Travel Diary: New York City

I ran away to New York City this past weekend. And somehow, after living in Washington, DC for almost 4-years, I have never actually been to the big apple. I went once when I was 10-years-old but that doesn’t really count because all I was interested in was seeing was the American Girl store.

So, this weekend, the plan was to simply wander. My all-time favorite way to see a city. We wandered aimlessly from Chelsea to 5th Avenue to Soho. And we ate. A lot. We wandered around the Chelsea Market, drank spiked hot chocolate at a rooftop bar, skipped on the High Line, danced to live street music and ate Joe’s Pizza in the rain.

There wasn’t any reservations or plans. We just wandered.

*drum roll please*

style sneakers.png

Here is my first ever Travel Diary. A hodgepodge of pictures, suggestions, Snapchats. Hopefully, the first of many.

 

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

Washington Square Arch.

 

 

51DD299F-A2BA-4B3C-830D-46738480BCC9.JPG

Flat Iron.

 

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

The coziest, most beautiful cafe called Maman. They even have Oprah’s favorite cookie here.

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

More of Maman.

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

Cha Cha Match. It’s worth the hype. And it’s cute. And the Matcha is good.

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

Ordered an oat milk matcha latte with honey. Mmmmhm honey.

 

15945646-E59F-45F6-86F6-66A2551059D3.JPG

Greasy New York Pizza from Joe’s.

 

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

Joe’s Pizza with a side of rosé.

 

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

The High Line.

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

DSC_0063

The High Line. An old train track turned into a park.

41E29BC4-8FE9-4EAD-AB1E-5CB0359B3FE3.JPG

D4F8FF0B-BDDF-4948-B817-6075A1FC3E36

Views from the High Line.

IMG_2991

 

I’ll most definitely be back soon New York.

That’s all for now,

XOXO,

B

Why I Travel

Like most millennials or, in fact, most humans that I surround myself with, I have always romanticized the idea of travel. I follow travel bloggers, watch Youtube travel diaries and I am constantly updating my Travel Pinterest page with destinations, adventures and places that I someday hope to go to.

In my short 21-years around the sun, I’ve made my way to 15 countries and 4 continents. A privilege that I am constantly thankful for and aware of. While I have the Instagram-worthy pictures to document my memories and my stories, I have gained a deeper appreciation for travel that exists beyond the picture perfect filtered reality that we so often share to the world. An appreciation for the part of travel that most people overlook or don’t really talk about, the part of travel that exists WAY outside of your comfort zone. It’s the discomfort that is inevitable in travel.

Because behind the beautiful and life changing moments, there are the hard, difficult and frustrating moments that take place so those beautiful (sometimes picture perfect) moments are possible.

11406228_10205389127022422_6283526083352763323_o

You would never know I had food poisoning and was suffering from severe dehydration in this photo…

17358879_10210064541304857_5082871182823414027_o

You would never know we were running on maybe 2 hours of sleep when we went to the Cliffs of Moher…

15591208_10209330559475770_7955681864762742816_o

You would never know a tire on our rental car had popped this day in the middle of the South Africa bush…

 

So, why do I travel?

Because I crave the feeling of discomfort that comes from travel, a similar feeling you have halfway up a mountain where you realize that you might’ve just started something completely out of your comfort zone and ability and you have absolutely no idea what you’ve just gotten yourself into.

It’s moments like…

When I was staying in a homestay in Dharamsala (in Northern India) and had food poisoning for almost two weeks. We had a 15-hour public bus ride to Dehradun the next day so I was left with no other (rational) choice than to take a taxi down a very narrow and windy rocky road to the public hospital where almost no one spoke English. I was most likely the only patient in the building without something being amputated and was given three different drugs because my other choice was an IV, to this day I still have no idea what drugs I was taking because the labels weren’t in English.

When I was traveling from Barcelona to Rome, my phone was dead, our flight was delayed and then when we finally boarded we had to wait on the tarmac for over three hours. It was hot. Really hot. So hot that people screamed for water and started chanting in Italian (of course) but in true Ryan Air fashion the flight attendants didn’t provide water but did open the plane doors for air.

