Tag Archives: Travel

The Future Looks Good: The Quest Continues

I’ve been ready to leave Fiji days ago.

I chilled out way too much. I didn’t think that was even possible?

Most of my core group of volunteers were gone and my students wore me the hell out over the past couple weeks. I’m telling you, handling 47 individual eleven and twelve-year-old kids was not an easy task whatsoever.

Though curbing to them was a challenge that ultimately reaped benefits. I’ll be leaving Suva as a much more proficient teacher thanks to my students. They taught me just as much as I taught them. I bet they have no idea about that. I was ready to leave Fiji, but the only reason I would stay longer would be to teach them more.

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On my final few days, class 601 threw me a special party, thanking me for taking the time to help them learn. I appreciated them and the main teacher, Mrs.Kurisaqila, for entrusting me on my own numerous times to handle the kids for sometimes close to seven hours straight in a single day.

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On those long days, I taught English vocabulary, Mathematics, Geography (my best subject by leaps and bounds), and a mixture of Sciences, Art, and Logical Thinking (a subject I created for them). The general consensus was that they liked the logic puzzles I threw at them the most because it inspired them to “think outside the box”. They particularly loved the Price is Right style game I introduced which brilliantly blended mathematics and economics along with some neat prizes to win along the way.

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Saying goodbye to the students is always a lot harder than saying goodbye to the volunteers. Odds are that I’ll never see them again.

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The volunteers on the other hand, they were a really amusing bunch. It took a little longer than usual to warm up to them, except for one in particular; a legend by the name of Hamish. He hails from Sydney and is the quintessential Australian I’ve ever met in all my travels and has a great lease on life. He’s become a good friend of mine and someone you’ll be hearing from later on this blog in just a few months. After I told him about some of the cool places I plan on going to during my quest for the seven continents, there was no way he could resist to join in for at least a chunk of it.

The majority of the other volunteers were also a pleasure to be around. There are way too many to name but they made my trip to Fiji extra special. They know who they are! I plan on visiting a handful of them during my quest to the seven continents. Two of them even share my home state of Michigan.

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I spent the last couple of days lounging around, saying my farewells and “see you laters” to the coordinators and my fellow housemates. I eventually hit the road, about a four-hour bus journey across the island from Suva to Nadi. I stayed in a 16-bed dorm in a cheap hostel near the airport. Normally I would NEVER stay in a dorm with that many beds, but since I was only there for the night, I thought I’d be able to manage.

While I was in the room, a nameless backpacker laid his bag on the bed next to mine. We didn’t introduce ourselves but made quick chit-chat about where we were from and where we were headed. He had just come from Australia and was about to begin a trip through the Fiji islands. I mentioned to him that I was on my way to Australia to backpack all around the country. He then pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and handed me three individual cards.

“You can use these on your travels in Australia,” he said. “I won’t need these anymore.”

I examined the cards and saw that they were city cards used for transportation via train or bus in Australia. One card was for Brisbane, one for Sydney, and the other for Melbourne; three of the largest cities in the country. All of the cards were loaded with a little leftover money the nameless backpacker didn’t use. I thanked him promptly.

The dorm full of 16 backpackers, including myself, fell asleep silent. Not a single person snored or made disruptive noise during the night; an absolute rarity in the world of backpacking, especially in a room as large and filled as this one.

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My time in Fiji ended on a wonderful note. My teaching game has grown stronger, my network of international allies has strengthened, and this nameless backpacker already made my upcoming travels in Australia that much easier, even as simple as his gesture was, it will help in the most convenient ways.

Goodbye Fiji. The quest to the seven continents continues in Australia. 🙂

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A Hawaiian Style Send-Off At The Paradise Cove Luau

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Two more events are left. The seventh event is one I looked forward to the most because it’s something that I’ve done in other countries before. Still I wasn’t sure if Veronica and Katelin would like the event because of the preparation it requires. I withheld that preparation from them because a big part of the League of Eight Extraordinary Events is the surprise aspect. To expect the unexpected. With that, I told everyone to wear their bathing suits and get ready for the seventh event. We woke up early Thursday morning and drove back up to Sharks Cove on the North Shore.

