All Good Things…

…come to an end eventually! I’m speaking for many of us when I say that this is true for this week. After an amazing six weeks here in San Juan del Obispo, Sunday marks the day we leave our new-found families and homes behind, before heading into our final three weeks.

For me, this has been a memorable last week in San Juan. Alongside the typical afternoon adventures in Antigua, I also had the chance to hang out with kids in an orphanage on IMG_0529Tuesday and visit the neighbouring hot springs on Wednesday. Although I think I can say that I have improved a fair bit in my Spanish, like everyone, I do make many mistakes. Most notably, on Tuesday, when I was hanging out with kids, this one girl and I were joking around and playing tag. I thought I had called her silly, but when I turned around I realized I had made a bit of a mistake. Facing me was the sassiest face I had ever seen on an 11 year old girl, let alone a Guatemalan one. I quickly remembered that “chica tonta” meant something more along the lines of “stupid” than “silly,” like I had intended. Needless to say, despite my best efforts at recovering the situation, I was followed around by a very sassy little girl for the rest of our time there!

Speaking of Spanish, on Thursday we had our final exam and graduation!IMG_0915 Unlike many other classes, this is one that I was sad to leave. Where else do you get to learn a language outside at a picnic table with 3 great friends and a hilarious teacher every morning? Our class prepared a song for graduation, similar to the ever-popular “Darte un Beso” that’s always playing on the radios here. After being called back for an encore with many people (including the school director) filming, I think it’s safe to say that it went over well! To finish off, we shared cake and sandwiches with the teachers and the host families that showed up. Overall, it was a great day!

On our last Friday in San Juan we spent the day giving back to the community. Half the DSC_0209group painted in “parque central” while the other half mixed and poured concrete for a wall at the entrance to the town. As I am writing this, it is Saturday morning. Some of the group is reverse bungee jumping, slack-lining and generally getting into shenanigans, while some of us (me included) are staying at home to spend the last bit of time with our host families and finish (or start) packing up!

Overall, time has been flying by, and although there are mixed emotions about going home, I can say for sure that we’re all excited to see what these last few weeks will hold!

Much love,

Katheryn

Me llamo Allison y me gusta la playa! (March 9)

Hola! This is Allison, reporting for another great week in San Juan del Opisbo! This week was our second last week of Spanish classes (already?!) and a free weekend here in San Juan. Spanish classes were spent learning new things (obviously) and preparing for the last exam that we have next week. We had a few options, however, for the free weekend we had coming up. This included hiking up a volcano named Volcan Acatenango (the hardest of all the volcanoes we’ve done so far, apparently) and sleeping at the top of the volcano overnight once you reached it. The other two options were to spend a nice relaxing time at a beach named Monterrico, or spend some time in San Juan for whoever needed some time to themselves for a change. I, for one, not being too confident in my physical capability of climbing uphill with a backpack on my back for 6 hours, decided to take the least physically-exerting route, and go to the beach 🙂

The 10 of us girls left from San Juan for the beach on a nice warm afternoon and upon arrival we felt as though we had stepped into anDSC_0024 oven, it was so toasty outside. We stayed at a place called “El Dolfin”, a beautiful little hostel right on the ocean line where the beach was directly accessible as was the beautiful salt water ocean (though at times the waves were a bit ferocious). We hired our own personal lifeguard, Marvin, who took great care at making sure we were safe when swimming in the ocean when the waves were rough and when they weren’t so rough. The nights were warm, and I mean warm. In the rooms we shared of 4 girls each, we had the fan on full blast, and still found it a little muggy and humid. Some of us went on a Maldives tour at a bright and early 5am to see the sunrise. We also had the opportunity to go whale watching and horseback riding on the beach!