When I was traveling in Mozambique visiting a village in the midst of summer as our vans began to drive away (not coming back to fetch us for another 6 hours) I started to get sun poisoning. A long painful, almost delirious day, it was.

When I was staying in Selma, Alabama at the only motel with rooms left and we were forced to stay in our rooms after dinner, with the blinds closed because every night people would unload their AK 47’s out of their cars in the parking lot.

It’s those moments of discomfort where you want to quit, go home, grab the covers and never look back because that sounds so much easier. I crave that because right after that feeling passes and you make it after the food poisoning passes after you check in to your hotel or after you finally meet up with friends in a foreign city, you feel so damn proud. You feel elated.

It’s in that moment after the discomfort is over where you begin to feel yourself grow into a better version of yourself and begin to capitalize on the capability you now realize you have.

That’s why I travel.

While the sights are beautiful and the people you will meet forever change your perspective, it’s the personal growth that attracts me to travel. It’s the ability to feel yourself become a more aware, patient and independent person as you tackle culture shock, delayed flights, changes in travel plans, homesickness and frustrating miscommunication.

It’s the ability to grow into a person that you never thought you were capable of becoming because you never had the chance to tap into your potential. As humans, we are capable of incredible things but if we never lean into discomfort and give ourselves the chance to try new things, then we will never learn how much we can really overcome.

So, that’s why I travel. I travel to grow. I travel to learn. I travel to become a better version of myself.

 

XOXO,

B

A Guide to Finding Magic in Rome

Traveling to Rome? Lucky you. Want some advice? Well, you found the right spot, here is my guide to finding the magic that is Rome.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

What’s better than wine, pasta, and Rome? I think nothing.

Last year I fell in love. I fell in love with Rome. I fell in love with the untouched buildings painted with graffiti and the quaint streets that are lined with locally owned restaurants and gelato shops. I fell in love with the coffee that is poured into tiny cups on even tinier plates that are to be drank while standing up next to the bar. I fell in love with the passion for food. The food that represents Roman pride and local ingredients. I fell in love with the ability to take morning walks and smell nothing but freshly made croissants and hand-picked fresh vegetables that fill up market booths. I fell in love with live music on every corner and old men eating gelato before noon. I fell in love with a city that is stuck in time and sees nothing wrong with that.

Rome is unique and is unapologetically itself. You won’t find any commercial restaurants or hints of globalization. Rome is as authentic as it gets. 

While I did not have enough time to fully immerse myself in the Roman culture, I did gain an incredible appreciation for the city that is rooted in history and tradition.

So, if you find yourself lucky enough to visit this beautiful and magical city, here some of my recommendations.

My favorite neighborhood by far was Trastevere (tra-sta-ver-e). While it might take you your whole vacation to learn how to pronounce it, Trastevere is located on the outskirts of the city center, across the river from most of the tourist attractions. Trastevere is filled with endless amounts of restaurants, live music, and roads that will inevitably lead you to getting very VERY lost. Wine corks fill the gaps in the cobblestone, the waiters aren’t nearly as aggressive as other neighborhoods and no matter where you end up choosing to eat, you won’t dare spend more than 3 euros on a glass of wine.

One of the best parts of Trastevere is that it doesn’t feel like a never ending tourist trap where English is almost more common than Italian, like some places in the city. Trastevere immediately will make you feel at home in a city that is big, loud and a little hard to understand at first.

 

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

A little super cute resturant in trastevere.

And if you’re lucky you’ll stumble upon some of the best food I had in Rome.

WHAT TO EAT (in Trastevere)

If you want pizza, head over to Dar Poeta and make sure to get the pizza with buffalo mozzarella and rocket salad because there is certainly nothing better. While this place can be a little touristy and busy at night, it is a great place to grab lunch and share a liter of wine with the best of friends.

2016-11-24 15.19.37

Now that is what magic looks like.

If you want a little taste of Rome, Cajo e Gajo has some of the best Cacio e Pepe. Cacio e Pepe is a traditional Roman pasta dish that is just wow. It is all sorts of perfect because what is better than a combination of pepper, cheese, and pasta served in a bowl made out of more cheese. It is so simple, yet so mesmerizing. Also, if you’re feeling fancy, make sure to get the rosemary bread and some fried squids to start.

