Post-exchange travel

Many partner universities finish their semesters earlier than Manchester – in my case, the start of May, so I took advantage of this to travel around Mexico and Central America – having 2 months’ more travelling to what my friends teased me was already a year of holiday/travelling! 

As soon as I finished my assignments, I made the most of the luxury of not having any exams at the end of the semester, and booked a flight for a solo adventure in El Salvador. Having said goodbye to my pals and my home for the last year, Cholula, I made my way over into Central America. El Salvador has a really bad rep internationally because of high homicide rates, and very problematic gang violence, however this tends to be restricted to certain areas and El Salvador is generally a safe place to travel. I can vouch for this, having travelled solo around El Salvador for 10 days, and staying with amazing people through Couchsurfing the whole time, seeing beautiful landscapes filled with lakes, volcanoes, jungle, waterfalls, beaches, and above all, possibly the kindest people of all the countries I’ve travelled to so far! 

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Cerro Verde as seen from the top of Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador
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Mural in Ataco, Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador

I then made my way across the border in a chicken bus into Guatemala to meet a friend from the UK, to travel all the way from the El Salvador border up to the Mexican border. Along the way, I climbed Volcán Acatenango (brutal) to watch Volcán del Fuego erupt during the night, visited the amazing diverse villages around Lake Atitlán, exploring candle-lit caves and naturally turquoise limestone pools at Semuc Champey, and toucan- and spider monkey-spotting around the Mayan site of Tikal. I left Guatemala with a heavy heart, knowing that I’ll certainly be back as soon as I possibly can to keep exploring more of its beautiful country and vibrant indigenous cultures. 

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Sunrise seen from the summit of Volcán Acatenango

Crossing the border back into Mexico, I felt like I was coming home, though the journey was something of an intense one: I ended up travelling with a caravan of migrants from Honduras and Guatemala midway through their journey across Central America, just starting their crossing from one end of México up to the other, most aiming to cross into the United States. It is important not to understate the enormity of this journey that often takes months, and the difficult political situations that make it not a decision, but a necessity, for many people to leave their homes, families and countries to make this long journey in the hopes of a life elsewhere. 

I returned back to México to meet another friend from the UK to explore the mountains and beaches of the state of Oaxaca, and then the cenotes, ruins and beaches of the Yucatán peninsula while in 40 degree heat. From there, I met up with three of my closest friends from UDLAP to go to Cuba for 10 days, for lots of music, dancing, a few mojitos, cigars, lots of rice and beans and plenty of fun, while learning lots about the complex political situation (which I cannot understate). 

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Coloured streets of Trinidad

From Cuba, I returned to Mexico City to have one final day of eating as much food as I could possibly manage, saying a teary goodbye to my best friend, and hopping onto a flight back to the UK. I won’t lie, I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to the UK as Mexico means so much to me, and is a beautiful country with amazing people, food and places, and has been the setting for possibly the best year of my life. That said, two months of travelling made the transition to UK life somewhat easier, as I came to terms with the impending return to the English ‘summer’ and the idea of having to look at my bank account! Of course, travelling might not be for you, for whatever reason, but being abroad is an awesome opportunity to take advantage of. Perhaps solo travel is something you haven’t tried yet? Go away for a weekend during the semester as a first step. Intimidated in hostels? Couchsurfing is an awesome way to meet people, stay with locals and learn about local life in ways that you can’t in hostels. Scared by language? Start learning the basics before you go – such as with TV programmes, and we all know there are plenty of apps out there. The point is: make the most of being wherever in the world you are, because it’s not every day that travel is so easy. 

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