By Erin Stoik
It’s only been two days, but I already feel like my eyes are opening a lot. In the beginning, I felt like we were doing the same thing as everyone else. When we first pulled into downtown Antigua, they had those big colorful shirts hanging from the stands, and I thought “Oh bruh, here we go”. After spending a day and a morning in downtown Antigua, I felt like such a tourist. The people we met were not interested in establishing a real connection with us. Everything felt fake and meant for the consumer experience. And I’m not one for feeling like I’m doing the same thing as everyone else. So, when we pulled into the parking lot of the hike up Pacaya, the first thing I saw were guides wearing shirts with the words “tourismo” on the front, and I felt that same feeling again. I misunderstood most of it at first – they were giving us hiking sticks, offering us a horse, treating us like tourists. But, as our hike went on, we got more comfortable with our guides. I feel like when most people go to Pacaya, they probably don’t take the approach our group did and make friends with their tour guide.
When we were up on top of the volcano and had trekked the whole part, the boys and our guide, Jose, were goofing around. We had come this far, and when we took a group picture, everyone was saying “Alleluia” and being so random together. On the way down, we asked Jose if he could travel anywhere in the world, where would he go? He said America, and I’ve thought about why that might have been his answer. The older guide, Rodolfo, explained how Guatemala was both a beautiful and difficult place to live. He talked about how the volcano enabled him to support his own way of life and his family. Before we left, Rodolfo invited us to his house – that’s something super personal to do, and it made me feel less like a tourist.
When I first agreed to go on this trip, I was really excited about taking pictures with my friends, going to the beach, and living in a cool AirBnB. I knew there was an educational component, but I did not foresee myself fully embracing that aspect of the trip. However, upon landing in Guatemala and participating in our group discussions, I have been really proud of my ability to understand the new world I am in. I feel like I got the big picture pretty quickly, which has made me more aware of what to look for and think about as the trip goes on. I also thought about my own future as I figure out what I want to do; and, I’ve learned that having experiences like this one – where we have meaningful conversations, learn from our guides, and meet new people – can help reveal my own interests in the world around me as I think about what’s next.
If I had never asked those questions, made connections or had those big picture thoughts, I could have easily walked around Antigua and never thought about any of that stuff. But, I know now that if I go somewhere new, I will think about it. Because that’s the whole point – it’s not just “oh…a dope vacation” but instead it’s about actually realizing that it’s cool, eye-opening and important to think about religion, culture, politics, points of conflict, and the many ways of living in the world.