Laura’s unforgettable time in Latin America
“Sometimes it just takes an effort to take the first step. WanderWorld helps you do just that. They pave the way for your trip abroad. You’re not alone, you’ll be prepared, and you’ll meet people along the way. If you’re afraid to go out on your own and think community service is cool, definitely check out their programs.”
Laura traveled with WanderWorld Travel to Guatemala and Costa Rica. There she worked for one month in a hostel in Antigua, Guatemala and afterward supported our children’s aid project in Tamarindo, Costa Rica for one month as well. In this report she talks about her unforgettable time there, her experiences with the children, experiences in the project and her free time.
Already during my school years it was clear to me that I wanted to go abroad. Where and how was now the question, after some research I came across WanderWorld Travel and Latin America. I found the programs really cool and the places super exciting. About four months before I booked my trip. I teamed up with a friend and we decided on the Hostel Experience in Guatemala and the Teaching Project in Costa Rica. WanderWorld called us several times and answered all our questions. After booking, we received a super preparation package with a packing list, checklist as well as route planner through the countries, including budget planning. Especially because it was our first backpacker trip, this really took away a lot of fears. My excitement and curiosity grew with each day that approached the departure to Guatemala.
OUR ARRIVAL IN GUATEMALA
On the plane I was really excited for the first time. Especially since I am actually a shy person and such an adventure was something big for me. When we arrived at the hostel, we were accommodated in the volunteer room. This allowed me to get in touch with the other participants before my first day of work. On the second day, we did a small city tour with the contact person as part of the introduction day. Afterwards we went out for a drink. Everyone was super nice and happy to meet new, like-minded people. Of course, it still took some time to get used to the new home, especially with the time difference. But after a few days, the initial fear was already gone. On the first day of work, everything was explained to us calmly and we were assigned our working hours. This helped you to accept your new daily routine and the new environment very quickly.
A DAILY ROUTINE IN THE PROJECT
At the beginning of our shift, we were busy preparing coffee and juices for breakfast. As soon as the guests were awake and ready for breakfast, we welcomed them, took the orders and passed them on to the kitchen. From noon to night we mixed drinks at the bar and prepared games.
You meet so many interesting people from all over the world in the hostel, who are open and have many stories to tell. In addition, you get to know the residents of the city, with whom you quickly become friends. You immediately get the hang of coming out of your shell, jumping over your shadow and gaining new experiences. In addition, through daily contact with both Spanish and English speaking guests, you can raise your language skills to the next level in a flash. The language course organized by WanderWorld served as a basis for this. Together with the other volunteers we slept in one room, ate together and spent our free time together, so the volunteers in the hostel became my little family. I am still in close contact with most of them.
The teaching project has given me the opportunity to again gain other experiences. Here we came to the project in the morning, helped the director in the kitchen, because the children received a hot meal from her every day. After that we went to our English and art classes. The children were very sweet and always wanted to know as much as possible about us and our home. Teaching was sometimes a challenge in itself because the classes were mixed and the age differences were often large. Nevertheless, we tried to teach the content as well as we could.
I think that by helping in the children’s aid project, I was able to give the leaders a hand and contribute my ideas. It was nice to see how children, some of whom have no access to education, are given an opportunity to learn. In addition, the children in the project also have the chance to experience dealing with other cultures.
In Guatemala in the hostel we slept 12 in a room, which welded us together. Everyone had his bed with curtain and it was all very cozy. In the hostel, of course, there are still corners where you had your privacy if you wanted to be a moment to yourself.
In Costa Rica, I lived with a host family. I had my own room and that was a big change compared to the hostel. The family was super nice, they helped me with everything and the host mom cooked a good breakfast and dinner. There were also other teenagers living in the house who were doing student exchanges, for example. It reminded me of a large shared apartment and yet had something very homely. I also made close friends here, with people from all over the world.
MY FREE TIME
In Guatemala, depending on the shift, you could spend your free time with the other volunteers from your own or another project. Through the introduction day, you already know each other. In addition, there are many locals who are open and want to show you new things. Most of the time we went into town to our favorite café, strolled around the market, enjoyed the sunset on a viewing platform or just walked around. When we had two days or more free, we took day trips to the beach, the lakes, or up the Acatenango volcano not far away. This was one of the best memories for me. The feeling of arriving at the top of a volcano after a six-hour walk and watching the neighboring volcano erupt is something I will never forget. During our free travel time, we also visited Semuc Champey, the Río Dulce and Flores in Guatemala. The unique Mayan ruins in the pristine jungle of Tikal are also among my absolute favorite places.
In Costa Rica, I went straight to the beach after work. There I spent the whole day. Be it swimming, surfing or listening to music with friends. Living right next to a beach was just too good to be true, so I made the most of the time I had.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE CULTURE
The local people are very hospitable. They don’t care what country you come from and they welcome you with open arms. The culture is colorful and cheerful, in Antigua even most women wear their traditional costumes. The food is also very good and different from our German national food. The younger generation is also very open-hearted and understands how to have fun. Often they took us to parties and showed us in which bars good music is playing or even once a band performed.
In Costa Rica, everyone lives the “pura vida.” It feels like there are no worries. At noon there is sun on the beach and in the evening there is partying. Everyone is welcome, no matter how old, where you come from or how much you own. This fact also fascinated me the most. No matter how little people have, their zest for life is never lost.
THIS IS HOW THE JOURNEY HAS CHANGED ME
As far as my self-development is concerned, I can say that I have come out of myself a lot. I have almost completely gotten rid of my shyness and am now even sociable.
I have taken great people into my heart, have been able to get to know many places and have had unique experiences. Saying goodbye is always difficult, but saying goodbye to Latin America was especially so. I’m proud that I went through with it and didn’t seek out a degree program under duress. I’m fascinated that I even speak Spanish now. I have learned what it means to cope in a new country and I no longer attach importance to superficialities.
SAFETY ON SITE
Locally, I have felt as good as always safe, but you should not challenge it and not wander alone at night through the area. Realistically, something can happen in any country, Latin America is hardly different from Europe. Don’t leave your valuables lying around in the open and bring a lock with you, for example. In every hostel there is the possibility to keep valuables in a locker. I generally recommend traveling with other people and having respect for the culture.
MY MOST BEAUTIFUL MOMENT
My best moment was when we sat on the floor in our room with all the volunteers and staff in the hostel. We talked, drank and laughed the whole evening. In all different languages and ages. At that moment I knew that I had taken these people incredibly into my heart and how much they had enriched my life in a very short time.
MY TIP FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS
Latin America has so much to offer. The culture of the people, who radiate joy, gratitude and hospitality, cannot be compared to any other continent in the world. As mentioned before, the nature is incredible. From beaches, volcanoes, ruins, jungles to pumas and monkeys in the wild. Latin America is diverse, exciting and incomparable. Sometimes it just takes some effort to take the first step. WanderWorld Travel helps you do just that. They pave the way for your trip abroad. You are not alone, you will be prepared and you will meet people along the way. If you’re afraid to go out on your own and think community service is cool, definitely check out their programs. I think there’s something for everyone.
You should definitely be open to getting to know a new culture. Everything is different at first, but you shouldn’t let that scare you away. From my own experience I can say that some things take a little time. Have fun and enjoy every moment. Be respectful of people and nature, be organized and ready to be independent.