Seed to Shelf
December 28, 2019 – January 5, 2020
Table of Contents
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I have concluded that, wherever you go, there is a tiny part of your soul that stays in that place. That’s how I feel after much travelling and living in Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. There are people who I will never see again who challenged my way of thinking, were crucial for a decision-making process, and whom I am forever thankful to.
I started my South America journey back in 2012… and I’m still on it! If you are reading this, it means that yours is about to start. Don’t worry about what hasn’t happened yet, just enjoy the journey there. Keep an open mind and embrace the good days and the not so great days.
What I can say at this point is that, no matter what adventure you decided to sign up for – whether you’re in Peru or Ecuador – every single ciudad y poblado is a whole universe and has its own identity. However, there are many of us around the world who share a vision and who believe in social justice, sustainability, the power of education, and solidarity… and we’ve already met some, and started incredible local partnerships with them!
Though our itineraries evolve and transform, we try to maintain long-term relationships with our partners to continue growing the network of people changing the way the world travels! Actually, that word in Spanish, ‘network’, can be translated as red or tejido. I cherish that word very much. When you think of a tejido, there is a lot of imagery; you can almost touch it… it’s a tissue, it’s alive, it’s a woven tapestry, and we are the threads in it. Those are the friendships and partnerships we want.
In Guatemala, you’ll challenge your preconceptions and assumptions while learning from and working with incredible farmers, teachers, artisans, and activists. You will make friends, eat too many beans and tortillas, and shrink your sense of personal space down to practically nothing. You will live with local families, and practice your Spanish (or epic skills at Pictionary and charades). You will deconstruct the myths and discover the realities of fair trade, climb one of Guatemala’s peaks, and generally live la vida loca.
Have you started practicing Spanish? Have you been staying up at night thinking about your trip? The excitement and anxiousness are totally expected! That is why we want to share relevant information with you guys through program packages so you can have a clearer picture of what’s coming and also feel connected to our stories, sites, and itineraries. Remember, even though we plan ahead, the unplanned is just as valuable! Bring an open mind and take it all in!
Un abrazo grande,
The trip of your life is about to begin and these are just a few of the amazing things you can expect!
*Click on each day to get the full details on the day’s excursions*
Orientation in Guatemala City and Antigua
We begin our Guatemalan adventure at the front doors of La Aurora International Airport but quickly take our orientation to Antigua, where our group will acclimatize to the sights, smells, sounds, and smiles of the region. We’ll explore the cobblestone streets of Central America’s historic colonial capital and orient ourselves to the country’s cultural and geographic landscape.
Coffee 101 in San Miguel Escobar
On our first full day, we’ll dive right into explorations of Guatemala’s third largest export: coffee! We’ll head out to nearby San Miguel Escobar to explore the coffee chain from seed to shelf with De La Gente, a sustainable agricultural cooperative focused on direct trade. We will join founding members Filiberto and Timoteo on the slopes of Volcán Agua where we will learn to pick, process, and roast our coffee. We’ll then sit down with our hosts to share a traditional Guatemalan meal!
Brewing Justice in Xela
In the ladino and indigenous metropolis of Xela, we’ll encounter one of the few cities in Guatemala where coffee shops are popular with locals. We’ll join revolutionary-turned-reformer Willy at Café La RED KAT for a delicious meal and an insightful chat about the challenges facing campesinos (small-scale farmers) and their struggle to integrate into the new socio-economic order. In the afternoon, we’ll scavenge around local markets and take some time to explore this unique urban centre on foot.
Sunrises & Summits
No visit to the highlands is complete without a climb of one of its iconic peaks! We’ll get up bright and early as we take on an epic hike of Volcán Santa Maria or its more explosive younger sibling, Santiaguito. It’ll be an unforgettable journey as we push ourselves physically to be rewarded with an incomparable view above the clouds.
The Coffee Revolution in Santa Anita
After a brief journey to the north-west, our group will arrive in the community of Santa Anita and home of APCASA, a coffee association founded by former civil war combatants. These soldiers-turned-farmers perceive coffee differently: it is not just an exportable commodity but also a symbol of revolutionary solidarity. Staying in family homes, we’ll have the opportunity hear their stories and share our own while building friendships and deepening our understanding of the coffee revolution.
