I spoke with Denise briefly on Skype. During that hour, she somehow made me feel like dropping everything I have going on here in Singapore, and run off to Guatemala to join her on her amazing journey. In this 2-part story, we delve deeper into Denise’s adventure, where her journey has led her to opening up a restaurant, becoming a yoga teacher, speaking fluent Spanish, and much more. She is currently living in Quetzaltenango, which is about a 3 to 4 hour bus ride from Guatemala City. Quetzaltenango is right in the middle of a gorgeous mountain valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains and volcanoes.
Written By Amanda Kwek
Denise decided to take a long holiday after working in management consulting for about a year and a half. She wanted to do away with the corporate life for a while and seek wanderlust. As she had been planning to visit South America for a while, that was where she went in her quest to find an alternative lifestyle.
This is the first part to her story, of how she ended up in Guatemala.
So, why Latin America?
My goal was to get fluent in Spanish. I love the language, and even if I figured that it is a useful language to have if I ever wanted to get a corporate job again. Also, there are many volunteering and trekking opportunities in Latin America, and social entrepreneurship was one of the paths I was interested in learning about. Last of all, Central America is a cheap destination, once you get yourself there.
How did you feel on the plane ride to Latin America?
Excited, nervous about what I was going to find. I was travelling alone, so I was very open to whatever might or might not happen. After quitting my job, I never looked back. I never questioned whether it was the right thing to do or not. On the contrary, it seemed more ‘right’ as time passed.
Why stay in Guatemala, and not travel around Latin America as originally planned? Did you worry about how life was going to be like from then on?
I met some people in Guatemala that had a profound impact on my life. Basically, I realized that happiness came from within and if you cannot find happiness within yourself, no other place you go to will make you happy. You will keep travelling and will always find problems with wherever you are. I decided to stay in Guatemala because I wanted to work on my own internal state. Plus, I could learn Spanish much better if I immersed myself in one location, it was one of the cheaper countries to live in in Latin America, and I was happy there. I had network of friends, could do yoga for free and rock climb. So why leave?
Initially, it was hard to stay somewhere and not have anything ‘productive’ to do… My upbringing made me feel like I was wasting my time, my youth away. With time though, I realized that I was growing and learning so much internally that I wasn’t wasting time at all. It took me about 6-8 months to be alright with just lying in the sun and reading a book in the afternoon. I gave myself the time and space to grow and explore my options…to develop interests and love myself. Besides, it’s so cheap to live here that I had enough savings to stay in Guatemala for years without working.
Life really wasn’t that bad before I left. Had a good job, saved money, managed to get some time to exercise, had good relationships with my colleagues. The only problem was that I kept looking forward to the next weekend, or the next vacation, or the end of the day. I was spending 8-12 hours a day doing something that I didn’t really want to do, and to me, that was not the way I wanted to live my life. I did not want to drag myself out of bed every day and go to a job when all I think about is when I can get off – that’s more than 50% of your waking day wasted! I felt like my soul was dying away and decided that I needed to pursue a different path. After quitting, I felt liberated, like a heavy weight was lifted off my chest. I was free to choose a different lifestyle, to learn to live and love myself again.
How did you feel when you decided to stay in Guatemala? What was your family’s reaction?
I guess I didn’t really make a decision to stay in Guatemala long-term. It just happened as a result of my opening up a restaurant. Having to put in that investment, I told myself I will be here at least a year to see how it goes, and we are getting to our 1st year anniversary soon, so I guess its time to evaluate my options. My family was very supportive of me starting a business and gaining experience in managing a business. They however do wish that I were closer to Singapore, instead of halfway across the world. It is hard for them to understand why I am taking the path off beaten, but they have been supportive so far, and I appreciate it a lot, even though we do get into occasional arguments about the path I am on.
Stay tuned for Part II of Denise’s story next week, where she shares about her adventures in Guatemala!