Hola Mis Amigos!
Thursday Day 6
Today we woke up early for our work with the artisans. There were three different options for artisan work: metal work, word work and textiles. The wood work and metal working teams got up early to go to San Juan and textiles stayed in San Miguel Escobar.
Ann and I stayed in town to do the textiles workshop. The lady that runs the textiles is Timoteo’s (the farmer who led us for construction) daughter. We went with our guide, Jane to their house and the fun began. We got to pick our our fabrics. They are the fabrics of traditional Huipil Guatemalan wear. There is one fabric for the top of the purse which is usually what they wear as their tops, and the bottom that usually makes their skirts is what makes the back of the purse. Each fabric is specific to a certain area and if you were to go to that town, most of the people would be wearing it. These ladies also hand weave these fabrics which can take up to a year. Picking out fabrics was so hard because they were all so beautiful!
The wood working group got to make these beautiful trays from scratch. They were all really happy with how these turned out!
There was also a metal working workshop where they could make an item of choice and weld it into an animal or shape. This group said that the work was very hard but fun, and you definitely needed patience for it. They really seemed to have a good time and some hilarious stories of the process. Especially where Karissa and puppies are concerned.
Our artisan workshops took about half the day, and after lunch we met up at the De La Gente house before catching the chicken bus to Antigua for some shopping. I am going to leave it up to the trip members to fill you in on the details about the chicken bus, but I will tell you that it s a public transportation system that gets very crowded at time. It also gets very bumpy because Antigua is entirely old cobblestone that hasn’t been repaired in a while, It is beautiful, but bumpy. Today, Antigua was much less busy than it was the first Sunday that we first visited on, It gave us a chance to see more of the city. Before we got to do any souvenirs shopping, we had a market challenge to do. We were in charge of finding and bargaining for ingredients for dinner, without a translator. The supermercado was unlike anything i’ve ever seen. It is millions of clothes, shoes, flowers, produce, and meat shoppes all crammed together, Is is both exciting and overwhelming, so thankfully we were in groups for this activity, When we were done getting our ingredients we went into the artisan market where we were cut loose for an hour to spend as we pleased. We really liked this market because we knew we were supporting the people that made these items, rather than some places that all have the same items and were less unique, It also helped because, by this time, we were much better at bargaining prices. Well, except for Nicole, it is a running joke that she is the only one who can talk up a price from its original.
When we were done shopping we caught a chicken bus back to San Miguel Escobar and returned home to start cooking our ingredients. Our menu consisted of nachos ( popular around here), home-made guacamole, pineapple mango smoothies, and chocolate covered plantains for dessert. We all worked together to cook it which made it even more delicious when we ate it. It was a blast working together to make it and laugh about stories from the market
Riding the chicken bus!
Day 7 Friday
Today was an early rising day because we are headed to Lake Atitlan! Our free day options were hiking an active volcano or going to the lake and we opted for this because of its rumored beauty and variety of activities. What a good choice that was! Aside from the super bumpy three hour car ride, this whole day was fantastic. We got to the lake around 10AM and Chau, Stephanie and Sam immediately were dropped off for zip lining. They got to zip line for about two hours and got to see monkeys and a butterfly garden along the way. The rest of us, having had enough adventure on the ride over, headed down the mountain further to kayak on the lake. The lake was beautiful and super clear. We rented some kayaks and spent about an hour on the water just hanging out. After an adventure packed week, this was just what we needed. Around noon we took a break for lunch at a restaurant in town and got to eat alongside some hummingbirds flying around us. This area is super touristy so there were also a lot of shoppes to go to for those of us who still had Quetzales left to spend. There were dozens of markets and so many things to see. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping until we met at 4pm and headed back to Antigua for our goodbye dinner. This was the first time we got to see the night life in Antigua and it was beautiful. There were light everywhere and people eating and walking in the center park. We got to our restaurant which was moon and star themed and served only crepes. It was such a fancy place, the decorations were to die for and the waiters ordered off ipads. This also is the first time we really saw handheld technology being used. The food was fantastic and we got to eat and spend time with each of our tour guides and leaders from De La Gente. It was the perfect goodbye, even though it was hard to say goodbye.
