by Annalee Antoon
Since the minute we arrived in Guatemala we have had more than interesting experiences. Saturday morning we met at 5:30am to begin our 25 day journey. With hundreds of pounds of suitcases, we made it to the airport just in time to grab coffee and get on the plane. Once we arrived, we found out that Christina’s bag had been lost and had to be tracked down. Finally, we got on a bus that took us from Guatemala City to the beautiful city of Antigua. Although the ride was beautiful, Kesley really started the trip when she got sick on the bus!
Once we got settled in “El Hostal”, we all got to know each other very well during our orientation. Laura and Jake, our guides (who are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable) took us to an amazing restaurant where the food was amazing and the lemonade was even better. That’s right, lemonade lovers. If you want the best, come to Guatemala! At dinner, we also enjoyed live music from an authentic Guatemalan band. After dinner, it was bed time for some tired Aggies!
Sunday was an activity-filled day. It started with breakfast at El Hostal the quickly turned into a walking tour of Antigua with none other than Elizabeth Bell – a local tour guide and preservationist. We saw ruins, crypts, churches, a jade museum, and a beautiful hotel. Next up was lunch at a small sandwich and smoothie shop which was run by an adventurous Californian couple. After a siesta at the hotel, we head back out for dinner and a salsa dancing lesson. Learning to dance was an experience to say the least!
Monday marked the transition from the orientation period of the trip to the service portion. Once again our day began with an amazing breakfast at El Hostal. Dale Rogers of the Borlaug Institute met us and took us to AGTEC (Borlaug’s Guatemalan headquarters) where we learned about organic farming practices and Guatemalan culture. Most of the day was spent in the garden, putting our knowledge into action and learning to make organic fungicides and pesticides.
After we left, we made a stop in the town of Pastores to get custom boots made – only as true Aggies would do! After a long day, dinner was more than welcomed, and we celebrated Cera’s 21st birthday with a beautiful cake from a local bakery. Exhausted, we made it back to the hotel in time to have a quick reflection and make a contract with each other. Included in the contract we made sure to hold each other accountable for staying engaged and keeping a positive attitude. We have decided that the theme of our trip is “Choose your Attitude,” meaning that we all have the right to dictate how our trip goes. By choosing a positive attitude every day, we will not only help to keep a healthy energy within our group, but our personal experience will be enhanced.
Tonight, Tuesday, as I sit in the beautiful courtyard of El Hostal writing this, I keep back spacing and re-wording everything. I become frustrated in doing this and realize that I feel this way because my experience is too amazing to put into words.
Today, we went deep into the highlands of Guatemala to help a community of farmers build a greenhouse. This was our first experience with the real living conditions of Guatemala. As we winded up and down roads for what seemed like an eternity, it was clear that a major limiting factor to agriculture was the infrastructure. There is simply no way for one of these farmers to bring his crops to market. Saddened and humbled by what we saw, it was a true reminder of the role that service leadership plays in our lives. Alone, we have the ability to make a difference in peoples lives and holding that kind of power is an amazing thing.
On the way back we encountered a problem when the road became washed over with heavy rain waters, and we had to wait out the flood before crossing the road.
I am now more excited than ever to offer all that I can to the people of Chajul for the next two and a half weeks. It will be a blessing and a learning experience, and I am forever thankful for the opportunity to learn in such an environment. Feeling a little overwhelmed by today’s activities and experiences, the thought of laying down in my bed is taking over. Until next time, Adios!