Below is the journal of our trip to Guatemala.
July 10, 2008 – Journey to Guatemala
I started the day early at 2:30 AM and my mom picked me up at home at 3:00 AM. I got to the Minneapolis Airport around 3:30. I met up with Jenna and Claire. My mom got to meet Father Brian and then I said goodbye to my Mom and Mickey. Jenna and I waited with our group in the airport until 4:00 AM when we could start checking our luggage and get our boarding tickets. Luckily, Jenna and I were able to sit together from Minneapolis to Atlanta and from Atlanta to Guatemala City. The flights were on time and it was a smooth flight with only a little turbulence to Atlanta. After a 30 minute layover in Atlanta we were on our way to Guatemala City. The landing in Guatemala City was a little hard, but after touchdown, everyone cheered and clapped for a safe landing.
We picked up our luggage and sailed through customs with the exception of Fr. Brian. His baggage was selected for random screening. After a short delay, we went outside to meet our van driver. Apparently there was some confusion since there was not truck to carry our entire luggage and there was no way everyone and everything would fit in the van. So, we waited. About 45 minutes later, the truck arrived and everyone was loaded. We headed to Antigua, which is the old capital of Central America. On the way to Antigua, I noticed security guards with shotguns standing outside each store front. I can only assume it was to help prevent shoplifting.
After a 45 minute van ride, we arrived with our luggage at a small hotel in Antigua where we were assigned rooms and settled in for a few minutes. After a short meeting with Fr. Brian, we all headed out to explore the city. Jenna and I joined Katie and Dorothy for a horse drawn carriage ride around the city. The driver wanted to charge us $10 a piece for an hour tour. Jenna was able to talk him down to $4 a piece for 30 minutes. The ride was awesome. The driver told us about the different buildings and some of the history in the city. After the ride, Jenna and I explored the city by ourselves. We found the cathedral and walked through the central park. Up and down streets stopping in shops along the way. We have a wonderful time exploring Antigua and couldn’t believe we were actually in Guatemala!!!
Around dinner time, Jenna and I stopped by several restaurants and finally decided on Las Palmas. We had incredible grilled egg plant for starters and then Jenna had authentic Guatemala sausages and I had steak fajitas. For dessert, we shared chocolate cake with delicious vanilla ice cream. We got the bill and it was for Q298.36. I converted it to US dollars and confirmed with the waiter the correct amount in $$. The total was $42.00.
After dinner, Jenna and I walked around a little bit more. It was only a little after 7 PM and it was completely dark out. It must be because of the mountains blocking the sunset…we were not sure. We found our way back to the hotel and just relaxed for a while. Jenna is all set in her room with suitcases blocking the door and I am in my room writing. My roommate Tom is out with Fr. Brian and Will for after dinner drinks. They should be returning soon since we are getting an early start at 7:30 AM with an 8:00 AM breakfast. The hotel has a complete breakfast for $2.00. Hopefully it is good. Then at 9:00 AM we head out to San Lucas.
I took lots of pictures and love my new digital camera. While we were looking for a restaurant, we saw a funeral procession. The hearse leads the way and everyone follows. The casket is held shoulder height through the streets to the cemetery.