Saturday Day 8
Today was very sad because we had to say our goodbyes to this beautiful city and the wonderful people that we met along the way. We had one last breakfast from the ladies, and got to hang our with Jane once more before our bus came to take us to the Guatemala City airport. We will all miss this city and it’s people dearly and I don’t think any one of us would trade this experience for the world. Thank you to all who helped us get here, supported us while we were here, or helped make this trip as amazing as it was. This was truly a life changing experience.
Yesterday we woke up ready and eager to start day two of construction. We were super sore but it felt good to know that we are making a difference! A few of us got up and had a yoga session to get our joints moving again and it was a great way to start off the day. The ladies cooked us breakfast again and they made us pinapple pancakes. I have never seen pinapple put in pancakes before but now no pancake will ever be the same. It was muy sabrosa, or delicious! After breakfast we were met by our crew from yesterday, Timoteo, Miguel and Eduardo and left for the construction sites. We didnt completely finish our patio yesterday so four of us went with Miguel to finish that, while the rest of the group followed Timotao to the new location. We worked on building the patio until about 1:00pm until we went to lunch at a farmer’s house.At lunch you could tell that we were all getting pretty tired, but we came together and pep talked ourselves back up. What really motivated me to keep going was knowing that before we even began this morning, Timotao was picking coffee for a few hours prior to construction. These people work so hard for so many hours,but are still so completely happy about it. After lunch, our group of four re-joined the others at the new site, which was building a wall. At the new location there were two coffee patios that were old and broken basketball courts. There was a large crack in between the two where the wall was being assembled. This made us feel really good about the patio we built yesterday because we saw what they had to use instead of a coffee patio and it was not a good set up. Building the wall consisted of lots more teamwork. We had to mix more concrete, carry cinder blocks, and measure and stack the blocks too. Karissa was put on machete duty and got to cut the blocks with the machete. It was hilarious to watch. This station really tested our working together skills but it was tons of fun. We worked hard all the way until 5:00pm when we were done for the day. We said our goodbyes to Timotao, who stayed to keep working. We will all really miss him, he is the man. After two days of hard construction, I dont think we could have been more tired. Which makes me feel even worse, because these guys do this every day. We were sunburned and sore but we knew that meant we worked hard. We ran home to shower quickly before dinner with another family. Dinner is always at 6pm but today it was approaching 6:30 and no one had come to get us yet. Just then, the pizza delivery guy pulled up and we were told that we had a surprise movie and pizza night. This was SUCH good news because we were really dragging at this point. Some of us ran to the tienda and got some chips and soda and the movie night began. We hooked up a projector and watched a movie before crashing at about 9pm. Nicole had one more surprise for us, she had secretly contacted our friends and loved ones and they had all written us notes. It was the best surprise ever and I don’t think any of us have ever smiled that much. Many thanks to all of you who sent us some encouragement. It was a much needed piece of home!
Today we are off to work with some artisans. There is a group doing wood working, one with iron work and one with textiles. We just had some fantastic breakfast of eggs, beans and salsa and are now preparing to leave. We also have a market scavenger hunt in the afternoon and some time to shop.
Hasta luego mis amigos!
Ann and Timotao and I
Our finished coffee patio!
We got to put our hand prints and initials in the cement!