Event #7 of 8 – Scuba Diving Sharks Cove

First I have to say, don’t let the name Sharks Cove deceive you. There aren’t any big sharks here. Just lil’ baby ones the size of your arm. Secondly, I should have told Veronica and Katelin that we were scuba diving because the looks on their faces when they saw the scuba gear I pulled up next to was a look of uncertainty. Chris, as usual, was game. Scuba diving is a whole lot of fun but it’s also a serious endeavor. Freak out underwater and you’re in deep trouble (pun intended). Proper training and skills are required and today, my three amigos would get a quick introductory course. Sean sat out on the sidelines because this was an absolute ‘hell no’ for him.

We met up with Devin, our dive master, near the shoreline as he prepped us and explained to us what we would be doing today. Since this was an introductory/refresher course, we would only be diving a depth of about 12 meters, not too far from the shore. As Devin explained to us basic diving procedures, Katelin began to doubt whether she’d be able to do this or not. Breathing underwater is not a natural feeling so if there are any doubts, its understandably so. The instructors eased her and told her not to worry and give it a try.

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We put on our equipment and walked down into the coves. In addition to the four of us there were four other first time divers in our group as well. Once we entered the water, just a couple of feet deep, we practiced the basics like clearing our mask from water leaks and readjusting our regulators. It was a quick and dirty tutorial compared to the half day instruction I received back in Zanzibar, but hopefully it was just enough to get everyone by. Soon enough, we put on our flippers and swam out to the buoy in the deeper part of the cove.

Devin called for two of us to swim towards the buoy and practice the skills once more. Chris and I volunteered first and just a couple minutes later, we were 12 meters underwater, sitting on the ocean floor. Now we just had to wait for the others. We waited…and waited…and waited…

“What the heck are they doing up there?” I thought as I began to regret the decision of volunteering myself to go down first. The longer I was down there waiting, the more my oxygen tank depleted which meant less time to explore the coves.

I could see Veronica and Katelin up there practicing their skills, but dangling at the surface. Eventually three divers from the other group came down and then finally Veronica. But once Veronica touched the floor, she gave me a look of absolute terror from her mask and pointed up to the surface. If I could read her mind, she would have said said…

“GET ME THE F%€% OUT OF HERE!”

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One of the dive masters saw it in her face too and knew he wasn’t going to be able to convince her to stay down. So he escorted her safely to the surface where Katelin waded. Katelin was having ear issues and couldn’t manage the descent either so the two of them stayed at the surface but were free to snorkel while we dove. And so we went!

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This was one of the easier dives I’ve been on. The water was warmish, the currents were smooth, and there was an abundance of wildlife. The best part was the lone sea turtle that slowly glided by, entirely composed as can be and not afraid of us humans one bit. We could have touched it but that would have been illegal.

scuba dive oahu

scuba dive oahu

The dive itself lasted for about 40 minutes before our tanks entered the red zone. We swam back to the cove shore and rose to the surface to join the others. It was a successful dive! On to the eight and final event which also happens to fall on Chris’ birthday.

Event #8 of 8 – Paradise Cove Luau

We couldn’t go to Hawaii without having a proper Luau and with Chris’ birthday also on the same day, I thought it would be a fitting send off for my travel companions before they fly back to the mainland U.S. The night before the luau, we had dinner with one of Chris’ college buddies who was stationed here in Oahu. The local musicians in Waikiki at the restaurant we ate in serenaded Chris with a Hawaiian birthday medley.

The luau I reserved for our final event is well known on Oahu. It’s called the Paradise Cove Luau and it’s one of the more popular ones on the island, but also one of the most touristy. I came to this specific luau 12 years ago and loved it so much that I thought I’d give my friends a taste of it. Since this was the last event and a send-off, I told them prior that we’d be attending a luau and to wear something bright and on the colorful side.

