archaeology and history.  There was so much to be learned and said back then, and now for me to be there was unimaginable.  I never expected that I would ever have the chance to visit this place, yet I did.  I was about to witness the architectural legacy and political history of the Tikal dynasty!

Before we saw the picturesque temples that Tikal is renowned for, our professor showed us Maya buildings covered in vegetation and wildlife.  It was interesting to see how the jungle swallowed these architectural structures, and it was unimaginable to see the impact plants have on these buildings.  Most notable was the extent to which they blended with the forest once the plants had taken over; as if to suggest that there wasn’t anything there.  And, if you hadn’t known that the hills here were artificial, you would have mistaken them as just hills.  Nevertheless, to see these kinds of structures in person and know that they may remain as they are is curious.  I understand the reasoning behind it (funding, research, the need for new kinds of discoveries, etc.), yet I feel that those buildings need to be recognized and shown as they are.  To demonstrate to the public how the land they’re visiting didn’t look like the way they imagined it was when discovered.

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Ceiba tree in Tikal National Park.

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Jungle vegetation around Temple I, Tikal National Park.

After going off the path to see these structures closely and the mini-tarantula scare going back, we walked to Temples I and II, and immediately I felt amazed by the scale of these pyramids.  I never realized just how massive these structures were until now.  The way they faced each other, as if conversing with one another as tourists walked around unaware of what these temples hold and say about Tikal and its reign.  Before them were altars and stelae (tall stone structures, either inscribed or left blank, used as markers) at their bases, another demonstration of the sense of scale and animation Maya cities played with.  It was breathtaking to see such histories and legacies in person, and to engage in the intentional space making and design choices made thousands of years ago for the public and court sphere was incredible.

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Stelae and altars in front of Temple I, Tikal National Park.

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At the Great Plaza, Tikal National Park.

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The view from the top of Temple IV, Tikal National Park.

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Me at Tikal National Park

Tikal was an incredible site to visit, and I wished there was more time to explore.  We had a day in this park, and we had to visit other crucial sites on our trip to Caye Caulker, Belize: Yaxha, Lamanai, to name a few (each impressive in their own right).  We had to move on and continue with the rest of the trip; Tikal National Park couldn’t take up the rest of our trip.From there it all just kind of blurs.  There was so much planned for this trip — while also making some changes and adjustments after some of my classmates became sick.

One of the more memorable moments of the road trip was when we finally named our bus.  We hadn’t given it a name for the first three days, but eventually we named the bus, Zompopo, after the ants we saw and heard about in Tikal.  That bus, as I mentioned before, was our only constant, because those who were sick had to take time off the trip to make doctor visits.

Zompopo had been with us through the best and worst times: pulling off incredible fleets through the twisting and turning roads of Guatemalan national parks, acting as a place of rest for us after a long day on our feet, having withstood a dying battery while we waited for it to take us to the next stop, and so many more moments.  This bus meant a lot to us, and I’m happy that it was part of the journey.  It was the home we needed while engaging in this road trip.  We parted ways once we reached to the Caye Caulker water taxi port.  Before we left, however, we took a big group photo with Zompopo.

Finally, to end on a farewell note, I spent a good portion of my summer here, and I can’t believe it.  Part of me is amazed I was able to get the funds needed to pay for this trip, and part of me is grateful for applying for this study abroad and making the most of it.  I’m grateful for the privilege to participate in this trip, and I’m happy to share what I have experienced and learned to my community and home.  Most importantly, I’m beyond grateful and appreciative for the support system I have at UT: for helping me through the application process, for the best wishes for the scholarship that made this study abroad so much more accessible to me, and the celebration to be had for someone like me to go and experience this.  As I continue to self-reflect and gather more of my thoughts on this incredible program, I’m glad to follow through with this decision and elated to engage in something that I found to be unattainable to me for the longest time.  I’m grateful for this experience, and I am excited to share the stories and memories I made, and the knowledge given to me from the course, the people I connected with, and the observations I’ve gathered.

