ACATENANGO: GOD IS GOOD

Hola from Guattatown!

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Summit excitement! (Andrew and Adam)

We started this week with a 9.5 hour drive back from Finca Ixobel on Sunday. Then, on Monday, it was back to our regular San Juan schedule of Spanish classes and living with our host families. It was a tough first day back to “the grind” of school after two weeks of travelling, but we had a highlight as two guests from Canada had arrived. Cam Priebe, our Outtatown director had arrived to spend a week and a bit with us and to help out the leaders with whatever they needed. Then we met Cam’s  friend who quickly became our friend as well: Jay Siemens. Jay is a photographer in Canada and is famous in the world of fishing photography! He had come to hang out with us for a week to film and take pictures of whatever we happened to be doing.

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Cam and our Site Leaders!

We kept up our normal schedule through the next part of the week heading off to our service projects Tuesday, and then having small groups Wednesday. Jay ran around to all of our different activities trying to capture what it is like in a day in the Outtatown Guatemala life for the promotional video that he will be putting together for us for the upcoming year.

Thursday was a crazy day full of many awesome experiences. The day started by us finishing our second last week of Spanish classes, which was good because we were all exhausted, but sad because it meant we only have one week left. In the afternoon, we all headed to the bus to drive to the San Antonio cultural market for our weekly cultural activity. We arrived and were welcomed by Mayan women in full traditional clothing who introduced themselves and told us a little bit about how we would be learning about their Mayan culture that afternoon. They started off the afternoon by performing a cultural dance for us, then we learned about an important piece of cloth called the sute (soo-tay). This piece of cloth is something every Mayan woman has because of its alarming number of uses. We first learned that it can be used like a bag and tied around all of your purchases at the market or tienda (store) and then be carried home. Another great use for the sute is rolling it up in a specific way so that it creates almost a sort of cushion which is then put on your head. This then gets a basket full of goods added to it which can weigh up to 75 pounds and then the woman can carry whatever she wants with her hands free. They then brought out baskets and sutes for all of us and we practiced carrying empty baskets on our heads which is a lot harder than all the Guatemalan women make it look. We then learned how to carry a baby safely in a sute which none of us tried for the baby’s sake. Then the women explained how a boy proposes to a girl, and the long chain of events that take place before the couple can get married. After we heard the explanation, the woman in charge came up and told us that it was our turn! So, two students got up and volunteered to marry each other for the sake of the experience.

The husband shares his account of the event:

“I thought to myself that I would probably only get one chance to say that I was married in Guatemala… so why not seize the opportunity?! I got up, and my future wife and I went to a back room to put traditional Mayan clothes over our current ones. I thought I looked pretty good in my black robe and cowboy hat and my wife looked very beautiful in her traditional Mayan clothes and veil. Once we were all dressed we walked out arm in arm and knelt down on two mats while my “mom” threw flower petals at us. A woman came to the front and said some words in Kekchi to bless the marriage. We then got up and everyone danced to rejoice with us, the happy couple. I can truthfully say that my wife and I are very happy but sad that we will be parting ways in a month’s time. But don’t worry, we are in the process of working things out… we’re still good friends.”

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A “traditional” Family Photo (Caleb, Julia, Jesse & Taylor)

After the wedding finished and pictures had been taken, we proceeded to help make tortillas for the meal we shared with the women who had been our teachers for the day. Making tortillas, by the way, is a lot harder than the Guatemalan people make it look. Very few of us actually succeeded to even get a tortilla with a relatively round shape to it. I guess practice makes perfect. All in all it was a very fun day full of learning and experiencing many new things and starting to understand the diverse Mayan culture in Guatemala a little bit better.