IMG_5214-16The hikers, leaving at 6am Friday morning, made it successfully up the volcano in a record breaking 4.5 hours, instead of the 6 that was estimated. Rather impressive wouldn’t you say? It was tough, with some of the altitude getting to people as they made their way up, but overall was a fantastic hike. The view was beautiful (as you can see from the pictures) with a little bit of rain and hail initially, they persevered through the night and came back down the volcano Saturday morning with smiles on their faces.

All in all, I would say that this weekend was rather eventful for all of us, even for those who chose to stay back In San Juan. Stay tuned for the next blog post, regarding our final week of Spanish classes!

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Outtatown Construction Inc.

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Hello everybody. ¿Cómo estás?

Over the past week we got the pleasure of working with an organization in Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan, called “Solomon’s Porch.” Our work week lasted from Monday to Thursday. Each morning we would break into work teams and drive up the surrounding mountains to either the village of Concepcion or of Chuaxic.

We tried to make ourselves as useful as possibleIMG_5073-15 in each location, working across three construction projects throughout the week. Two of the projects were houses, where one of the primary tasks we had was carrying cinder blocks from the road, where they had been delivered, down the uneven path to the houses where they would be used in the coming days to build walls. We also got the opportunity to learn how to mix cement the Guatemalan way and pour it in the houses for floors. The families who are receiving these houses have been identified as families in need by their communities, who pass this information on to Solomon’s Porch so that they can do an assessment before deciding to begin construction. It was great meeting the family at one of the houses. The father in that house was helping with the construction.

We were also working on a community centre in the village of Chuaxic. This is where approximately half of the funds that we raised (thanks!) went. It was our task to break ground and level it out so that the foundation can be laid. We also tied rebar for a good chunk of the week. Those will be used in the community centre as well.

I should mention, there were also many opportunities to play with local kids around our IMG_5086-19work sites. The community centre is directly across the street from the local elementary school. So during phys-ed, break or after classes finished for the day we were flooded with a wave of kids. This gave us the opportunity to do some skipping, work alongside a few kids or even race a class up the hill and back (as Dillon did). Having the kids around was a great reminder to dwell, wherever we find ourselves. Ultimately, the most important part of our work was the people; connecting with them as brothers and sisters.

When our work week was over we all went ziplining at Atitlan Nature Reserve, just outside Pana. This gave us an amazingIMG_5148-34 view of the lake as we zoomed along, high above the cascading river below. We also had the chance to visit Casa del Mundo, a beautiful hotel on the shores of the lake, just a short boat ride from Pana. Here we had the chance to kayak, swim and generally just relax after more physically taxing week than we are used to.

Bienvenidos a Semuc Champey! Feb 16-23

It was just another beautiful, sunny day in Guatemala when Site 1 hopped into our big yellow school bus to continue our adventure! After travelling about 8 hours, we arrived in Lanquin, a small village nestled away in the forested mountains near Semuc Champey, for a week of relaxation, adventure and Knowing Yourself sessions.  This may be a matter of opinion, but I think Semuc Champey and Lake Atitlan, the two places we have been living for the past two weeks, are arguably the most beautiful sights in the country of Guatemala…and I am very excited to tell you all about them!

We had a few ups and downs last week and were reminded that, at times, there are many challenges and hardships that come with living in community. However, the bumpy road we went down was both figurative and literal. And here’s what I mean by that. Our first full day in Lanquin, we were loaded up into the back of picops (which are exactly what they sound like – pick-up trucks!) and carted up and down cobble stone streets to the edge of a river where we hopped into tubes and floatedDCIM100GOPRO with the current back to our hostel.  Not a bad way to start the week, which also consisted of relaxing in the numerous hammocks strung throughout the hostel grounds, reading, hiking through a cave at dusk and watching as millions of bats awoke and soared out into the darkness, eating wayyy too much amazing food, including some of the best chocolate chip cookies ever, playing in the river just outside our front doors and, of course, learning more about ourselves.