Today was our first construction day and our first day to feel like we really are making an impact. After yet another delicious breakfast, we had a quick yoga session and then went on our way to start the work. Prior to this morning we had no idea what we would be making but we knew it was going to be very rewarding and tiring. We met three farmers, Timoteo, Gabriel, and Eduardo, and went to our site. Our job today was to make a concrete floor for a coffee patio, which is where the farmers dry the coffee beans in the sun. The farmers who do not have house large enough to process the coffee in their homes, they often have these separate places where they process and work with their coffee. We started with an area filled with rocks and weeds and dirt and not much organization. We began by wheeling in dirt and then combining with cement to make concrete. This was especially challenging because our instructors did not speak English and so we had to piece together their instructions on what to do, We then formed assembly lines and poured the concrete and worked it until it laid nicely. There are many steps to creating a floor and we got to experience each of them. It was especially cool to see how our group came together and communicated and collaborated as a team. Around noon, we took a quick lunch break at la casa de Timoteo, and had our new favorite meal, this rice and beef stew with horchata to drink. I swear every meal gets better and better. During lunch we got to learn a lot more about the coffee cooperative and the founding group that runs it. After lunch we went back to work until 4pm and got way farther with the floor than we ever expected. Now, the floor is just about finished and only need a few final touches tomorrow. Tomorrow morning we will be back at the same site but we do not yet know what else we are doing. It felt great to work and get to visually see our progress and impact on the project. When we got home in the afternoon, we all went to the tienda to buy some ice cream. There were many different kinds and it was really fun to check out the different types. Ann and I bought a type of mango that Nikki had told us about from her experience last year. This type of mango is super rare and you prepare it by squishing it in your hands and then cutting off the top and sucking out the fruit. We tried eating them at home and it was hilarious. It was very tasty but very messy and hard to eat.
For dinner we met with another farmer and ended up teaching him charades. It was tons of fun and we laughed a lot. Now we are all applying ample amounts of aloe and trying not to fall asleep because we are exhausted from a hard days work! Tomorrow we have another day of work and sun and we couldn’t be more excited!
This was our patio before we started.
The group working together to mix cement
Our end result for the day.
Each night we are trying to take a picture with our dinner hosts. This was Fredy y Fredy Jr.
This was our group ( minus Nicole) with the farmers that we worked with today!
Finally a few more favorite moments from some group members:
Sam: : ” My favorite moment was probably connecting with the lady in the market the other day. It was really cool to get to talk to her and have her be so receptive to speaking with us!”
Ann: ” My favorite moment is from today, actually. I thought it was so great to see all of us come together as a group and really experience true team work!”
Now, we are off to bed before more hard work tomorrow! Hasta Luego!
Day three in Guatemala has been one of the best so far! Last night we ate dinner with a farmer for the second time, but this time we were able to converse much more. We did not have a translator with us so it was up to us to combine our broken Spanglish to communicate. The farmer we ate with, Friolan, was very talkative and interested in what we had to say. We told him of our day in Antigua and he told us tons about a volunteer hospital in the area that helps people get the medical attention they need for no cost. It was the first time we really got to share stories with one of the Guatemalan people and we all had a great time. I really enjoy when we don’t have a translator because, not only is it good practice for us to learn new words but it also allows for hilarious stories when we get words wrong. After dinner we played some bonding games before we wrapped it up and went to sleep.
This morning we woke up around 7am to prepare for breakfast at 7:30. A few of us went to our roof earlier to see the sunrise, but ended up getting to see Volcano Fuego erupt instead. This eruption was not a dangerous one, it is very typical for Volcano Fuego to spew smoke each morning and it was so awesome to see. Some of the farmer’s wives came to make us breakfast this morning and it was delicious. They made us french toast and fruit and it was very good. We then got ready before departing for a day of coffee picking with some farmers. We hiked for about 20 minutes up the volcano ( the not active one) before entering Miguel’s ( our farmer escort for the day) plot of trees. Because this is the end of the harvest there were not many berries on the branches, but we were told we were very helpful because this time of year the picking is more tedious to get the good berries off the branches. We picked berries for a few hours and got to speak with the farmers and hear lots of information from our translator, Jane. The farmers were very receptive to answering our questions and were very excited about teaching us the coffee process. Picking berries was very fun it was very cool to get to experience what the farmers do each day. Around 12pm we headed back down the volcano to town for lunch. We ate with our other escort, Gabriel. They served us a rice and chicken dish that was really good. We have yet to have bad food here. After lunch, we returned to Miguel’s house, where we learned about the coffee processing. After farmers pick the berries, all of the processing occurs in their houses. Since many of the farmers are related, they will often either live in the same home, or gather in one to do the processing.
