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

Soul-Deep Contentment 


My mouth is dry and my legs ache. They’ve been contained, squished into small seat rows for the last 9 and a half hours. I’m out of water and I need to pee but the people beside me are both asleep. I’m not tired although I wish I could sleep to make the time pass faster. I also wish I had food other than a crumpled half eaten chocolate bar. 

And yet, there is this soul deep, contentment in my bones. I am on an adventure, a knowledge that keeps a smile dancing on my lips all day and ushers a long exhale of peace from my lungs. So many times I’ve prayed, begging God to give me opportunities to explore, to experience the world. Now here I am. Tired and cramped but soaring above the sea, headed to a place I’ve never been. My heart is so full of anticipation. Today all I’ve been able to think about is how GOOD my God is and how he truly does give us the desires of our hearts. It’s not always when we expect Him to, or in the way we hope but He gives great gifts. 

Like 3 short days in a magical country because He knows it will refresh and sustain my soul’s craving for adventure. He made me an adventurer, a risk taker, an off the beaten path, challenging the status quo, all heart and curiosity questioner. He KNOWS what I need to be fulfilled. Obviously I can’t (at this point in my life) just up and travel the world whenever I so please but it’s these little gifts – the kind of crazy ideas that I get and just feel in my gut that the Lord is telling me to go for – these little things that remind me again and again how much he cares for us. 

As I’ve acknowledged here more than once I do have a bit of a one track mind – I tend to latch onto an idea and go after it with all that I have. What can I say, I’m a passionate woman. This all in attitude however can also make me miss the small gifts that come in between the big milestones in life. Over the last couple of years, God has been teaching me more and more how to let go of the reins so to speak. To trust that the big things will come…and to embrace all the little detours in between. Just because I’m a student doesn’t mean I can’t also be a traveller. And just because a particular adventure doesn’t seem to lead towards a future goal doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering when I’ll get to go to Nepal and forgetting that there are SO many other places in this work I want to see. God wants me in Nepal, He’ll get me there when the time is right. Until then, I need to start grasping every opportunity I get that makes my eyes light up and my soul feel alive. Whether it’s taking an afternoon off studying to go skating or booking a trip to Iceland just for the pure joy of it, life is for living. And that’s something I’m trying to learn to be “all in” for. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop pursuing my future – I believe God calls us all to make full use of every moment we have. Sometimes, the best and fullest use of my time is studying hard and going to 3 meetings, 4 classes, a study group and a volunteer commitment before going home and cooking dinner (heck yeah I love being busy!). And other times, I’m coming to learn, God gives us times that are MEANT to renew us and bring us pure joy – GIFTS rather than things to accomplish.  I can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to know a God who creates opportunities for me to travel and meet new people and breath in fresh Arctic air. 

I’m also oddly excited to be by myself. Probably the first time any of you have heard that coming from this extrovert 😂. But it’s freeing to just be totally self-governed for a few days. No one else to consult or worry about or check up on. I can do whatever I want whenever I want. Want to stop and have a coffee in a cute cafe? Imma do it! Want to spend forever in the museum? I can! I’m really excited to just have totally autonomy and control over my adventure. It’s really Sam’s grand adventure and no one else’s! The other side of it is that I’m excited to meet other people. The type that frequent hostels tend to have all kinds of stories and experiences to share and I can’t wait to hang out and listen and learn from other adventurers. 

So yeah, I’m not super comfy at the moment. But my heart is happy and I am grateful to be in motion. Over the Christmas break I saw the new Disney movie Moana and ever since I’ve been telling anyone who listen (which is not a lot of people hahaha) that I’ve never identified so strongly with a Disney princess before. It might sound silly since she’s a Polyonuasian girl who sails the sea with a Demi God and I am a Canadian university student but for real, hear me out. I’ve always felt really connected to nature and particularly to water – swimming, sailing, canoing, rowing. You name it and if it means I can be on the water, I’m there. But that’s the shallow part. Her intense desire to see more than what is in front of her and her craving to explore resonated so deeply with me. Her stubbornness in learning to wayfind reminded me of the way I myself have dug in my heels to perfect skills – navigation aptly included. Her love for her family combined with her inner pull to voyage reminded me of my exchange – everything seemed to go wrong and my parents wanted it all to just stop but I pushed back because I KNEW it was part of God’s plan for me. The desires and passions that seem to literally feel like a fire in my heart drive me. Just like Moana feels the call to the sea in every fibre of her being because it is who her people were meant to be, I feel the wanderlust and pull to the mountains so deeply that I can only believe that God created me this way. 

Most of all, Moana goes after her dreams and she has an incredible adventure that alters the entire future of her people. I want to be someone who goes after her destiny and leaves an impact on this world. I don’t need fortune or fame. But I want to use all my energy, talent, passion, intelligence, love and time to DO SOMETHING and show other people what it means to live a life of all out, soulful pursuit. 

My trip to Iceland may not be the epic journey that Moana takes to the island of Ta’fiti but I does give me a settled assurance that but by bit, day by day, bus by train by plane, I am following the complex and beautiful plan that God has for  me. Who knows who I’ll meet and how it will shape the way I approach my future adventures? If nothing else, I will get to explore beside towering waterfalls, have conversations with strangers over cups of coffee and breathe deeply in Creation. My soul will be satisfied by the place but more importantly by the knowledge that the One who created it cares for the desires of my heart. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me. For now, I’ll watch the stars just out my window and dream about the geysers, glaciers and hot springs that await me. 

-until next time, Sam

“At night we name every star, we know who we are, we know who we are, who we are…we are explorers reading every sign” -We Know the Way, Moana.