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Once we entered the site, we were treat with a complimentary Mai Tai and cards loaded with $16 worth of credit to use towards beverages and souvenirs. Of course, we used them for the beverages as we walked around paradise cove beach. A stroll through the cove took us through festivities like arts and crafts and Hawaiian games. Periodically, different spectacles were put on for the guests such as the Shower of Flowers, the underground oven cooking at the Imu Ceremony and the Hukilau on the Beach. Merely casual entertainment as we waited for the main event: a buffet style feast served up by the locals of Paradise Cove.

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paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

The food was absolutely amazing! Roast, chicken, seafood, pastas, salads, and a few Hawaiian specialties thrown into the mix created the best dinner we’ve had on the League of Eight Extraordinary Events. And also the perfect meal to celebrate Chris’ birthday in Oahu.

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paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau

We spent the last couple of hours watching the incomparable Paradise Cove Extravaganza. Award-winning entertainers and performers put on an unforgettable display of songs and dances of Hawaii and Polynesian cultural as the sunset in the distance. That’s taken straight from their website and it is 100% true! This is the second time I was able to witness it with my own eyes.

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paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu
Courtesy of Chris O’Sullivan

The End of The League of Eight Extraordinary Events?

And with that, completes the league of events that took place over the course of two weeks. One week in Alaska and one week in Hawaii. Here’s the rundown of events:

  1. White Water Rafting Denali National Park (Alaska)
  2. Ace ATV Denali (Alaska)
  3. Glacier Bay Kayaking (Alaska)
  4. Shark Cage Diving (Hawaii)
  5. Lunar Legends SUP (Hawaii)
  6. Peddle Bar Honolulu (Hawaii)
  7. Scuba Diving Sharks Cove (Hawaii)
  8. Paradise Cove Luau (Hawaii)

Oddly, I loved planning the whole thing. It took months to execute but I found it to be truly exciting as I could have gone wherever I wanted and made any event I could have thought of. Alaska and Hawaii were the perfect hosts and the people we met there have but nothing but nice. We didn’t have a single issue with the locals we met in each community we visited.

Even though the League is over, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. I definitely plan on creating another one sometime in the near future, but I’ll be cranking the notch up a bit and taking this party international. I’ll keep everyone posted on that!

As for Veronica, Chris, and Katelin–my traveling companions for the last couple weeks–it’s that time where they head back home to the States. Veronica, Katelin, and Sean flew back to Michigan the morning after the Luau. Chris hung around for a couple extra days to kick back and relax before he headed back to Philadelphia to resume his teaching duties. Thanks for joining me guys. You’ve all been great!

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As for me? I’m continuing onto my Quest to the Seven Continents and flying to Auckland, New Zealand to spend a couple weeks there with a few friends from home as we road trip through the North Island.

The Quest to the Seven Continents continues in New Zealand!

The English Entertainer

Out of all the countries I’ve taught English in, this one has been the most challenging.

The major difference here is that I’m not teaching at a school. I’m actually at an after school program teaching free classes for students who want to learn English. No grades or passes or fails. Students can come and go as they please which makes it quite difficult to keep structure. There aren’t any consequences if they are absent or don’t study. There are always a few new students every week, which means I have to backtrack a bit each time so they can catch up.

Roxy has never taught English before but has learned to hold her own the past two weeks. She has an advantage. She is completely fluent in Spanish. It helps when both your parents are from Honduras. The downside is, it’s tempting to speak to the students in Spanish when they don’t understand something. My Spanish is a little less than basic so not speaking any Spanish to them is easy. Roxy only applied to be here for two weeks and now her time was up. The students took a huge liking to her because they were able to communicate with her better than they could with me. But I warned the kids that once Roxy leaves, everything will be primarily in English!

On Roxy’s last day, she wanted to give each student cookies and cupcakes. We handed them out to each class and took pictures with them.

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She even donated supplies for the school to use. Spare books and writing utensils. Roxy was great at remembering all their names. I was not. It didn’t help that I was absent from class most of the week from being away in Monterrico and Semuc. I felt a little guilty leaving her on her own all week but I would pay the price the following week when I was all by myself, meaning I had to be there until new volunteers arrived. If I didn’t show up, it meant the kids wouldn’t have a teacher. I had no intentions on missing classes the next week though.

