This trip has been amazing so far. ¡¡Que fantastico!! Our flight went well and we had one stop from CVG airport to Miami then from Miami to Guatemala. Flying over Miami was an amazing sight. I have never been to Florida before stopping in the Miami airport. Seeing actual palm trees was a beautiful sight and I had no idea just how much water was throughout the city. There were beautiful roads and buildings. I hope to spend a few days there in the near future. Maybe this summer it will happen. After the land disappeared the plane soon came to the most mountanous terrain that I have ever seen. Guatemala is home to 31 volcanoes. Those plus all of its additional hills and mountains make it difficult to understand how a people find room to live and build. I wasn’t sure if there would be flat terrain in order to land the plane 🙂 Later I soon saw that the Guatemalans used those mountains, building houses and buisnesses along and on these hills and mountains. Most of the major cities and towns lay in the valleys where one can see many people bustling about daily. There is no question that these people are well acquainted with the mountains, as they seem to have adjusted to the terrain beautifully. Right before our landing I was shoked to see familiar places, such as Citi Bank, Mc Donals, Burger King, and Taco Bell. It shows just how popular fast food is and also shows a bit of the strength of globalization.
Once in the city Emily’s cousin Wilmar drove us to his house where we reorganized our luggage then drove to the city of Antigua where we stayed two nights. The hotel was beautiful. Technically it was a hostel but the view was amazing and the landscaping (flowers and all) was picture perfect. The colors that are typical of Guatemalan handcrafts ran throughout the décor and paint choices in the hostel. The bathroom had beautiful colors as well. After eating then relaxing we were able to explore the night life of the city. We went to a restaurant that served all types of cuisines. There we found similar bright paint choices throughout the restaurant. I wouldn’t say that Americans are afraid of color, yet in comparison Americans typically choose to be modern and modest and choose less bright colors. It was quite a beautiful sight to see so many beautiful colors used in such a variety of ways. There were bright colors delicately sewn into merchandise, incorporated in the plated food, and painted in and on every building. On the surface the culture itself seemed very similar to American culture. The clothes weren’t terribly different, except for those worn by the indigenous population and the people greeted one when one came and bided farwells on ones departure. Yet deeper there were tons of differences, the way of life of both the indigenous and non indigenous populations seemed to be strenuous and wearying. The tediousness and detail put into each handcraft being made on the street was amazing and it was not a one time ordeal, but a way of life. I was told by a local that the indigenous population lives off of farming and selling crops and handcrafts instead of assimilating more into society and applying for more well paying jobs. The new way of life occurred after the area was taken over by the Spaniards. Because of this many of the indigenous people do not want help from the Spaniards and or resent their new way of life. They stick to many traditional ways of the Mayans. Although once a thriving, strong civilization, the Mayan way of life proves to be difficult when compared to the modern day culture.
We didn’t spend much time in Panajachel but so far it has been the most adventurous part of the trip. We drove up, around, and through the mountain to get there. With very little lighting on those rocky roads it was scary and thrilling throughout the ride. We were able to take many pictures along the way of the mountainous landscape on the way to and from Panajachel. Upon arrival we found a hotel and settled our luggage then walked along one of the main roads in search of food. There we found traditional Guatemalan food; delicious sausage and beef in a tortilla topped with Guacamole and a sauce that was spicy. We traveled further down the road finding our way to Lake Atitilan. It is said to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. By the time we got to the lake it was very dark, but the lake was still very peaceful and smelled amazing. Little did I know the next day I would be paragliding off that same mountainous terrain and over that beautiful lake. The next morning we set out in search for breakfast which we did find. We also found an advertisement for paragliding while exploring and jumped right on the seemingly once in a lifetime opportunity. It was the most adventurous and amazing opportunity. The take off was rough and a bit frightening but the flight was beautiful and peaceful. From the great heights we were able to see all of Panajachel, both the less populous mountainside estates and the compact busy city. We flew through clouds and rose and fell along with the wind current. It was a magnificent sight and opportunity. I am sure that when the opportunity is found I will glide again. We finished the day by gathering luggage and making our way back down the mountain to the city where we stayed the night.
This rural town is full of so much. Here we met much of Emily’s aunts, uncles, and cousins and we stayed the night at her grandparents house. Before all of that we visited The Official Rural Mixed School of El Chupedero. There we gave money for the bathroom restoration and presented each student with a gift baggie full of school supplies and other miscellaneous items. We were able to take tons of pictures with the students and teachers. The principal was very kind and met us all with a generous welcome. The school even provided us with a lunch after the presentation. It was amazing and all the more humbling to see all the smiles and to hear all the thank yous. The students really loved the bags and seemed to love the time we were spending with them even more. They played silly games and loved taking pictures with us. After the bell rang to alert that school was out all the children left, but not without kisses and even more thank yous. After the final wave we were given a tour of the school by the principal. He was sure to show us each classroom and even the current conditions of the restrooms which would soon be worked on. After the tour we realized that there are many more needs that the school has. The school doesnt have enough teachers for each grade level so often times the pincipal teaches many classes as well as oversee the entire school. The school is in need of desk and chairs especially. They don’t always have enough for every child during the day, but they have been making due with what is available. The restrooms were in very poor condition which is why that was our first priority, yet another concern is the school yard/playground. It is all dirt and rocks. The dirt especially has caused problems. When it rains the school yard becomes very muddy, making it difficult to keep the classrooms clean while 230 students track mud throughout. Also during windy days the dirt flies around creating resiratory problems, like asthma, for many of the children. The kitchen is in need of an oporatable window. The window it has now cannot be used because the stove blocks it. The room is very small and gets to very high temperatures even without the stove on. We plan to take on one project at a time continuing to gather funds to improve the conditions at this school. After the trip to the school we spent a lot of time with Emily’s family going from house to house then settled down with a meal at Abuela y Abuelo’s house. The Guatemalan food was delicious. I could get use to this.
One thing that I might not be able to get use to is the dirt. I don’t mind being in rural areas. I’ve spent much time in them and find them both peaceful and a humble way of life at times. Yet much of Guatemala is dirt roads and a few minutes after washing my hands they feel dirty again. Many of the houses seem much more open and connected with nature than many American houses. Because of this dust and dirt blows through openings and windows often. The first few days my throught felt a bit dry and scratchy. Both due to the dirt and the fact that most cars use diesel here. The diesel is not as thick or strong as the diesel in America (I was told by Wilmar), yet because most cars use it the air quality doesn’t quite seem like the best. After a few days I was very much use to the air quality and it didn’t bother me as much. Though it doesn’t bother me now it is still a concern of mine because I am sure those who have lived here all of there life are used to it. America’s air quality generally I’m sure is not better. Yet I think when compared to Miami Universities air quality I can tell that there is a difference. I think Miami’s more rural location helps to uphold a better air quality.