July 11, 2008 – Arrival to San Lucas Mission
The morning started a little before 7:30 AM. I got early in hopes of warm water for the shower. Luckily there was. At 8:00 AM we had breakfast. I had scrambled eggs with tomato, black bean puree/mashed and bread along with coffee for $2.00. After breakfast we loaded the pickup truck with all our gear and we headed to San Lucas Mission. After an hour or so of driving we stopped for a bathroom break and then drove for another hour through beautiful countryside where we saw banana groves, pineapple fields, coffee trees, and sugarcane fields. Lots of corn fields too. When we arrived at the mission, we first went to the hotel – Casa Blanca. Tom, my roommate and I went up to the roof to see the view and I looked around the hotel. We separated the donation bags from our personal things and then gave Fr. Brian our passports and money for safe keeping. We then went to the mission cafeteria and had lunch. Chona, the head cook is wonderful. She made beef stew and bread. After lunch our group had to do dishes. We all learned quickly and finished cleaning up. Fr. Brian then gave us a quick tour of the church and a few street vendors to stay away from and others that are more trustworthy. It started raining, so we ran back to our hotel to grab our ponchos. We made our way back to the cafeteria and Chona had some things for sale. She later explained that not everything was made in San Lucas, but that everything was made in Guatemala and we were supporting the people. Jenna and I bought a few things from Chona. Chona then spoke to two groups about her life and how the mission has changed the town for the better. The people used to be scared of North Americans. They though that the North Americans were giving them food to fatten then up and then they were going to take the Guatemalans to the US and eat them! They soon found out that the North Americans were trying to help. After the talk with Chona, we hung out for a little while and then at 5:00 PM, Fr. Brian said Mass in the church for our group. It was a quick, but complete Mass with communion. At the end of the mass we each got a medallion that he blessed to give to someone we meet during the week that touched us in some way. After Mass, Jenna and I explored San Lucas a little. The town is not a tourist town so it is not as clean and not as many out of towners. Although it is a safe city, I didn’t feel as comfortable walking around as I did in Antigua. Jenna and I made it back to the mission cafeteria for dinner. This time we had soup with carrots, rice, celery and a root vegetable of some sort. We also had a dish with hot dog slices, potato and green beans along with grape soda and Juan Ana coffee. The coffee is excellent. After dinner we all hung out in the cafeteria for a while. We met some of the medical students from Toledo, Ohio. Then we all went back to the hotel, except for the five girls who went on a taxi ride around town. They were kind of lucky to get home safe as it was dark and there were new to town, but, they had fun. We had another meeting when the girls returned to the hotel. We all introduced ourselves at the meeting. Dorothy is a nice older lady who still works part time in a dentist’s office, Lisa is going to be a sister, Cindy is a nurse, Katie is a property manager, and Kailey is a student along with Kelsey, Madeline, and Samantha in high school. Maria was adopted by Cindy from Guatemala and is hoping to meet her birth mom while down here. Tom, my roommate just graduated from high school and Will is a mutual funds trader. We all then visit for a little bit and planned out our Sunday for shopping. Fr. Brian, Cindy, Will, and Tom went out after the meeting and Jenna and the girls are getting ready for bed. There is not hot water heater at the hotel, but the shower head heats that water as it goes through. We’ll see how that goes tomorrow morning! After brushing my teeth, I heard two people talking in the lobby. I went down to refill my water bottle and it was a girl teaching our security guard English. I asked if I could sit in and listen, she said it was okay. They were going over basic Spanish/English terms to help him communicate with English speaking people. I even learned a few new Spanish terms. It was very interesting.
July 12, 2008 – Tour of San Lucas
It was an early start again. Apparently I am a morning person while traveling, because I woke up before the alarm at 7:00 AM. It might have been the rooster crowing at 5:30 or the shotgun shot/cannon/firecracker around the same time. In either case, the day started early. We went to breakfast at 8:00 AM and had oatmeal and bread. Then our group got into the bed of a pickup truck with a rail around it so we were standing up for a tour of San Lucas. We started up near one of the volcanoes that had a mudslide three years ago during Hurricane Stan and destroyed the village. The villagers were living in tents provided by the US government for a year until the mission could buy land and build brick houses with metal roofs. After the village we went to the place they clean, shell, and roasting the Juan Ana coffee. We learned that the beans are roasted for an hour and 25 minutes all the while being turned by hand in the roaster bin. Then we went to the reforestation area where there were a ton of seedlings and saplings in dirt/sand in plastic bags. The trees are used all around San Lucas to repair mudslide areas. After reforestation we went to the hospital. They have a new x-ray center where they can do body x-rays. The dentist is in the same building as the hospital. There are no private rooms for patients, but it is divided up for men, women, and