Catching The Dead Eye - March 10th, 2017
We flew out of Philadelphia International at 0500 this morning so naturally I waited until I arrived home from a late dinner the night before to begin packing. With a 0200 arrival to the airport, and pending drive across the state, I decided to forgo any sleep the night before our travel. Most of our travel day I was dead tired, sleeping for almost the entirety of both flights. However upon arriving to Guatemala city, all of the new excitement and wonder that accompanies the arrival to a new exotic locale quickly pushed my lethargy aside. Upon exiting the airport, we met Guadalupe or just "Lupe" who would be our guide for the next nine days. Lupe is a kind and knowledgeable woman who quickly dispelled the myth that Guatemala is a poor country. She informed us that some parts of the country such as the capitol are actually quite well-off, and that there is mainly an unequal distribution, with a majority of the wealth being concentrated in these areas. She also went on to discuss the rampant lack of funds for medical care pertaining not only to patients but also providers and hospitals. We learned that medical equipment required by patients needed to be purchased by patients and their families for the hospital to use. It was made clear that you do not want to get sick or injured in Guatemala. We slowly moved out of the city in a kaleidoscope of brightly colored buildings and cars. After a much longer bus ride than I bargained for, we arrived in Panajachel at dying light. We walked the town and ate a beautiful and delicious meal. After returning to the room where myself, Rich, and Parth were staying, Rich and I grabbed a couple of brews and enjoyed them on the front porch of our accommodation before retiring for the night. How will we be received by the indigenous people that we are here to help? Will they be welcoming? Will they be wary?
The Day Of Café - March 11th, 2017
We started the day with a delicious breakfast. We were served panqueques that were much more like large biscuits that we have in America. It was at this moment that I decided to call Biscuits, the cat that hung out at the hotel by the name of Panqueque from then on. The weather was beautiful and made our walk through town down to the docks and subsequent boat ride across Lake Atitlán all the more enjoyable. Before we crossed the lake, I purchased a pair of the finest fake Ray Bans from a local vendor which broke as soon as I tried to put them on. I was so excited by the fact that the named price was so cheap, I completely forgot to bargain. I feel like this may be the beginning of a trend. The passage across the lake was really pleasant and allowed me much time to talk to my new friend JT. Upon crossing the lake, we arrived in the colorful and steep town of San Juan La Laguna and were shepherded through the tight streets to Cooperative la Voz a coffee production. We learned about the history of the cooperative and the good that came about for the community with its inception. Benjamin was our guide and showed us the entire process of production from the plant to the warm delicious cup of coffee. One of the things that I found interesting was the fact that they not only allowed, but utilized other flora and fauna in an attempt to retain some of the biodiversity in the area which Benjamin said ultimately improved the quality of the beans. After our tour, we were able to taste some of the coffee which had been freshly roasted and ground. I'm not sure, but I would like to think that it was the best coffee I had ever drank. It was certainly the freshest. We left la Voz, bags heavy with coffee destined for home, and meandered back to the docks from where we would return to Panajachel and eventually our hotel. We returned to the same restaurant from last night and I was introduced to Quezalteca the Guatemalan Liquor. After enjoying a few libations, we returned to the hotel for a short brief. A couple of us went out exploring after and found a cool bar with a loft that we could all fit in. After a couple of beers and many laughs, we returned to the hotel for a good night's sleep. The people at La Voz seem to have a great sense of community. Why have we lost ours here in the U.S.?
Zipidy-Do-Da - March 12th, 2017
Another start to another day. After eating some panqueques and saying goodbye to our friend Panqueque the cat, we loaded up into the bus and headed to the Atitlán nature preserve to go zip lining at Cables X-tremos. We had to hike up to the zip lines, but it was worth it as we were rewarded with beautiful vistas of the lake. Along the way, JT and I became friendly with our guides Baldo and Ceasar and before long, the four of us were passing jokes around in our non-native languages. After zip lining, we loaded back onto the bus (which was being driven by Walter the Magnificent) and headed for Chichicastenango. When we arrived, we ate lunch as a group and of course sampled some Guatemalan moonshine distilled from corn. Lupe insisted that Michael and I "sample" it several more times, and by the time we set out to the market streets, I was feeling adequately warm and fuzzy. I eventually broke off from the rest of the group and found myself in a photo shop run by a man named Victor. I remarked at the many pictures that he had around his shop and we began to discuss some of the history of the town. He then showed me some old pictures from the 70's. One that really stood out was of a group of men recycling old tires to make sandals from them. I thought that this showed the great resourcefulness that can be exhibited by people when they are faced with challenges, a trait which I'm sure the Guatemalan people are very familiar with. After talking with Victor, I roamed around and found a few trinkets to buy (I forgot haggle here too) and then we hopped onto the bus bound for Quetzaltenango. We arrived in the city well after dark and went to AMA house for dinner and introductions. AMA and its headquarters are great. I found that once we were inside of the gate, we were safe and part of the family. Afterwards, we arrived to our hotel where I was to room with Rich and we quickly passed out after a long day of travel. There was a central building in the market where all of the produce was being sold. How often do the vendors bring in new produce? How do they deliver it as the streets are so tight?
