Travel Regrets Part 2 (Because The Regrets Keep On Comin’)

On any given day, you will find yourself scrolling through Instagram, and judging the photos of your friends galavanting around Europe on a Summer extravaganza, whilst you stuff your face with Doritos under the covers of the pillow fort that used to be your bed. You’ll see them with their ripped, tanned abs, low cut bikinis, coloured doors, stray cats and sailing boats that they’ve called home for the past week and what have you been doing? Watching Friends re-runs, that’s what.

In July this year I was lucky enough to leave the comfort of my pillow fort and travel around Central America for a month; Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. To the untrained eye, I too was living the dream (not going to lie it was pretty damn awesome). But little did those people at home in their pillow forts know that my trip was filled with regrets, mistakes, sickness and an overwhelming longing to curl up into the fetal position.

I wrote an article about my travel regrets a few months ago, and at that stage I didn’t think there was much more to regret or fuck up. How wrong I was because here, dear friends, is part two…

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Bringing a suitcase

 Who the fuck brings a suitcase on a G Adventures ‘YOLO’ style adventure tour? I was the only one in my group who had a suitcase and each time I had to push it up ridiculously steep hills, through mud, across cobblestone streets, up stairs, on boats and buses… I was constantly reminded of my naïve choice. What was I thinking?

Booking the cheapest flight (despite the layovers)

 In the moment you think “sure, I can wait in Mexico City airport for 9 hours before catching my connecting flight to Guatemala City,” but when that 9 hours is from 1am…things start feeling a little bleak. I might have saved myself a whole $50, but I paid for it in breakfast, lunch and my sanity.

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Not bringing a rain jacket

 Listen to what your grandma says…. ‘take a rain coat.’ I dismissed this advice thinking only of all the sunshine and warmth I was about to immerse myself in. Ah, Central America in Summer! No! Do your fucking research and you’ll realise it’s their rainy season and that Mexico City has an altitude of 2500m in the fucking mountains where it fucking rains all the fucking time! If you couldn’t tell, this was a rather sore spot for me after confidently rejecting the thought to take a rain coat.

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Hooking up with a Guatemalan guy named Alejandro

Actually, is that a regret? Hell no, we salsa danced all night, went to a rave, made out and danced until morning! Oh, I remember… it was the hangover the next day that was the regret, not Alejandro. I mean really? His name was Alejandro!!!

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Not reading my briefing instructions properly

When I was in Mexico I was studying at a Catholic university, and in the brief (which I only skim-read) it specifically states that you can’t wear thongs or singlets to uni. As an Aussie girl abroad, that was basically the entirety of my suitcase (for someone that’s travelled a lot, I really fucked up on this whole weather/climate thing). So off I went to buy some respectable length skirts and modest shirts that covered my scandalous shoulders.

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Not having a polaroid camera

 This one’s a bit of a meaningful regret. When reflecting on my time abroad I wish I could have made a more meaningful contribution to the lives of some people I met; two specific times in particular:

1- When we did a homestay with a traditional Mayan family in Guatemala. They lived a very simple life, roosters for alarm clocks, no TV, cooking over a fire, no hot water or internet, with only several photos on their family room wall. I wish I could’ve been able to whip out a polaroid camera and take a family photo for them for their wall.

2 – During my course in Mexico City, we often met with refugees. For their protection, we could not take digital photos. However, I wish I could’ve had a polaroid camera to take photos of the kids and give it to their mothers and fathers as keepsakes.

The idea of taking photos is so skewed for us living in developed, technology saturated countries. It’s a touch of a button on our phones and we share it to the world online. For people who don’t have this privilege, photos are all they have of their family. They can put it in their pocket and hold onto it forever. It means so much more than a piece of paper. It means they’re able to capture, remember and bring their loved ones with them on their journey.

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Eating those street tacos

OK I don’t think it was the street tacos, but something I ate over there made me sick. Very sick. Let’s just say the next two weeks whatever I put in my mouth, did not come out of my body in a nice way. You can read my shameful tell all here.

