As we finally reach swear in and become real volunteers, I think it’s important to look back at these first 12 weeks in country and note the high points.
The Hot Springs
As trainees we were on a veeeeery short leash. This seems to be for a variety of reasons: security precautions, administrative wish that we practice true integration by staying in our host communities, the indiscretions of past training classes… The rules didn’t really bother me as much as some of the other trainees, but that doesn’t mean that the “Free Days” were any less exciting for me. We had three, but the one that was most memorable was the one spent at the Hot Springs.
Hot springs are all over Guatemala and we had read about one near Antigua that seemed promising. And apparently these springs, a pick-up truck full of trainees, some day drinking, Thomas’ Euro swim trunks, and a private tub are the formula for fun… and some terribly unflattering photos. For your sake, I am only posting the semi-decent ones.
I briefly mentioned Field Based Training and our adventures in Chiquimula before, but didn’t go into much detail. I would say it’s a highlight not because of the actual training portion (in fact, that part was pretty boring and overwhelmingly sweaty – not my favorite combination) but because of the way in which it allowed us to bond with one another. It’s nice to be able to embark on this two-year adventure knowing that there are people who are facing the EXACT same challenges and knowing that you can count on them for support when you need it. FBT made those connections possible.
Hiking with Ukux Juyu
Partway through our training we caught wind of a COCODE (Consejo Comunitario de Desarollo – basically, a community action group) that has been doing great things around town. We basically crashed their next meeting and thus began a beautiful relationship with Ukux Juyu, which is K’aqchikel (one of the Mayan languages in Guatemala) for “Heart of the Mountain”.
They are an environmentally focused COCODE working to protect the surrounding hills through sales of wood-conserving stoves and the creation of an ecological park nearby. During our short time with them we managed to help translate their brochures into English, set up a webpage (www.ukuxjuyu.weebly.com) and spent half a day in a school doing environmental presentations for them.
Before we left, they wanted to be sure to show us the trails they have been working on and explain their vision for the park. So we set aside a Saturday and headed up the mountain. Of course, it was gorgeous. But what was more striking was just how much work they have already done (almost all of the trails are complete, most already with signage), how grand their plans are (they recently broke ground for welcome offices and restrooms) and how excited they were to share their project with us. The entire experience was inspiring. Plus, we had an amazing lunch cooked over an open fire on sticks and I got to wield a machete (my grandpa would be so proud!) for a while clearing trails.
Mayan weaving, macadamia nut oil facial, Eric’s wolf shirt, spending time with our incredible mentor Devon, hiking up to the cross overlooking Antigua, the joys of Gallo (only 25Q a liter!) and the Barney piñata.
It’s hard to believe this is only just the beginning.