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Me at Lamanai Archaeological Site, Belize.

Troubles at Home and a Friend’s Birthday!

I was keeping up with the news during the Maymester and on occasion called my parents to hear about what was happening with them and to catch up.  I would be lying if I didn’t feel some form of accountability and responsibility to check in on my parents.  For a long time, growing up as the child who could speak English the best meant I had to help my parents with so much: translating insurances, calling people about clinic services, and taking care of siblings when called to do so.  Eventually, all this responsibility transferred onto me acting as a caretaker for my family: at times willingly and sometimes out of necessity.

I couldn’t help but feel guilty about leaving to go abroad, because I felt like I was leaving my family vulnerable.  Using WhatsApp, I felt relieved to hear from my parents whenever I called.  As great as it was to hear from them, after the end of a call, I did worry about what would happen after.

During my study abroad, there was news about potential ICE raids, and I saw on Facebook my friends working to organize and inform undocumented folks about what to do and where to avoid.  Even though Austin was a target for leaked cities ICE was targeting, I felt nervous and anxious about the potential for my parents to be hit with one at their workplace, at the grocery store, the neighborhood, or even at the public services they make use of.  I was so afraid and anxious about my family that I would be lying if I said it didn’t take away from the trip.  This was always in the back of my mind: I was afraid that my family would be disrupted, and my siblings wouldn’t have my parents to look after them while I was away.  When we (my parents and I) talked, we were afraid of what could happen, but my parents wanted to support me, and I wanted to support them as well.  Those calls were important to my parents and even more for me.

My homestay mom would check-in on me occasionally, and I would tell her how I felt.  She listened, and I was so appreciative of her for checking-in.

As I carried these fears, I did find space and time to feel calm and focused on the trip.  My friend’s birthday was coming up and, unfortunately, it happened to be the weekend in which most of our classmates organized a hiking trip on a dormant volcano. By the time her birthday arrived, it was just four of us: her, me, and two other friends from class.  It was still a very intimate moment.  It was a rainy day in Antigua, and the three of us were at a cafe.  We meant to study and be responsible, however it didn’t take hold for long.  We did anything but study, and soon made our way to Casa Herrera, a UT facility that acts as our place for class.

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Walking past La Merced Church while en route to the local coffee shop.

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Enjoying an iced coffee with friends.

The program coordinator insisted that there be cake for my friend’s birthday, and we were excited to see what was in store for us.  Once we all settled in, we had a small intimate group setting with the program coordinator, the study abroad coordinator, the professor.  We all ate carrot cake, and it was some really good cake.  Normally I’m picky about the icing on a cake, but this one was an exception.  Once everyone had a slice, we talked among ourselves: our days, our weeks, and the news that’s coming out lately.

One of the most interesting discussion points we had was bilingualism.  We talked about how weird language acquisition is, and how hard it is for folks to pick it up as they get older.  Eventually, this discussion lead to bilingual identity in America and the experiences this identity holds.  It was a great conversation, and it honestly made me feel better.  I’m not sure if it was the rain, the cake, or the good company for a friend’s birthday, but I felt less worried and had a moment to think and focus on something else other than my family.

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View from the rooftop of Casa Herrera.

Lake Atitlan and Casa Flor Ixcaco: Textiles and Co-Ops

My time in Antigua has been enjoyable.  I’m trying to keep up with maintaining good street etiquette, confidently speaking Spanish after initially being anxious about it, and enjoying as many coffee shops as I can!  As I made my way to Casa Herrera with my homestay friends, I was excited to go to Lake Atitlan: (1) to visit Panajachel, and (2) the textile workshop the program coordinator set-up for us.  Guatemala is known for its textiles, and the Lake Atitlan area has a variety of designs, colors and types.  One of my non-academic goals for study abroad was to get a shawl.  I find them to be beautiful, versatile, and perfect for the Texas winter back home.

Early in the morning, my homestay friends and I walked to Casa Herrera to meet with the rest of our class for the trip.  I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast, but I can recall how it wasn’t enough.  Once I had enough sunscreen and plenty of bug repellent, I felt ready for the three-hour ride.