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Picking up hitchhikers

No not people… parasites! After my rather shitty experience with getting sick in Mexico, I came back to Australia still experiencing horrendous cramps. After a rather confronting experience of having to poo in a cup, it’s confirmed that I have two little parasite friends living in my stomach. Rest assured, I’m on some pretty serious pro-biotics, but in the meantime I named my new friends Pablo and Renee. Lucky me!

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Dying on a public bus in Belize
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Luisa couldn’t quite make it to paradise

Don’t believe those beautifully crafted Instagram photos and witty captions, everyone has travel regrets, mistakes, fuck ups and maybe some parasites too. I just wanted to put mine on the internet to get down and real when talking about the joy of travelling. Oh and I guess I just wanted to brag about my hook up with Alejandro. No shame, he was hot.

[This article was originally written for TWENTY SOMETHING HUMANS]

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Talkin’ Shit

Important note: This post contains a huge amount of poo talk, shit loads of it actually. It’s not for the faint hearted. If you’re someone that dry retches at the thought of someone else taking a dump, or prefers to keep your poo stories between you and your loo, then now might be a good time to stop reading.  

When was the last time you had a good old chat about poo? Does the word ‘poo’ make you squirm? Does it make you giggle? Does it make your stomach churn? Or does it make you yearn for a nice long, peaceful poo? I’ve recently been in Mexico, so poo has been somewhat of a hot topic for me, as I’m sure you can imagine (don’t imagine too hard now). 

Getting gastro/food poisoning/a sombrero wearing, maraca shaking parasite in Mexico, sure helps you break down any reservations that you might have on the topic but it’s not always easy to, pardon the pun, talk shit, especially with new people that you’re meeting along your travels. 

As someone who’s lived to tell the tale (JUST), here’s my guide to talkin shit.   

Humour is essential   

Talking about shit is probably the most real and hilarious thing you could possibly talk about with another person (IMO), especially if you’ve had a bad experience with your bowels– ahem, Bali Belly anyone? Talkin’ shit shows that you’re the type of person that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, just make sure you pick you target wisely because there are a few humans out there that could be utterly offended by your potty humour.  

It’s an easy and fun way to get to know someone very quickly indeed. Get a load of this… 

I was sitting on the toilet in Mexico, my arse on fire, sweat rolling down my…everywhere, with knife stabbing stomach cramps twisting into my gut, thinking, ‘this is how I die.’ I don’t know why everyone doubted Elvis dying on the toilet because I definitely came within inches of my own death. I can confirm it would be the most horrific and smelly death possible. A combination of anti-diarrhoea pills, electrolytes, sleep, lemonade and plain white rice, and one week later I was finally strong enough to add veggies to that plain rice. 

What the doctor didn’t prescribe was a decent dose of laughter. At the end of the day, your body has been through unimaginable pain, all you really need is someone to talk to about your poo problems with and just laugh it out. At least it will cover the tears.   

See…after learning that about me we’re basically Hamish and Andy level best friends now. If you’re still in doubt, I present to you, exhibit B…  

 

   

Judgement Free Zone  

I had a conversation that changed my life. I met a girl, who had actually shit her pants and lived to tell the tale. I sat there mesmerized. I didn’t think that life after SYP (shitting your pants) existed. But there she was, in the flesh, alive and well to share her story with others desperately seeking hope. Now I wouldn’t go as far to say that she’s a saint, but she sure did save me from my toilet of despair.   

When discussing the deeply painful personal stories of poo tragedies, it’s important to understand that person is entrusting you with their deepest darkest shittiest secrets. So hold their hand, hold back that laugh and simply say ‘I’m sorry that happened to you.’ Then you can proceed to burst into laughter and write about them on the internet. 

 

Normalise it  

Have you ever woken up, hungover as hell and had the overwhelming need to take a good long shit? Of course you have, it’s called an after grog bog and we all know it’s an essential (and amazing) part of the hangover experience. But how many of you have endured this pain because you’ve got a stranger in the bed next to you, or your housemates are making brekky in the kitchen, devastatingly located next to the toilet, and the thought of the regrets echoing from the toilet bowel is just too cringe worthy to deal with?  

We know it’s in the natural order, so why do so many of us get scared shitless? Embrace it, announce it to the world! I’m hungover and I need to get rid of this grog bog! It’s all in the discussion, let it out, verbally and physically and we can free ourselves from this toilet shame.   

