You Guat’a be kidding me

Hey there my friends! How is everyone?

So many drafts saved, so few posts published! The saga continues with the tension of this internet space, as I discover more and more about who God has created me to be, think about how to express my thoughts, figure out what I want to share here and ponder what, if any, my influence is through writing. It’s a fun journey but one that sometimes means not much actually makes its way past a draft!! To make up for it, here’s a reallllly long one with lots of pretty pictures!

Anyyyyyway. If you follow me on social media or know me in real life, you probably know that I went on a little adventure last month to a place I’d never been before – Guatemala! Wahoo! This was my first time in Latin America as a “backpacker” (LOL) since previously I’ve visited with my family but stayed mostly on the resorts, hanging out on the beaches. This was a very different experience! I also got to travel with one of my best friends and we had just the most fun time. Fair warning, this post may just be a jumble of photos and little stories!

Last year I decided to stop talking and writing so much about desiring adventure and travel and just friggin’ do it. I went to Iceland by myself and it was a really freeing and wonderful experience that I think helped me grow a lot as a person. It’s that “shut up and go” attitude that I’ve tried to carry over into my everyday life since then, from spontaneous weekend trips to Montreal, to canoeing in new places, to trying out a new hobby, to “adventuring” in my own city to find new places to study and explore.

That said, there is something very unique about international travel that I simply love. I love the process of going from one place to another, the fact that I can sit down in this mental tube and a few hours later be someplace totally different. I love, love, love the process of planning and dreaming, only to find myself totally winging it when I get there.  I love meeting people I don’t interact with in my everyday life whether that means locals or other backpackers. I love the tension and being kept on my toes and having everything just be a little out of my hands. I love trying to practice new languages (I got out a little easy this time because Nick’s Spanish is a lot better than mine and he bailed me out a bit hehe!)

Not to mention, the world is crazy beautiful.

Suffice to say, Iceland lit a fire under my feet and had me checking flight prices all winter and spring. After a while, I realized that my cheapest option was probably going to be Guatemala. So I started telling all my friends that I was going and that they were invited. Some people showed interest, a couple seriously. Eventually my dear friend Nick agreed to come along and we booked flights. Over the next couple months we laughed often about the fact that we were ACTUALLY going to go.

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Friend!! He put up with me being bossy and sick and bad at Spanish for a whole week! What a guy!!

So here’s 10 things I learned over reading week in Guatemala:

  1. You can be as careful as you like, but you still might get sick. Nick and I were pretty careful about where and what we ate and drank because we had heard that lots of people get sick while in Guatemala (and developing countries in general) but OF COURSE, the day we were supposed to go hiking, we both ended up really sick with some kind of brutal stomach bug or food poisoning. It had us out for the count for a full day/day and a half and didn’t fully go away until more than a week after we’d been home. I actually got it worse a second time after we were home and had to take antibiotics. All that to say a) you can’t control these things and b) you can’t be bitter about it and let it ruin your whole trip. I did warn Nick on day 1 that if anything bad could happen, it would surely happen to me/us. Y’all know the deal #samproblems

 

 

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A real-life view of what travel sometimes looks like #dying

2. Travelling with a friend is very different than travelling alone. Not better or worse, just different. When I went to Iceland, I loved that I was totally in control of my own time and that I was only responsible for myself. Travelling with Nick, I suddenly was aware that all my decisions had to work for another person too! There was some tension with that because I had planned most of our trip and felt responsible for whether or not Nick had fun. At the same time, he is an adult and can take of himself. So it was interesting to figure out how to balance those things and how to travel together and how to let each other do their own thing but also be together most of the time. At the end of our trip we had a really good talk about communication and sharing planning responsibilities and how to learn from this trip for future adventures together!

Also, I noticed that I am more chill of a traveller than maybe I realized? I don’t really stress and stay pretty calm in situations that could become concerning and even though I knew that about myself, it was interesting to…notice I guess, what others find stressful about travel. Nick noticed things that I didn’t even think to be concerned about and it was good for both of us to balance each other out in that way because it forced me to consider things more carefully and question my assumptions and I encouraged him to relax a bit. On the flip side (this is going to sound very contradictory), I think I am still a pretty cautious traveller. Like I said, it’s a balance. I don’t act rashly but I also don’t worry once I have made a decision.

Overall, it was super nice to have someone with me along the way, especially since Nick is one of my best friends and he and I haven’t gotten much one on one time since moving out of residence in first year so our time together was really precious to me!