The following day, we’ll share a day in the life of a Guatemalan coffee farmer. We’ll take to the fields to harvest ripe, red coffee fruit and perhaps collaborate on the construction of the community’s new beneficio or mill. It’s here that the community’s coffee will be washed, de-pulped, fermented, dried, and sorted – all in preparation for the international market.
We will conclude our exploration at Operation Groundswell’s Hub, located on the shores of beautiful Lago Atitlan. The Hub is a physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated in and between people through conversations and collaborative projects. It is also a site where OG can test and develop new ways to create positive impact alongside our participants and our local partners. We will use our time here to experiment with alternative farming initiatives and taste the fruits of our labour.
After a whirlwind week, we’ll spend Day 8 resting our tired legs, refreshing in magical waters, and reflecting on our awesome adventure. We’ll have the chance to explore the unique and beautiful town of San Juan or simply stroll along the shores of the volcanic lake. We’ll then meet back up as a team to discuss lessons learned, assess our impact, and prepare for the journey home.
Finally on day 9, with hearts full of memories, we will return to Guatemala City where our group will say adios and adelante!
In the age of Google, we decided that an interactive map is the only way to roll. Feel free to play around with it, make it your browser’s homepage, and share it with your friends and family. Soon enough we’ll be on the ground doing that route for real.
On our Seed to Shelf program, we’ll be exploring complex issues that will widen your perspective on the world, international development, and what it really means to usher change.
Coffee, that delicious, hot, caffeinated beverage we’re addicted to in North America. Most of us wake up every day, pour ourselves a steaming cup and guzzle it down without a second thought. But where does it come from? How is it produced? Who grows it and what is their life like?
On this program, we’ll go behind the scenes and follow coffee literally from seed to shelf. We’ll discover the realities of life for small-scale Guatemalan farmers, talk about fair trade, and see what role we play in the international coffee chain. We’ll dig deep into a country where agriculture is the main export, but where cash crops like coffee are prioritized over sustainable and nutritious food for local consumption.
With the highest rate of chronic malnutrition throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean, can fairer wages and just practices in the international coffee trade affect local growers in Guatemala enough to create a more equal society? Or is there another solution to Guatemala’s agricultural paradox? We’re about to find out!
Population: 15 million
Capital City: Guatemala City
Major Languages: Spanish, Quiche, Q’eqchi
Major Religions: Catholicism, Evangelical, Maya
Monetary Unit: Quetzal (GQT)
Time Zone: UTC -6:00
Dotted with lakes, volcanoes, and jungles, Guatemala is most certainly one of the most biologically diverse and beautiful countries in the Western Hemisphere. The size of Ohio and home to over 15 million people, this Central American country is bordered by Mexico to the north, Belize to the northeast, and El Salvador and Honduras to the southwest.
Guatemala is perhaps most renowned for being the birthplace of the great Maya civilization which flourished between 800BC-900AD. Despite their mysterious disappearance from Guatemala at the turn of the 1st millennia, the legacy of the Maya remains very visible today. The Maya still make up over half of Guatemala’s population and Mayan languages are still commonly spoken alongside Spanish. Most other Guatemalans are of a mixed Amerindian-Hispanic origin popularly called Ladino, with only 1% still identifying as European.
Unfortunately, Guatemala’s natural beauty and strength of identity have not been accompanied by political cohesion or economic prosperity. In 1996, the country emerged from a devastating 36-year-long civil war, which pitted leftist Mayan and Ladino insurgents against a repressive military. Backed by the US, the military waged a vicious campaign to eliminate the guerrillas, as well as the indigenous and peasant communities perceived to support them. The result has been described by Human Rights Watch as nothing less than genocide.
More than 200,000 people – most of them indigenous civilians – were killed or disappeared while another 1,000,000 were displaced. Despite an official finding that state security forces carried 93% of all the war’s atrocities, moves to bring those responsible to account and reconcile a legacy of racial discrimination and socio-economic marginalization has been slow. As a consequence, Guatemala’s young democratic tradition remains tenuous.
