“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Green Bay where the local time is 10:28 pm, and the temperature is 24 degrees.”
As the 2019 Gap cohort arrived at Austin Straubel airport earlier this week the brisk, chilly air and monochromatic winter landscape of Wisconsin (not so warmly) welcomed us home. Though this cold and dark arrival was quite the contrast to the soft, warm air and colorful surroundings of Guatemala, our waking the next morning to a bright, snow covered campus had us in high spirits as we realized we’d come home to a Winter Wonderland.
Our last couple days in Guatemala were bittersweet. We were eagerly awaiting our loved ones and the familiar comforts of home while, at the same time, embracing all that was beautiful and magical. Our overnight hiking trip on Volcán de Pacaya was one such example. Here we saw ourselves facing yet another physical and psychological challenge as we, once again, found ourselves at the mercy of Mother Nature. As we began our upward climb prepped with multiple layers, headlamps, and hiking boots, flashbacks and stories from our early days together in the wilderness began to circulate. We laughed and joked about the comparison to the uphill challenge of Mount Trudy on the Superior Hiking Trail, the multiple trips and falls while portaging, and pondered how this camping food would compare to that we consumed on trail. Upon arrival at our campsite a thick, damp fog surrounded us making it difficult to see our own hand in front of our faces. Despite the harsh conditions we were able to make our way further up the volcano lead by our experienced Old Town Outfitter guides who brought us to steaming magma vents where we roasted marshmallows!
The following morning we awoke at 5:30 to our guides suggesting we exit our tents and view the lava that was spewing from Pacaya just above us. The view was almost as magnificent as the overlook they took us to shortly after where we watched the sun rise over the glorious landscape of Guatemala one last time. The remainder of our final day was spent bidding farewell to our favorite spots in Antigua, sharing a meal together, and strategically packing our bags ensuring all of our colorful souvenirs made it back safely.
Since being back on campus, our week has consisted of acclimatizing our bodies to the cold, various meetings with campus representatives to aid in our transition, and prepping our final digital stories for our coursework. These projects document thousands of miles of travel by foot, canoe, automobile, train, plane, and boat that have occurred over the past several months. Through viewing all of our digital stories together it was evident we are all walking away from The Gap Experience with different stories, connections, memories, and perspectives. With these experiences fresh in our minds, we are looking forward to returning home to our loved ones and sharing our stories over the holiday season.
We would like to extend the utmost appreciation to all of the organizations we partnered with in Guatemala who carved out time to meet with us. Additionally, we would like to extend a special thank you to the team at De La Gente, and in particular our facilitators, Emma and Ronald, for challenging and inspiring us to learn about, witness, and respond to the many injustices that exist in the world. Your around the clock effort allowed our time in Guatemala to be one of joy, peace, and cultural enrichment.