Nearing the end for OG Guatemala 2010

I can´t believe how quickly the trip has gone by!

Given that we haven’t been all that good at writing blogs (!) , why don’t I do a quick recap of our past five weeks! (I´m sure you´ll hear more details upon our return!)

Our first few days in Antigua were jam-packed with intensive Spanish lessons, a volcano hike and a visit to ¨As Green as it Gets¨ micro-credit organization and coffee cooperative in nearby San Miguel Escobar. This was a great opportunity to learn about the intricacies of the coffee market both locally and internationally, and we really gained an appreciation of the coffee production process.

Next, we hopped on a minibus and headed to Lago Atitlan, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. We spent the night in one of the bigger towns surrounding the lake, Panajachel, and the next morning, we crossed the lake by boat to reach San Juan la Laguna. Here, we spent a week living with wonderful host familes and learning about the rich Mayan Tzutujil culture. While Jason was working with an association of small producers to help them develop their logo, the remainder of the group was working in a plant nursery and teaching English lessons to community tour guides. We also visited PROSOL (a Canadian funded development programme) projects in food security in the highlands above the lake (Nahuala specifically) where we witnessed extreme poverty, as well as Santiago where we had talks about the armed conflict here that ended in 1996.

From San Juan, we headed to Colomba by chicken bus, and spent a week in a community established by ex-guerrillas, who have traded in their guns for machetes and now belong to a coffee cooperative. As I´m sure you´re aware, Guatemala experienced a tropical storm this week, which in retrospect was quite the eye-opening experience and gave us an appreciation of the vulnerability of these low-income families. Once the storm had passed, we got a chance to get our hands dirty planting coffee plants, and also got to visit a nearby waterfall.

We then headed to Xela, Guatemala´s second biggest city, where we were given some talks by local experts about land reform, impunity and mining in Guatemala. We also spent a morning helping to clean-up some houses that were damaged as a result of the storm (we also spent a weekend in San Miguel Escobar, which was very badly hit by the storm, shoveling mud out of peoples´ homes).

Our last week was spent with Camino Seguro, a multi-faceted organization that provides education and health services to the children of families who work in Guatemala´s biggest garbage dump and who live in the adjacent slum. It was quite the interesting experience to contrast the poverty we witnessed in Santa Anita la Union and Nahuala with this urban poverty.

And now, we have already reached our Independent Travel week, whereby participants get to choose their own adventure!

Sarah, Yonita, Stacey, Lindsay and Priya decided to head straight to Guatemala´s archaeological treasure, Tikal, in the north of the country.

Jason and Mylène visitied Semuc Champey, a beautiful limestone riverbed, where they had a blast and even got to explore some caves by candle-light. They are also heading to Tikal.

Next, all the participants plan on visiting Livingston, a unique part of Guatemala with a very Caribbean feel. We will be meeting on Saturday in nearby Rio Dulce for our final wrap-up. I am certain that after all of these experiences, we will have plenty to reflect upon…