Having traveled in the past, I knew I was excited to live and explore a new country; I was prepared for entering somewhere new and learning to grow and discover a culture. What I didn’t realize, however, is how different traveling is when you do it by yourself. In the past, I have either went somewhere not knowing anyone, but had a group with me in which to explore with or traveled with family and friends. This time around however, I arrived in Guatemala knowing where I was staying for the first month and with one person in my contact list. Because of this, I have experienced Antigua differently than any other city or country. On my first night in Antigua I went out to one of the many restaurants, which happened to be just down the street. Surrounded by open air ambience and gardens, I enjoyed some delicious pizza and listened to live music. I was already overwhelmed by the fun and welcoming atmosphere and little did I know that I would have similar experiences everywhere I went. The city as whole, only about 9 by 9 blocks, is beautiful, entertaining, and filled with culture.
During my first week or so, I really didn’t leave Antigua Proper, instead I chose to walk around and discover what was hidden throughout the cobblestones. Although I loved the area and all it had to offer, I was also looking forward to getting outside and seeing more of the surrounding communities and the country as a whole. I had a chance to visit the surrounding communities during the following week, when I went on a morning tour with a local organization. Starting in Antigua, we walked through the town until we hopped on a “chicken bus,” old retired American school buses that have been painted and repurposed as public buses. These buses are a Guatemalan experience in itself; generally packed with people, they are brightly colored and the cheapest way to get around. Going up to a small town, San Lorenzo, we visited a school and a family house with two entrepreneurs. After meeting the family and hearing about their small businesses, I was once again reminded by the diversity that exists throughout the country. Less developed and generally more authentic, seeing a different area reminded me that a country cannot be defined by only its best or “touristy” features. As I continue to live and work in the area, I have taken a new approach to discovering the depths of the country. Working with different non-profit organizations all around the area allows me to see another side and meet people of all backgrounds. These experience ground me to the place and remind me that although I’m a “gringa” living in Antigua, there exists more beyond the cobblestones.