Guatemala Journal 2013
Day-by-day in Guatemala
Share the daily accounts of five students and instructors on the 2013 Guatemala Study Tour - December 28 - January 13.
Day 1 & 2
After two very long days of travel mishaps, including four delayed and/or missed flights, lost luggage, and surly flight attendants, we made it to Guatemala safely and soundly late last night. The photos represent the lovely evening we spent in the Miami airport. As you can see, Andrew was tucked in nicely in his comfortable airport chair, Wade - being a night owl - was ready for the long evening ahead, Katelynn (on her very first flight) appeared eager for the experience of sleeping in the airport, Rose fell asleep after reading for a while, and Liz already claimed her spot on the floor! The students moved in with their host families last night and hopefully enjoyed a much deserved good night of sleep.
– Ocie, Gary, Katelynn, Rose, Liz, Andrew, and Wade
Today was our first full day in Xela (the temperature was in the 70s!). After the last two days, I was glad to hear that the students slept well last night. Some of us woke up to the sound/feel of a tremor around 6:30 a.m. The windows rattled a bit and then it was all over. We met at the central plaza and spent the day exploring the city. We walked to the school and to all of the students' houses and continued to walk around all afternoon. Katelynn, the Youth Options student from RHS, was charged with leading us back from Casa Xelaju to the park (photo two). Photo three is the roof top from the B & B where Gary and I are staying. Gary is now our resident photographer! The last photo, the stop sign, interesting says "Stop Coca-Cola." For those of you who attended the UTLA What's on the Table series, this is for you and will make sense!
Today was a happy happy day for Rose! Her suitcase arrived via Alamo bus all the way
from Guatemala City! What a story. Her suitcase traveled from Wisconsin, to Chicago,
to D.C. (where it stayed for a day), to Miami (where it was delayed for a day), to
B & B in Guatemala city (where the caretaker took it upon herself to retrieve Rose's suitcase upon the anticipated arrival), to the bus terminal in the capital (where it
was placed on an Alamo bus), to the bus terminal in Xela (where Rose is beaming
We had a great New Year's Eve with our respective families. Katelynn learned about
the importance of eating twelve grapes on New Year's Eve. Wade and Liz had a great
time mingling with each other's family members. Rose spent the evening eating and
dancing with her family. In Andrew's host family, he met some younger relatives about
his age and got to know them. Today Gary and I started the rounds of meeting up with
the students only to discover that most of them were still sleeping around 10:00 a.m.!
Who knew! Today's photos were taken in the central plaza. The students are adjusting
nicely and are having a good time, as are Gary and I. Tomorrow we have an orientation
for the reforestation project!
Today was the second full day of classes for the students plus the orientation for the reforestation project (Proyecto de Reforestacion Chico Mendes). We start working in earnest tomorrow. The goal is to collect seeds, fertilize young saplings, and plant some of the saplings that are old enough to take root and survive. Because of the altitude, the project focuses primarily on cypress, alder, and pine trees. Armando, the project director and environmental activist, is absolutely committed to providing environmental education and to raising local and global awareness about resource exploitation.
Those students who are enrolled in the Spanish I-IV classes enjoyed a day of salsa lessons. Those enrolled in the service learning course enjoyed their first day of work with the Chico Mendes project. Our task was to sift piles of dirt to remove debris and rocks from the soil so that the young seeds/saplings can grow without obstructions. Tomorrow we go into the mountain to collect seeds. While we were working, several children kept shouting to us, "Una foto. Una foto." Two of the children in the attached photo are Armando's children; the other three are "lost children," meaning they have no stable parental figure nor home. Because Armando's project is well regarded in the community, the children find a sense of security and consistency in and around his home.
Today all of the students worked on the reforestation project. We continued with yesterday's task of sifting dirt. We met a volunteer from Finland who is working as an architect for the eco-bungalows that Armando wants to construct to help make the project sustainable. Next week we will collect seeds and help carry some materials up to the mountainside for the bungalow construction. Tomorrow we head out to Panajachel (site of Lago Atitlan) for the day/evening and return on Sunday. I'm proud of the students' commitment and enthusiasm for this experience and for all things new! They are an exceptional group!
Today we spent the day in Panajachel. When we arrived, we checked into the hotel and then took a walk down to Lago Atitlan, a volcanic crater lake. From there we took a boat over to San Pedro and had lunch at this bizarre hippy hostel/restaurant. We then had the opportunity to go horseback riding or kayaking. As you can see, Wade and Andrew chose to kayak! Wade really looks like he is in his element. On the boat ride back to Panajachel, Katelynn sat up in the bow of the boat. She, too, looks quite content. The rest of us walked around the town and did some sightseeing. Tonight we all ate out at an Uruguayan restaurant. We head back to Xela tomorrow afternoon. Coming here was a good respite for the students!
We spent a restful and peaceful morning in Panachajel. Some of us slept in; others took a walk down to the lake; others went shopping; others found a local café for a good cup of coffee; and yet others sat out in the courtyard reading and/or talking. We returned this afternoon bearing gifts and goodies for friends and family. Rose, Katelynn, and Liz are wearing the new dresses that they bought this weekend!
