You can rest assured that we have arrived safe and sound back in San Juan after a pretty crazy two weeks of travel. February 18th we left San Juan del Obispo destined for Cobán and the cloud forests of Guatemala. After about 6 hours on our school bus, we arrived to CCFC (Community Cloud Forest Conservation) where we met Outtatown partners Rob and Tara. They have been working in Guatemala for over 10 years serving the Mayan community, teaching and working with them to make sustainable and healthy agriculture a part of their everyday lives. They also teach Mayan families how to feed themselves well, how to use what they have to make a living, all while instilling the importance that girls get an education past 6th grade.
It was this ministry that we partnered with for a whole week; it was a place where we got to rest our heads inside the very building that past Outtatowners had been working on for a couple years, and eat spectacular food made by the Mayan ladies that were staying with Rob and Tara. You could sense the hospitality of all these people the moment you walked through the gate. It made you feel like you walked into a home.
Over the course of the next few days, we learned a lot about what they are doing in Cobán. The first day we got a tour around the conservation grounds where Rob showed us how they were trying to sustainably use the land they had. They had natural water filtration from the sinks to the river so the chemicals we use everyday wouldn’t pollute the water; all the toilets are composting to avoid the whole water pollution and then filtration steps; and every vegetable and herb they use for meals is grown on site. We then got to explore a giant cave that was only a short walk from the lodge and garden area. You were dwarfed by the size of this thing! All in all a pretty fascinating day of learning.
A few of the other days were spent helping out around the site with whatever tasks they needed to have done. This included gardening/pulling weeds, sitting in on agriculture lessons to Mayan school children, assisting the construction crew with the new building they were working on, and dragging freshly cut, full eucalyptus tree trunks out of the forest to use as support posts for the new building. I was lucky enough to both sit in on these lessons with the kids, and later haul giant logs out of the forest with 14 others. By the end of our time there I think we managed to pull about 15 logs out of the forest with sheer man-power. Oh the fun stories we will have from that experience!
Now not all the time was spent in physical labour. Saturday the 20th and Sunday the 21st of that week we piled into a small bus and visited some remote villages around the area. Saturday was a little rainy, making the ground into a mud soup that sloshed with every step. Thank goodness for rubber boots – although, our pants didn’t fair so well by the end of the day. Nevertheless we made our way to the home of a Mayan family Rob and Tara have worked with for a couple years. They welcomed all 24 of us into their home, served us sweet coffee and stuffed frijole tortillas, and told us about what they have been working on in their village for the last few years. The hospitality of these people, strangers frankly, was heartwarming.
On Sunday we found ourselves in the city of Cobán at a Dominican monastery learning about the history of the Mayans before and after the Spanish invasion. We then attended the main Catholic Church in Cobán’s Parque Central for their evening service. It was an interesting experience seeing the difference between what I know as church at home, to what Catholics know as church. It was very much more a strictly religious practice with many traditions formulated to weave in and out perfectly. As Outtatown does best, we expanded our world that day to open our minds to understanding what life outside our own bubbles is like.
Well I would have loved to say that was the extent of our busy week, but that would be very far from the truth. After our time at the conservation site, we were sent off to our Mayan homestays in the village of Cebop. We were matched up with our host siblings before hopping on the bus and a few in the back of a pickup to drive to the village. We soon arrived at the base of the village, grabbed our backpacks, and followed our hosts on foot as they guided us higher and higher up the steep slopes of the mountain.
I think we were all incredibly thankful for the hiking experience we had a few days prior, otherwise I know I personally would have collapsed at some point on that climb. My host family lived on the very top of one of the shorter mountains. Giving them an incredible view all around. For each of us, the rest of the day was spent interacting with our families. In the morning everyone hiked up to the local school with their host siblings where we witnessed a bit of a presentation before heading back to our homes with the task of making a trilingual picture dictionary with the kids. Fun times came from that and each of us has our different stories. All in all I think the time we spent with these families was incredibly valuable. We felt incredibly welcomed from the moment we met them, and made memories that will last a lifetime.
So that about sums up our week in Cobán. Our next week gave us a much needed retreat from the physicality of the one before. We headed to Lanquin where we stayed in a hostel on the edge of a river for a couple days. It was nice to be able to spend the days to ourselves lying in hammocks, eating home-like food, and sleeping a solid 8-9 hours on an actual mattress undisturbed. We took a day trip into Semuc Champey where they have the famous layered pools/waterfalls that you can swim in. The day brought us the adventure of caving in waist deep water, tubing through the fast current of the river, the opportunity to jump off a short bridge into the water, a 30 min hike up to a cool viewing place for the pools below, and then time to swim in the water while having little fish try and nibble at you. It was the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation.
Our final destination during our travel weeks was a beach hotel on Lago Ixobel called Denny’s Beach. A few hours drive from Lanquin, and then a 20 min boat ride across the lake brought us to this secluded little getaway. The water was so warm in comparison to other places we had swam, that the moment we got our rooms, everyone dawned their bathing suits and jumped into the lake as we watched the sunset. This weekend brought us back to first semester days when we had two Knowing Yourself sessions with two of our leaders. In the morning we completed the Enneagram personality test. In the afternoon we talked about on the importance of diversity within the church and in community through scripture, and then expanded that through small interactive activities.
It was good to take some time to devote to ourselves and understand what’s going on in our hearts and minds. Although the next two days were un poquito rainy, that didn’t stop us from enjoying time together as a community as we visited hot spring waterfalls across the lake, cracked open a couple of coconuts, and sat around the fire singing until the rain sent us running for cover.
It’s been a crazy past few weeks but I wouldn’t trade the experiences we had for anything else. I am encouraged day in and day out by our community, and growing in the knowledge that God is ever present in the midst of it all.
Adíos for now!