Hello from Antigua, Guatemala! With only a week left in my study abroad, I figured it would be best to reflect on some of my pre-trip misconceptions, anxieties, or simply what I wish I had known.
1. Your Spanish is fine.
I was incredibly anxious that I would not be able to properly communicate, even though I have studied Spanish for years. But, most people appreciate my attempts at explaining food allergies or negotiating prices at the market. And, to the barista who drew a heart and a smiley face on my coffee because I ordered in Spanish: you made my week.
2. Bring another sweatshirt.
One may think, “It’s Central America — I’ll need light clothes!” And that is true along the coasts or in the lowlands, but Antigua’s elevation is over 5,000 feet above sea level, making the evenings and mornings chilly for most. I only brought two sweatshirts, and I like to sleep in them, so it was not quite enough for comfort.
3. Bring a bigger wallet.
Antigua, and Guatemala as a whole, is largely cash-based. Bringing a bigger wallet is not necessarily because it is an expensive place to be, but because the purchasing power of a single Quetzal is very little. I typically only carry Q200 ($30), but many Q10, Q20, and Q50 bills take up a lot of space, not to mention the Q1 coins.
4. You are not immune to motion sickness.
This one was a rough misconception to amend. Having driven many long distances in all kinds of conditions, I assumed that out two to three hour bus rides to scenic excursions would be no big deal. I was wrong. There are several highways in Guatemala, but there are many places in which there are only winding mountain roads, littered with potholes, sharp turns, and speed bumps. Bring Dramamine, keep your eyes looking straight ahead, and thank Eisenhower for the convenience and smoothness of the US interstate system.