3. “Dangerous” is a relative term and a little common sense can go a long way. Speaking of stress or fear or danger and using common sense, I think it’s worth noting that I never felt unsafe in Guatemala. Before we went, several people voiced concern for us because statistically, Guat has high levels of crime. However that is mostly gang related and concentrated in the capital where we did not stay.  There was one situation in a taxi where Nick thought we were potentially in danger but that was more due to a miscommunication in Spanish than anything else and everything ended up being ok. One other time, we were told a particular hike was unsafe unless in larger groups due to reports of tourists being mugged which, just that stipulation made me a little nervous. But honestly, we never felt like we were in particularly dangerous place. On our part, we took some precautions like not wandering around at night or flaunting expensive things around. In general we found Guatemalans to be very welcoming people who were open to sharing their culture (although sometimes they were pushy sales people lol)

4. A week isn’t long enough to appreciate the complexity of a countries history, politics and culture. Honestly, I have little to say about this except to say that I regret not learning more about Guatemala’s history before I went, that I really loved how present and prevalent the Indigenous culture still was and that I am constantly amazed by my own ignorance to other countries’ political climates, even though I am studying international development.  I have so much to learn.

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5. On that note, I’m still learning how studying development shapes my world view. I felt uncomfortable by how many people assumed my trip to Guatemala was to volunteer or do some kind of development work. Aside from the fact that I am still working through how I feel about “voluntourism”, the comments also felt a little accusative, as if my chosen field of study disallows me from travelling in the developing world for my own enjoyment. Yet, in a strange way, it does. Because of my education, I see things differently. I found myself hyper aware of my privilege as a visitor, painfully aware of my relative wealth. Although I am all for tourism because it is a source of income for many people, it’s impossible to visit Guatemala and not see the inequalities, the lack of drinkable water, the poverty.

Yet, as a student of development, I was ALSO really interested in the efforts I saw being made towards empowerment – Indigenous owned coffee companies, a newly opened restaurant that was part of a women’s co-op and vocational school, Spanish schools that teach the language through politics and education on colonial history. I could see small projects and changes happening. On my end, I am constantly learning and travel is just a small part of that. Even though this was a vacation and not an experiential learning opportunity, my education has changed the lens with which I travel and it continues to challenge the way I think and look at the world.

P.s. Like I said I have a lot of mixed feelings but a definition of voluntourism I would feel comfortable with would definitely involve way more awareness and knowledge of Guat than I had and would require longer term investment than one week – but that’s for another blog post.

6. Try to speak the local language. Just try a little. In Guatemala, you kind of had to know at least some Spanish. Although, in the villages, Spanish was actually the second language for many people who spoke one of 20+ Indigenous languages as a mother tongue! Although my speaking isn’t all that great, my comprehension in Spanish is ok and because of that, I got to barter and chat and hear bits of people’s stories – my favourite was talking to our taxi driver about swimming, a favourite activity we both shared. P.s. shout out to Nick for his Spanish skills saving me when I floundered 2 out of 3 times.

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7. Backpacker culture is different in different parts of the world. Previously when I’ve stayed in hostels I have found it easy to make friends and fit into the backpacker culture. In Guatemala I found it more difficult to “fit in”. Many people I spoke to had very different perceptions than I do of what traveling looks like, what it’s purpose is and why one should do it. Although I love talking to people with different points of view, I found the backpacking culture in Guat to be a little toooooo “go with the flow” for me. Not that being flexible is bad but everyone I talked to seemed to be traveling indefinitely, with no plans and no purpose, to the point where some of them were rather rude about the fact that Nick and I were in school – because in their mind, school couldn’t possibly be about anything other than conforming to societal expectations. Along with this, I found many of them didn’t seem to understand that their ability to travel in this manner is not a way of fighting back against the capitalist societal norms but actually a result of their Western privilege – hanging out at a hostel for months on end means you are wealthy enough to travel and CHOOSE an alternative to the corporate world. I don’t mean this as a judgement or to paint all Central American backpackers in a bad light because obviously there are many types of people who travel for various reasons, it was just an overall attitude difference than what I have seen other places. That said, Nick and I did of course meet some really interesting people, from a new friend from Colombia to a group Irish girls on their grad trip to a really cool German couple and an older woman on a spiritual journey. Travel always, always, always opens my mind to the diversity of people.

