Central America

Settling in to life in Antigua, Guatemala

It’s hard to believe that I have only been in the country a few days; I have done so many things since I arrived on Sunday.

My first taste of life in Guatemala was getting a handle on “Guatemala time” at the airport. My flight arrived half an hour early and I was excited about the idea of having much of the day to myself. I was on the flight with another girl who is volunteering here with me and we made it through customs without any problems. We found the driver right away and were excited to get on our way. But the driver told us he was still waiting for another flight at it would be “veinte minutos” (twenty minutes). As I mentioned, our flight had arrived early, so we figured it would be no problem, but 30 minutes later there was still no flight. We asked the driver again and was old “cinco minutos” (five minutes). Finally, about 20 minutes later two more girls showed up. We were a bit upset that 20 minutes, was actually 50 minutes, but thought that maybe their flight was delayed and brushed it off. Then the driver said we were actually still waiting for another flight. When I asked how long it was and he said again “cinco minutos”¬†I replied back “actually five minutes or is it more like 30?” He assured me that it was actually five minutes. Of course it wasn’t. A full hour later, the other girl showed up and we were finally on our way.

I’m staying in a house with about 10 other volunteers and managed by a “Host mom” named Mary. We eat all our meals together at 7 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. The food is good, but it involves a LOT of carbs. Yesterday our lunch was chicken with both rice and potatoes on our plate, and dinner was spaghetti with leftover potatoes and bread.

In the mornings, I am taking Spanish lessons one-on-one with an instructor. I’m learning a lot and I feel confident speaking with shop keepers and my host mom in Spanish.

In the afternoons, I take a “chicken bus” to my volunteer placement in another town about a 25-minute drive away. The buses are super old school buses that are painted in outrageous colours and the ride is extremely bumpy!!! Chicken buses are how Guatemalans get around and there are only ever locals on the trip with me. I don’t ever take anything valuable with me and keep my bag in my lap, so I feel relatively safe.

My placement is at an after school program for under privileged kids in the town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes. (San Antonio Hot Springs… though I’ve been told the hot springs dried up a long time ago.) It is summer vacation now, and while I’m supposed to be teaching the kids English… they’re not very interested in learning much. Mainly I just speak to them in English while they play their games and try to get them to understand and say a few words back.

The kids all come from poor backgrounds and get a hot meal at the program as well as tutoring services to help with their schooling. Their school fees (about $100 US) are paid for by international sponsors. The kids are nice enough and I’m actually learning a bit of Spanish from them. They are writing letters to their sponsors for Christmas and wanted me to translate them into English, so I worked with the kids to try to understand words that I didn’t know and I think it also helped their English.

Tonight I am doing a free salsa lesson (and snacking on guacamole) and then going out to dinner for Indian food with my house. There are some volunteers who have never had Indian food before, so it should be fun.

North America

Getting back on the road

So a lot of you will have noticed that I haven’t updated my blog in almost a year. That’s mainly because I stopped travelling for a little while and let other aspects of my life take up more of my time.

But… I am happy to announce that I have booked a couple upcoming trips and I am very eager to get back on the road.

NEXT WEEK¬†I’ll be visiting Washington D.C. for five days. I am really looking forward to visiting all the museums, especially the Newseum, but if I’m honest, I actually haven’t really planned out too much of my trip. (I’ve booked my hostel and plane tickets, but I’m going to let myself go with the flow.)

The real existing news, however, is the trip I’ll be taking in November… I have thought about going on a volunteer trip for many years, but whatever reason it never happened.

This all changed a couple of days ago.

After hearing good things from a friend of a friend who did a volunteer trip in Tanzania, I decided to check out International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), which sells itself as a socially responsible, safe and affordable volunteer organization.

I’ve emphasized the last word because the prices are extremely reasonable. Most of the program fees are less than $300 US per week, plus a $250 registration fee. This money covers the costs of accommodations and all meals for the week as well as transportation to and from the airport, orientation and a 24-hour in country program organizer who places you in a position and monitors the situation. (Plus all the help leading up to the start date like telling you what to pack and what injections to get.)

So, after reviewing their different policies and checking out many countries, I decided to go to Guatemala. I’ll be teaching English for two weeks at the beginning of November and then travelling for a week through the country. So far, I’ve only had to pay the $250 registration fee (fully refundable until 30 days before, might I add.)

As my placement date gets closer, I’ll keep you all posted on my progress with the organization and all the money that I spend. If all goes well then I’ll definitely be giving them a Thrifty Abroad approval seal!