Roxy and I
Roxy and I
Our last chicken bus ride
Our last chicken bus ride

The next day, Roxy headed to Honduras to stay with her parents for a while before she headed back to the States. Roxy, I’ll catch up with ya sometime in the future! Also soon enough, Katie and the Italian guys, Mark, Valerio, and Marco would all be heading to El Salvador for the surf program over the week. Since it was a holiday week, there would be very few new volunteers arriving. None of them English teachers, which actually I preferred. I like having classes all to myself. I just had to figure out how to keep these students motivated. And I think I knew the way! I’ve gotta entertain these kids. Keep them coming back for more.

Since there aren’t any consequences for the students being absent and not studying, I began to implement fun English games with candy as bribery for the winners. Maximo prefers us not to give candy or gifts to the students because they will begin to expect it, but I will only give out candy as rewards and it won’t be everyday. I’ll be strict with it. I borrowed four small white erase boards from Maximo and broke up each class into small groups. I gave each group a board, a marker, and an eraser.

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To ensure the students remembered the new vocabulary we taught them such as colors and numbers, I would say a word or phrase in Spanish and they would have to write it down in English. Each team that got it correct would get a point. For the older classes, I would ask them a question in English and they would have to write a proper response for it. I told the groups that the winning teams would get a pile of candy by the end of the week. It became quite competitive which is always a good thing. Over the days, I introduced new games like relay races outside of the class and other fun games all with the basis of learning English. Every time a student asked me something in Spanish, I would say to them “Only English!” Whenever they asked me to use the bathroom, I told them they had to ask me in English otherwise they’d have to pee their pants! No Spanish!

I'd say "Perro Amarillo" and they'd have to write the English equivalent.
I’d say “Perro Amarillo” and they’d have to write the English equivalent.

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Some of the students were stumped! But these were the students who didn't show up everyday.
Some of the students were stumped! But these were the students who didn’t show up everyday.

Some of the students excelled at the games. Some did not. Those students who did not, didn’t get any rewards. Hopefully that will motivate them to study and do better. I’ll find out how each student progresses over the next few weeks. There would be days where we would review everything and I would tell the students to pay attention because the next day we will play a game with everything we learned with the prize being a pile of sweets and treats! It peaked their interest and in order to maintain seriousness, I had to be stern. No sweets whatsoever for the ones who lacked.

I really, really enjoyed my time with the classes. They’ve grown to really like me and would stick around after the day was over to ask me questions. I found out from Johnathan that the next week I would be joined by two new volunteers. I’ve already got a rhythm going with these students so we’ll see how that works out. I asked the students to not come on New Year’s Day, I’ll be out and about.

New Year’s Eve was approaching and it was going to be a fun one in the city of Antigua, Guatemala!

 

 

 

 

 

Guata Goonies

Semuc Champey?

What the heck is that? A volunteer by the name of Hanni (Australia) invited me out to Semuc with a few of the volunteers from her house. I didn’t really ask her what or where Semuc Champey was, I just wanted to go somewhere for the weekend after spending the past few nights at home. The drive to Semuc would be a little more than nine hours! I got my motion pills ready. Thankfully the roads in this part of the country aren’t too shabby.

After inquiring, I found out that Semuc Champey is one of the most beautifully adventurous places in the country.

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It’s in an area called Lanquin. It’s there where you’ll find scenic mountains surrounding levels of aqua blue pools cascaded by waterfalls. Near these pools and waterfalls was an underground cave filled with black water deep enough to swim in. We were going there and I felt like this is exactly what I needed!

I was picked up in the morning from Maximo, along with Hanni and three other volunteers from her house. The ride to Lanquin was a long one but manageable. We were part of a tour group that made the journey in a minibus filled with close to twenty people from all parts of the globe. We arrived in Lanquin during the nightfall where my group transfered into the back of a Guata style pickup truck and transported to our hostel for the weekend, Hostel Oasis.

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It was more like a bunch of cabinas and bungalows than a typical hostel.

