By: Hannah N.
Between stopping for monkey sightings and water breaks, we finally made it up the Pana nature reserve. The view was incredible, with waterfalls, cliffs, and untouched jungle. Even more breathtaking was how we got back down – zip lining between two sides of the mountain. Watching my own shadow fly over the treetops and an unbeatable view of Lake Atitlan will stay with me forever. Afterward, we took a tuk tuk (imagine a verrrry small taxi) to town for some down time.
It always surprises me how little you can get by with in Guatemala. For the tuk tuk ride, an amazing lunch of pizza and smoothies, a hand-woven jacket, leather journal, gourmet coffee beans, and an armful of bracelets, I spent 230 quetzals or the equivalent of 30 US dollars. Walking through markets like the one in Pana is also one of my favorite aspects of travelling just because you can find so many unique spots. For example, we discovered a hidden away shop with jewelry to die for – a place we would have never found if we’d stayed on the main block.
Although I’m sad that tomorrow is our last day in Guatemala, packing away my camera full of pictures zip lining through the jungle and souvenirs from the local market makes it a little easier knowing that I’ll always have a reminder of our day in Pana!
Day 4: Thursday, March 14
We all went to Cooporativa and did recycled art projects with the cute little nuggets and played with them during recess. After getting mauled by the little ones, we hiked up an insanely steep and challenging mountain to the top where there was a Mayan alter. No matter how hard the climb was and how much it hurt to trip on the way down, it was more than worth it! Then we played my favorite past-time, trivia, at La Palapa and even though my team didn’t win, it was a ton of fun! We ended up running into the UGA soccer team and went out to a bar and had a crazy fun time dancing the night away!
Day 3: Wednesday, March 13
By: Hanna & Mikey
After painting again for a few hours today and getting wonderful paint splatters all over our bodies, we relaxed in the lawn with a wonderful picnic lunch. During lunch, Jack made a new friend. This friend just so happened to only speak Kaqchikel and was very persistent on giving Jack 5 “Q” (Quetzales). Although we could not communicate with him, he decided to continue to try and speak with us.
Thankfully our bus driver was early, so we headed off to Pana to visit an NGO called “Maya Traditions.” This NGO helps to broaden the market for traditional Mayan weaving, they have women who weave fabrics, which are then made into consumer products and sold in other countries. We were given the opportunity to go bankrupt in the little store they have. I (Hanna), of course, bought too many things. Then we headed over to their medicinal garden. We were given a tour and they explained all of the holistic uses of different common herbs. The garden was beautiful and smelled great. We got to smell one of the plants so I (Hanna, again) decided to eat it since it smelled so great, which clearly means that it MUST taste great as well. We also got eaten alive by bugs and saw the biggest lemons ever on the planet.
Then we hopped on some “Tuk Tuks” which are like little tiny taxis and we headed back to downtown Pana to slurp down some licuados (smoothies), cookies, bagels, nutella and such. After getting our fill of deliciousness, we headed down Santander to spend some more money. The street was lined with little shops and everyone had the chance to find something neat. Thankfully we will be returning Friday for those of us who spent all our money at Maya Traditions.
To get back to the hostel we decided to hop on a local bus, which was packed to the nines with people, their baskets and their “trajes”. Sitting three to a seat proved to be more of a challenge than expected on this traditional US “school bus.” I (Mikey, this time) had the opportunity to sit with two women dressed in traditional attire who took up more than their fair share of the seat while others had to stand all the way up the weaving mountain road.
Dinner was great; the guacamole was on point and no complaints were made. We even got to try the blueish tortillas, which are apparently just made of blue corn. Delicious. Our evening discussion went super deep as always and everyone had the chance to talk about how they felt about not only Manna, but all types of community and volunteer services. Overall it was another amazing day, which gave us the opportunity to connect with a new culture and learn about ourselves, although it was exhausting we are all looking forward to tomorrow.
