Another action-packed week has flown by here in Guatemala!
As the week began we continued to immerse ourselves within the wider community that surrounds us. We spent time meeting additional members of the De La Gente cooperative over evening meals, and worked alongside of local DLG craftspersons by means of an artisan workshop. The choices ranged from a textile or burlap coffee sack sewing class to a woodworking tutorial and even a peanut butter making class. All of which were so much fun! These workshops mutually benefit us as participants who get to take home beautiful handcrafted goods (hopefully no Christmas present spoilers!), as well as allow coffee farmer’s families to earn extra income for their household.
This week we also started our service partnership with an organization called Garden of Hope. Garden of Hope is a side project of School of Hope, which was founded by an English teenager who was on her own gap year in 2002. The school is based in nearby Jocotenango: an area where extreme poverty, gang crime, domestic violence and alcoholism are everyday realities. The garden was created to provide the students and surrounding youth with green spaces where they can connect with nature, have joyful experiences, and develop life skills. Throughout the remainder of our stay we will be volunteering at the garden several afternoons a week by working on a variety of projects including: painting new plant label signs, watering the crops, and getting our hands dirty whenever the opportunity presents itself. An additional service of Garden of Hope offers assistance to a school located high above Antigua in a village called El Hato. Our group had the opportunity to visit the school’s library where we collaborated with students to create educational posters and played a game of Capture the Flag. Through these activities we practiced the universal languages that are art and sport, as the children only spoke their native indigenous language and, some, a bit of Spanish.
Our coursework this week saw us further developing our understanding of the history of Guatemala, specifically the ancient Mayan civilization. In order to best understand this history we ventured out on a weekend excursion to The Petén, a vast territory of savannas, swamps and rainforests in northern Guatemala where the Mayan civilization flourished in ancient times.
Our journey started with a 3:00 a.m. wake up where our bus wove its way north to the lush jungles of the Mayan biosphere. We broke up our 13 hour ride with a swim in the hot springs of Finca EL Paraíso, a hidden gem where piping hot water cascades into the cool river water in the midst of the jungle. It was a true oasis and exactly what we needed to break up our day of travel.
The following morning saw another “voyageur start” (thank you VOBS) as we awoke at 3:00 a.m. once more for a sunrise hike at Tikal, one of Central America’s most mystical, archaeological sites. Traveling with our world renown guide, Carlos we spent the morning exploring this natural wonder where we saw enormous limestone structures emerging through the dense, diverse jungle landscape.
After a delicious countryside lunch stop, we dipped in nearby Lago Petén Itzá before continuing on to Yaxha, another sanctuary combining robust biodiversity and Mayan cultural heritage. Here we spent our afternoon discovering Yaxha’s fascinating stelae, pyramids, temples, and plazas furthering our knowledge of who the Mayan people were and what mysteries they left behind.
Our weekend exploration throughout these parts of the Petén allowed us to witness how sophisticated and highly developed this group of people were, not only in ancient times, but the Maya living today whose cultural practices remain strong and whose cycles of life continue on. We have since returned home to our host families in San Miguel Escobar. After a free day yesterday to catch up on our coursework, we are eagerly awaiting the engaging experiences we have lined up for the week to come.