8. 20 is apparently still too young to be travelling. When I was 19 in Iceland I was “just a baby”. Apparently going to Guatemala at 20 still warrants “awww”s and disbelief that young people can take airplanes without adult supervision

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9. Splurge on some activities but don’t forget that just being present in a new environment is an amazing way to spend time. I absolutely adored going zip lining in a National Park and I am so glad we spent a day in Chichi at the largest market in Central America. But my favourite memory from our trip is when one morning we got up and went swimming in the volcanic lake. Here’s a little blurb I wrote in my journal that day:

“This morning when I got up, I looked out and saw nothing but trees. With only two walls and no electricity, our hostel room feels more like a secret club house than a bedroom. I got up and wandered down to the lake where the sky was clear and the tops of the volcanoes were visible, towering on the other side of the lake. Carefully picking my way along the boardwalk, I went to a quiet swimming place and jumped in, the clear, cold water enveloping me and then buoying me back up to the surface. As I turned back to shore,  I can hardly believe my eyes. Mountains reach up and up, covered in lush, dense jungle and spotted with coloured houses. Around the summits, fog swirls. Nick and I keep laughing because it honestly feels like we must be in a movie, it’s just so beautiful.”

The sheer joy of being a new place, seeing beauty I had never seen before, floating in blue water and laughing with my friend is a wonderful as any activity I could have planned. When travelling, make sure to take time to just be present in the place.

10. Travel always revives my sense of wonder and reminds me of God’s glory and creativity. Wow, wow, wow you guys. Guatemala is seriously incredible! And it just makes me want to see other places all the more. Seeing natural beauty and diversity always just makes me want to draw close to the Lord and praise Him for all He has created and blessed me with. One morning when I couldn’t sleep because I was sick, I went down and sat on a dock around 4am and sang worship songs as the sun rose up from behind the volcanos ringing the lake. It’s as beautiful as it sounds. Traveling around  and exploring Guatemala revived my child-like sense of wonder and made me grateful all over again for the world God created.

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SO that’s about all I’ve got for now I think. I guess I had quite a bit to say! I’m just so grateful for the opportunities I have to explore and live life to the fullest. Thanks as always for reading, for putting up with my ramblings and for following me along on this ever changing, ever challenging, ever exciting and ever grander adventure.

Until next time,

Sam

Back in the Land of Maple Syrup

Home sweet home! Sorry for the post delay, I wanted to have pictures but had temporarily “lost” my phone (it was on my chair in my French class duh)

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                                         Reunited with my baby sissy ❤

So as most of you probably know, I have now been back in Canada for just over a week and am not quite sure how I feel about it. As happy as a I was to see everyone, I really, really miss my friends and family in Switzerland. I miss speaking French so much. I love to think in French now as much as I can which means I accidentally start responding in French to my family sometimes. Why does English sound so harsh now? 😦 And speaking of French, I can now see just how sad and pathetic our language courses are in Canada and it’s horrible because now I have such a passion for the language and want to learn and improve and my class watched an English movie today that had zero relevance to our class. I wasn’t impressed.

Sorry, end of rant…for now 😉 #strongopinions

I was also super excited to get Benny Lewis' new book! Check out his awesome language learning blog of the same name!
I was also super excited to get Benny Lewis’ new book! Check out his awesome language learning blog of the same name!

So last week I flew home with a whole ton of other exchange students and although it was an extremely long and tiring day it actually was quite fun. The entire back of the plane was other returning exchange students and I had a group of fabulous friends that I sat with (5 to 4 seats much to the stewardess chagrin haha). There were games of life, lots of pictures, checking out cute (and very weird) boys, Franglish, laughing and generally being loud and obnoxious followed by reunions with our familys and friends. What more could ya want?

My first day home was wonderful too. Two of my bestest friends showed up and surprised me while I was still in bed so I talked their ears off for a while, got some Timmie’s and Thai, hung out with another bestest friend, bumped into a billion (okay it was four) people at Chapters, went to movie with my Marmee and sister and was jet-lagged yay! (The last part sucked. Jet-leg and I are not friends.)

So basically, I’ve just been trying to settle back into life here, catch up with friends, catch up with SCHOOL (send help) and trying not to miss Suisse toooo much. I also have to figure out what I’m going to blog about now!