children. The families need to provide sheets and blankets for the bed and bring food to feed their family members while in the hospital. After the tour we came back to the cafeteria where we hung out for a while and then Jenna and I went shopping at a small place, but didn’t buy anything. When then had lunch at the cafeteria. After lunch our group had to do dishes again. It went a lot smoother the second time around. After dishes we exchanged out US money for Quetzal. I changed $210.00 and got Q1533. The exchange rate is Q7.3:$1. After the exchange our group cleaned the cafeteria. We washed walls and bookcases, the shelves in the coolers, the piano, and pictures. It was quite the job. After cleaning, Jenna and I explored San Lucas again. We stopped at a store and bought a frozen chocolate dipped banana on a stick for Q2.50 or about $.30 cents and boy was it good! During our walk, it started to rain again, but we put on our ponchos and were fine. The children here are amazing. They are so welcoming and will yell HOLA!!! to us from blocks away. A few of the kids would say Foto! Foto! They wanted their picture taken, so I would and then showed them their picture on the digital camera. They loved it and started laughing. We made our way back to the hotel and were pretty wet by then. We sat around for a little while visiting with our group members. Around 5:00 PM, we met at the church and went to a finka, which is a village/plantation and had mass with Fr. John, who lives here. The mass was great, the people are all wonderful. The women’s clothing is amazing. They shot a cannon at the beginning of mass, during Eucharist, and at the end of mass. We got to the church and back to the mission in the back of a pickup truck again. It gets dark around 7:00 PM and really cools down. It is probably around 50, even cooler with the rain. After we got back from Mass we had leftovers from dinner at the cafeteria. Tonight was potato and steak soup, pasta, ham and chocolate cake! After dinner, Jenna and I played Kings Corners with a deck of cards that I found while cleaning the cafeteria. After a few games, we went back to the hotel and played rummy, king’s corners and speed with Samantha. Now I am back in my room and I am going to take a shower before bed. The Spanish lesson from last night just started up again. I think I will just listen from my room tonight.
July 13, 2008 – Trip to Chichicastanango
We slept in a little this morning…until 7:15 AM. Around 4:00 AM there was terrible whining/crying that woke Tom and me up. We figured it was a couple of cats that were in heat or wanted to get inside. Around 5:30 every morning there are a few firecrackers. We learned today that they may be for a birthday celebration. Then the rooster around 5:30 – 6:00 AM, but I’m sleeping well at night. Today for breakfast we had eggs and pancakes. I met with Josiah for a short time to discuss their computer needs and talk about their website. I am hoping to meet again and see the computers tomorrow. After the meeting we all piled into the van around 9:00 AM and headed for Chichicastanango. The trip was very bumpy and up and down and around mountains. We got there in about 2 hours or so. Once there Fr. Brian recommended eating at the hotel we were dropped off at. Jenna and I had the buffet. It was huge and pretty good. There were a lot of assortments of meat. Jenna likes the lemonade with Soda, so we each got one of those. The bill came to Q250 of so or about $35 for lunch. Then we headed into the Market. Both of us were unfamiliar with markets and bartering, but we caught on quickly. Before too long, I was swarmed with 8-10 girls all trying to sell something to me. I would walk from store to store with them around me. They were always taping my arm and saying “mister mister, buy from me”. After a while Jenna and I made a run for it to the hotel for refuge. We waited inside for 5 minutes or so in hopes they would move on, but they were still there, so Jenna and I went back out. Eventually the girls moved on, but at the end I bought a couple of necklaces from one girl and magnets from another. Our time was about up so we headed back to the hotel to meet up with our group. Jenna and I bought a bunch of wall hangings and table covers among other things. We all met up and got in the van and headed back to the mission. We stopped a few times for bathroom breaks and pictures, but the ride home seemed a lot faster. Once back at the mission, Jenna and I went back to our hotel and played cards for a while. We played 500 Rummy, king’s corners and speed. The girls with us taught us speed. We are having a lot of fun with that. We met for dinner at 6:00 PM. We had chicken, broccoli and cauliflower, watermelon, and bread. After dinner, Jenna and I went to Marta’s shop and Jenna bought a nice bracelet and then walked up the street to buy ice cream. We met a very nice Guatemalan family and Jenna visited with them for a short while and then ordered. Jenna bought a Pina Colada shake and I bought a banana sundae. The ice cream here is very flavorful. We walked back to the church with our ice cream and visited with a college student from Minnesota. I looked for Josiah again, but couldn’t find him. We went back to the hotel and Jenna and I played cards. We played speed and taught Dorothy speed. I played against her. The first time we tied and the second she beat me. We then had a prayer time and a reflection of the trip so far. Jenna and I then journaled for a short time in the sitting area and then I am finishing up in my room. Tomorrow should be a work day, finally! We may be breaking rock or laying new sewer pipe. Who knows, but it will be fun!