2016-11-30 21.33.48

Cacio e Pepe aka the best pasta dish in Rome.

If you are craving a picture perfect Italian dinner with red checkered table cloth, liters of house red wine and good old fashion spaghetti pomodoro (that means tomato in Italian) then look no further than Popi Popi. I would only recommend going here when the weather is nice enough to sit outside. The aesthetic is perfect and if you’re lucky there will be live music playing in the distance. This was the first restaurant we went to in Rome and is still one of my favorites. I highly recommend the rice balls as an appetizer because in one bite the hot mozzarella will literally be melting in your mouth. 10/10 for Popi Popi, it gives me the feels just thinking about it.

There are two great gelato places in the neighborhood. If you are wandering around Trastevere looking for your traditional gelato fix, head over to Old Bridge. My favorite flavors were always pistachio and coconut. Nothing quite like it. However, if you want something a little different (or want a vegan/organic option) head over to La Fonte della Salute. I was always a fan of the coconut and dried fig flavor, it’s perfect for a light after dinner dessert. Bonus points if you go to both in the same day because in Rome that is celebrated rather than frowned upon.

Quite quickly after you’ve been in Rome, you’ll notice that “breakfast” means a croissant and cappuccino. If that doesn’t exactly satisfy your American needs, there are two places that have iced coffee (iced coffee in Rome? Yes, it exists I promise!) and American breakfast options. The first is Meccanismo Bistrot where the iced coffee is big, amazing, and available to go (woah! Game changer I know) and the eggs, pancakes and fresh orange juice will satisfy your breakfast craving. Plus, the outdoor seating is great for people watching. The second American breakfast option is the Baylon Cafe. There are similar breakfast options at both places. The Baylon Cafe also has great dinner options that range from veggie burgers, margaritas and caesar salads.

WHAT TO EAT (outside Trastevere)

While Trastevere will forever have my heart, there are places outside of Trastevere that are equally as magical.

If you want the best spaghetti pomodoro (in my opinion) then you’ll have to go to Campo de’ Fiori (which has a great outdoor market on the weekends). My all time favorite was Ristorante Campo de’ Fiori. The spaghetti pomodoro has fresh cherry tomatoes which make for a perfect pasta dish. If you’re splurging on dinner, I recommend the cheese plate to start which pairs perfectly with a bottle of red wine (no house wine here unfortunately but hey you can’t win them all). Despite the cute orange drink in the picture, I personally do not recommend the spritz drink. Spritz is a popular drink throughout parts of Italy and is a combination of prosecco and a bitter liqueur. I think it’s too sour and artificial tasting but if you love it, I won’t yuck your yum.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I mean… yum!

IMG_4195

Outdoor market in Campo de’ Fiori

Still craving gelato? No worries. It’s addicting. One of our favorite gelato places ended up being Gelateria Della Palma which has over 150 flavors (yes, it is insanely overwhelming). It feels quite touristy but it is honestly some of the best gelato we had while in Italy. Be ready for a major sugar overload but don’t worry because you can walk it off since it’s all the way by the Pantheon. My favorite flavors were cappuccino and cinnamon! 10/10 recommend.

If you have a big group and want something a little more low-key after wandering around the city all day then La Focaccia is the place for you. It’s right by Piazza Navona and sits right next to Santa Maria della Pace which is beautiful. Anywhere near Piazza Navona (the most famous, crowded piazza in Rome) is going to be more expensive and often a tourist trap. La Focaccia is great because compared to the other restaurants nearby it is cheaper, not touristy at all (real Romans actually eat there) and most true to an authentic Roman meal. From the outside, it looks a little sketchy but that’s just the nature of a small locally owned restaurant in the midst of the craziness that is Rome. Again, I don’t recommend the Spritz here but I do recommend the pear pizza and the black truffle rice balls.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Right across the street from La Focaccia.

WHAT TO DO

Now, while you could spend your entire time in Rome just eating, you might eventually get full and want to do something else (not sure why but I won’t judge).

Of course, you’ve probably already budgeted time for the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese gardens and the Pantheon, there are a few other attractions that you should make time for.