This is unrelated but  I learned a new hair thing
This is unrelated but I learned a new hair thing

Bonjour tout le monde! So yesterday I finally arrived here in Geneva! Holy cow was it really just yesterday? It feels like a longer time ago. We left Toronto at around 6:45 and I smiled while Mom cried lol. :p I met some friends before we got on the plane and then met more when I sat down. Grace and Kate flew with me and it was simply perfect because Kate had had a similar situation as me and it was really comforting to know that I was not the only one whose exchange hadn’t gone perfectly. We were able to talk through our nerves about going to a family we hadn’t met…her situation was even more crazy because he only got her new partner last week AND it’s a guy! Anyway, the plane ride was good but I didn’t sleep at all because I couldn’t get comfortable. We each had our own tv screens where you could watch a movie or a tv show or the map of the trip or listen to music. It was so cool! The other girls laughed at me because I had never been on a plane like that. :p I watched Monster’s University, an episode of Modern Family and La Petite Sirène. (Happy Mallory?) I also stared out the window A LOT because for a long time there were no clouds and I could see the ocean. It was frozen but in some spots, there were hugggge cracks that spread out like trees roots and it looked beautiful. Also, I watched while we flew over the lights of Ireland and England which brought back good memories 🙂 We arrived in Paris just as the sun was rising, 7:30 local time which meant I was non-voluntarily pulling an all-nighter! I went through customs, got a stamp in my passport, bought a 5 euro bottle of water and boarded the flight to Geneva. I got a littttle bit of sleep on that one but woke up when the other students started ooo and ahhhing over the mountains we were passing! I got my luggage and then went to meet Amen and her parents, it was so cute they greeted me with a big bouquet of flowers and kisses on both cheeks! We went to their apartment which is beautifullll and I had a quick shower. Then we had lunch and Amen and I sat and chatted and she started teaching me to play piano. I’ve never realized just how terrible my French is until I got here because it’s driving me crazy not being able to say what I want to say as you all know I love to talk! I also feel bad because everyone has to repeat themselves over and over and over again! Ca la vie, I guess. Amen took me for a walk around the neighbourhood in the afternoon because I was falling asleep and showed me the school and the bus station and the everything else. Then we went out and had pizza for dinner and then FINALLY it was late enough that I could go to bed. I slept for 14 hours oh mon dior! As my new friend Diana said about  50 times today :p Okay this is getting really long and I want to go to beddd. So today Amen and I went out with her friends and went shopping and walked around and hung out. Her friends are really nice and funny and a bit weird but that’s okay because it reminded me of my friends haha! Sorry guys. 🙂 When they were all talking really fast I couldn’t understand a lot but I liked to just listen and they tried to explain thing slower for me sometimes. One of Amen’s friends, Yandira or just Ira has a birthday two days before mine so she said we should celebrate them together 🙂 Geneva is beautifullll like I can’t even explain. Literally every direction you look, you see mountains. And while there are some newer buildings there are also the older European style ones which is cool. We took a boat ride on Lac Léman and I could see the mountains well from there. It’s strange because there’s snow on the mountains but not on the ground. Also! I bought my first Starbucks here and guess how much? 6.70 CH, the equivalent of like $9 for a grande Chai latte! C’est tres fou! And We realized that Amen is reading “Le meilleur des mondes” for her french class, the french version of “A Brave New World” which I have to read for english. I guess there are some things you can’t avoid no matter what language you speak 😉 There’s probably a lot more I could write but I’m tired and my laptop is going to die so cho cho or au revoir for now!

Packing Is Like A Puzzle

With a limited amount of space and a weight limit of a mere 50 pounds, I’m finding it really difficult to decide what to take with me to Switzerland. Of course there are things that are necessary but then there are questions like “How many pairs of shoes can I take?” “Is this too heavy?” “Do I really need this?” “What if (insert random event) happens and I need (insert probably unnecessary item) ” and the most important one of all, “Sir, please don’t make me take that textbook!”

Seriously, how do I pick what I’m going to wear for the next three months??? Not to mention, this is the first time since grade 8 that I will not being wearing a uniform to school which means the added pressure of trying to pick an outfit everyday. At least at this point, my to-do list is pretty much completely finished and I can actually start putting things into my suitcase rather than spreading haphazardly around my room.The worst part though is that every time I put something in the bag, I end up wanting to use it/wear it and it comes right back out. Oops :p haha #SamProblems

So now I am faced with the task of fitting all my stuff into the bag and keeping it underweight. It really does feel like a puzzle, trying to see where everything is going to fit in and hoping I have all the pieces. Prices are crazily expensive in Switzerland and I don’t want to forget stuff and have to buy it there. Like for example, I’ve heard from other exchange students that an eye-liner pencil can is about 18 francs while a coffee is minimum 6 francs. And since 1 franc is equal to $1.30 Canadian, that is a lotttt of money. I actually found out that Geneva is the 4th most expensive city in the world! Which should be an interesting experience for me, one of the most frugal people I know!

All that aside, it’s finally starting to feel real that I’m leaving although I don’t think it will fully sink in until I’m sitting on the plane. I wish the 15th would just hurry up and get here. Oh something exciting I found out is that the week I get to Switzerland they have their winter sport break so no school! I’m not sure what my family had planned for that week but I’m sure it will be fun! Weeee as of right now, there are 8 days, 23 hours and 8 minutes until my plane takes off!