July 14, 2008 – Computers
Today was the normal start time, around 7:00 AM, and then we went to church at 8:00 AM with Fr. Greg. After church we had breakfast and planned the day. Fr. Brian was anxious about me starting on the computers. I spoke with Katherine and she wanted me to go to the school teacher lab. Our group went up to San Andres for the day and stucco’d the block walls. Jenna handed out candy to the kids in the village. I guess it started out in a single file line, but soon swarmed and Fr. Brian stepped in to hand out candy to give Jenna a break. He passed the bag to Maria and Will to thin out the swarm. They said it was amazing how much they got accomplished in a day. While the group was at the village, I was in the computer lab. They had 14 or so computers and only 2 could print. I setup the printer as a standalone printer and had the computers connect to it. At first it took quite a while to figure out what to do and where to go because even though it was windows 2000, it was all in Spanish! The icons were easy enough to figure out; it was the options and check boxes that were tricky. I was able to get about 12 computers able to print. The last computers were because of hardware failure or it was windows 98. During my time in the lab a few professors came up to me and asked me questions. It was a lot of fun to try to talk to them in Spanish. A few of the children came up to me as well. There were three girls that were giggling in the doorway and I turned around and one of the girls took my picture with her cell phone and then they ran away laughing. I finished up around 12:00 and went to talk with Katherine. She was very happy and excited to have the lab working again. Since the group was in San Andreas, I had lunch with a few women from another group. It was meatloaf today. It was also our group’s day to do lunch dishes, but I was the only one from our group at the mission as San Andreas was a full day trip. The ladies I was with offered to help with dishes and they recruited more from their group to help out. I thanked them for their help. After lunch I found Josiah. He explained what his computer needs were. He wanted a network set up from his and Katherine’s house to the mission offices. It worked out really well since there was a network cable from the offices to the house since the antenna was struck by lightening a few weeks prior. I was able to setup a simple file sharing setup with mapped drives to the other computers and folders setup on each desktop for easy file transfers. Josiah said it was exactly what he was looking for. When I had completed the setup, I walked back to the hotel for some paper to draw out the network diagram and my group had returned. It was about 4:15 PM and they got back at 3:30 PM. I shared my day with them and then Jenna and I went for a walk. We went up near the park and bought a bag of chips for Q1.50 and a lemonade con soda for a few Q. We continued our walk back to the church and stopped at a shop where a lady was working at the loom. Jenna and I went in and another lady was with the one at the loom. I asked if I could take their picture and they said yes and then started laughing. I don’t know much of what they were saying, but they were teasing us a lot. After about 15 minutes we were on our way and it started raining again. We made it back to the cafeteria without getting too wet and then I spoke with Josiah and gave him the network diagram and then joined Jenna at dinner. After dinner, Tom, Jenna, and I played a few games of cards and then Jenna and I walked back to the hotel. We chatted with the other members of our group and then Fr. Brian had a time of reflection with us at 7:30 PM. After the meeting, Jenna and I played speed and kings corners. She finally beat me in speed and wanted to go to bed, so I am in my room writing. I am about to get ready for bed. It is about 9:30 and I am pretty tired. Tomorrow is more computers and Jenna is hoping to visit the school and help with the students.
