Antigua was the last stop on my Central America tour – my first trip outside of Europe – when I was 19. I’d learnt some pretty poor Spanish, tried food I’d never heard of, absorbed landscapes I couldn’t believe existed, and made almost as many friends as mistakes. Sunburnt and exhausted but still not ready to leave, we embarked upon this charming little city. It also happened to be the destination of a romantic break the lovely cafe owner in Copan had told us she’d be taking with her boyfriend that same weekend.
Antigua feels small and cosy, but the low, multicoloured houses bring it to life, creating vibrant streets muted by their serene mountain surroundings. Though the lush scenery and abundance of green give off a calmness, vitality is never hard to find: the nightlife here was the best I’d ever sampled and every shop, road, and corner held the constant buzz of laughter amongst friends, family, and acquaintances in-the-making.
A favourite spot of mine was the central square, where couples, friends, and families could be spotted everywhere deep in conversation or playing. I loved this small group of kids – particularly the tiniest girl who had enough sass to stand up to the boy and was clinging onto her stuff, against him, for dear life. The teenagers sharing mopeds and abundance of honeymooners can make you a lil jel, though.
We were only in Antigua for just under 48 hours, so I doubt I got to see a great percentage, let alone the other beautiful sites of Guatemala that it’s a great base to get to from. What we did squeeze in, however, was fab: a day of exploring feat. a unique hand-made market where I bought a crochet pig we named ‘Juan’, a local-restaurant dinner, salsa classes, and a night out.
I was absolutely dreading the salsa since I can’t do anything physical to save my life (bottom-set PE Zumba lessons haunt me), but it ended up being one of my best memories from travel. As per, I was wearing Primark/Sports Direct jogging gear because in my naive lil pre-depature mind it seemed dresses were un-back-packable; the cool 23-year old Californian girl reassured me that she did the same on her first trip whilst the Australian guys basked in the joy of my upkeeping our consistent in-joke (they still shock-react every Facebook pic in which I wear anything other than trackies and a vest). To be fair, I took after that tiny gal and gave them equal flack when we hit salsa: our unbelievably fluid instructor shook his head in horror as toe-stepping, wrong-turning, and the occasional face-whack failed to improve, amidst my constant laughter and verbal abuse.
The clubs we hit afterwards put what I attend in Essex to shame: a mix of live music, REAL tequila, and a straightforward epiphany that I’ve been dancing wrong all this time (let’s be real, though, that’s not a shock to anyone but me). This was so much fun but it’s gotta be one of those things you enjoy whilst knowing you utterly suck (like uni!): I was really shown how awkwardly British I am when I realised just how much tension is in my entire body and became aware for the first time ever that I *plot twist* have hips.
On top of my HIGH FASHION Primark-chic, I got v over-hyped by the paper flowers wrapped around our napkins at breakfast, and on this final morn with my Dutch roommate, Janneke, she tied it in my overly-scraped-back hair (an unflattering style but 90% humidity hits hard). We also stumbled upon a photo shoot for a beauty pageant contestant! I hope I didn’t steal her spotlight.
To finish the chain of non-stop banter, Mitch and Phil (the Australian duo) didn’t give up on our final night. I didn’t realise this until a cake with a candle was emerging after dinner, and our entire table began to sing, but they decided to tell everyone it was my birthday. I’m guessing this was a backhanded insult in a long line of jokes about my sub-adult looks, but it was hard to complain when I got a) free cake b) endless compliments and c) A SHOT ON FIRE at the first club, so I guess some sort of weird ‘thank you’ is in order. When our salsa instructor said ‘Ah! Happy Birthday! How old?’, I happily answered ’19’, before saying: ‘I was 19 yesterday, as well’.
As this was the first time I’d done this, I didn’t really know about the post-travel contact and all that happens next. My Socials, nowadays, are pretty stacked with people I’ve met all over and my trips are structured by who I can stay with, where. I stay in touch with a lot of the people I met on this tour, whether it’s joke-comments on Facebook or serious DMCs over Instagram message (3-day-long chats about the orgasm gap – good times). At the time, though, goodbyes felt final – and this was an emotional aspect of travel I’d not anticipated.