Building Stoves And A Future - March 13th, 2017
Today started with a trip to AMA for breakfast. After a quick and delicious meal, we hopped on the bus, being piloted by our hero Walter and began our trip to Los Maroquines. After only a few minutes into the trip I realized that I had made a fatal error by not using the restroom before leaving AMA. My bladder moved past the stage of discomfort into feeling like it was going to explode as we bounced along the progressively worse roads that we encountered along the way into the countryside. My first experience when arriving to the village that we were going to work with was desperately searching for a place to relieve myself. I was lead down a hill and told to use what looked like a small child's fort. This "restroom" was made out of sticks and tired looking tarps that were riddled with holes. It was absolutely filthy and honestly mortifying. After some clever maneuvering, I was finally able to take care of business and emerged from the tiny lavatory feeling relieved, accomplished, and just a little bit violated. I rejoined the group and enjoyed our welcoming ceremony which was graciously performed by the women of the village. After introducing ourselves, we watched as the Dons or the AMA masons instructed us how to construct a cinderblock stove. Next we met our families to which our stove-building groups would be assigned. Alessia, Lauren, and myself were assigned to Christia-Maria's house. After meeting her and seeing where we would be woking for the next two days, we grabbed a quick lunch (provided by AMA) and got to work. We had a rough start as the ground was not level, but eventually were able to lay the foundation but the day ended much to early. We traveled back to the hotel and from there to AMA for another great meal. Then back to the hotel to call it a night. I noticed that some of the villagers had smart phones. Where do they charge them as there doesn't appear to be any electricity in the village?
Don't Cry Because It's Over, Smile Because It Happened - March 16th, 2017
We started today with (you guessed it) another quick breakfast at AMA and headed to Los Maroquines. Today our focus was more education and saying goodbye. I was with Lauren and Alessia and our topic was to discuss contraception with the indigenous midwives. The other nursing group had to discuss sexually transmitted infections. The indigenous people have a very poor biomedical knowledge base. This makes education in subjects such as reproductive health very difficult. If you don't know how a baby is made on a cellular level, it is difficult to explain almost every type of contraception. Our lecture quickly devolved into anatomy and physiology class as opposed to our original topic. Learning still took place, so I was happy about that, and when endeavoring in this type of work, one has to be flexible. After our teaching, we all ate together in the village center with the midwives and villagers. Following lunch, the girls in our group were dorn in traditional Mayan garb and had their hair braided in the traditional way. There was a very nice thank you/ goodbye ceremony. We all received floral arrangements and handwoven napkins. It was very touching, and many of people in our group were overcome with emotion when it was time to finally say goodbye. As sad as it was, I felt good because we left this place better than we found it. After stopping by the hotel to change into swimsuits, we hit a volcanic hot spring that was very relaxing, but a little bit touristy. Afterward, we grabbed some pizza that was surprisingly really good and then went to learn how to Salsa at a local salsa school. Armed with our new moves and grooves, we set out to a salsa bar near the city center to test our moves. When observing other people who have been dancing way longer than us, we realized just how bad we were. It didn't stop us from having fun though and we ended the night on a high note, celebrating all of our hard work. Will AMA ever go back to Los Maroquines? If so how often? Is what we left behind sustainable?
Welcome To Paradise - March 17th, 2017
For the very last time we woke up and headed to AMA for breakfast, but this time, all of our gear was packed and loaded onto the busses as we would be leaving Quetzaltenango for good after this meal. We picked up and paid for all of the gifts that we had picked out and said our goodbyes. People were sad once again, but it was once again for a good reason. We loaded onto the bus and chugged back towards the East. We stopped at some Mayan ruins which happened to be some of the youngest from about 1,000 years ago. They were peaceful. I really wanted to sit on the top of one of the temples that had a tree growing on top of it, but there were signs telling us to keep off. As we explored the ruins, we even found a fire ceremony in progress and I was reminded of the one that I had been a part of a few days prior. We then herded ourselves back onto the busses and set out on the final leg of our trip to Antigua. When we arrived, there was a lot of activity. This would be the most crowded area that we had visited. As we wound through the streets, we finally came upon our hotel. It was beautiful. It was a bitter sweet moment unloading the busses because this would be mine and JT's last time with Walter who had become a good friend over the course of the week. I had literally spent several hours with the man trying to converse in Spanish while he told me about his life and family and taught us all the bad curse words and phrases in Guatemala. We gave both Walter and Sergio some gifts to remember us by and sent them on their way. Dr. Pontes had to leave us to as she had an induction to attend the next evening in the U.S. Saying goodbye to her was sad too, but we would see her again soon. We checked into our lavish room and went to dinner as a group walking through town and enjoying the sights. After dinner we set out looking for fun ass we had a free day tomorrow and thus a free night tonight. We eventually found a packed club where Wiz Khalifa randomly showed up. Some of us got a little rowdy when it was time to leave so we decided to call it a night. How can places like Antigua and Los Maroquines exist just a few hours from each other?