July 15, 2008 – Computer and Santiago
Another typical morning. We had scrambled eggs for breakfast. It’s amazing how Chona and make such large amounts of food and still have it taste great. Before breakfast, we went to mass. It was supposed to be with the students, but apparently something changed. After breakfast, Jenna, Kailey, Maria, Madeline, and I met with Katherine. She gave us all a tour of the school. Then the 3 girls went and worked with the first grade and Jenna went to third grade. I guess third grade is a challenge. The students don’t raise their hand, they toss and kick a ball around the back of the room and the teacher leaves for various reasons throughout the day. A few of the times Jenna felt she needed to keep control and translated their names to English and then took their pictures. The children loved to have their picture taken. While Jenna was with the 3rd grade, I was in the biblioteca (library) trying to get the students lab fixed. I was able to remove some of the errors and simplify things for Katherine. The librarian was very friendly. He kept coming to me and asking questions and making conversation. He knew that I didn’t know too much Spanish, but it was still fun. I asked for an English/Spanish dictionary and he was able to find one. That made things a lot easier. After I finished up in the library, I went to the younger kid’s library and worked on the librarian’s computer. It was running slowly and at the end, she said it was running faster and she was happy. Around 1:00 PM we had lunch and Jenna finished with the 3rd graders and joined us. We had mashed potatoes and roast beef. After lunch, we had some free time, but then piled in the van to go to Santiago. The city is about 25 minutes away and once there, we visited the memorial where a dozen people were murdered in 1980. We then visited Fr. Stan’s apartment where he was murdered. The cabinet door was still stained with his brain matter and blood and there was a bullet hole from the m16 in the marble floor. After the apartment, we went to the church where his heart and blood are buried. He body was sent back to Oklahoma where his family is. He always said he wanted his heart to stay with the people of Santiago. Fr. Stan should be a saint in a matter of a few years. After the church we had 15 minutes to shop. Jenna found a hand carved wooden angel for her grandma and a handmade wall hanging for her mom. It took a little while to negotiate the price for the wall handing, so we needed to run through the streets to catch up with our group. They were only a few blocks away. We then headed back to San Lucas. Once back, Jenna and I did some shopping up the street. Jenna got a carved fish for her dad and a couple other gifts. I bought two wooden puzzle boxes, a quetzal keychain, two San Lucas style weavings, a rosary, and a cup and ball catch game all for Q200 or about $28. We then went back to the hotel and hung out for a little while before dinner and then had grilled plantains, vegetables and bread. Chona also made 2 big birthday cakes for one of the people from another group. I don’t think I will be having plantains again anytime soon. They were good, but not a favorite. After dinner we all headed to a family who are Fr. Brian’s friends. The wife made tortillas with black refried beans and guacamole dip. It was delicious. The family had a piñata with candy for us. During Jenna’s turn, she was blindfolded and a bunch of firecrackers went off. Needless to say we were all a little terrified especially Jenna because she wasn’t able to see anything and thought they were gun shots. And, after learning about Fr. Stan and then Fr. Brian telling us it was a dangerous neighborhood, we were a little uneasy. After the piñata we went back inside and had the chips and dips. Then we had music and a few people got up to dance including Jenna and me. Then the son found the Macarena and then we all danced in their living room. We got back to the mission and had a quick meeting and then Jenna and I came back to my room to relax and then she went back to her room and I started journaling in my room. Tomorrow sounds like we are going to have free time. Maybe more shopping or a taxi ride or a walk down to Lake Atlitan. We are also going to meet with Fr. Greg.
July 16, 2008 – Last day in Guatemala
Typical morning again. Got up around 7:00 and got ready for mass at 8:00. Mass was with the children today. Our group never sits together in Mass. We do this so we can all sit among the people. Today we sat among the children. They are pretty well behaved in church. They love to sing and they sing very loudly. It was a great experience. After mass Fr. Brian had a candle for us. It was a prayer candle and we lit it and melted the bottom so it would stand upright where we placed it. We then went to breakfast. It was oatmeal and black beans again. The oatmeal is very good with some of their sugar on it. After breakfast we had a meeting with Fr. Greg who spoke to us about the Encominda system and cheap/slave labor and how the finca’s (plantation) used to run and how they run now. He spoke for about 2 hours, but it seemed like 20 minutes. After the talk with Fr. Greg, Jenna and I went on a walk down to the lake. It was lovely. There were some handmade fishing canoes on the shore and other people were loading a boat with bags of grain. There were a few shops down there, but we didn’t buy anything. After the walk, went to lunch. We had beef stew with rice and potatoes and beef again. A hike to the top of one of the mountains was planned after lunch. Jenna wasn’t feeling very