Saturday, December 17, 2005

From Xela to Antigua, Guatemala (10/25/04 - 11/08/04)

We actually made it here to Antigua Saturday after spending a week in Mazatenango building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Accommodations were rough, as most of the group was stuffed into the 4 Habitat houses in the community that were already completed. The houses are well built, but they are simple houses built for a family of 4 or so. So adding another 4 people (and their huge backpacks) to the mix meant very cramped living arrangements for a week. The work was pretty labor intensive, and a week's worth of manual labor didn't yield many visible results beyond the blisters, bruises and scrapes on our bodies, but we were proud of how our shoveling, wheel barrowing, cement block cutting (with machetes!) and laying, etc. moved the project along for the future inhabitants who worked alongside us from time to time.

My Host Family, Mazatenango, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

I'm in a particularly good mood today because I watched Notre Dame beat 8th ranked Tennessee Saturday AND I got to watch parts of 6 football games yesterday! I'm not a huge football fan, but it is probably the sport that I prefer to watch most on television. And since we left the states on September 16th and haven't been near televisions during the weekends, I've missed most of the season. So sitting in a bar with 3 games on 3 TV's made my day today. And I'm excited to catch to of my favorite teams tonight on Monday Night Football! The African American coach trumps the African American quarterback (plus I don't like how Minnesota did Dennis Green!), so I'll be rooting for the Colts. However, since I'm also a Culpepper fan I won't be terribly pissed if the Vikings win. But since you probably find none of this interesting, I'll get back into trip details.

I wasn't able to take advantage of las Pyramides meditation center because of my leadership duties, but San Marcos La Laguna made an impression on me.

I am now a "certified" Indian Head Masseuse. It's an hour long massage that works the shoulders, neck, head and face, and after a week of classes that amounted to 15 hours I received my certification from the San Marcos Holistic Center (

We stayed at a pretty cool hotel called La Paz, the bungalows of which sprawl out under a canopy of fruit bearing trees including oranges, avocados and coffee. The food was delicious vegetarian cuisine, and the vibe was chill and laid back. There was a little sauna there, and massages and yoga classes took place on the premises as well. Benjamin, the owner was one of the first non-indigenous people to move to the lakeside town and build a house. He started La Paz with the idea that people need a place to get away from oppressive societies and get back to themselves. He hooked me up with a free massage after noticing that my shoulders were high (from stress related tension) while trying to get the group to cancel their food bills so we could make it to our Chichicastenango shuttle on time. He also invited me to dinner at his house where we philosophized about making the world a better place. I confided to him that I don't think I could live in the states if Bush were to win. I think the election was a fraud AGAIN. The republicans have simply gotten better at cheating (Ask me for 20 facts about US Voting, or search the Diebold & ESS connections to the GOP @ or And if the elections weren’t stolen, do I really want to live amidst so many people foolish enough to believe that a warmongering, draft dodging terrorist who has killed 15 million Iraqis (and counting), fired 2 million people and turned the biggest surplus in history to the biggest deficit in history is a better presidential option than Kerry? I recently received an email from Benjamin offering condolences and a home in San Marcos until the "dark cloud" passes over our country. Cool people, that Benjamin.

Flores, San Marcos, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

I did yoga for 2 hours a day for a week, and am still not convinced that it's for me... But I did enjoy the classes. Our last class ended with the group singing the vowels of the chakras as colored stones were placed on the parts of our bodies corresponding to each chakra. By the end of the exercise my voice and the stones' vibrations had filled me with such beautiful energy that I was crying tears of joy and laughing uncontrollably. Dave Chappelle's Black Bush gave me the best laugh I had had in months the week before, but these vowels and vibrations brought a different kind of laughter. I was still so giddy 2 hours later that a few of my students were compelled to state that I appeared to be high on life. Indeed I was. I'm smiling now thinking about it.

Dona Judith & Don Pepe (host fam), Xela, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

Before San Marcos we were living with host families in Xela as the group took 2 weeks of Spanish classes and volunteered with an after school program. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the World Cup qualifying soccer match in Guatemala City where Guatemala defeated Honduras to advance to the second round. The stadium went wild when the final whistle blew! The team did not play so well, but it was a triumphant moment for the country, and it was invigorating to experience the energy in that crowd.

We then hiked from Xela to Lago Atitlan for 2.5 days. The fact that I made the mistake of packing more than I needed probably has something to do with why I didn't like the hike so much. Actually it may have more to do with the fact that our 3 wet-behind-the-ears guides lacked good communication skills. This meant that for about 35 minutes on the second day we had no idea where the last 3 people of our group were. Turns out that they took a different path at one point, but since they had no radios we waited a half hour hoping that they would appear... After finally moving on and reuniting with them further up the trail we ended up choosing the wrong path AGAIN at another fork in the road. Wouldn't have been so bad except that it was raining and getting dark and the trail that we were climbing was very narrow, muddy and steep and going in the absolute wrong direction. After about 15 minutes of climbing and slipping, the "guide" finally tells the 10 of us who had followed him, "Maybe we should wait until we hear one of the other guides coming." So we stop. Someone yells up that the other guide says that it's the right way. So we continue until the trail literally disappears and it dawns on us that this is definitely NOT the right way. The 3rd guide finally comes up and gets us. After reuniting with the other 17 people in our group who were also pretty unhappy at this point, we all march the final 4 hours in tight-jawed silence being rained on in the dark, slipping on rocks and getting incredibly muddy.

LEAPNow Group, Xela to Atitlan Hike, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

So the last half of the second day was the low point. This was definitely no Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. But the third day made up for the mishaps of the second. I witnessed one of the most impressive sunrises I've ever seen. Lake Atitlan is ringed by volcanoes and high plateaus. We arrived at one of the plateaus just in time to catch the spectacle of the sun rising over the far side of the lake, arousing the slumbering world with its vibrant life giving rays of energy. I think the fact that I witnessed this sunrise on my Aunt's birthday gave me much cause for reflection, and made it a particularly moving experience for me. She passed away while I was in Peace Corps, but was my favorite aunt - mainly because she always encouraged me to follow my dreams, but also because if it wasn't for her my parents might have never met... Swimming in the clear waters of the tranquil lake after the final 3 hours of the hike was a good end to the trek.

Aunt Pearl's Sunrise, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

Morning Dew, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

Dawn, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala Posted by Picasa

So we're here in Antigua for 2 more days. Wednesday we fly to Costa Rica. We'll probably hit the zip lines in the tree canopy of Monteverde and the hot springs at the base of Volcan Arenal before heading to the Nicoya peninsula to volunteer with the ANAI sea turtle conservation program. The group is still doing very well, and I am still very much enjoying the trip and life in general. I hope you are healthy, happy, and enjoying life as well.


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