12 May It all begins in Guatemala
It all begins. We will be writing blog entries weekly to capture what is happening in our group over our time here in Guatemala. Participants are eager to share their experiences and keep you, the reader, abreast of our adventures and the things we are learning. We sincerely hope you enjoy.
The participants arrived late on Monday night after a 24 hour odyssey through airports and even a subway in Mexico City. We took three taxis downtown and checked in to our hostel in the historic centre of Guatemala city, a pretty humble place with a plant-filled courtyard and perhaps not the highest standards for hygiene. We went to bed not soon after, with most shocked to sleep well despite worries about non-sticky black eggs on their pillows (please note I am certain these were not actually eggs but black dirt fallen from the dilapidated ceiling).
The next day, we woke up at 8 with fruit from the market, before heading out to the Canadian embassy for a talk with Michele Veilleux, head of CIDA operations in Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. Michele gave a broad presentation on security issues in Guatemala, before discussing in greater detail the work being done by CIDA and the challenges they face. It was a good opportunity to better understand the development challenges in Guatemala as well as the role of international aid for development. We also got certified photocopies for all of our passports.
We crossed the street from the embassy to have lunch in one of Guatemala City’s many luxurious malls. Michele noted that this provides an excellent opportunity to observe the inequality of the country. The mall certainly surpasses in many respects what you might see in a Canadian city.
We left from there to Antigua, where the participants began Spanish classes in the afternoon, despite their fatigue. Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala and Central America (I believe), a colonial city that the government left in the 18th century following a devastating earthquake. The city sits under two volcanoes and is very well preserved. It’s the tourist hub of the country for good reason.
The participants will be doing intensive Spanish classes until Friday, when we will leave in the afternoon for Panajachel. This is probably the busiest week of the whole program, we often only have a half-hour between different activities. This afternoon, after Spanish, we will be climbing Pacaya volcano, a place that is famous for the possibility of roasting marshmallows above the lava. Tomorrow morning we will visit As Green As It Gets, an American NGO that works with Guatemalan coffee farmers to provide them with sustainable incomes and generate improvements in the lives of the whole community. Thursday night, after Spanish, we will have a talk with Elisabeth Desgranges, a Canadian who has been here for most of a decade, working in a national-level advocacy organisation promoting women’s rights.
At least the hostel here in Antigua is a fantastic place for participants to rest and located only a few doors down from the Spanish school. The food is good, the company in the group is great, from my view things are going well.