My whole life I had dreamed what my first experience abroad would be like. Would it lead me to drop out of college and never look back? Would I meet my future husband and elope? I can tell you, neither of these things happened.
My first experience abroad happened this past summer. A professor from my university was planning a study abroad trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico for a month so that students could study Spanish at the Universidad Internacional. As a Spanish major, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to fulfill my wanderlust and earn some class credits.
For months prior to my departure date, I talked about all the adventures I was bound to have and how life-changing my experience would be. I overpacked by filling not one but two large suitcases with all the essentials I thought I would need. The day finally came for me to leave on my grand adventure. I said my goodbyes and took off on a plane that would bring me to my destination.
Almost 24 hours later (I had many layovers), I was finally in Mexico. After I had gone through customs and secured all my belongings, my group hopped on a bus and headed for our homes. As I looked out of the bus window at the streets and buildings, I felt nothing. Well, not nothing; I felt extreme disappointment. I had this idea in my head that the minute I stepped off the plane and laid my eyes on Mexico, I would be different.
We arrived at our host families’ houses and went straight to bed. The next day, my group woke up early and toured the city of Cuernavaca. As we walked the streets of downtown Cuernavaca, I kept telling myself, this is when it’s going to happen; this is when I’m going to feel different. The day proceeded, and yet, I felt the exact same.
By this point, I was beginning to feel deflated. Had I chosen the wrong country to visit? Had I romanticized traveling so much that I may have ruined my trip?
The next day, we all woke up early to tour the UNESCO World Heritage City of Teotihuacan. We were going to see two Aztec pyramids: the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. I had never heard much about these two pyramids, so I didn’t think much of it.
The city was about two hours from where we were staying, so we took a bus to get there. Since it was early in the morning when we left, I put my headphones in and stared out the window. I began to zone out, watching the scenery as we passed it by and I started to become emotional. We drove past a small impoverished town, and on its outskirts sat an old woman at a small wooden table holding a sign that said, “Fruta.”
We kept driving, and I saw mountains that spread out as far as the ocean. The sky behind them was turning a rosy pink as the sun began to rise, and I started to feel tears sting my eyes. Soon enough, we arrived at the city of Teotihuacan. Everyone piled off the bus and started towards the pyramids. As we approached the enormous pyramids, I began to feel myself shrink smaller and smaller.
Exploring The Avenue Of The Dead
The first site we saw upon arrival to Teotihuacan was the Avenue of the Dead. We walked into a giant open area full of merchants and tourists. Merchants would walk up to me and ask me to buy small handmade trinkets, such as a whistle in the shape of a bird, carved out of wood. I politely declined their propositions and began to explore.
The open area was surrounded by a border of mini pyramids that were identical to each other. Each had a grand staircase in the center that led all the way to the top of the mini-pyramid. We explored the Avenue of the Dead for some time before we decided to move on to the Pyramid of the Sun. As we walked away from the Avenue of the Dead, I still felt the same—only I was growing tired and a little cranky.
The Pyramid of the Sun
We began to walk up to the pyramid when I froze. It. Was. Huge. And by huge, I mean huge. We walked up to the bottom of the pyramid and waited to climb the steep staircase to the top of the pyramid. There were many tourists visiting that day, so we had to wait in line for our turn. As the line started to move, we started to climb. Then we stopped and waited, then we climbed. Then stopped and waited, then climbed. I think you get the picture: there was a lot of waiting. As I stood on the very steep staircase about halfway to the top, I looked out and gasped. I had never seen such an enchanting view in my entire life, and I wasn’t even at the highest point.
While I waited to reach the top, I started conversations with the people around me. Most of them were locals to the area and began telling me about the history of the pyramids. They told me how thousands of Aztecs carried rock after heavy rock every day to build the very pyramid I was standing on. They explained how many Aztecs died to create it, and I asked why it was so important to them, that they would risk their lives. The people said that the Pyramid of the Sun was created to honor one of the Aztecs’ gods. The Pyramid of the Moon, a smaller pyramid built adjacent to the Pyramid of the Sun, was created to protect the Pyramid of the Sun. It is said that the Pyramid of the Sun is where all the energy from the sun is given and the Pyramid of the Moon watches over it.
I am not a particularly religious person, but I began to feel lighter and more in tune with my surroundings as they told me about the spirit of the pyramids. Finally, I made it to the top, and after I caught my breath, I felt a rush of euphoria wash over me. I began to smile uncontrollably; it was all so overwhelming. A great feeling of comfort and tranquility washed over me. A man close by told me to plug one of my nostrils and breath in very deeply. I did as he said, and felt the coldest and freshest air rush straight to my brain, and felt surrounded by an incredible amount of energy.
As I looked out over the city of Teotihuacan, I felt exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t feel different or inspired to drop out of college, and I definitely hadn’t found a husband, but I felt better.
My first experience traveling out of the United States didn’t change my life, but I did have one of the purest, most euphoric moments of my life. Travel won’t necessarily transform your life just by stepping off a plane. But when you venture out of your ordinary and experience new amazing moments, you grow as a person.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
GoPro Hero5 Session: A GoPro is my go-to camera choice regardless of where I’m traveling. Its small and compact size makes it easy to fit in any purse or bag, and it doesn’t draw much attention. It also takes amazing videos and photos and can be used during any adventure (including underwater!).
Hydro Flask: A Hydro Flask is perfect for any traveling backpacker. It keeps beverages cold for 24-hours or hot for 12-hours. It is particularly ideal for long trips where you won’t be able to refill your drink easily.
iGlove: The iGlove is my favorite pair of gloves during the colder seasons because it keeps my hands warm and allows me to use my touchscreen devices. It has material built into each fingertip that enables you to use your phone without taking off your gloves.