Today's reforestation project was to collect the seeds from a cypress tree. It's a little hard to see, but Jose (one of the nursery workers) is pictured in one of the photos. He climbed the tree (machete in tow) in order to cut down some of the branches that had mature cypress pods. Once cut, our job was to pick the pods off the branches and place them in a bag. These photos show various stages of this process. When we finished, our hands were covered in resin and dirt, but Armando showed us how to clean up using just ashes and water! Tomorrow we return to continue with another stage of the job!
Today was day five of working on the reforestation project in the community of Pachaj. Andrew, Gary, Ellyse (a volunteer from Massachusetts working with Chico Mendes Reforestation), and I spent part of the time finishing up yesterday's seed collection and the rest of the time planting fragile three-year-old cypress trees along the border of the new nursery. Once mature, they will serve as a wind and shade barrier for the younger plants, a home for the birds, and a visual deterrent for the wandering cows. Katelynn, Rose, Liz, and Wade participated in an afternoon activity in which they learned the techniques of chocolate making! Since this is Liz's second trip to Guatemala, she was in charge of taking Katelynn, Rose, and Wade to La Luna (a local café) to try the locally famous hot chocolate!
Today's reforestation project took us into the mountain forest. Using pig feed bags, we collected alder leaves (which will be used as a fertilizer), crushed them, and then added them to a current composting pile. The alder compost pile will also be sifted and then added to the soil that we sifted last week. At that point, the soil will be ready to fill small plastic bags with a single cypress seed. Today's photos show not only Andrew, Ellyse, Gary, and Jose, but also the first of nine eco-friendly cabins that Armando plans to build this year. The view is spectacular! Katelynn, Rose, Liz, and Wade went to San Andres Xecul, which is home to the famous yellow church that presents garish religious representations of Christianity. The church façade is beautiful and is often feature on postcards!
Today was the next-to-last day in the mountains, and we sifted more dirt! There are several mounds of dirt that still need to be sifted and then resifted with a mixture of leaf detritus. Armando wants to make sure that all the dirt is ready to use once the project members and incoming volunteers start to plant the seeds. Armando possesses an endless enthusiasm and drive to educate not only his local community members of all ages, but also the youth of international communities who will inherit (for better or for worse) the land and environment that we collectively choose to protect or choose to exploit.
Today was the last day of classes for the students who enrolled in the Spanish courses. I thought it would be appropriate to take a photo of them prior to their final exam! Since Liz enrolled in the service learning course, her photo is with her with her host mom. Early tomorrow morning, we head out for Antigua where we'll spend the day relaxing from the past two weeks of working on the reforestation project and studying. We'll spend the night there and then leave on Sunday morning for the airport.
We made it to Antigua this morning around 11:00. The hotel we're staying at is a very charming colonial structure and is quite cozy and inviting. Once we settled in our rooms, we took a walk, ate lunch, and then returned to our rooms for a nice nap/rest before we dressed up and went out to dinner. We ate at a quaint little restaurant and reminisced about our two weeks in Guatemala. It was a nice evening, and it was rewarding to hear such positive stories about the experience. The photo of the yellow church was taken by Wade on the day that half of the students participated in the afternoon activity and the other half of us went to the mountains. We head out to the airport tomorrow at 5:00 a.m.! Winds be willing, we'll arrive in Wausau around 6:30 p.m.!
We're back in Wisconsin! We left early this morning at 5:00 a.m. (photo attached) and arrived at the airport in good time. To our pleasant surprise, we were seated in first class! It made me think of the *Seinfeld* show, the one which Jerry was seated in first class and Elaine was back in coach. In any case, we all enjoyed the treat quite a bit. It was a great trip, and I am so proud of the students! Here's what I've learned about this group: This was Katelynn's first trip abroad (and first flight), and she hung in there with all the new experiences with admirable courage and good humor in spite of a few rocky areas! Rose is a very adaptable, insightful, and sensitively mindful individual. She always thought of people's feelings and emotions and helped all of us to "keep it real." This was Liz's second trip to Guatemala, and she just beamed with joy, enthusiasm, and endless smiles! It was a comfort to rely on Liz to help me with some of the duties! Perhaps more importantly, she was a great student spokeswoman for the trip! As I expected, Andrew embraced the whole experience as well. I was so impressed with this endless energy for and curiosity about the work project, as was Armando, the project leader for Chico Mendes. Andrew has the making of being a mover and shaker in social issues that matter! Without fail, he participated in the work project every single day! And Wade . . . Wade participated in all of the Spanish classes and activities, but he also followed his own path. I don't know in total how many cab rides he took here or there, but he was never shy or hesitant to explore on his own. My two favorite photos of him are the kayaking one that I shared in an earlier posting and a photo of him in Las Fuentes Georginas (the thermal baths), in which he convinced the taxi driver to enjoy the baths as well . . . on Wade's dime! Wade is definitely a free spirit! We all look forward to talking about our trip, sharing photos, and encouraging more students to take part in next year's trip! Thank you for all your wonderfully encouraging and supportive emails about the daily postings!