14064064_10208347392937221_7520045229512055311_n

Colosseum

 

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Piazza Navona

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Spanish Steps (before they were opened to the public)

 

2016-08-24 06.44.23

Trevi Fountain

First, the Garden of Oranges. The Garden of Oranges on Aventine Hill is a bit of a hike if you are staying in the city center but the unique view of Rome makes it definitely worth it. Also, there is a door on top of the hill, known as Rome’s keyhole, where the keyhole perfectly frames the St. Peter’s Basilica. I recommend going at sunset and bringing some wine before going into the city center for dinner. Usually, there is live music at the main lookout point around sunset so you’ll get all types of romantic feels once you’re there.

Second, wine tasting. But can’t you only do wine tasting in Tuscany? Nope. While your options are limited, Rimessa Roscioli, is a great option. You can either do a casual wine tasting OR if you want the full experience you can do a full dinner paired with a wine tasting. We did the two-hour wine tasting and each wine was paired with a cheese or meat. The people that worked there were nothing but amazing! They taught us amateur wine tasters everything from how to go about tasting wine, the difference between prosecco and champagne to teaching us about where each wine came from. We also had the most magical fresh buffalo mozzarella of our lives, so you really can’t go wrong here.

Third, very touristy but an amazing view is the top of the Vittoriano monument at Piazza Venezia. It’s a little pricey but it is one of the best views of the city. Another amazing view is the top of the Castel Sant-angelo. Both are beautiful so it’s a win-win either way.

14045643_10208273077199374_158308006134981683_n

The Vittoriano monument.

Fourth, if you want to get out of the city and see sports through the eyes of a true Roman sports fan then head on over to the Stadio Olimpico to catch a soccer or rugby game. The stadium was once used for 1990 world cup and is now home to both the Rome and Lazio soccer teams. Make sure to get their early to see the statues outside the stadium and stay until the end to fully experience the after-game songs. It’s easy to get to via different buses and the tickets range from 20-50 euros. Beware that the soccer games are a little rowdier than we are used to in the states, my Italian teacher said she doesn’t take her 12-year-old son because the games are too dangerous. My favorite part of going (I went to both a rugby and soccer game) was that we were the only foreigners there which is sometimes a rare experience in such a popular city for tourists.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Stadio Olimpico.

 

Lastly, if are traveling in the warmer months and you want a quick adventure/day trip, I would definitely recommend taking the train to Castel Gandolfo. It’s a quick train ride from Rome and there you will find a very cute town with great food and a giant lake. We decided to rent paddle boards which ended up costing us 10 euros each and we had them for 4 hours. The family that we rented them from watched our stuff and we ventured out into the lake to explore. It is a pretty low-key spot saying that we were some of the only tourists there in the beginning of September. I highly recommend this day trip, it is the cutest little town and there is plenty to do at such a low cost. I mean our train tickets were 3 euro… roundtrip!

IMG_0174

Not the worst view for paddle boarding.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

A cute little pizzeria at Castel Gandolofo.

IMG_0161

If you walk to the top of the hill by the train station you’ll be greeted by this amazing view.

BEST ADVICE FOR ROME

If you are going to listen to ANY recommendation I have about Rome, listen to this. At first, you might be confused as to, “Where is the cute/aesthetically pleasing Rome everyone is talking about? All I see is graffiti and boring buildings.” My advice? If you are on a main street, go down an alleyway. The most magical parts of the city are never easy to spot so go down the streets less traveled. The best food, the best bars, and the best shops are never on busy streets, they are hidden away on the little streets that make up most of the city. The easiest way to see Rome is to put the maps away and just simply walk, I promise you’ll stumble upon only amazing things. Also, Google Maps or any map on a phone will not work well in Rome since the alleyways never show up correctly so study where you are going before you leave the house/hostel/hotel and don’t be afriad to ask for directions!

Other advice for thriving in Rome: always carry euros, don’t use a credit/debit card (most places won’t accept it) don’t tip your waiter/waitress, don’t eat at restaurants near monuments, only get a taxi at a taxi stand, only order a cappuccino before noon, don’t ask to take home leftovers, wear comfortable shoes (you will walk everywhere) and expect dinner to start around 8 pm and last at least two hours.

