Student Spends Nine Weeks Exploring the People and Culture of Guatemala
BY MATT MCCORMACK
First-year student Kimber Summers discusses her adventure in Central America and the challenges she encountered while traveling abroad.
Kimber Summers ’19, is not afraid of a new adventure, so she took nine weeks out of last summer to explore Guatemala. During that time, Summers observed all that she could through the culture and the traditions of the country, which is home to more than 15 million people.
Summers first received a glimpse of Guatemala before enrolling as a full-time student at Westminster. During a three-week visit in May, Summers trekked through the Latin American country with a group of students and professors from Westminster. After returning to the United States for one month, Summers was back on a plane to spend an additional six weeks in Guatemala, this time on her own.
“I loved the people who I met while traveling,” said Summers, who visited a number of cities during the nine weeks, including Antigua, Guatemala City, San Pedro, San Pablo, San Juan, Chichicastenango, San Marcos, Cobán, and Lanquín.
“The people are really nice and helpful,” she said. However, Summers added that the men were less discreet with their stares. Summers recalled that, while in Antigua, a group of young men stared at her when she walked around the “cancha,” an area where the locals play soccer. Summers said she believed the stares had something to do with the American clothing she was wearing.
In addition to interacting with many new people, Summers enjoyed sampling the local food, which included generous portions of chicken, guacamole, salsa, beans, and tortillas for only $1.50-$2.00.
“They give you a lot of food,” Summers said, referring to the street vendors she frequented.
Like many other travelers, Summers was also drawn to the country’s volcanoes. She saw the opportunity to make the six-hour climb up Volcano Acatenango and the two-hour climb up Volcano Pacaya as an adventure.
When Summers wasn’t trying new food or spending time in nature, she was busy studying Spanish. She spent seven weeks learning the language at Antigüeña Spanish Academy in Antigua and two weeks studying at Community Spanish School in San Pedro. As a result of taking Spanish classes, Summers said that communicating in a foreign language “wasn’t much of a barrier.”
But her trip did have one downside. Just days before Summers was scheduled to fly home to the U.S. on Aug. 12, she had to overcome a major challenge: finding out what to do after her passport and suitcase were stolen.
The incident happened at 11 p.m. on Aug. 8. Summers was riding in a bus from San Pedro to Lanquín with her belongings on top of the bus. At Lanquín, bus employees transferred the belongings from one bus to the other, and the new bus took Summers to a hostel in Semuc Champey. That was when Summers realized that her suitcase with her passport and other belongings inside had been stolen from the top of one of the two buses while in transit. Originally, Summers had given the bus employees four bags, but at the hostel, only three of her four bags were returned to her. While she was trying to communicate with a bus employee over the phone in Spanish, Summers said that the employee claimed there was no fourth bag.
Summers told the hostel owner the situation. She described the owner as an intense, Israeli man who was yelling at the bus company to return the suitcase. Knowing that Summers was without money, the owner paid for her stay at the hostel, gave Summers the 1,000 Quetzales (Guatemalan currency) that was in her suitcase, a ride to Coban to file a police report, and money for a trip in a bus and a trip in a taxi.
“I had to go to Guatemala City,” Summers said. “I had to go to the embassy.”
But her challenges did not end there.
“I was there for maybe three or four hours,” Summers said, referring to her time at the embassy in Guatemala City. While there, Summers could not understand the Spanish language that was being spoken over the intercom. She was able to receive help from an embassy employee who spoke English, but because of a malfunction with the printers, Summers could not receive her emergency passport until the next day.
Then, when Summers was walking to the embassy the next day to get her passport, it was raining. In addition to getting wet from the rain, cars splashed her face with the street water.
Throughout the ordeal, Summers said that she remained calm.
“I have water from the street in my mouth, but that’s okay because I’m getting my passport today,” Summers recalled telling herself.
Summers never found her suitcase with the belongings inside, but with the incident behind her, Summers spent her final days enjoying the country.
“Guatemala is a great country, and you should visit it,” Summers said. “I can’t wait to visit again.”
During her time at Westminster, Summers hopes to explore more places in the world through a semester abroad in Kenya and through a Semester at Sea program that the college offers.
Summers provided some advice for others who are thinking of visiting another country: “Keep your passport in a safe place, and always know where it is. Be very aware of your surroundings. Don’t be afraid of things.”
(Spanish version coming soon)