The announcement of my next adventure!

Well, I have to admit, after only one post I rather forgot I had a blog…oopsies! #badblogger Even worse, the whole point of blogging about Ireland was so that I would remember everything and now I remember things but not in detail. Darn 😦 I guess my memories are the best I have for now. Anywayyys, I do have another adventure coming up in February that I am going to try very hard to keep up with consistently. I will be going and living in Geneva, Switzerland  for three months on a student exchange! Now I was always supposed to be going on exchange (to France) but when my partner Camille came in August it didn’t exactly turn out the best because we found out there were issues in her family that we had not been aware of that prevented me from going to stay with her. Since then, I have been waiting anxiously to find out whether or not I am going. And today it was confirmed that I do have a new partner! Her name is Amen and I will be living with her, her mom Lakech, her dad Shiferaw and her brother Uidus. Their heritage is Ethiopian but they have lived in Switzerland for all of Amen’s life. I am so excited to experience the culture, the food and the language (French) of Switzerland! Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to start contacting my partner and become friends before I leave…..so exciting! I promise I will try to keep my blog more updated from now on. Switzerland, here I come!

And we’re off: my first weekend in Ireland

There’s something about the excitement of sitting in an airport waiting for you flight to be called for boarding.  At this point you’ve made it through all the hard parts of travel; checking bags, going through security and finding your gate. You’ve probably waited a long time for this day to come and now that it’s here, it won’t be long before you are up in the air, taking off on a new grand adventure.

It was this excitement I found myself feeling on June 27th 2013. After months of waiting, the day had come for me to leave on my trip to Ireland. Although I had been on an airplane before, it had only been for short flights to places like Mexico and Florida and this would my very first time leaving North America. I was so excited, I could barely sit still. Before I knew it, it was time to board and I was pleased to discover I had a window seat. I settled in and minutes later, we were off.

Fast forward and just under 7 hours later, we were coming into land in Dublin airport. Jet legged and overwhelmed by the excitement of being in a new and strange country, my mom, my sister Mallory and I somehow found our way through the Dublin public transit system and to the hostel where we were staying. After checking in, we all climbed into bed for a nap. Newsflash: bad idea. We woke up at midnight to the sound of my step-sister Chantel coming into the room. She had flown into London, England from Alberta and then taken a ferry over to Ireland to meet us. The time change of 5 hours had confused us and we were all wide awake and starving so despite the late hour,  we took a taxi and ventured across the Liffey River to the Temple Bar area of the city. Long story short, there were a lot of drunk people, which terrified Mallory. Suffice to say, it wasn’t exactly a family friendly environment so we grabbed some food and got out of there as fast as we could.

The next day, a Saturday, we ventured all over Dublin by foot exploring and checking things out.  I was amazed by all the beautiful architecture, some of which had been built more than 1000 years earlier. It was my first real taste of Europe and I must say I loved even more than I thought I would. Everywhere I turned there was something to look at and unlike a lot of buildings here in Canada they were all unique and had intricate detailing. It was absolutely gorgeous. The entire city of Dublin just had a more laid back feeling than say for example Toronto, more old timey.

On Sunday, the four of us continued to explore the city, this time by double decker bus. We saw a lot of interesting things as well as enjoyed the live commentary by the driver about the sites we were passing. Mal was in her glory, listening to people speak with Irish accents all day. My favourite part on the other hand, was when just my mom and I got off the bus at the Kilmainham Gaol, a now unoccupied jail on the outskirts of Dublin. We were toured through the jail and told about prisoners who once were held (and eventually exacuted) there. It was incredibly interesting. I learned and lot, like the youngest prisoner was Elisha Kelly an 8 year old girl who was imprisoned for 5 months just for stealing a loaf of bread…it reminded me of Jean Valjean from Les Mis, haha. Crazy cool place.

Monday was spent looking around little shops and checking out the Dublin zoo. Mallory and I went into the zoo alone and I can tell you, we weren’t all that impressed. It was not nearly as cool as the Toronto Zoo, which I never really realized was all that awesome until being at the Dublin one. The one part we really loved was watching the red pandas because they were just so darn cute!

After we left the zoo, our weekend in Dublin was over and we got on a bus headed for Ballinasloe in County Galway where my mom’s cousin Mary would be picking us up for the next part of our adventure. It was out of the city and into rural Ireland for us!

I had only been in the country for one weekend and I was already falling in love with Ireland.