Over the last two weeks life as I knew it for the past six months has changed completely. A 40 hour journey brought me from Bangkok to El Salvador, dropping me from one cultural extreme to another. After one terrifying day in San Salvador, I arrived at my final destination of Antigua, Guatemala by bus – which is 5 hours and WORLDS away from El Salvador (the most dangerous place in the world next to active war zones with more than 6,500 murders last year).
I decided to post up in Antigua for four whole weeks to give myself a little break from constant travel and, more importantly, to learn Spanish. So Mondays-Friday I work with a personal tutor for four hours each morning, which results in me cussing profusely, swearing that “rules aren’t rules when there are so many exceptions and irregularities,” and beating my head against the adorable little wooden table where my daily torture takes place.
And I have to admit something: I hate it. I mean, I love knowing more Spanish and using more Spanish in every day conversations. But in terms of learning it… I’m not a fan. I am in a constant state of frustration and feel like an absolute moron every morning from 8-12. But I’m sticking with it. Besides, it’s good for me to “suffer” a bit after indulging so much. And honestly, it does feel good to work at something again – to have some purpose. You can take the girl outta America… you know the rest.
In Antigua I’ve slipped into a great little routine, which feels like a real luxury:
- 7am – Breakfast
- 8-12pm – Spanish class (aka hell)
- 1pm – Lunch
- 2-4pm – Study
- 5pm – Gym
- 6-7pm – Study more
- 7pm – Dinner
I spend my evenings studying, salsa dancing or going on dates (girls got MAD game in Antigua). I’m technically doing a home stay, but my family (Ana, Diego and their three-year-old daughter, Lilliana) live at the school, making my commute rather easy. One of the best parts about Antigua: I have my own little room with ensuite. And I have HANGERS and DRAWERS so I’m able to empty my backpack and put everything away. This makes me so unbelievably happy – to feel a bit settled with a space of my own. Talk about appreciating the little things.
Of all the places I could have picked to post up for a while, I’m so glad I landed on Antigua. The colonial town is a World Heritage site, perfectly preserved in time. The streets are cobblestone and the buildings are brightly colored stucco. A park in the center opposite the main cathedral is the heart of the town with beautiful fountains and flowering trees, surrounded by cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. The town itself is encircled by beautiful mountains and volcanos (some active, some not). Called the City of Eternal Spring, Antigua is cool in the mornings and evenings, and perfect during the day (mid 70s).
Similar to Morocco the outside of buildings don’t always look like much, but upon entering a veritable Garden of Eden unfolds. Nearly every restaurant/cafe has at least one open courtyard, adorned with fountains, plants and lights, dotted with small tables, chairs and umbrellas.
Not surprisingly the town is fairly touristy, which is typical among places that are so damn cute. It has a huge expat community, making for a delicious and diverse food scene and a handful of bars that showed all of the games during March Madness (praise God). It’s also a very popular place for travelers to stay and study Spanish for a bit, hence the thriving dating scene.
It’s so different than Asia (which may seem obvious), and I’m excited to have an entirely new culture to discover. Of course each country in Asia was different, but there were elements that were always similar (“same, same but different,” as they would say). Here everything is new. Little things like the men and women touch each other in public, holding hands or kissing. That NEVER happens in Asia. The people are louder and more enthusiastic to a degree – or at least sound that way. I’m elated to be eating beans (although I get the feeling I may redact that statement soon), plantains, tortillas… all things I never had while in Asia.
There are volcanos to climb, lakes to visit, churches to explore… but to be honest, I haven’t done any of that. I’m soaking up the beauty of a routine and little privileges like having my own space, eating home cooked meals and going to the gym for my daily workouts.
But, while I am enjoying having a sense of normalcy, I must admit I already feel a bit antsy and miss the excitement of backpacker-style travel. I went from staying in hostels, meeting new people and seeing new things daily, to living with a family, setting alarms, going to class, and secluding myself to study diligently. While on the road in Asia I often longed to stay somewhere for a while – just “posting up and just getting to know a place.” Now I find myself in that very position and yet from time to time I find myself wondering… “what would it be like to just go again?” I’ll find out soon enough, but for now I’m suppressing that “grass is greener” feeling and enjoying my experience here in beautiful Antigua.