“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen”
– Benamin Disraeli
¿Como explico? ¿Que puedo decir? Where do I begin…
My two month tour of Central America has come to an end. A journey that I started to daydream about more than a year ago, but didn’t seriously set into motion until less than a few months before I actually hopped on the plan to Guatemala. I came to explore the region, anticipating the unexpected. In that regard, I was not disappointed.
Por lo bueno, por lo malo, for better or worse, the past two months have been intense. I learned how to snorkel, attempted to surf, and reminisced about AIESEC with friends who I haven’t seen since conferences in Colombia and Turkey, many years ago. I am returning to the States with suitcases slightly lighter than I arrived (sans camera, iPhone, two pair of flip flops, a few novels, a discarded sheet & towel), but with memories to compensate for the lost possessions.
As I crossed from one country to the next, I not only learned how to deal with immigration officers and money changers at the border, but also the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the seven tiny countries of Central America. Tiny on a map, that is, pero bastante largo when you are crossing them in a bus.
Places stood apart from each other for different reasons. Belize, specifically Caye Caulker, best place to relax, snorkel, dive (if only I were certified! next trip…) and appreciate the Caribbean. Nicaragua, a backpacker/adventure seeker’s paradise. Panama, a city that I could easily see myself living in. Tasting locals beers, learning slang, chatting with locals about corruption and political issues that each country faces, each country became real and distinct.
Trying new cuisine is one of the best parts of traveling. Food is such an integral part of a culture, a gateway to local traditions, a way to bring people together. While rice, beans, and plantains are at the heart of the cuisine throughout, Guatemala has its tamales and salsas; Belize, seafood; El Salvador and Honduras, pupusas; Costa Rica, fish tacos and more American chains than anywhere else (although El Salvador was a close competition); Panama, carimanolas, ropa vieja, and enough Colombian food to make me happy.
Mas que todo, traveling Central America this summer reaffirmed my decision to study Latin American Studies. Speaking Spanish again, feeling at home in the culture (especially in Panama, which reminded me a lot of the coast of Colombia where I lived), connecting stories from history books and the news to real life versions of those historias, I know that this summer was much more than a vacation. It was preparation for immersing myself in this region for the next two years at George Washington University and beyond.