Like I said before, I am no expert on Rome. I did not have nearly enough time to fully embrace all the magic that is embodied in Rome HOWEVER I do hope these suggestions will make your visit a little tastier, a little easier and a little less overwhelming.

I hope you find the magic that is hidden all over Rome, because as someone once said, “For someone who has never seen Rome, it is hard to believe how beautiful life can be.”

Ciao Bella!

-B

 

2016-08-29 10.54.53

And of course a day in Rome is not complete without stuffing your face with gelato…

 

7 Deadly Sins of Travel

7 Deadly Sings of Travel

Disclaimer: a little bit of sass & a whole lot of #feelings are involved in this blog post. 

Here it is- All my travel rants combined into one lengthy blog post (woohoo!)

This is my version of the 7 things NOT to do when you’re traveling because we all have room for improvement (and I am definitely guilty of all of these things).

  1. “They look like they’re having so much fun!” Nope, stop, don’t say that. Don’t let yourself compare this trip to another trip or your trip to someone else’s trip. The old cliche of “the grass is always greener on the other side” is definitely true, especially when traveling. That friend who looks like they are having the time of their life in Greece is not relevant to your adventure. Don’t let someone else’s “ perfect” Instagram ruin your feeling of living in the now and appreciating what it right in front of you. Remember, you only remember the good stuff. You rarely remember the early wake-up calls or the communal bathrooms in your hostel. Don’t let yourself succumb to the sin of comparison because you will be missing out on what is right in front of you. Every adventure is different and every adventure is an opportunity to learn, grow and explore.
  1. Don’t say ew, don’t panic, it is okay. If you are comfortable, you are not growing and you are not learning. We travel to grow, to mature and to learn. So sit in that feeling of uncomfortableness and seek out that feeling because in that feeling you will realize how much potential you truly have. Those times you’re sitting in a train station at 2 am sitting next to the homeless, that moment will help you be more tolerant. Trust me. Those moments where everyone is talking in your 15-person hostel room at 4 am? That moment will help you become more patient. That time your flight is delayed for two hours and then you sit on the tarmac for another hour? That moment will make you comfortable flying alone. Sit in the moments where you are uncomfortable. Skills come from the uncomfortable moments, not the moments where you are drinking wine in Tuscany.
  1. Stop complaining. Be intentional about being positive. Life is a whole lot better when you seek out positivity. While it is harder and it takes a lot of effort, no good ever came from sulking. If you find yourself being negative then be intentional and find something to do that you can’t be negative about. Try a new restaurant, eat dessert three times a day, go to a museum by yourself, find something worth your excitement and do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t ask other people if you should go. Just go. Find a thing in every place you go to and make it yours. Most of the time that we spend being negative is because we are either scared or trying to find a connection with the people we are with. Reject that negativity and force yourself into doing something that will make you happy, even if that means doing it alone.
  1. Yes, you are being rude. You are visiting another culture, they’re not visiting you. You don’t know the rules here so don’t get mad when things don’t go your way. Your waiter messed up your complicated gluten-free, peanut-free, dairy-free, meat-free order with sauce on the side? Be kind. There is never a justifiable reason to be rude, to anyone. Kill them (all) with kindness. Your friend is taking too long to get up because she/he is jet lagged? Be kind. You think your taxi driver charged you too much? Say something but be kind. Your flight got delayed? Be kind to the airline workers, it isn’t their fault. Take a deep breath, a really deep breath, smile and be kind. Respect is the game, and kindness is your answer.
  1. “We go home in 30 days, 5 hours and two minutes.” Delete the countdown app, I promise it’ll be okay. Stop the texting, put the phone away, look up and be like “oh shit I’m in Morocco.” You are away from home so let yourself be away from home. Put down the phone and engage with your new surroundings. You will miss them. There is no point in wasting time thinking about what people are doing at home or wishing you were there because you can’t change that. So be engaged with the present. Save the “I miss you” and “I wish you were here” texts until after the day of adventuring is over.
  1. But I have to see everything! You actually don’t, especially if you don’t want to. Don’t let yourself get caught up in needing to see every major monument in every major city. Some of the best memories are made by wandering around aimlessly in a new city or your own city. While guidebooks are nice and recommendations are helpful, there is something to be said about stumbling upon something amazing by chance.  Let yourself wander and do not let yourself get stressed because you didn’t have time to “see it all.”
  1. Phones, pictures, social media, oh my! At dinner, stack all your phones in the middle of the table. Delete Snapchat if you want. Be present, be engaged with the moment. Pictures are fun but pictures don’t compare to the memories you make when you are not taking pictures. Travel is about the memories. Travel is about the present. It is a skill that is difficult to grasp in a world where you are constantly being notified on five different social media apps by ten different people, it is difficult to put it all away. But I promise, the more you look up instead of down on your phone, the more memories you will make.