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That night, we enjoyed dinner at the hostels restaurant where I enjoyed a cheeseburger and fries. We woke up that morning where I also enjoyed a cheeseburger and fries for breakfast.

“Typical American,” my group would jokingly say.

Hey, I just went six weeks without any beef! I needed those burgers! And plenty more where that came from. I did the same thing in Thailand where Viola also playfully made fun of my unorthodox eating habits. It’s not an American thing to eat a cheeseburger for breakfast, it’s just me. 🙂

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The first item on our agenda was a short hike up one of the mountains overlooking the pools. It took about 25 minutes before we easily reached the top where we found a deck that poked out beyond the plateau.

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After a few shots, we hiked back down and got into our swimsuits. IMG_7021Into the pools! The pools were completely natural and there were about four of them, each on different levels. The water was cool and felt great with the sun casting down on us. In order to get to the lower level pools, you either had to jump down into them or mudslide down into them. We did both! The slide down was over smooth mossy rocks that have been flattened out from the never ending flow of water. It was great. It was all great!

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Underneath one of the lower pools was a small tiny underpass that we had to carefully poke our heads under and through. One abrupt movement meant hitting your head against the rock walls just inches away. My mild claustrophobia went out the window. I had to try it!

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Me and Hanni!
Me and Hanni!

After splashing around, we went back up the pools and walked back up to the lodge for lunch. I had tostadas y arroz con vegetables. After lunch, we were gathered to hike over to the caves. I’ve been wearing my trusty water shoes all day which are good for moderate hikes and anything related to water. I don’t use them much but when I do need them I’m glad I had them. It’s like being barefoot with grips without the bulkiness of a normal hiking shoe. I wore those and my Under Armour gear for these caves. We were each given a candle to hold. We were told that these caves were pitch-black, deep, and filled with water and even some waterfalls. There would be many parts where we would have to tread water with our candle because the water would be too deep inside. Some of the others were nervous about this, but thankfully none of them backed down and were game for it!

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Instantly, I was reminded of one my favorite movies, The Goonies. I felt like a Goonie, as corny as that sounds. Remember the parts when they were in the caves with the waterfalls? These caves were way beyond my expectations. We were surrounded in total darkness, with only our candlelights to lead the way.

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The water was a lot colder in here and whenever we swam, sometimes we would hit an unexpected rock underneath the eerily black water. We’d have to squeeze through tight crevices in some areas in order to progress and it seemed like the more we progressed, the more difficult the terrain became. Some of the people in our group lost their flame by accidentally sticking their IMG_7047candle underwater. It happened to me a few times actually. At one point, we had the option to go up the natural stairs into another cavern or climb a raging waterfall that bashed on your body into the cavern. I chose the raging waterfall, but it was so dark in there that I could barely get any good photos. I brought my iPhone with a waterproof case inside, which was extremely risky on my part, but I just had to document this. If I dropped the phone or if it fell from my neck, it would have been gone forever. Forever! My GoPro is no good in dark conditions so I left that in Antigua. Some of the others were glad there was someone dumb enough to bring their phone inside these caves to take photos of them as well. I was that guy!

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After about an hour and a half of pure fun in the caves, we made it to the deepest, darkest end of it, seemingly at least. Our guide let us climb a few meters up and cliff jump into the pool of black. Of course, I had to do that too. Hanni was also game! When I jumped in, I let my feet hit the ground. I’d say the pool was about 15 feet deep, more or less. I sat on the floor of it and opened my eyes and saw nothing but black. After a few seconds I floated back up to the top, where the others thought I hit my head on something. “Nope, I was just chilling down there!”

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We went back through the cave the same way we went in. But at this point, our candles only had a couple inches of wax left. If all of our candles were to burn out while we were in the cave, I wouldn’t have minded it actually. What an adventure it would have been to try and get out of the cave in total darkness! As a matter of fact, I tossed my candle a while ago because I was sick of it always losing its flame everytime I went underwater. Worst case scenario, I still had my iPhone flashlight if things got messy.