Now that I’ve overcome my ‘incident’, I feel that I’m a much stronger person, emotionally and physically. I may never be the same again, my stomach might and my butt is permanently haunted, but it’s something I’ve been able to overcome and grow from. I, and I hope you have too, have come to appreciate the fact that poo is a natural part of our lives that we should all be able to talk about. Not all the time, but just now and then. 

[This post was initially written for Twenty Something Humans]

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Turning 23 in MEXCIO: Week 3 in MEXICO CITY

Well apparently the time has finally come! How has 3 weeks passed so damn quickly? Despite it sadly being our last week in Mexico City, it was such an epic week that flashed by way too quickly!

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Free Day

We were lucky that again on Monday we were granted a free day! It was perfectly timed because man did we need a breather (especially after our hectic weekend – click here to check out what we got up to). I decided to go on a solo mission to Soumaya, an incredible art gallery owned by Carlos Slim (one of the richest people in the world). I would absolutely recommend this gallery. Not only are the artworks in their world class – think Dalí, Renoir, Degas and Riviera, but the building itself is exquisite!

For the rest of the day we spent our time chilling and working on our presentations due at the end of the week.

We also went to a cute little cafe a block away from the hotel. It’s called A43 and has THE BEST mushroom burger I’ve ever had! Plus if you’re a fan of hot chocolates, this is your place!

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Cultural Visits

This week we didn’t have as many organised cultural visits, which meant we had more free time to pick and choose exactly what we wanted to do.

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of us went to the Museum of Anthropology and were taken back thousands of years to the age of the Aztecs. It’s an enormous collection of recovered artefacts and is absolutely incredible!

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Wednesday was a really special day for me because…… I turned 23!!! WOO! Because of the time difference, I felt like my birthday actually lasted 2 days so there was a lot of celebrating to be done. In the afternoon a group of us went to Castillo Chapultepec. This beautiful old castle on a hill that overlooks this enormous city. So needless to say, I felt like a total princess!

That evening we went downtown to a cute Italian restaurant where we ate pizza and pasta and drank tequila. It was such a special way to spend my birthday and I’m so grateful that I was able to spend it with such incredible people.

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Professional Site Visits

This week we went to two houses/shelters that support refugees in the local community. The first was Cafe Min – a shelter mainly aimed at women and families. We were given a tour of the facility (which used to be an old school). There were several families with children there. Because of the language barrier, we just played with the children and had a pretty intense game of football (note – if you’re looking for donations to take to the refugees, a soccer ball is an instant hit). It was here that I met a young 14 year old girl, Maria. Her Mum had taken her and her two younger brothers (aged 9 and 4) across the border to escape the gang violence in their town in the North of Mexico. They were captured by US Border Force and put into detention. Their mother was deported back to Mexico. The children were put into foster care in the United States. The children were reunited with their mother a year later. Despite this, these children were so happy, enthusiastic and energetic about life. It was incredibly inspiring to meet such a beautiful young lady who was showing off her English skills by reading me Dr. Seuss.

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On Wednesday we were scheduled to go to a detention centre, yet recent riots and violence in the centre resulted in our visit being cancelled. It was disappointing that we didn’t get the chance to visit the centre, yet it’s a very strong reminder of why we’re here studying. To seek asylum is a human right, yet across the world – particularly in Australia, we are punishing these vulnerable people for doing so. I hope to see a future without detention centres.

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Class

This week we had our final presentations! My group presented on ‘Media, Othering and Human Rights.’ It’s definitely a topic that I’m very passionate about and it was great presenting to a group who all study different degrees and approached similar topics differently. I felt I really learnt a lot.

Graduation! 

Some people were flying out on Friday so naturally we decided to celebrate our graduation with everyone on Thursday night. We did some cute little awards, had a big family dinner and just enjoyed each others company. It was so lovely! My Mexican friend Victor and his friend Ricardo plus a few others from the group ended up going out to La Condesa to party! It was such a great night!

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After we finished our presentations on Friday afternoon – we were done! We had a great celebratory lunch with our coordinators and enjoyed our time together! We were presented with our certificates of completion and that was it! That night it was another girls birthday so we all went out for our last supper together!