 

XOXO,

B

Guatemala: This is (not) your land

 

The stars filled the sky that night. The night where eleven of us sat in plastic chairs in a circle on a wooden porch at almost 8 pm. Overlooking the Chixoy Reservoir in central Guatemala. The town in which the porch was a part of is called Rio Negro, situated on a mountainside. The only way to get there is to walk over a mountain or by boat. We chose the boat. It was isolated. It was quiet and among the quietness and the sound of the river, we listened to a story of Don Sebastián from Sebastian himself.

IMG_5023.jpg

(Photo credit to Lindsay Maizland

The story he told was a witness to a massacre that left his town destroyed.

The pain we all felt while listening to his story was indescribable because his story left nothing to the imagination. It was raw, it was real and it was absolutely heartbreaking.

We wanted to cry, we wanted to cringe, and we wanted to do something because what else do you do when you hear a story of a massacre from the perspective of a survivor.

Before I tell his story, here is some background.

It was 1982 in the midst of a civil war in Guatemala. The civil war was between the military and rebel groups. The rebel groups consisted of Mayan indigenous people and ladino peasants. While not all indigenous people in Guatemala were in a rebel group, they were assumed to be. Many scholars and organizations refer to the war in Guatemala as a genocide rather than a civil war due to the victims consisting (almost all) of Mayans.

Many specific towns were targeted. One of which was Rio Negro. The government alongside the World Bank (with support from the United States) built a dam on the Rio Negro river which flooded the majority of Rio Negro, the town. The dam destroyed all agriculture and destroyed many of the lives of those who lived in Rio Negro who were dependent on growing crops to survive. The whole town was forced further up the mountain where the land was not meant to grow crops.

The people were not given a say in the building of the dam nor were they given any assistance on how to restructure their lives once the dam was made. Members of Rio Negro stood up for their land and fought back. The people there had defended their home and their land. Which inevitably led the government to believe that they were part of the guerrilla army so the military attacked.

Now for the story.

Don Sebastian was Mayan living in Rio Negro.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-5-51-44-pm

(Photo credit to Lindsay Maizland

Don Sebastian was 16-years-old when dogs began to bark. The barking was a cue to him to run. Because when the dogs barked, that meant the military were coming and they were coming for him. He was told by his mom to run and leave the town on March 13th, 1982.

So, Sebastian ran and his mom and siblings stayed.

As Sebastian ran as fast as he could into the mountains and away from his home, the military came into Rio Negro. They gathered everyone in the town: women, children, and priests. They gathered them in the school’s courtyard, tied their hands behind their backs and asked them questions about their husbands. The military men asked, “Where are your husbands? Where are the guerillas hiding?”

You see the military had told all of the men in the village prior to March 13th, 1982 to go into a neighboring town to get new identification cards. So, all the men left and no men returned.

If I was being optimistic I would say that the military assumed the men of Rio Negro were in the guerilla army because they were Mayan. That is why none of the men returned. If I was realistic I would say the military wanted to destroy the community of Rio Negro because they were Mayan. That is why none of the men returned.

The women did not answer the military. The women did not have answers because they did not know where their husbands were. One brave woman told the military that all their husbands had been killed after being tricked to go to the next town to get ID cards.

After no one else answered. The military lined the women and children up in a single file line and begun to march them up the mountain. As I mentioned before Rio Negro is a town on the mountainside. The town of Rio Negro is at the base of the mountain, just above the river. The mountain itself is large. Probably at least three miles to the top.