It was particularly interesting because they had each stage of the coffee processing ( takes about 2 weeks after being picked) for us to see. We each got to try using the Punpero, or this bicycle machine that ground the beans out of the berries. The farmers then walked us through the many steps that it takes to turn the beans into coffee. In the final stages of the lesson we got to roast actual beans, which Miguel’s wife did on the stove and then grind the beans by hand. We were each able to physically try the various steps of the process and it was such a unique experience. Once the beans were roasted and ground, they put the coffee into boiling water and we were able to try a cup of the coffee. Oh my goodness, that was hands down the best cup of coffee many of us have ever had. I truly don’t know if any others will ever compare. The entire experience of getting to see the coffee from berries to the cup was so incredibly fascinating, we may never look at a cup of coffee the same way again. The farmers then gave us some coffee to keep and we were able to purchase some from them if we chose. This was particularly interesting because all of the money we gave them, went straight to their pockets. After learning yesterday how little profit typically goes to the farmers, this was especially rewarding.
We then went back to our house and got to sit down and speak with the executive director of De La Gente, Andy. He is one of the founders of De La Gente and was fascinating to speak to and listen to his experiences, advice and wisdom. After that we had some down time before another dinner with a farmer.
Tonight Hermando and his family hosted us for dinner. He walked us to his house with a few of his children. I got the chance to speak to him the whole way and learn a lot about his life. He had seven children, which is pretty typical for families around here. He learned to speak some English through a program that De La Gente supplied the farmers with so it was very exciting that he got to practice his English, while we practiced Spanish. There was a lot of Spanglish going on and we had some great conversations. This dinner was particularly special for Anna and Carly because they are very passionate about their Catholic religion and tonight we had a religious surprise. During dinner Hermando’s wife walked outside with a candle and we asked what she was doing. He told us that they were performing the Stations of the Cross. There were many groups of families and they set up the various stations around the streets. People sang and prayed in groups by these altars. IT was very powerful to see and such privileged to be a part of. Even for those of us who aren’t Catholic, it was fascinating to experience. After we watched some of the groups come by we returned inside. Carly and Anna got to learn the Sign of the Cross in Spanish and they taught Hermando and his family it in English as well. This was one of my favorite things to see because bridging the cultures together is one of the best experiences ever. Both our group and the family really got to bond over this and even the children enjoyed this experience. As we walked back to our house we got to pass by more of these ceremonies and soak up more culture.
We are really coming together more as group and really getting to know one another. I have attached some photos of the coffee process and our experiences today.
More quotes from our group members about their favorite things so far:
Chau: ” I really enjoyed the authentic breakfast yesterday morning at the hotel. It was very good!”
Carly : ” I loved getting to see Volcano Fuego erupt this morning!”
Nikki: ” Being able to able to experience this from a leadership perspective and to get to see the group experience this as well. I love that we have a really open and communicative group” ( she went on this trip last year and returned with us as our student leader)
It is almost the end of day two and we are safe and sound and loving Guatemala! We arrived in Guatemala City yesterday morning and had a jam packed day until we made it to Ciudad Vieja, which means old city. Last night we stayed in a hotel and it was the cutest place in the world. A small Guatemalan family runs the hotel and they greeted us as if we were part of their family. The hotel, as well as many of the other buildings here is very colorful and is half inside/half outside. Many buildings here do not have full roofs, but it is really nice because Guatemala is the land of eternal spring time so it is always the perfect weather. We dropped out bags at our hotel and met with our group leader, Jane. She brought us sandwiches ( yay for real/non airport food) and then we went on a walk to explore the area. She explained to us that the large booms that we hear are not bombs or gunshots, but fire crackers because Guatemalans like to celebrate and will find any excuse to do so at any hour of the day. Our hotel was in La Cuidad Vieja, but De La Gente and our new living quarters are in San Miguel Escobar. Each of these towns consists of maybe 3-5 streets and are very small. The scenery here is breath taking. Everything is so colorful and surrounded by the two massive volcanoes which are always amazing to look at. After our orientation walk with Jane we got a much needed nap in before we were picked up by some farmers to go to dinner. The farmers made us tamales for dinner, which is what they eat every saturday for dinner. It was muy delicioso! I envisioned tamales to be extremely spicy, but it was a potato like dish that was heavenly! We got to converse with the farmer and his family and thankfully there was a translator because it was very hard to speak with them. After dinner we went back to our hotel to get some much needed rest after a long day of travel.