And with that week that’s a wrap of this incredible program! We’ve got a final essay due in 3 weeks about our topic of choice, but with all of the inspiration and motivation from this program, I’m on an absolute roll with it.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to go back into study in Australia. This study abroad experience gave me a real insight into this harsh world. It allowed me to experience and witness the real life repercussions of policy, action (or inaction) and things that we learn in textbooks. It was challenging, confronting, overwhelming, emotional, but most of all incredibly enriching. I’ve learnt more than I ever thought I would and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to study one of my main passions in Mexico City.

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Walking in the Shoes of a Refugee: MEXICO Week 2

Hola chicas! Cómo estás? As you can tell, my Spanish is going quite well! My stomach on the other hand, not quite. Our 2nd week in Mexico City has been equally full on as our first week (if you missed what happened, you can catch up here). We’ve learnt a lot, visited numerous museums and cultural sites and had one of the scariest nights of my life. Let’s have a look at what we got up to this week!

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Free Day

Woo! We finally got a day off which meant an epic sleep in. Most of us used this day to relax and reset ourselves in preparation for the crazy week ahead of us. I used this day to remember my time in Mexico City forever! I got a TATTOO! Victoria and I headed to ‘Soul Flower’ in La Condesa to get some ink. The guy who gave us our tattoo was so awesome! His name was Jorge and he was from Honduras. He owns his own tattoo shop in Costa Rica where he now lives, and is currently travelling around to tattoo conventions in Mexico and Guatemala. After everything I’ve learnt about Honduras, I was really glad to have a part of his story with me.

 

 

There seems to be a fair few birthdays this month! And this week we celebrated two! One Monday night we went out for tapas and lots of wine, making it the perfect way to wind down after our hectic first week.

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Cultural Visits

This week we experienced A LOT of Mexican culture! Our first visit was on Tuesday afternoon to the Blue House (also known as the house of Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera – two of the most renowned Mexican artists). If you haven’t already – watch the movie Frida on Netflix. It’s pretty much where I learnt the most about Frida and her life. Then getting to wander the corridors where she lived, see her artwork, her garden and bedroom was absolutely incredible!

After the Blue House, we went around the corner to visit the house where Leon Trotsky lived and was killed. For those of you who don’t know (don’t worry, I learnt this information at the house itself), Trotsky was a part of the Russian opposition government during the time of Stalin. When Stalin took power, it made Trotsky an enemy of the state so him and his wife fled to Mexico. They moved to Mexico because Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo supported the Mexican Communist party and thus their connection. After Kahlo and Trotsky had an affair, Trotsky moved to a different house. There was an attempted murder where one of Stalin’s guys stabbed him with an ice pick but he survived. He then appointed guards to his house and basically lived in a fortress. Yet that was no stopping Stalin as he was later killed by gunshot which sprayed his entire room. You can still see those bullet marks in the wall today. And there you go, some Russian history in the streets of Mexico City.

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Tula

On Saturday we visited the archeological site of Tula. It’s funny because you almost get used to thinking ‘oh, another ancient pyramid.’ Nonetheless, we explored, climbed it and learnt about how in Tula, they forbid human sacrifice to the Gods, so it seems it was quite a progressive society.

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Ballet

On Sunday night we were treated to a night at the ballet! A group of us, along with our professional tour guide, Arnaldo, headed downtown to the Opera House. This is an ABSOLUTE MUST for anyone going to Mexico City. It’s a mix of ballet and Mexican folk dance and it was simply stunning – we couldn’t wipe the smile off of our face!

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Floating Markets

Sunday we went to the incredible Floating Markets. Think Venetian gondola meets Mexican fiesta! We all boarded the little boat with a few beers in hand and we floated through the canals and around markets. In all honesty, it’s a bit difficult to describe, so I made this vlog instead!

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Class

Class this week was equally as intensive. One of my favourite days was taught by an incredible woman, Frida Espinosa who spoke to us about gender, health and migration. I could really feel my previous thoughts and ideas being challenged, evolving and honestly learning a lot. It was such a great class because it’s a perspective that is not often taken in the discussion of migration.