We exited the caves and marched down back to the lodge. That was one of the funnest things I have ever done! Expectations exceeded. But the day wasn’t over yet, we still had to go tubing down the river.

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We were each giving a tube…some of the smallest tubes I have ever been in. We walked down to the river. At this point, the sun wasn’t shining as bright so it was a bit more chilly than earlier. This fact was even more so evident when I went into the water! The guide had us interlock our legs to a person in front of us.

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We floated outward into the flows. A bird flying high above us may have mistaken us for a giant snake swimming down the river. I was in an awkward position in the tube which was very comfortable to sit in. Most of my tube was underwater the whole time. I don’t think this is right. But still I sat there, leglocked with the other tubers while little local kids tubed near us selling beer. The cold didn’t bother them one bit. Little troopers.

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After a very fun weekend, my group packed our bags and made way back to Antigua. Semuc Champey was just the place I needed to go to after lying in bed sick all  week. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about it.  We arrived back home during the evening. I saw the lights on in Katie’s room.

“Katie, I’m back!” I shouted as I knocked at her door. The door slowly swung open but it wasn’t Katie. It was a new volunteer who introduced herself as Uma (USA).

“Katie, stepped out for a moment,” she said. “But she told us we should wait for you before we go out for dinner.”

Uma informed me that while I was away for the weekend, that a few new volunteers arrived, which was music to my ears! After Adelah left, the place was starting to get lonely. How do you cap off a great weekend in an awesome place? I expected to just go to sleep when I got back home but instead, I was treated to wine, wine, and delicious food, with new volunteers from all around the world.

Things are off to a great start!

The Latin Linguist

This upcoming seventh season of volunteering lending my talents abroad leads me to Guatemala and I’ve been wanting to go there for years! In fact, Guatemala was supposed to be my very first country I’ve ever travelled to alone, fresh out of high school. But a phone call from my organization at the time asked me to change countries last minute because of growing civil problems within the country. And so, I changed it to Costa Rica.

Guatemala! My new major area of exploration for the next few weeks.
Guatemala! My new major area of exploration for the next few weeks.

I don’t know much about what’s going on but I do have some information to share. Once again, I will be working under IVHQ, teaching English in the city of Antigua, Guatemala! I’m scheduled to remain there for six weeks but I still don’t know if I’m staying in a homestay or a volunteer house. I’ve had great experiences with both situations, but I think I’m leaning towards a homestay. The best news I received is that the local organization I will be working with is called Maximo Nivel. I’ve worked with them before in Peru, three and a half years ago and they were a really great company to be a part of! They have branches in Peru, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. I also plan on getting my spanish on hardcore while I’m there.

La Antigua, Guatemala.
La Antigua, Guatemala.

Once again, I’m going in mostly blind. I don’t know anyone or what it’s going to be like, or even what excursions I’m going to be taking.  The mystery is part of the intrigue. I’m hoping Guatemalan food is similar to Mexican food because if so, I’m gonna get fat for sure! Mexican is my favorite food! I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years down there which will also be a first. I spent my first Thanksgiving abroad in Nepal and now I’m spending my first New Year’s abroad in Guatemala. For those keeping record, I spent Christmas abroad already once before in the United Kingdom.

The last few days in Nepal was starting to get cold so I was ready to get to a warmer country, but getting there was tiresome. A five hour flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Doha, Qatar-> a 12 hour layover in Doha -> a 15 hour flight from Qatar to Miami, Florida-> a two hour layover and then finally a three hour flight from Miami to Guatemala City.

Goodbye Nepal!
Goodbye Nepal!

This is also the first time I stopped back in the US during a lengthy trip to continue onto other countries. So that will be a little weird; seeing all the fat people again for a few hours. After not being in the US for a few months, you really notice it once you go back. Trust me.

I’m ready. I’m excited. I’m pumped! I’m planning on getting my Spanish on and will bathe myself in the language until I start to think in Spanish. That is one of my primary goals while I am there. Also, to get my hands dirty with the Guatemalan culture and explore as much as I can.

Continue following me on here, I have a  feeling things are going to get interesting.