I haven’t even had time to process that I am in a foreign country by myself right now. I am quickly writing this in the 45 minutes I have with wi-fi. So, here we go: my first day in Antigua!
The trip started with a lot of stress over possibly missing flights and snow and no food (there still hasn’t been food – only a handful of almonds and two Samoa cookies). Luckily, I made the flights and around 12:30 PM local time, I walked off the plane in beautiful Guatemala. Getting on that plane in Fort Lauderdale was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I ended up sitting in an aisle seat next to a man who immediately said “Hola! Is this your first time traveling to Guatemala?” For a good portion of the rest of the flight, we were talking about our lives – mine in the States and his in Guatemala and Canada – and he was helping me with my Spanish. At the end of the flight, I felt completely ready to take on whatever Guatemala was going to throw at me.
Which I would soon find out was a grueling wait in a line to get through immigration control and customs and then another one to get my currency exchanged. After that, I walked outside and found myself in such a completely different culture and I was stunned. Not only was this country beautiful, but then so many things hit me all at once. When you walk outside the doors of the airport, there are barricades put up and families waiting for their loved ones wait behind them. They greeted them with flowers, food, tears and kisses. There was so much love in that area, and it was overwhelming. After meeting up with the volunteer coordinator from the company I am volunteering with and waiting on a few other volunteers, we piled in a van – a very kind Maximo Nivel representative named Nixon, a senior in college from Nebraska named Kara, a primary school teacher from Perth, Australia and a sophomore in college from Michigan – and we spent the next 45 minutes winding the curved roads of Guatemala City until we arrived in Antigua.
Antigua is beautiful. The culture of this city is incredible. All the streets are cobblestone and the walls of every building are painted bright colors. The buildings are just tall enough to shade the sidewalks, but the sun shines through on the roads. Kids and their parents are out in the streets selling empanadas and ice cream and balloons. Every day is a celebration.
After I settled into my homestay and met a few of my housemates for the week, I headed out on my own to explore the city. I got really lost (because every street looks the SAME) but then I ended up in the middle of a really crowded street with no room to move, so I stayed there. I soon found out why it was so busy. In Antigua, they have a parade every Sunday of Lent leading up to La Semana Santa (Holy Week). Before the processions, the people of the city cover the cobblestones in sawdust carpet that is destroyed as those in the parade walk over it. Women dressed in black clothing carry a float of the Virgin Mary followed by statues of Christ and crosses carried by men in purple robes. There are bands – men in black uniforms – playing music during the processions. It was incredible to witness and I’m so glad I did.
I can’t wait to start my orientation and project site tomorrow! I will definitely have more to say then! Thanks for the love and support I have received for this trip. It is already proving to be such an amazing experience.