I rose before the sun on another tranquil day in Antigua, Guatemala’s magnificent crown jewel, on the penultimate day of my solo trip through the Central American country that had already captured my heart. My alarm went off at 5:30am; I rubbed my eyes, stepped into the clothes I had laid out the night before, and ate a quick breakfast on the rooftop of my hotel before catching a pre-arranged shuttle to Guatemala City. For the final leg of my week in Guatemala, I would base myself in the small city of Flores. From there I would visit the mystical Mayan ruins of Tikal.
My first trip to Guatemala began with a blissful three days in the spiritually charged village of San Marcos, peacefully tucked along the shore of Lake Atitlán, one of the most gorgeous places I have been lucky enough to experience thus far in my travels. Even though I could have stayed there for weeks, months, forever, I only had a week in Guatemala and my itinerary told me that it was time to move on. Next stop: Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage city bursting with colonial architecture at the base of three volcanoes; Acatenango, Volcán de Agua and Volcán de Fuego, an active stratovolcano that erupted twice in 2018 alone.
Ever since my first trip to Central America on a trip to Nicaragua in 2015, Guatemala has been at the top of my list of destinations to visit. The combination of volcanoes, Mayan ruins, Colonial architecture, fabulous food, the promise of no jet lag and fewer tourists than other parts of the world are just a few of the reasons I wanted to visit this captivating country. Other people didn’t see it that way, though. Whenever I was asked where I wanted to go next, and I answered with Guatemala, I was met with blank stares, quizzical looks and sincere expressions of concern. But since when have I ever let people’s opinions stop me from doing something I wanted to do?
From the moment I returned from my first solo trip to Los Angeles in November 2017, I couldn’t stop thinking about Guatemala. I had just taken a huge step in my personal life and development – after traveling with someone else for over 10 years, I had conquered my fear of doing things alone and rocked a badass trip to LA. I was now prepared to do anything, and not let anything hold me back from traveling anywhere I wanted to go. On Boxing Day 2017, three years to the date since I booked my Nicaragua trip, I made my decision and booked one round trip plane ticket to Guatemala.
If you look up the definition of ‘travel bug’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of my face smiling back at you, guaranteed. Whether I’m flying halfway across the world or driving to a small town one hour away, send me on a trip and I’m the happiest I can be. This past August long weekend, I had not one but two incredible reasons to visit somewhere new – my dad’s 65th birthday and the wedding of my best friend from junior high whom I’ve known for over 20 years.The wedding was being held in the city of Parksville on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, a place I hadn’t even heard of before the invite came in the mail. I had only been to the Island’s capital, Victoria, once before nine years prior, so I was very stoked to explore a spectacular, renowned part of my country that I hadn’t yet seen.
Alberta, the province that I call home, is the land of diverse and gorgeous landscapes – the Rocky Mountains in the West, the Badlands in the South, and vast fields of canola throughout. Dotted randomly somewhere in the midst of all this natural beauty are Alberta’s two major cities, Edmonton, my hometown, and Calgary, 300km to the south. Although Calgary is a 3-hour straight shot down Highway 2, I hadn’t visited the city since 2011, always passing by on my way to the Rockies but rarely stopping. When I was invited by the Ramada Plaza Downtown to check out their Calgary Made Guest Room Package, I was eager to head south to discover some of Calgary’s best local businesses.
Las Vegas, as most people know it, is a city of excess. Anything you want can be bought or done in Las Vegas, for a price. From thousand dollar meals to hundred thousand dollar watches, gun battles with real bullets to a little friendly companionship, just open up your wallet and it’s yours. On this 4th of July weekend, the extreme Vegas experience I chose mixed heart-pumping adrenaline and my favourite landscapes; driving high-powered super cars through the dusty Nevada desert with Exotic Driving Experiences.
A glow-in-the-dark map of the Solar System graced my bedroom wall when I was a little girl, accented by luminescent cutouts of stars, moons and planets pasted to my ceiling. As I gazed upon my artificial universe, my mind drifted to far-off worlds, fueling dreams about the endless wonders of the universe and who else might be out there with us. My passions turned to travel and the arts as I grew older, but I still find joy in gazing upon the heavens and letting my mind fly high amongst the stars. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival, presented by Rocky Mountaineer, aims to connect people of all ages to the wonders of our universe and to stargaze in one of the world’s largest dark-sky preserves.
Like millions of Italians before and after them, my family was part of the great Italian diaspora that took place at the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th. Almost 30 million Italians emigrated during that period for similar reasons – to escape poverty, war and lack of work and to start better lives for themselves and their families. One of those emigrants was my five-year old father, Carlo. The Marrazzo family left poor Southern Italy in waves beginning in the mid-50s. My Nonno (grandfather) followed in his parents’ footsteps and left for Canada in 1956, working hard for two years to save enough to bring the rest of his family over. At the end of 1958, my Nonna, along with three children between the ages of three and seven, said goodbye to their small town of Piane Crati, Calabria, and never looked back. They made the 300km journey by train to Naples, where they boarded the Saturnia ship and spent a week crossing the Atlantic Ocean. This was followed by a week-long train trip crossing the vast expanse of Canada and finally arriving in their new home of Edmonton, Alberta, a place immensely different from the home they had just left behind.
Puebla is not a name that often crosses travelers’ lips. The medium-sized city of 1.5 million people is a treasure trove of colonial architecture and has earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is one of the great culinary capitals of Mexico, home to many classic Mexican dishes such as the ubiquitous mole poblano, a dark, rich sauce of 20 ingredients including chili peppers and chocolate. Despite the beauty of the historic centre, the endless opportunities for delicious meals, the proximity to Mexico City and Popocatépetl volcano, the second highest peak in Mexico, looming nearby, foreign tourists often overlook Puebla.
Teotihuacan. The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The Avenue of the Dead. These words conjure images of complex ancient civilizations, ferocious warriors and a way of life that modern people could only imagine in their wildest dreams. Mexico is famous around the world for its wealth of ruins and archaeological sites, and Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is among the most famous of them all. The ancient city is only 48km, or 30 miles, south west of Mexico City, making it the perfect place to get out of the bustling city for a day and to discover some Mesoamerican history. Never content with only the easiest option, we decided to tack on a visit Tula, a much less visited archaeological site featuring towering Toltec warriors atop a lone pyramid.