Next week we also have presentations so we started working out what groups we wanted to be in and brainstorming some ideas.

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Professional Site Visits

The site visit on Friday to the Transit Migrant Shelter called Casa del Samaritano in Hidalgo, was definitely a group highlight. This shelter is located on the train line for migrants taking ‘La Bestia’ (The Beast – the notorious train that migrants are known for climbing onto). It is a safe place for them to have a warm meal, call their loved ones, get new clothing if needed, and then head back off on their journey.

The general consensus of our group was that we felt that we actually did something productive and useful to help these people. People helped in the kitchen, helped clean our some of the shelter and I was on phone duty. Helping the migrants dial their respective countries, where they could make a 3minute phone call. Despite the language barrier, we were still able to converse quite well and find out information about their lives and reasons why they were migrating. All of the migrants were males from Honduras, aged between 17 and 64. One young man, aged 22, had actually been living in Utah with his wife and two children when he was caught without documents and deported back to Honduras. So it was his second time attempting to cross the border.

As we were leaving so were the migrants as they headed along the train tracks. A train ripped by our bus and the migrants, when they started running. We saw one young man grab a ladder of a carriage and get pulled along until he could finally jump onto the carriage, leaving his new found friends behind and taking his chances on The Beast. The rest of the group continued walking along the train tracks. That is an image that is etched into my mind and I don’t think I could ever forget those brave young men.

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That evening we did one of the craziest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. At the Alberto Eco Park, they run simulation border crossings and we were signed up. We were forewarned to wear clothes that we didn’t mind getting dirty and sturdy shoes. At approximately 9:30pm, when it was pitch black, a man in a balaclava pulled up in his ute and started screaming at us to gather together. He called our names and we were led into the bush. And thus began the next 3.5hours of running, hiding from ‘border force,’ bandits, drug dealers, crossing swinging bridges, climbing through dark tunnels, trudging through thick mud, hiding in a group on the ground, accidentally falling into cacti, and worst of all, having blanks being shot at us. It was terrifying, thrilling, exciting, scary and an experience we’ll never forget.

We finished at about 1am where a man talked to us about why he decided to create this experience. He said he wanted people to physically attempt to walk a mile in a migrants shoes and at the end of the day, you know it’s not real and you can go back to your comfortable bed and sleep peacefully. These migrants and refugees do not have such privilege and there’s no escaping the reality of violence and fear. It was extremely touching and incredibly motivating to each of us. It reminded us why we were here studying immigration and made us all the more passionate and motivated to make a difference.

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Week 2 was quite crazy indeed, but it was nothing short of incredible! I can’t believe we’re heading into our last week this week! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us!

My New Favourite Country? Travelling Guatemala With G ADVENTURES

Ever since watching Fun For Louis’ ‘Best Coffee in Guatemala’ vlog, Guatemala has been on my radar. And it wasn’t just because of the amazing coffee (yet it was a very big part of my obsession), but the people, the culture and the landscapes seemed incredible. Plus – what did I actually even know about Guatemala? I didn’t even really know where it was! So when I heard my study program in Mexico City didn’t start until the 1st of July, and realising I had three weeks completely free, this was my time to finally go to Guatemala.

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I found an awesome G Adventures tour that spent a week in Guatemala before making it’s way up to Belize and then Mexico. And before I knew it I was landing in Guatemala City.

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ANTIGUA

The first stop was Antigua, where I met my awesome G Adventures Group. There were people from all over the world, Germany (Luisa, my amazing room mate for the trip), Ireland, another fellow Aussie and lots of people from England. Our tour guide was from Costa Rica, thankfully, because it’s quite essential to know some Spanish when travelling in Central America.

As you can tell from the photos below – Antigua is very colourful and extremely beautiful. It is a UNESCO world heritage site for its outstanding universal value and is a backpackers paradise. With an abundance of hotels, hostels, bars, clubs, restaurants, markets and plazas, Antigua will surely steal your heart, just like it did mine.