On our ride from Guatemala to Antigua, I slept through all of that, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of sightseeing.  From what I’ve seen in Antigua, the way that clouds run on the rooftops of homes and the puffs of soot and red glare from the distant volcano at night, there was so much to appreciate and take in.  Even with anticipation of what the environment and countryside may look like, I was also curious about the infrastructure of the area, taking note of how space was used on the way to Panajachel.

Throughout the whole trip, I noticed the considerable use of agriculture on the mountains.  There was function and beauty to them.  Maybe it was the recent rainfall, but the green of these crops was beautiful and vibrant.  As great as this was, there is something to be said about what else I’ve seen from the ride to Panajachel.

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View of Lake Atitlan from the highway.

In Guatemala, there is a considerable amount of poverty; the kind that manifests with hard working mothers with children setting fruit stands on the sides of highways, the lack of sidewalks for Maya women vendors traveling from their hometowns to the tourist locations, and the need for daughters to go and sell their handmade goods in public spaces.  What I saw is the impact of the legacies of U.S. intervention on Latin America and the rise of global warming, and most noticeably the extent of how gendered this violence and damage is to Maya people.  The noticeable impact of Maya women bearing the brunt of all of this was difficult to watch.

This context is important, and I bring this up because to ignore this adds to the erasure and exploitation these women go through while tourists take for granted Maya culture and heritage.  And so, I try to be aware of how my interaction in these communities, cities, and other forms of spaces impact them.  And this is not to say that I have done everything perfectly, I’m just recognizing the privilege I have as a tourist, a college student, and the access to resources that help fund this study abroad.

Once we arrived and settled in Panajachel, we had to walk to our boat, and take it to San Juan La Laguna to visit the textile workshop.  The city of Panajachel is a beautiful area, with a massive market and road full of vendors selling many kinds of textiles.  To list some that I found to be the most interesting were Maya textile office ties, jean overalls with textiles sewed beautifully on to them, and a lot of Five Nights at Freddie’s crochet figures.

As soon as we got to the boats, the water was beautiful and so alive with movement.  To my chagrin (and I’m assuming to most of my classmates), that movement made the boat ride from Panajachel to San Juan a very choppy ride — one in which I kept getting hit in the face with water. Nevertheless, I was excited for the cotton weaving demonstration.  I knew nothing much about the co-op, but I was looking forward to learning more about the process of organic cotton becoming the textiles Guatemala is known for.

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Boats at the Panajachel public dock.

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A choppy boat ride across the lake.

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Inside our boat while crossing the lake.

After the boat ride and the uphill journey to the co-op, my class and I were greeted with this great variety of textiles, colors, and jewelry.  All of it was beautiful.  Once we were in the demonstration room, the presenter readied her materials: raw cotton, the dye, the tools needed for stringing, stretching, weaving and measuring.  In what was so effortless for her, perfected skills from a young age, was so difficult for some of my friends who participated – save for one person (she had the right trick to it).  The way the presenter spun a spindle with one hand while instinctively pulling from the cotton fluff in the other was mesmerizing to see. This was one step of many in textile making.  Throughout the workshop, we were shown the variety of cotton, the kinds of natural pigments used for the dyes, the history of the co-op and its mission to better serve the women who rely on it for their income, and the use of a backstrap loom.  There was so much information to process, but it was all so fascinating to learn.

After the demonstration, we were invited to browse around and see if we wanted to purchase anything.  There was so much to browse through and see, but I had one objective in mind: buy a shawl!  Once I got to the large scarf section of the co-op, there was so many options and colors to choose from.  Each scarf was different with individual patterns and colors, all a reflection of the vision the scarf maker had when creating them. After fishing for some opinions and thoughts, I settled on a black scarf with gray accents.

