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Packing in the real world

Location: Antigua
Pursuiter: Lainey O'Neal

“Congrats grad, what’s next? Ready for the real world?” Schools out, maybe forever. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, moms I nanny for and even the guys at Jay’s Star Thai Takeout are asking about plans for entering the “real world” but what on Earth does that mean? Is the “real world” an apartment, utilities, and a salary with benefits? Is it a kitchen aid blender and dental insurance? Should I invest in a blazer? A dog? A fountain pen?

I think the answer is pretty simple. “Real” is what strikes you as incredible. Maybe it’s the first bite of a s’more in the type of wilderness that makes you feel small. Maybe it’s the realization that your job is making an impact and you’re really freaking good at it. It could be saying goodbye to someone or somewhere that was a part of you. Falling in love. Finishing a marathon. Moving to your dream city. Maybe it’s having the courage to perform on a street corner till you get enough to money in your hat for dinner. For me it’s travel. For Kyle, it’s nachos. (Kidding, he likes to travel too). But honestly for you it could be anything. The way I see it, when something really hits home and rocks you from the inside out, that’s “real.” And as for the “world”, well, it’s safe to say most of us have barely scratched the surface.

So, aunt, uncle, mom, grandma, Mrs. Zatz and Eric from Jay’s Star Thai, the only answer I can give right now is this: what’s “real” to me now is my 65 liter MHM pack zipped and buckled tight around everything I’ve got for the next few months. But I sure feel like I have the whole world in front of me.

So fast forward a couple weeks and here I am in the cozy home of a local Guatemalan family relaxing after a meal of black beans, refried black beans and a black bean spread. Recipe link in bio. Overall Antigua has been an epic first stop. On the surface it’s gorgeous. Colorful buildings and churches, cobblestone streets, fruit stands everywhere and just about every restaurant has a terrace with a view of the three volcanos that surround the city. (We climbed one called Pacaya and melted our shoes a little bit trying to roast marshmallows on the lava) It’s honestly a backpackers paradise, and we’re not the first to notice. “Gringos” are about as common as corn tortillas. People from all over the world are out here buying art and chocolates, sipping mescal at Cafe No Sè, and munching nachos (Kyle) at Mono Loco bar. The locals are (understandably) a bit wary of tourists at times, but warm up quickly if you know some Spanish. Ask a few of the right questions and you can get a really fascinating first hand glimpse into both the Spanish-Catholic and Mayan cultures of Antigua and the surrounding pueblos. While the views, eats, and nightlife are enough to the make Antigua the spot to be, without a doubt the most humbling and “real” takeaways for me have been the stories of everyday life as told by the Antigueños themselves.

Kyle and I are packing up tomorrow to visit Lake Atitlan before heading south to really start putting our packs to use as we work our way to Colombia. Nos Vemos!

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