This morning we woke up and got breakfast made by our hotel family. We had eggs, cheese, beans, fruit, and fried plantains. We also got our first cup of Guatemalan coffee. Apparently Sam and I mistook the salt for sugar and were not too fond our of coffee until we realized what we had put in it. We finished up breakfast and left for Antigua. Antigua is the larger city in this part of the country and today was extra special because it is lent. This is a very religious area, so there were many processions and parades for the upcoming holy week. Many people make these beautiful “carpets” of flowers and colored sawdust and there were people and vendors EVERYWHERE! I think we are so lucky to be down here during this time because it is so rich with culture. After converting our money at a bank, we had some Guatemalan children approach us as they were doing a school project. My interpretation was spotty, but basically they wanted un abrazo ( or hug) and in return theywould give us a heart. It was a way to spread positivity. Our heart says, “Que la gracia del Senor Jesuscristo sea ton su espiritu”. Which is a bible verse, inspired by holy week. We then, hiked up a very very large hill, not fully realizing what we were in for, until we got to the top where this larger cross monument was placed. This was cool to see, until we took a few more steps are realized we were overlooking all of Antigua, with the breathtaking volcano behind it. We got to take hundreds of pictures, mingle with some locals and also discuss a bit of Guatemala history.
We then hiked down and went to see some Mayan ruins. Wading through Antigua was very hard today because so many people are staked out for the religious festivities. The ruins were very beautiful to see and walk through. Many families were camped out eating picnics in the grassy areas and it was so nice to be able to see. There was also a museum there as well but, given our lack of spanish knowledge, it was muy difacil to interpret. We did learn a lot though about Saint Hermano Pedro, who is the only saint of Guatemala and dedicated his whole life to serving others. There was a whole section where people wrote thank yous and left their crutches or medical equipment that they no longer needed because he helped them. It was very empowering to see. After the museum we walked to lunch which was a more international restaurant, so could order food we are more familiar with if we chose. We all got smoothies, per our guides recommendation, and not only were they the size of our heads, but they were delicious. Nicole, Anna and I split some quesidillas which were fabulous. After lunch we got to go to the market for a little bit at shop. Oh my gosh, what an overwhelming experience. The markets here are all set up for you to bargain the price, but even just walking up to look at something, the vendors would latch on to you and make it very hard to walk away. Their booths were filled with colorful merchandise,so while shopping you had to attempt to speak Spanish, find what you wanted to buy, convert how much it actually cost, and then stop them from talking you in to buying 8 more. It was both exhilarating and exhausting.
At 3pm we caught our bus back to San Miguel Escobar and got to move in to the De La Gente house, where we will stay for the remainder of the trip. We now have some down time until we eat dinner with a farmer again.
I asked a few group members what their favorite thing so far is and heres what they said:
Anna- ” I liked the market and getting to practice my Spanish. It made me realize I know more than i thought”
Karissa- ” The market was also my favorite so far too because we got to interact with a local who was very interactive and shared many tips about our trip.” I believe they spoke to this lady for a long time in the market and really connected with her. It was very cool to hear about!
Stephanie- ” I really liked going to the cross today and hiking up so high. It was really beautiful to see the volcanoes and beautiful scenery. Everyone up there was so open to talking with us and we took a larger group photo with some of them which was so much fun!”
Nicole- ” I tried Guacamole, and it wasn’t terrible”.