As they marched, two women managed to escape the line with their sons. Another woman escaped and avoided the gunshots of the military as she rolled herself down the mountain and fled into the mountains. Other children escaped the line as well. Some hid in bushes so they could be unseen by the military. Mothers frantically strapped babies to toddlers backs and demanded that they run.

**graphic detail**

While some escaped, many did not. 177 women and children did not. As the military marched the women to the top of the mountain, Sebastian could hear screams from nearby. He heard the women screaming which signaled that the military had started to kill his family, neighbors, and friends.

Women were strangled and thrown in a hole. One on top of another. Children would be held by their feet and swung against trees. Killing them on impact. Girls, young girls were taken 100 feet away and raped. And then killed. Everyone was piled on one another, some still breathing.

The military took several children aside to keep as slaves.

The same hole that held over 150 dead women and children was the same hole Sebastian found several days later. He marched up the same path that his mom, siblings, and neighbors marched. He followed their last steps which led to a hole covered by branches and leaves. He saw the bodies. And that same day he vowed to never let the military win again.

When we were in Rio Negro, Sebastian led us up that very same mountain. Stopping and showing us where different women escaped and where different members of his community were killed. He told us his story again, but this time with a visual. A visual that held witness to the 177 lives lost on March 13th, 1982.

img_4879

(Photo credit to Lindsay Maizland

After Sebastian saw the hole, he escaped again into the mountains. He lived in caves and would go days without eating because he feared the military would spot a fire or him. The military would send helicopters to monitor the mountains, looking for people who had escaped. He saw children and seniors die because they went too long without food and were unable to travel.

After two years in the mountains and without any food, he found himself in Rabinal, a town that many Mayans fled to or were forced to relocate to during the civil war. While he thought he was done hiding from the military, that thought soon became a distant wish. On August 4th, 1984 Sebastian was taken into custody by the military. He was accused of being a guerilla. He was tortured. He was told the torture would not end until he gave someone answers about where the guerillas were. However, he knew nothing.

Sebastian was left in the latrine for six days, with his hands tied. If you look closely on his wrist you will still see the marks that the rope left. People would come in with the pure purpose to cause him pain. He was kicked, starved and given nothing to survive.

Inevitably, Sebastian was put on a list to be killed. This thought was not shocking or sad to him. He and his brother, who he met up with in the mountains decided that they would rather die from a gunshot while running away than be tortured. That is how his brother died.

The day Sebastian was supposed to be killed, an officer that Sebastian had known came to the camp and allowed him to be released. He stayed with the officer for one night in his room before six military officers escorted him to Pacux.

Sebastian took his wife and nephew to the Southern Coast of Guatemala where he worked and saved. Finally, in 2001 Sebastian came back to Rio Negro where he is still living today. He was and is part of a movement to rebuild Rio Negro. To rebuild the town that holds witness to a tragedy. To rebuild the town that he and his family are from.

(Photo credit to Lindsay Maizland

As Sebastian told us this story we sat in silence. Absorbing every single world. His Spanish was beautiful and though I could not understand every word, I could understand the passion that he spoke from. While Sebastian does not have much, he does have his voice. His voice is the most important thing he has because he is a rare witness. He, the mountains and a handful of people have the perspective that he has.

Currently, the Guatemalan courts are consumed with hearings in the attempt to bring justice to the Mayan communities. Families are fighting for reparations. Families are fighting for justice to be served for those responsible for the massacres. Families are fighting for a fair and equal Guatemalan government that prioritizes its people before invasive development projects like the Chixoy dam.

The civil war in Guatemala is over, however, the fight for transitional justice is still ongoing. The stories embedded in the civil war are on the front lines for that fight for transitional justice. In an attempt to be in solidarity with the Rio Negro community, we will tell their stories and we will make sure that Rio Negro is never forgotten.

img_4984

img_4848

(Photo credit to Lindsay Maizland

XOXO,

B

————————————————————————–

Special thanks to GHRC for leading us to Rio Negro and facilitating our time there.

Thanks you to Lindsay Maizland for her incredible photographs of our time in Guatemala, to see more of her pictures click here and here.