Day 2: Tuesday, March 12
By: Hannah S. (with help from Jack)
Today was another awesome day! We had breakfast at the hostel which was grape jam stuffed french toast with watermelon on the side. After breakfast we went to Chaquijya to help two of the classes with a “recycled art project”. What we did was bring them empty plastic bottles and cut them towards the bottom and use them as toothbrush holders. They drew their names on them with markers and glitter glue. The whole idea was to create a healthy place to put toothbrushes and use recyclable materials at the same time.
When we were done we got to play with the kids during recess. They’re crazy hilarious. We went to the little tienda next to the school and got chocolate pineapple popsicles for a small snack (which were amazing by the way). After recess, we went to an NGO to talk about the efforts they were doing to help distribute glasses and purification systems to people who normally would not have access to either. Afterwards we went to the park to each lunch. We had ham sandwiches with papaya from the hostel for lunch but I also went to Pollo Campero for some french fries. Some crazy Mayan lady was dancing for us in the park trying to get us to give her food but she was super annoying so we denied her. But then we saw the cutest little boy with no hand so OBVIOUSLY we had to give him some money.
After lunch we went Cooperativa, which is another school where Julie does two afterschool English classes. The kids were freaking adorable and were so excited to be learning English and interacting with us. Once we finished helping her with classes we headed back to the hostel to chill until it was time for dinner. Dinner was a heaping plate of spaghetti Bolognese and some fresh soft bread. For some reason today we were all craving some dessert so we walked up to the corner tienda and each got some chocolate or cookies to satisfy our cravings. What a sweet ending to such a wonderful day!
Day 1: Monday, March 11
General consensus of day one: the time is already going too fast!
So far, we absolutely love Guatemala and we are doing our best to make the most of what this gorgeous country has to offer. That means packing as much as possible into every day, and loving every minute of it.
Breakfast got us started off on the right foot bright and early at 7am. We were served fresh cheese, over easy eggs, English muffins, black beans, and tortillas. The best part though? The delicious coffee! No cream and sugar necessary.
The school we are painting is about a 20-minute (very curvy and bumpy) ride away from our hostel. It’s awesome getting to ride through the little towns and see the colorful buildings and children waiting for the bus to go to school. When we arrived at the school the students automatically greeted us. They looked so happy and carefree while they played, and we were really excited to help make their school a more comfortable place to learn. We played with them until the paint arrived, then got started.
With the eight of us here from UGA, two program directors, and a few local men painting, we were able to paint the outside of two whole buildings in no time. All the while children were talking to us, and a few were excited to practice their English with us! It was amazing to see them so excited about learning a new language. They also loved playing with our cameras—some of us will have some very interesting pictures to develop!
There is still a lot of work to do on the school, but it is coming along really well. We were able to see the recently completed addition to the school made from the bottle project. We will spend the rest of the week finishing up painting the outside of the school as well as the classrooms, and helping children make recycled craft projects.
After painting, some of the teachers prepared a snack for us. It was rice, warm milk, and sugar… and it was delicious. Who knew something so simple could be so good? New snack upon our return to the USA: check.
We then split up into smaller groups to head to homestay lunches. Each of the directors had the chance to live with a family back in December, and we were lucky enough to re-visit the homes with them for lunch. Each family prepared a homemade meal for the group visiting them, and we could not have been more excited to have traditional Guatemalan food—and see how it was prepared! Our meals ranged from black beans and rice to chicken and pasta. And of course tortillas! So. Good.
Following the homestays we made a trip to the bank to exchange our money for the Guatemalan currency, which everyone here calls “Q.” We got to walk around the town and stopped to get ice cream. It almost came to fight over the queso y freso flavor (strawberry cheesecake, YUM).
Finally, we came back to our hostel and had a tortilla making demonstration. The locals make this look SO EASY, but it’s not what it seems. A few of us had some trouble with breaking them or making them too thin, but we eventually got the hang of it… kind of. Maybe by the end of the week we’ll have a little more success.
We could not have asked for a better first day here in Guatemala. The people are wonderful and accepting, the children are energetic, and our new friends from the UNC Chapel Hill group have been so much fun. And this was just the beginning! We are looking forward to the rest of the week. Tomorrow is another full day, and we can’t wait! Now, time for dinner. :)