good, so she didn’t want to risk getting sick on the trail, so she stayed back with other people from our group. The hike was great! We went up the same trail as the farmers that have their crops on the mountain. We climbed for about an hour with a few breaks for pictures and rest. The trail was pretty dangerous in spots and narrow most of the way. We went through a coffee finca and then reached the road on top. We rested on the top and I gave a bottle of agua to one of our hiking guides. We then walked down the road for about half a mile to another narrow trail to return to the bottom. Going up was hard, but going down was even harder. We all reached the bottom safely and I took lots of pictures for Jenna. Once we got back to the church, I gave the medallion that Fr. Brian gave us at the beginning of the week to give to someone you meet in Guatemala to our hiking guide. He was very friendly to me and explained the coffee making process. I returned to the hotel and found Jenna. She was in good spirits considering she got the ameba. Luckily we had the antibiotic with us and she started the medication. With the medicine and pepto bizmal, her stomach settled down in the evening. After a short break at the hotel, I showered and got ready for dinner at Hotel Toliman y restaurante. Our group had dinner with Chona, Fr. Greg, Josiah and Katherine. We were very fortunate to have dinner with all of them because most groups do not. We have tacos, chips with black bean dip and guacamole. It was great to sit down and visit and learn more about Josiah and Katherine. They are from Texas. We had a great dinner and then went around the table to thank them for the week and all that they do. After dinner we had a group picture and then I had one with Josiah and Katherine. We then headed back to the hotel, but Jenna and I stopped for some last minute shopping. We bought a couple more things. Then we went back to our hotel. We packed everything we bought in our carry ons and clothes in the suitcase. I also brought 10 bags of coffee earlier in the day. Our other suitcases are packed with coffee to bring back to New Ulm. Everyone is getting ready for an early start. I believe breakfast is at 6:30 AM for us and then we load the van and head back to Guatemala City. Then back home. The trip has been amazing. The people of Guatemala are so caring and welcoming. The children are all happy and want to be your friend. Fr. Greg has done amazing things for the people of San Lucas and it has been an experience to help wherever we could during the last seven days.
July 17, 2008 – Return to Minnesota
This morning we needed to get up early in order to get to the airport on time. We go up a little before 6:00 AM to get our bags together and have breakfast at 6:30. Then we left for Guatemala City at 7:00. We drove for a while through the country and took a rest stop an hour or so into the drive. After the stop we were on our way again. Fr. Brian pointed out a volcano that was smoking at the top. He said that the volcano has been smoking for many years, so it was nothing to worry about. We got to the airport around 10:00 AM and got our baggage. We filled out the customs forms and got our boarding tickets. Jenna and I were able to sit together on both flights again. And, the first plane we had emergency row seats, so we got extra leg room! The flight was good; we had a meal and a movie. Not too much turbulence. We landed in Atlanta and it took about an hour to get everyone through customs. We have about two hours left on our three hour layover. Jenna and I explored the airport a little. The Atlanta airport is a huge airport. We just explored terminal A. We were pretty hungry, so we each got a pop, breadsticks and a personal pizza from Pizza Hut. Boy did it taste good! After a week of Mayan/stew/large group food, it was great. Jenna and I met up with the group at our gate and Dorothy passed out some extra chocolate she had for all of us. We boarded the plane at about 9:30 PM and headed for Minneapolis. The flight seemed to take forever. Jenna was anxious to get home and everyone was tired. We just had a snack and a drink on the plane and Jenna and I finished a crossword puzzle that we had started on the previous flight. We landed safely in Minnesota. I called my mom to come and pick me up and Jenna did the same. I asked my mom if she could bring big garbage bags to transfer all the coffee to the others in the group so I would be able to have the suitcases and not worry about picking them up later somewhere. Jenna and I said goodbye to everyone and they headed upstairs and we went outside. My mom came right away and we transferred the coffee to the garbage bags and then Will and I carried them up to the group to load them in the trailer. We came back down and then Will left. We stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes until Claire came and we said goodbye. This trip was an experience. I know I will be telling people all the stories of our trip, but you can never explain how amazing the town and people truly are. It’s something that you need to experience to really understand how it is down there. And to work with the people and walk the same path up the mountain that the farmers do several times a day. This trip was an amazing experience that will stay with me for a very long time. I think it is going to take a while to adjust to live in Minnesota again to see how much we have and how much we take for granted. Now I am back in my comfortable bed ready to go to sleep after a long day. Good Night.
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