Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

10 Reasons I Blew Off Another Winter for Guatemala and Belize

by Brynn Utela Jan 1, 2016

1.Because By 9 PM, it’s been dark for five hours, and I have to fight every urge to go to sleep

Humans don’t hibernate. We need tans. We need serotonin production. We need three days laying poolside on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, or we may literally kill ourselves.

2. Because yesterday I tried to scrape the ice off my window and gave up after a minute with aching fingers.

When it’s cold, everything hurts just a little bit more. I, for one, am tired of trekking wood in to fuel the wood stove. I’m totally over wearing puffer jackets in the living room while we hibernate with Netflix marathons, too cold to even get out of bed on the weekends, and sick of wearing hats and socks to sleep to save on heating bills. I am ready for shorts, sundresses and flip flops. My Sorels can burn for all I care.

3. Because a multi-city plane ticket to Belize and Guatemala was hardly more expensive than a flight to New York.

My friends are spending up to $700 to fly across the country to see their loved ones. If I’m gonna make that kind of financial commitment, why don’t we all make it and fly somewhere better? New York is cold. It’s expensive. The hotels have been booked for months and I don’t particularly want to sleep on your floor, crammed between the radiator and the overturned box you call a table. Guatemala will run me $600. Hard-earned travel money spent on kisses from Aunt Mildred, or on margaritas on la playa? No question that this was the right plane trip for me this season.

4. Because my body does far better on seasonal fresh fruit than copious amounts of sourdough bread.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Christmas at home with all its gut-filling glory, and I enjoy the gravitational pull of my stomach toward rich cheeses, oozing pizza, dark beers, and heavy pasta once the days start to darken. But my body starts to rebel against all of the comfort-food carbs I shove down my throat November – March, and while nothing adds to the attractiveness of a pallid epidermis more than an extra layer of blubber (even if I do try pass it off as intentional weight gain for extra padding for snow sports…), I know am better off without those two pieces of pie with ice cream AND whipped cream on Christmas Day.

In Belize and Guatemala, seasonal fruit is served with every meal. I’m downing young coconuts, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fruit smoothies for a dollar a day, and my body feels light, healthy, and refreshed. A mixed fruit plate for breakfast… a papaya shake for a snack… the sweetest of mangos for dessert. Yes please! Eating right never tasted so damn good.

5. Because open-air artisanal markets kick ass, and malls during the holidays (or anytime, really), make me feel like I’m dying slowly, gasping for breath amongst sweater sales and perfume samples.

I will do just about anything to avoid the consumerism of the holidays. Nothing says “you matter to me,” more than strip malls and the awkward social obligations for gift exchanges. It’s a relief not to do any gift shopping in the states, and be relieved of the burden of wrapping and card-writing. My friends and family will luck out with the super-sweet local handmade items I bring back from Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala, and I’ll be contributing economically to artisanal work of the Mayan people.

When it’s cold, everything hurts just a little bit more.

Holidays can be stressful enough without having to remember where I put the receipt for your toaster, just in case you hate it. Traveling through Central America with the sun on my face is anything but stressful. I’ve found myself picking up the perfect gift for everyone that I’m meant to purchase something for, and enjoying the opportunity to peruse the colorful textiles, wooden carvings, and hand-painted ceramics in the process. Win, win, and WIN!

6. Because poinsettias in bloom in nature make my heart happy.

“Aha!” You exclaim. “We have those in every drugstore and supermarket in America! I’ve got two in my living room right now, and one on the front desk at work!” Sorry bud, but it ain’t the same. Those poinsettias will live out their three-week destiny and then shrivel and die, adding to the post-holiday waste pile that overfills the garbage cans at the end of every driveway, and frankly, I feel more sad seeing that shit than I do happiness in their entire lifespan up to that point.

In Central America, there are poinsettia-freakin’ trees… They are huge, blossoming, and gorgeous. Their cheerful red blossoms hang from sturdy, slender green stalks, framing views of volcanoes, lakes, and incredible colonial architecture. Central American poinsettias are perennial plants, growing from the ground. They are hardy. They are vibrant. They are perfect.

7. Because Star Wars in real life beats Star Wars in a movie theater any day.

Everyone and their mother is going to see Star Wars this winter break. There is a good chance you are going to see Star Wars with your actual mother. That my friends, is a wonderful, wholesome, and entertaining thing to do. But you know what else is entertaining and Star Wars-related? TIKAL. During my winter vacation, I stood on a pyramid temple constructed in the 6th century AD, surrounded by jungle, replete with howler monkeys thundering at one another, toucans showing off their rainbow beaks, and parrots weaving rainbows across the sky during sunset. And wait?! What’s that?! Tikal was actually featured in scenes of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope!? Beat that, AMC. I’ll watch Star Wars back home eventually. In Guatemala, I experience my own fantastical, otherworldly sights, and I play the lead character in my own saga.

8. Because Chistmas music in grocery stores makes me gag, while reggae Christmas music makes me shake my booty.

Look, I only really enjoy Christmas music when I’m decorating a tree. I don’t need to hear Mariah Carey when I’m looking for new socks. I’m not really much of a fan of reggae unless its some classic Bob Marley, but it’s damn hard not to love “Jingle Bell Rock” sung with a Jamaican accent, with a snare poppin’ off in the background. Hell yeah! I bebopped my way around the island of Caye Caulker, Belize, and I’m confident that most Central American Caribbean beach towns won’t disappoint in the holiday reggae regard. I’m completely down to celebrate the holidays with the sun on my face, reggae bumpin’, and a different kind of jaunt in my step. Jah mon!

9. Because fiestas and fireworks are encouraged for any holiday in Central America.

Yes, the holidays back home are a time for family and friends, and locals in Central America share salutations with loved ones as well. But on top of the classic feasts and gift exchanges, there are sensory-stimulating explosions and friggin’ parades!

Sure, you can go crazy in New York, but you’re sure as hell gonna be judged for it. Looking at you, SantaCon.

Imagine celebrating Christmas Eve with your family and gorging yourself on all the classic holiday goodies, and then heading out to cavort with your friends until 4 am, alternating between setting the street afire with spectacular displays of bursting light, and joining in on impromptu musical exhibitions where you and your friends march up and down neighboring blocks – singing, clanging, and occasionally slurring your speech in your excitement?

Sure, you can do that in New York, but you’re sure as hell gonna be judged for it. Looking at you, SantaCon. That’s not to say that parades and fireworks are mutually exclusive. Often, a physical and vocal display of unbridled enthusiasm is trailed by a slew of enthusiastic amateur pyros. Everybody scores!

10. Because I opt to fill my life with new and exciting adventures whenever possible.

As an avid snowboarder and snowshoer, I love it when the snow starts to pile up in the mountains, and digging out my gear for the season is something I look forward to as soon as mornings get that brisk autumn smell. But as much as I love an early start to the mountain season, the passes are always packed over winter break, and I know the snow will still be around until April at least.

This winter vacation, I switched up the winter adventures: snorkeling with sharks and stingrays, climbing a volcano at dawn, paddleboarding in the ocean, kayaking in a volcanic lake, and riding horseback through the jungle. I could have spent my hard-earned dollars on too many cocktails out with the old pals, but instead, I made new friends to add to my growing network of amazing people I am grateful to know around the world. Adventures make life full, creating memories, weaving stories, and adding to character. There isn’t a thing I would change about my decision to spend this holiday season adventuring in Belize and Guatemala.

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