Guatemala is Central America’s largest economy boasting rich mineral deposits, a productive agricultural sector, growing service sector, and tremendous amounts of human capital. Its resource wealth however, has not been translated into economic growth or development. Poverty is acute and particularly widespread in the countryside and among indigenous communities. Rates of illiteracy, infant mortality, and malnutrition are among the region’s highest while life expectancy is among the lowest.
All-in-all Guatemala is a country of striking contrasts, a rich cultural history, incredible natural beauty, and immeasurable economic potential compared against a bloody past, troubled present, and uncertain future. But generosity, optimism, and determination best describe the remarkable people that call this funny-shaped country home.
As a well-established and experienced international travel operator, Operation Groundswell takes active precautions to help keep you safe and secure while overseas on your program. We take travel safety very seriously. To learn more about our Risk Management System, click here.
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Guatemala. However, travelers are advised to exercise a high degree of caution due to the prevalence of violent crime, particularly in the major cities. Additionally, roadblocks, strikes, and demonstrations occur periodically throughout the country. Travelers are also advised to be very cautious when in transit. Secondary streets and rural roads are poorly lit, local motorists rarely obey traffic laws, and steep, winding mountain roads and lack of road signs all present additional dangers.
Regional travel advisories for the Zika virus are thus far are confined to pregnant women due to the connection with Microcephaly. Symptoms for the general population are typically minor and easily treatable. Your best measures for prevention against Zika are the same as malaria or dengue: wear long sleeves and pants, use mosquito repellent, and try to keep away from standing pools of water where mosquitos breed.
While we know you’re probably really excited to start booking your flights, we’re going to ask you to hold off for the time being! We’re still confirming enrolment numbers for your program, but don’t worry, we’ll email you soon with the green light! We’ve provided a bit of information on booking flights below so that you can start checking things out, but don’t book anything until you get the go ahead.
Arrivals & Departures
When it’s time to book those flights, be sure to choose one that arrives into Guatemala City, Guatemala, La Aurora International Airport (GUA) on December 28, 2019 any time between 7 am and 2 pm. You will depart from Guatemala City, Guatemala, La Aurora International Airport (GUA) on January 5, 2020 any time after 12 pm (noon).
We suggest checking Kayak, Orbitz, Cheapoair, Google Flights, and other flight sites to get the cheapest rate.
If you want to arrive in the country early or leave for home later, this is your call and you can book flights that meet your needs. However, if you arrive before the program begins, you will not be under the auspices of Operation Groundswell. We cannot guarantee that anyone will meet you at the airport or arrange your accommodations. You will be entirely responsible for yourself until the first day of the program.
You will receive an email (if you haven’t already) with a link to fill out your flight information. You can fill this out once you’ve booked your flight closer to the program date. This information is crucial for us to arrange your airport pick-ups and drop-offs so be sure to fill it out once it’s time!
For citizens of Canada and the U.S.A., a valid passport usually grants entry to Guatemala for a stay of up to 90 days. We advise that you confirm this directly with your embassy.
Remember, you are personally responsible for obtaining a visa and confirming your visa requirements. Resources such as www.visahq.com may be helpful, but it is always best to consult your destination’s embassy directly.
While your program fee does not cover visa costs, we are here to answer any questions you might have if a pre-trip application is necessary. If there are any special documents required to receive a visa for your destination, let us know! While we can’t guarantee your approval, we will help out in any way we can. The sooner you let us know what you need from us, the sooner we can get back to you.
As the bible of backpacking goes, we’ll be sleeping in every kind of place imaginable! Whether it’s a youth hostel in Antigua or a bamboo bungalow on the shores of Lago Atitlan, we will be sleeping and eating as a team in ways that reflect a backpacker’s ethos. Grassroots travel and homestays will allow us to immerse in the local culture but living as the locals do sometimes means living without some of the comforts we’re accustomed to. Cold bucket showers are common while continuous electricity can’t always be guaranteed – so come prepared! Be ready to share the wonderful simplicity of life in rural Guatemalan communities.
Because we’re not wheelie-baggers, we’re backpackers! We recommend going to an outdoor adventure store and getting a pack fitted to you.