It took four weeks to make, and it was dyed with charcoal for black and eucalyptus for gray-hued blue.  The information is on the tag of the scarf, and it’s a reminder of how much time this process takes and explains why it’s priced the way it is.  The women who are part of the co-op and make the goods the co-op sells put in so much effort for the textiles.  Fortunately, the co-op pays them immediately once they bring their project to them (some pay the weavers only once someone buys the scarves).

After the purchase, I felt happy.  I felt happy to have bought this for myself and for my use, while also knowing more about the process for what I purchased.

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Enjoying the beautiful surroundings of Lake Atitlan.

New Experience and Latinidad

My first time traveling abroad, and I’m overwhelmed by so many new experiences.  A year ago, I traveled outside of my home, Austin, TX, for the first time, and I have learned so much from that experience.  Now, I find myself again inexperienced and anxious about traveling outside of the United States. There were so many more barriers to face, and I had so many more fears and worries than I did last year: immigration/customs and its forms, exchanging money, adequately speaking Spanish for my Study Abroad in Antigua, and so on.  Even as I carried these concerns and worries, I had to remind myself time and again that I deserved to go on this trip, and that I had earned my place on this trip and the scholarship that made it so much more accessible to me.

Once I arrived at Guatemala City, I was welcomed by the cool, rainy weather that brought a refreshing change from the brutal Texas heat.  With flannel and beanie to keep me warm, the ride from Guatemala City to Antigua was one full of twists and turns.  My heart raced as we drifted and darted through the streets in such escalating weather, but my driver was confident and calm.  He was so much so, I felt comfortable and drifted to sleep for the rest of the ride there.

Once my cohort and I settled into our respective homestays, I was overwhelmed by the change of flora and fauna, the cobblestone streets, and how timeless the city of Antigua was.  Even in such a different space, there was a familiarity to it that reminded me of the home my parents made in Texas: the maize-centered cuisine, my first language (Spanish) spoken in a public space and at my homestay, the dedication to an altar.

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Central Park in Antigua Guatemala.

On my first night at Antigua, rather than explore for the first few hours there, I decided to take a nap.  I was exhausted from waking up so early for my flight and exhausted by the new information I needed to process.  Unfortunately, my decision lead to me sleeping through most of the dinner.  Immediately, I felt guilty and rushed to the dining room to find it mostly empty and my plate cold.   Attempting to sound coherent as possible after a nap with so little sleep, I apologized profusely in jumbled Spanish to my homestay.  Fortunately, she told me, no tenga pena (don’t worry about it), and told me I was fine.

After such an impression, I ate my dinner and enjoyed just how welcoming it was.  It reminded me of home, yet it was distinct enough to show me that it was not.

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View of Antigua from the rooftop of my homestay.

I started a conversation with my homestay mom.  It began with me asking for recommendations for bakeries to visit.  From there, the conversation shifted to that of identity and heritage.  My parents are Mexican, raised in San Luis Potosi, and I was born and raised in Austin.  With that context, my sense of identity is a mixture of Mexican heritage, chicanx experience, and American code-switching; it is one of the many ways to be Latinx in America.

My homestay mom and I shared stories about our families: my sister’s adventures when she was very young, my homestay mom’s grandchildren and their tendency to grow up so quickly, my parents’ marriage and my birth, to my homestay mom’s engagement story to her husband.  It was fun and it was such a necessary conversation for me.  In our story sharing, we discussed about what it meant to be Latinx: its politics, its cultural heritage, its community care.

We spoke about what it meant for someone like me to be on this study abroad trip, and what it meant for me as a first-generation college student.  We shared and discussed that this trip, and the experience and knowledge I would learn, wasn’t for my own benefit but for the benefit of my community and family.  We concluded just how family-centered and family-focused we, Latinxs, are, and because of this community-making, we have this resiliency and strength that furthers ourselves as both individuals and community.

And so, my first night in Antigua, I found a greater appreciation for my Latinx identity and heritage, and I saw a glimpse of what Latinx pride can look like in a different country.  From that night, I carried myself with a little more confidence for the rest of the trip, and I drifted asleep with very little doubt about whether I should be here.

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,

Me and Dina

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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