Our Knowing Yourself sessions included discussions about prayer, different ways to pray and how we best connect with God when we pray, as well as sessions about our goals, both long- and short-term, our passions and abilities, and how both of those can be and are influenced by our spiritual gifts. Wednesday of882366_10151643427313646_136396266_o that week was when we went on the adventure that I’m sure was a highlight for many of us.  This was the day we actually got to visit the incredible Semuc Champey and swim in the turquois staircase of pools that it is known for.  We also went on a candle-lit swim through caves of water to a deep, round pool where we got to climb up the side of the cave and jump into the black water below us.

IMG_5035-4After our week in Lanquin, we departed for a free weekend on Lake Atitlan, which is considered to be one of the top 5 most beautiful lakes in the world.  And let’s just say it was not hard to see why.  It was a wonderful place to spend some quality time with one another, whether it was swimming, hiking Volcan San Pedro, kayaking, visiting neighboring villages, scuba diving, sipping licuados, playing cards,IMG_5051-7 learning the traditional Mayan art of backstrap weaving from some of the local women or simply laying in the sun.

Overall, last week was a much needed break to transition between the two weeks of Spanish school before it and the service week in Panajachel that followed.  Throughout the week, I found myself thinking over and over again how blessed I am to have all the opportunities I do as I came face to face with God’s beautiful creation and enjoyed the company of the absolutely amazing and loving community of people that I am honored to be on this crazy adventure with.

So until next time…adios, amigos!!

-Willow

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Me llamo Erin y vivo en San Juan del Obispo – Feb 9-16

Things have continued to be busy here with site one. Writing this blog post seemed to slip my mind as we continued on our adventure. I am going to jump all the way back to over two weeks ago and start from there. This was our fourth week in San Juan del Obispo, enjoying the Guatemalan life, our host families, and improving our Spanish skills. I think I can speak for most people in our group when I say that we are not looking forward to bidding farewell to our families and the town with all of the connections that we have made there. We do have two more weeks to look forward to though and I am excited to make the most of our final weeks.

After a week of Spanish classes, finished off with a test, we were ready for a good weekend. A good weekend was had, indeed. It all started off well when a group of us girls met up on Friday morning to watch three episodes of Gilmore Girls (the best!). But it got better yet. In the afternoon we were welcomed on to the bus with Valentine’s candies, chocolates and decorations and were assigned a IMG_5004-46“date” for the ride. We were on our way to visit an indigenous town called San Antonio. There we were taught about the Mayan culture and specifically the traditions in that town. We learned how to carry baskets on our heads (Well, we tried to learn… some of us struggled with it more than others but it was all good fun!). Next we learned of the wedding ceremony and pre-wedding traditions. We played out the traditions and married off Brooklyn and Jordan. The fact that it was Valentine’s Day was so fitting. After the wedding, some of IMG_5010-47us tried making tortillas, a skill that some of us have practiced more than others here in Guatemala. We enjoyed our tortillas with a traditional Guatemalan dish called “Papian”. It’s is sort of stew with chicken, rice and whiskil (a common Guatemalan vegetable). 

The next day came with more adventures. We hiked up Volcan Pacaya for the second time. This time there was no lava, so it was a bit of a different sight. We were able to go a bit farther up this time and we roasted marshmallows from the heat of the active volcano! Personally, marshmallows aren’t my favorite thing but I threw that aside to be really excited about eating my volcano roasted, strawberry flavoured, heart shaped, Valentine’s Day marshmallow. As we sat there, enjoying our marshmallows, the wind blowing in our hair, the sun began to set. It was one of the most beautiful sites that I’ve seen in Guatemala as of yet. The mountains and volcanos in the distance rose up into incredible tinges of orange, yellow, and red. Eventually, we tore ourselves away from this site to run down the volcano. The ash made a perfect running track and we sped down that volcano, arriving at the bottom coated in dust and exhilarated from the run.

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On Sunday we hopped onto our favorite school bus for the long drive to Lanquin. More on that later!

Thanks for keeping up with our journey!

Erin