Clothes are overrated. Seriously. You’ll end up wearing the same thing almost every day, so give your back a break and make your load lighter! Plus, good quality, used clothes are available in many Guatemalan markets or stores (called Ropa Americana) and it’s always nice to support local markets. Just keep in mind that temperatures in Guatemala fluctuate depending on elevation and time of day, so layers are your friend!
Note: Guatemalan people don’t really wear “athletic gear.” Regular street clothes are best for fitting in!
All program leaders are equipped with first aid kits, so though it is useful to have basics like Advil or Tylenol, you don’t need to pack a pharmacy. There will be a medical form sent out closer to the program start date so you can outline any specific mental or physical health issues we should be aware of before the program. This completed medical history form signed by a physician is mandatory for participation in all OG programs. Click here to learn more.
No need for a laptop or tablet as we will have access to a computer when we have access to the internet!
We recommend that you bring $50 – 100 USD, which you can change into regional currency at an in-country currency exchange. While one of the easiest options tends to be withdrawing local currently from an ATM using your debit card, it’s always good to have some exchangeable cash on hand in case of emergencies.
At Operation Groundswell, we forge partnerships with local NGOs and charities to work with them on community-requested projects. This means that the communities we work with decide what kind of partnership they are looking for, how we as volunteers can be best put to use, and how our community contribution can most effectively help them achieve their goals. It also means we don’t always know in advance what will be needed in our partner communities or how we can best serve. Seasonal weather patterns, a changing political climate, and organizational needs may change so get ready to adapt like a true backpacktivist!
Though we spend solid days on the ground getting our hands dirty and volunteering, a larger chunk of our time is spent learning from our partners to better understand the underlying issues and challenges that they face. We’re not going to “save Guatemala” in our short time together, but we will be making deep connections with and learning immensely from the real change makers on the ground!
De La Gente, meaning “from the people” is a coffee cooperative and non-profit organization committed to organic principles, sustainable agriculture, and economic development in the town of San Miguel Escobar. They are a collective of farmers, artisans, and entrepreneurs looking for new and novel ways to make and market their goods. Learn more.
Based in Xela, Café La Red (Network) Kat is a café and restaurant owned and operated by a collective of indigenous reformers. It dedicates itself to cultivating a domestic coffee culture and constructing markets for locally produced commodities including coffee, textiles, and chocolate. DESGUA is a grassroots organization and network of community groups in Guatemala and the United States working to create economic and educational development with and for returned immigrants and Mayan communities in Guatemala. Learn more.
Situated on Guatemala’s scenic pacific slope, Santa Anita is home to 35 families and the Asociacón de Productores de Café de Santa Anita (APCASA). This group of former revolutionary guerillas traded in their guns for tools of the coffee trade and now finance their community’s development through the sale of bananas and high-quality coffee.
Located in San Juan La Laguna, the Hub is Operation Groundswell’s base of operations in Guatemala. It is also a physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated in and between people and local partners through conversations and collaborative projects. It is also a site where OG can test and develop new ways to create positive impact alongside our participants and our local partners.
Buenos dias (bwe-nos dee-as) or buenas (bwe-nas)
Qué tal (keh tull) or qué pasa (keh pass-a)
How are you?
¿Cómo está? (ko-mo eh-stah)
Muy bien (mooh-y bee-en)
Por favor or porfa for short
Disculpe (dees-kool-pe) or lo siento (low see-en-toe)
How much (does this cost?)
¿Cuánto cuesta? (kwan-to kwes-ta)
Nice to meet you
Mucho gusto (moo-cho- goose-tow)
I don’t understand
No entiendo (no en-tee-en-doh)
Our main phone line is 1-888-422-0164. Our office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.
In case of emergency while you’re on program, please ask your family or next of kin to call OG’s main line at 1-888-422-0164 and follow the prompt. On-call coordinators are available 24 hours a day for emergencies related to current programs or participants.
To reach us via email for all matters, contact [email protected].
If you have any financial inquiries, contact our financial support team at [email protected].
As you prepare for your journey, OG will periodically contact you with important information about logistics, payments, safety, and more. Please check your spam folder regularly! Consider adding [email protected] and [email protected] to your contacts or approved sender list to make sure that our emails are delivered.
For more information on passports, visas, travel insurance, and other general travel logistics, don’t forget to consult your handy dandy Welcome Package!