This past weekend we were given 4 days to plan our own trip for our Independent Student Travel. The planning process was a little stressful as we had no idea what we were doing but it all ended up working out!! There were 3 groups in total, the other 2 groups went to beaches and we thought it would be a good idea to summitt the third tallest volcano in central america. It was definitley worth it but also physically exhausting. We started our trip in Antigua which is about 1.5 hr bus ride from Tecpan. We spent one night in a really nice hostil and then got up the next morning and took a bus to the base. We quickly entered a sharp decline and I think we were all a little out of breath within the first 30 seconds. Luckly we had an amazing guide who was motivating us all the way up. He mentioned that he has hiked the Volcano over 50 times!!! The first stage of the hike was through corn fields and then there was a quick transition to the forest. There were beautiful views from the start! It was great to meet people along the trail from all around the world. After the forest we started making our way into the clouds and everything became more barren and open around us. The temperature quickly dropped and we experienced a little rain. We finally go to our camp site after 7 hours of trekking and all we could see were clouds and the erupting volcano in front of us called Fuego. We sat by the fire all night and watched the Lava run down the side of the Volcano. It was probably one of the craziest things I have ever seen! After a while the clouds began to clear and were able to get good views of the cities surrounding the base. After a few hours of sleep we got up at 4am to reach the summit. It took us about 2 more hours to get to the top in the pitch black, it was extremely steep and there was a large drop off on one side. The sand was also extremely loose which made every step that much harder. Finally when we got to the top we were able to watch the sunrise which was incredible. We walked around the entire crater and had amazing views of all of the neighboring cities and the lake that we stayed at during orientaion. As we finished up at the top we witnessed the majority of the people procedding to RUN down the volcano. We decided to give it a try and only had a few face plants along the way. We ended up running down a good portion of the Volcano which made the time pass by very quickly, it tooks us lest then 3 hours to get down.
The rest of our time was spent in Antigua relaxing at the hostil and exploring new restaurants and cafes. Although planning proved to be challenging I think it was great learning experience and everything couldn’t have gone smoother in the end!
We have been staying in a smaller, more rural community for the past few weeks called Tecpán. I am living with a host family and Yasmin. (another student on the porgram) Our host family is incredibly sweet, it has been so much fun learning from them and how their lives differ from our own. The food has been really good- we eats lots of beans and eggs and of course tortillas! Lunch is usually the main meal and dinner is pretty light. In the mornings we have been working on a local farm. We generally weed plants, hoe, or use machetes to cut down more weeds! In the afternoons we have had seminars where we have dicussed sustainability and agriculuture in Guatemala. We are also given time to work on our media projects. My group is focusing on waste management in Guatemala, we have been gathering information through interviews and research and working on formulating our final project.
Our weekends are generally free- last weekend we visited the organization where our host mom works called Somos Juntos, the organization focuses its efforts on under served families in Guatemala. On the property all of the houses were created from Ecobricks which compose of plastic bottles and trash. I had never seen anything like this before and it was really cool to see waste being used in such a creative way.
We have about one more week with our host families until we head off for our enrichment week in Tikal and Semuc Champey.
After a few days in Antigua we all headed to Guatemala City. We stayed in a hostel for 2 weeks with our group of 18 along with 6 other students doing a different gap year program. Our group was planning on starting our home stays in Guatemala City however there were not enough families willing to take us in. As this was an unusual situation for TBB it posed a few challenges. Living quarters were tight and it was often difficult to get “alone-time”. Our living situation received the nick name of the compound as there was a lock to get in and out. Although living in close quarters proved to be a challenge it forced us to become even closer.
Transitioning to Guatemala City was difficult at first, I think it finally started to hit me that I was leaving my comftorable bubble of orientation. For our work site we worked with a sustainability company where we cleaned trails and finished our two weeks by visiting an elementary school where we taught kids about the environment. Outside of work site we did a driving tour of the city which was really interesting. Guatemala is separated into around 20 zones where each zone is complelety different from the next. We also went to a women’s house and learned how to make chocolate from cacoa beans. Between afternoon seminars and working in the morning we were given a large amount of free time. A majority of that time was spent walking to near by bakeries and exploring the city.