I will be quoting some other group members in my next post, but they are all currently resting. Overall, we are safe, sound, and LOVING Guatemala!
Welcome to the blog page for the 2015 Alternative Spring Break Guatemala trip! This page will contain updates of our trip throughout the week as we venture through Guatemala. We are a group of nine UW Oshkosh students and our leader, Nicole, that will be spending our spring break volunteering in San Miguel Escobar, Guatemala. Our trip focuses on sustainability and what we can do to make a more sustainable world. We will be volunteering with a non for profit organization called De La Gente, that works with coffee farming communities in Guatemala to “create econonmic opportunity that improves the quality of life for [farmers] and their families”(De La Gente). The name, De La Gente, means “from the people” and the company strives to ensure the people doing the work and the one’s that receive the proceeds of the work, this enables the famers to afford school and healthcare as well as obtain a better lifestyle. For our trip, we will be staying with the farmers and working on the coffee farm. As a coffee lover, this trip could not be more exciting! For more information of De La Gente and its mission, you can visit http://www.dlgcoffee.org/our-projects/ and read all about their projects.
With just four days until we leave, our group is getting very excited for the journey that lies ahead. Here is some information about our group introduce our members:
My name is Brenna and I am a junior, Kinesiology major with an emphasis in Strength and Conditioning. I am most excited about learning about the coffee process and seeing my first volcano! I will be the blogger for our trip, updating you on all of our exciting adventures!
Chau is a senior Human Resource Management Major with an Emphasis in Legal Studies and Business. He most excited about experiencing Guatemalan culture first hand whether it is hiking up a volcano, eating meals with the local farmers, or simply observing the locals. Chau has been our educator leading up to the trip, and has prepped us for all we need to know about Guatemala and its culture!
Anna is a sophomore Environmental Studies Major with a Business Administration minor. She is most excited to experience a different culture and learn about the coffee production process. Anna has been working adamantly on our fundraising efforts and has embraced utilizing other Guatemala non for profits to fundraise for this trip.
Nikki is our student leader and is returning to Guatemala for her second time. She is a senior Music Industry Major. She is most excited to be going back to Guatemala to work with De La Gente and to be taking on this experience with a new perspective as a student trip leader. She has been tremendously helpful in prepping us for this trip and using her past experiences to get us ready.
Ann is a junior Environmental Studies major with a Sustainable Business Management Minor. She is most excited about submersing herself in a new culture and seeing the impact that our actions will make on other’s lives. Ann will be aiding us with re-orientation when we return home from our trip, and helping us get readjusted to normal life after all we have experienced.
Carly is a junior Sociology Major with and Environmental Studies Minor. She is most excited to step outside of her comfort zone and immerse herself in a completely different culture. She especially can’t wait to meet the farmers and take part in the coffee-making process. Carly is our reflection leader and will be helping us to discuss and process our experiences before, during and after our trip.
Stephanie is a senior Human Services Major with a Business Minor. She is most excited for climbing a volcano and learning a new culture. Stephanie was also part of our fundraising team and really worked hard to lower our trip costs!
Samantha is a sophomore nursing major. She is looking forward to immersing herself into a new culture while also learning about sustainability. She also wants to practice her Spanish! Samantha will be planning our free days and extra events when we are in Guatemala.
Karissa is a senior Ecology and Organismal Biology Major. She is really excited to be immersed into a new culture and experiencing many new things! Karissa will also be working with us on re-upon re-entering the United States. She will work to help us not only adjust but also incorporate our experiences into our daily lives.
Last but certainly not least, is our leader, Nicole! She is traveling to Guatemala for the first time with us and is most excited about the opportunity to be in a different culture and to experience life in a new way!
Two weeks ago, we worked with student recreation expeditions and had a rock climbing night to bond and prepare for our trip. We had tons of fun getting some exercise and trying something new! Although not all of us our pictured here, we had a great time getting to know one another! We can’t believe it is already almost time for us to leave but we could not be more ready! Stay tuned to this page for updates on our trip and descriptions of our experiences!
Vamos a Guatemala!