I must admit, I was completely unprepared for the weather we faced in Guatemala. In my mind I thought ‘ooh Central America… hot.’ But boy was I wrong. A lot of the time it was actually quite cold and it rained a lot, because guess what… it’s their rainy season. So, note to self, always research the weather of the place you’re going before you go there! Lucky for me, this meant I got to buy the coolest purple jacket which you’ll see shortly in some pictures below.

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Lake Atitlán – San Juan and Panajachel

From Antigua, we drove a few hours to Lake Atitlán, this time, prepared for the rain. We shuffled our bags around and packed an overnight bag for our adventures across the lake to San Juan. Here, we were introduced to some local Mayan families, and we were introduced to Marcos and Juana, the family that Luisa and I would stay with for the night. We caught a tuk tuk through the torrential rain to their house with a view that looked up at the giant mountains surrounding the lake.

In Guatemala, there are over 23 different Mayan languages spoken, and Mayan is completely different to Spanish. And nor Luisa or I spoke any Spanish. Yet we did manage to communicate, in very broken English, Spanish and way too many hand gestures, we learnt a lot about life in Guatemala, the Mayan culture and history, and my favourite part, how to make tortillas. Mayan recognition, acceptance and equality has been a struggle for a long time in many Central American countries. For instance, neither X or X went to school and therefore cannot read and write. They work in intense labour jobs to provide for their family. Yet because of their hard work and changing economic and social patterns in Guatemala, all three of their sons attended and completed high school, with one studying at university to become a teacher and the other, a local artist. I will never forget the kindness and generosity that this family showed to Luisa and I. This unique experience of a homestay is unique to G Adventures to their sustainability program ‘Planeterra.’ I was so overwhelmed by the whole experience that I had to leave the table for a minute to shed a tear. It really put my life, values and experiences into perspective and I felt so lucky to be able to learn from one of the worlds oldest civilisations.

After our homestay, we headed back to Panajachel where we spent our last night on the lake.

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Luisa and I enjoying the view
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That volcano!
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The view from San Juan over the lake
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Making Tortillas the traditional Mayan way
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Luisa, Juana and I

Rio Dulce

This was by far one of our longest travel days. It took us approximately 9-10hours by bus to reach Rio Dulce. The roads in Guatemala are windy, prone to landslides, narrow and honestly make no sense. So I chucked some music in and watched the beautiful countryside roll by. Our tour guide Brayan actually managed to buy some DVD’s from the side of the road (I tell you, these people have everything!) so that definitely helped pass the time.

When we finally made it to Rio Dulce, we were welcomed by a to die for pool. After shrivelling up into prunes we settled in for a quiet night.

The next day we did a day trip to the Caribbean seaside town of Livingston, about an hour away from Rio Dulce by boat. We stopped off at some thermal hot springs, lily pad fields and really just enjoyed the stunning view on the incredible Lake De Izabal. Livingston is a really interesting town full of wonderful history and a unique culture. It was actually founded by an escaped African slave, descendants of the Garifuna. Today, there are special programs in place to ensure the preservation of the Garifuna culture and language, which is still widely spoken in Livingston.

Our last morning we went kayaking around the lake to find Howler Monkeys. We unfortunately didn’t see any but we sure did hear them. We did however see a manatee in the river, plus a beautiful sunrise. It was definitely one of the best mornings I’ve ever had.

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Flores

After our kayak, we were off to Flores. But first, an amazing waterfall and thermal hot spring. Paying just 100 Quetzales, let us cross a farmers field and walk the 5 minutes to one of the most incredible waterfalls I’ve ever been to. The water is a nice temperature and very deep – meaning ultimate jumping time! We climbed the rocks to the top of the waterfall where the pools of water at the top are actually a thermal hot spring. The water was so hot it felt like a bath. Once we enjoyed our spa treatment, we took it in turns of jumping from the top. Like any kind of jump rock, it was awesome fun. The best part was you could swim up and under the waterfall and the water that fell on you was super warm – like you were taking a shower. Honestly one of the best waterfalls I’ve ever been to.

Once we arrived in Flores, we jumped straight onto our party boat to start our booze cruise. Considering we had a 5am start the next day, we partied way too hard. Flores looked like such a beautiful town. We cruised around the lake and went to a platform that we could jump off into the lake. There was also a rope swing – which I may have nearly died by using. We would be drinking on the boat, diving off the boat, floating on our backs under the nights sky. It truly was a fabulous night!

