Travel Postcard: Antigua- Cultural Immersion & Cuisine Gallery

23 de Junio 2017

Hola amigos,

Bienvenidos a Antigua, Guatemala!

The last city on our study abroad itinerary. What a week it has been! From hiking a volcano in the highlands, re-painting an entire school, listening to the heartbreaking civil war stories of locals to forging new bonds with a group of 25 strangers. Hands down this week has left me speechless in so many ways. It’s hard to describe the emotions I’m feeling because they vary on a spectrum from elated to melancholy. Guatemala has a special place in my heart because it allowed me to look beyond myself, my worries in life and partake in a beautiful act of selflessness.

Arriving in Antigua was different to say the least. All of a sudden you’re surrounded by familiarity again. In architecture, people, cuisine and way of life. The city is buzzing with tourists, a popular traveling season for many around the world. People from all walks of life are roaming the cobblestone streets of Antigua. Recent grads, church groups, newlyweds, older couples on post-retirement trips and of course the traditional back-packers. Everyone appears to be in harmony despite the noise of their own personal environments. To be completely honest, I was starting to miss the quiet streets of Tecpán. I missed the sound of rainfall as it splattered over the awnings of nearby street stores. I missed the sound of locals chatting in whispers on their way home. There was balance between peace and chaos.

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Writing up this blog post is truly bitter-sweet. I can’t help but think, a few weeks ago I was traveling around Guatemala embracing a new culture head-on. Some may say its a grand statement to make that studying abroad in Guatemala was a life-changing experience for me. I felt like the 8 days I spent in that country showed me more of myself than I ever imagined. I can adapt to new situations far better than I give myself credit for. I enjoy having a balance between simple reflective moments and periods of extroverted outbursts. I learned the true essence of teamwork and how to successfully work with strangers and participate in a meaningful effort. Beyond grateful, that’s all that crosses my mind.

The sun was setting and our time was evaporating like our breath on a chilly night. After some much-needed downtime, which was put to good use re-packing our luggage, our group met for the farewell dinner. Our professor expressed her gratitude for leading the trip and gave everyone the task to share their most memorable experience from the past week. Everyone had such genuine responses. At the beginning of this journey we didn’t know the backgrounds, beliefs or values of our fellow classmates. But, listening to my peers talk about their favorite experience was humbling. Many of us found the solidarity project to be the most rewarding, while some mentioned that traveling outside of the U.S. for the very first time was eye-opening. Variances in responses all around.

One of my classmates however brought up an interesting point. He said that similar to how we were welcomed with open arms and embraced within the Guatemalan culture by locals, once we go back to the states we must reciprocate that hospitality. If we have an exchange with an immigrant, its our duty to make them feel accepted into our western culture. This constant cycle of giving and receiving is what allows us to expand our minds and realize that we are all one. At the end of the day we are all human. Compassionate living and conscious living is something we should all strive for. What a beautiful idea!

My journey in Guatemala came to a close and I sat at the airport reflecting during an 8 hour layover. Guatemala and the people of Guatemala taught me to value and cherish my freedom. Freedom of choice is something we take for granted way too often. Our privileges, our personal space, the ability to make your dreams a reality is something I didn’t quite acknowledge till now. This trip made me look at education through a different lens also – as an equalizer rather than a divider. I learned to appreciate my college degree but also galvanized me to put that degree to good use. I hope to some day make an impact on the world through teaching. I don’t know just yet how that path is going to unfold, but I’m going to steadily inch towards my goal.

A message to my friends and readers:

Travel often and travel with purpose. Open the doors to your mind and absorb everything that the world is teaching you. Let your curiosity be the roadmap to your intended destinations. Use your personal talents and gifts to shape your present moment along with your future. Positively impact the realities of those around you. Making a difference is powerful! You can learn so much about yourself through service. The universe has an abundance to offer you, are you willing? Are you ready?

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Before I say my final goodbyes and close out this series of travel postcards, here are a few pictures of the amazing Guatemalan cuisine I devoured. Enjoy!

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Vegan Tamales – wrapped in a large banana leaf. Mhmm so delicious, my mouth is watering as I write this. 

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Vegan Pancakes – made with sparkling soda water, fresh carrots (zanahorias) and bananas (plátanos). 

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Breakfast of champions – veggie scramble, fresh fruit, frijoles and a strong cup of coffee. I am by no means an avid coffee drinker, however the coffee in Guatemala was so good you didn’t even need creamer or excessive sugar. An authentic staple beverage. 

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Lunch of the day – lentils, sautéed zucchini and rice.

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All I can say is, YUM!!

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Vegan Empanadas – filled with mushrooms, carrots and corn.

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Guatemalan Rellenitos – fried dumplings filled with plantains and sweet black beans. Oh so good 🙂

Souvenirs & Gifts

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Thank you all for joining me on my travels throughout Guatemala. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences and have been inspired to kickstart your own travel plans.

Happy Traveling!! Talk to you all again soon.

Mucho Amor,

Ashna

XOXO