I didn’t have a fixed plan, nor many to start with, when I left to travel in America from Singapore. Making my second stop, to Central America from United States, I picked up a lot more things that I’m interested in. If I saw a poster like “yoga in the park” I’d go for it. Also, finally took my diving certificate, volunteered at places where I got to learn about agriculture and sustainable living, stayed in a surf town longer than planned as well just to focus on surfing (might have also been because of some really lovely people I met there). All these times spent at different places to focus on different purposes each was enjoyable, but none was like the time in Antigua.
Arriving at Antigua, Guatemala, a city that host a high number of foreign students coming to learn the Spanish language especially, I was encouraged by a friend to take up Spanish course too after sharing that I would like to stay in Latin America for a longer period and hoping to return someday to explore South America as well. So, I took up a 5ohr Spanish course in the end.
Having something to commit to, I had to stay in the same city for certain amount of time to complete my Spanish course. Meanwhile, made a lot of friends especially in the hostel that I was staying at and within these people, there were quite a few interesting individuals whom each had come to the same place for their own reasons – seeking work opportunities, running business trips, and of course foreign students who came to pick up the Spanish language just like me – and therefore, there were quite a lot who were also staying for long period of time. With so many of us in the same house, and for significant period, it made a great opportunity to bond with each other.
Much the same as most strong long-lasting relationships, it takes time to foster and build. Having a reason to stay in Antigua longer than a normal traveller would, it allowed me to build some stronger relationships with the people I met, even bringing one of the friendships to another level.
A cosy space was shared by having breakfast together, returning home in the afternoon after lessons to see the others in the house, making plans for the rest of the day and dinner at times, to checking some of the local clubs or celebrating a friend’s birthday.
Like a small travel family, we would also make arrangements to take a break from our individual routines and head to the beach during weekends together, to attend festivals, to being a tourist exploring other parts of what Guatemala has to offer, especially when most of us are foreigners and were visiting for the first time.
It was also difficult when it comes to the time to see friends leave. For instance, when one of our close friends left to stay with his host family in another town, we decided to make a day trip to visit him. The host family were such nice people, bringing us to a local waterfall spot and even invited us for lunch when they learned that we were visiting, even though we don’t know one another personally.
Such strong bonds created, with both foreigners and locals, it was particularly touching to me when I got invited by a local friend to join his family for Christmas, as it is a festival usually celebrated only with closed ones. Being invited, it felt certain that we are special to him at least.
I also had the opportunity to be part of a wonderful event for a good cause. A friend I made in the city was volunteering for an after school programme. After learning about this and what the programme means for the community, a friend initiated and took actions to organise a fundraising event that would help the project continue running and giving help to the children. This event also encouraged and saw another dear friend of ours, who was once a national representatives, back on stage playing the marimba. Can’t help but to feel a sense of accomplishment (though I didn’t do much), but mostly proud of the friends who put this together. It was an exceptionally moving evening seeing what unfolded on stage and where it would lead.
And so, this is a part of my gap year, my time spent in Guatemala, or specifically, Antigua. For one purpose, to other reasons, I ended up staying in the city/country for a total of 2 months, and was actually thinking of staying longer but gave up the idea for another eventually.
This is what I like about travelling without plans nevertheless. It does not keeps you rushing for time, from one place to another, and having a “deadline” for the trip. Imagine having to leave a place or person you are so fond of after spending some time together. Or always having to think about “the date”, your next “destination”, when making your next move, that could have highly affected the entire travel experience. Without a plan, you are also entitled to more opportunities, and chances to take them up. But more so the meaningful time spent lending a hand and seeing a work come to fruition in supporting a great cause, was an incredible experience.