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Luisa and I partying on our sunset cruise in Flores

Tikal

After a big night of partying, we somehow managed to get up at 5am to arrive at Tikal by 7am to avoid tourists and the heat. Despite our efforts, we were dripping with sweat at 7:30 so sunscreen and hats were of the upmost importance. We had an extremely knowledgable guide who showed us around the ancient city of Tikal, which used to be one of the epicentres of Mayan culture and civilisations. The pictures really speak for itself!

 

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After being taken back in time to 200AD, were headed off to explore a new country and get some ink in our passport to go to Belize!

Looking back on my time in Guatemala, I really can’t believe all of the incredible places we managed to go in such a short period of time. The diversity of such a small country and the kindness of the people I met will never be forgotten.

This being said, I’m not ignorant of the deep seeded issues faced by this country and it was unfortunately something we saw and experienced.  Gangs and violence are still an extremely prevalent threat to the safety of Guatemalans, economic inequality sees the rich thrive off of the vulnerable and poor and Mayans often face discrimination informally and through formal institutions such as education and work rights.

Throughout travelling this magnificent country, I’ve been able to learn, question and challenge myself and the ideas that I had. Guatemala is a resilient country and through growing popularity in tourism, perhaps this new found income will be able to counter some of these issues. This experience has epitomised the concept that travel is the best form of education and I’m so incredibly grateful and privileged that I’ve been able to explore and learn from such a beautiful country.

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Tacos & Tequila: Week 1 In MEXICO CITY

Mexico, that country that speaks Spanish, is renowned for its tacos and tequila and apparently Trump doesn’t like people from there. That’s about the extent of my knowledge of Mexico before arriving and commencing my studies in its capital, Mexico City. So how did I end up here? Well you may recall that around this time last year, I was completing a short course in La Rochelle, France, with a company called AIM Overseas (you can read about my experiences in France here). And after having such a life changing and incredible experience in France, I looked into their programs to see how I can escape another Australian Winter.

That’s when I came across their program taught at the University of La Salle in Mexico City titled ‘Immigrants, Human Rights & Mexican Society.’ Damn what a mouthful hey! Since I’m studying International Studies with Communications & Media Studies, I’ve always been fascinated, concerned and frustrated with current social and political perspectives towards migration, especially of refugees desperately trying to reach Australia. After finding out that I could receive a second OS Help Loan, I found myself being accepted into the program and on my way to Mexico City to study something that I’m deeply passionate about.

So here’s a look into what happened in our first week in Mexico City!

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Taking in the view of a city of 22million

Arriving

Arriving in a new destination, particularly one you’ve never been to before and don’t speak the language, can be extremely daunting. Luckily, La Salle organises an airport pick up. So there was someone at the airport to greet me with a friendly ‘Hola!’ From there, I joined a crew of other students in my program and in the Public Health Program (another AIM Overseas program offered at La Salle), and we filed onto the bus to take us to our new homes. Our ‘Immigrants’ group is staying at a lovely hotel in the funky, safe and colourful neighbourhood called La Condesa. I met my roomie, Rosie from the University of Melbourne. She’s a red head too, so we came to the understanding that they matched us based on our hair colour – but we get along really well so AIM definitely did a great job.

Across our arrival weekend, I met the other students in the program from all different degrees and from universities all across Australia. This diversity, I could tell, would be extremely valuable when it comes to discussing such a complex topic of migration. And to top it off, everyone is like minded and passionate about the same thing as you, so it’s safe to say that everyone is pretty damn cool.

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The colours of La Condesa, our funky neighbourhood

Classes

On Monday morning we were escorted to the university so we could take notes on directions. Luckily La Salle is a quick 10-15minute walk away from the hotel. Monday was our Orientation day where we were given a tour of the university and neighbourhood, we discussed our schedule for the three weeks, took our photos for our student ID’s and had an awesome welcome lunch.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were quite intense days of classes. We covered everything from Contemporary Mexican Society, Mexico-US Migration Management and Human Rights and Legal Issues surrounding Migration. Tuesday and Thursday afternoon we had our crucial ‘Survival Spanish’ classes where we covered important topics like how to order a beer and make sure you don’t order the super spicy tacos! All of our classes have been taught by extremely passionate and inspiring professor’s making the long days of class very engaging, interesting and informative.