Friday was a very difficult (but incredible) day for 14 students and 2 leaders because the time had come for the annual climb of the Acatenango Volcano! Sixteen people got out of bed at 7am Friday morning to head to the bus and drive to the base of the volcano. I started out at the front of the group and was just chuncing it (chuncing is a new verb that we made on the hike. It is the equivalent of motoring it, booking it or trekking it… but used solely for going up volcanoes, if you were wondering) up the volcano for about 5 minutes before I was out of breath and gasping on the side of the trail. For the next hour and a half with the expecting of a few breaks we all chunced up the trail which was almost non existent because of all the sand on the trail. If you have even tried running on a beach you will have an idea about hard it was. You know the feeling when you start to run on the beach and you have absolutely no traction; well that’s exactly what this was like, except we were hiking uphill with huge packs on our backs. Anyway, we all managed to make it to lunch after about an hour and a half of hard hiking. We took a nice long break and then started up again. Taking a break every half hour or so, we managed to make it up to base camp in a total of about 5.5 hours. Everyone cheered and rejoiced with each other after dropping their bags and falling to the ground. We set up camp and just had a great time singing songs, dancing and looking at the great views. Except the views weren’t completely amazing because it was really cloudy out. Because of the clouds, we hadn’t really gotten a nice view of Fuego which is the active volcano just across from us. As time went on we were starting to get a little disappointed that we hadn’t seen it erupt yet so one of the girls said a quick prayer asking for God to let us see the volcano erupt. Not 20 seconds later, the clouds parted and Fuego erupted in a huge cloud of smoke! We all started screaming in excitement and everyone ran for their cameras. Shelby yelled, “HE LISTENED!” It was an amazing moment. As soon as the opening in the clouds had come, it disappeared. But God wasn’t done with us yet. We all turned around full of excitement to see that the clouds were parting again but this time giving us an overwhelming view of another volcano named Agua which was just off to the left. The sun glistened off of the clouds and in the background a rainbow appeared just behind Agua. It was like an indescribable painting appeared in the sky for just a few seconds and then was swallowed up again by the clouds. It was a moment we will never forget. 

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The clouds broke to reveal the sun setting over Volcano Agua

That night for supper the guide boiled some water and we had some Mr. Noodles along with the insane amount of trail mix everyone brought along for snacking. After supper everyone had a grand old time sitting by the fire singing songs together and watching Fuego erupt because the clouds had cleared by this time. As it got even later into the evening, almost all the clouds disappeared and you could see for miles and find different towns and volcanoes in the distance lit up by the full moon.

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Our campsite.

It was such a beautiful night that as people started going to bed, a group decided to sleep by the fire and watch Fuego and the stars all night long. Then at 4:00am the next morning everyone got out of bed and grabbed their walking sticks and proceeded to follow our guide Mel up the side of the volcano along a trail very similar to the one I described at the beginning like the beach. We trudged up the trail behind him because most of us didn’t even have enough energy to chunce up. As we emerged from the trees we were met with an incredible view of being above the clouds looking down on the cities and towns peaking up at us through cracks in the clouds. This gave us a new energy and we proceeded to hike up the trail. At our last rest stop before we got to the top we waited until we were all together to push for the summit together. The top of the volcano is more exciting and incredible than I can even begin to describe. You are literally looking down at the clouds while standing above two volcanoes that seem close enough to touch. When the sun came out it was the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. The sun bounced off of the clouds to create amazing colors and give light to not only the world but to all of our tired bodies. The energy level went wild and people started taking pictures like crazy and running around trying to take it all in. The guys in the group all took off their shirts and did a crazy dance that was mainly just jumping around freezing while the girls took videos and laughed at how stupid we were. After I brought out my pineapple that I had carried up and cut it up to share with the group.

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Jesse being windblown at the summit! Above the clouds.

Jay all the while had been getting photos of everyone doing everything and as we are getting to the end of being there Fuego erupted and everyone just lit up with joy from everything they were experiencing. By this point everyone was freezing cold because it was below zero degrees up there and extremely windy, so we all gathered together as a group and sang our song “loved and cherished” and said a quick prayer recognizing this amazing thing we were all experiencing. Then we said goodbye to the summit and headed back down to camp to pack up and start the hike back down. The hike was a lot of fun as we could run down at points, and it only took us two and a half hours to complete. Back at the base of the volcano we took a very nice photo post-hike of all of our dirty and tired faces (see the “before” and “after” pictures below!) and drove back to San Juan.

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Before….

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After!

Some members of our community chose not to hike Acatenango, and they all had a great weekend doing various things like visiting an orphanage, shopping and hanging out in Antigua, spending quality time with one another, and there was even a group of people that went to a restaurant called “Hobbitenango” which was Lord of the Rings themed and had a great time.

Finally, to end off our week we headed up to Cross on the Hill and had worship which was tough for the people who were tired from the hike, but was still a really amazing time to come together as a community and be in God’s presence through song, scripture, prayer and the symbol of the cross reminding us that God is with us wherever we are. It was a very peaceful time and a perfect way to end our second last week in San Juan del Obispo.

Sincerely yours,
Jesse Neufeld  (aka Padre)

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