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Some of the sites and colours you can expect to find downtown

Professional Site Visits

As much as this course is academic, it is equally practical where we get to immerse ourselves in the realities for many migrants and refugees arriving to Mexico. On Friday, we visited ‘Casa de los Amigos’ and ‘Casa Tochan’, both are houses providing support and accommodation for newly arrived migrants and refugees. At Casa de los Amigos, we were given a tour of their facilities and a presentation going through some of the services they provide these people. They receive migrants and refugees mostly from Central American countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, however when we visited they had several refugees from Somalia and Cameroon. It just goes to show that as long as there is conflict and danger, people will go to all lengths to find somewhere safe for themselves and their families.

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Outside Casa de Los Amigos
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Kindness is a universal language
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After our presentation from Casa de los Amigos

After Casa de los Amigos, we headed to Casa Tochan, a much smaller house, yet doing some pretty incredible things and making a real difference to those looking for support, shelter, food, services and kindness. At Casa Tochan, I met three Honduran refugees, aged 17, 19 and 22. They told us their stories (with the help from a translator) and it was an incredibly powerful, emotional and confronting experience. One of the young boys entire family had been murdered in Honduras and therefore, he was escaping out of fear of being next. It was all very raw and emotional, yet the part that I’ll never forget was when another girl on the program asked how they felt with us coming to visit Casa Tochan. They responded that they were so grateful because it makes them feel like there’s people out there that actually care about them and the situation they’re in. I must admit, I spent a lot of the afternoon wiping away tears from my eyes because I was so overwhelmed with their kindness, hope and strength. The reality of looking someone directly in the eye and creating a bond that transcends language, culture or class is an experience that can never be taken away and to those young boys that I had the absolute honour of meeting, I will never forget their bravery.

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The mural painted in the common area at Casa Tochan
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Our group and awesome tour guides
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A mural on the street near Casa Touchan painted by migrants. This bird is the national bird of Honduras and it represents the freedom they’ve gained from spreading their wings.

Other Events

Friday afternoon we were treated to a salsa class, a fun way to lift spirits and get in a good work out. For anyone thinking that salsa is all about the skirts, you’re wrong. Be prepared to sweat!

This weekend was a hectic weekend of soaking up a lot of culture and history. On Saturday we headed to the famous Pyramids! Walking among thousands of years of history sure was memorable. On the way back to the city, we stopped at the Basilica de Guadalupe, the second most important Catholic religious site, the first being the Vatican.

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Rosie and I conquering the Sun Pyramid
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The Immigration group & Public Health group after galavanting all around the Pyramids.
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The 1st and 2nd Basilica de Guadalupe. Because of the ground it’s built on, the buildings are actually sinking, meaning that not many buildings are straight. But it sure adds character.

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On Sunday we were completely immersed in the hustle and bustle of Mexico City and given a tour of downtown. We visited the Cathedral, the old palace with murals by Diego Rivera (OMG fan girl!) and Templo Mayor. To add to the craziness of downtown, there was also a really popular football match on where they had big screens everywhere!

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One of my very good friends actually lives in Mexico City. His name is Victor and we met when he came to Wollongong on exchange in my first year. 3.5years later, he was showing me around his home town, complete with tacos, tequila and pulques. Being reunited with old friends is definitely one of the best things about travel and I’m so grateful that he’s been able to show me around such an incredible city.

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Victor and I

Well I honestly don’t know where times gone. 1 week down, 2 more to go. One thing I’m really realising is just how fortunate I am to be given such a unique opportunity of studying one of our century’s most complex and urgent movement of people, in a country that is so heavily involved in the process, whether it be sending, receiving or simply a transit for people, Mexico and immigration go hand in hand. In the 1 week I’ve been here, I’ve learnt more about Mexico City and Mexican Society than I have in my whole life and I’m quickly learning that there’s much more to this incredible place than tacos and tequila (yet still very important).

[You can follow my adventures on Instagram @aworldlyaddiction]