Sunday, January 24, 2016

River to Volcano - January 24th

   Semuc Champey was a dream: from the day we woke up, to the swim down the bright emerald cascades, the tropical forest looked identical to a scene pulled out of The Jungle Book. From the relaxing float down the deep blue river, to the massive 50 foot jump off a suspension bridge looming over the water, our trip was filled with calm warm moments and adventurously daring moments alike.

   We ventured far into a pitch black cave; Up to our eyes with water, we dodged stalactites that dripped small droplets echoing through the cavern, building the suspense with every step we took. The shiny walls gave some perspective of dimension, but every advancing movement was a risk in itself. Walking and swimming through the river inside the mountain with candles had an uncanny affect on me. A personal scary moment was the climb up a rope, upstream a waterfall within the damp atramentous cave. The only thing illuminating my side expedition was a candle dangling from my mouth. When all of a sudden, my only source of light was extinguished by surges of falling water, I was left with the navigation of the sounds of my partners.

  Semuc Champey aside, yesterday we arrived in Antigua for today's volcanic climb. I got up early and made pancakes with Brenden for those who survived yesterday's lunch. The climb up and down the active volcano was a total of 10k. There were sites where the ground was cracked open and high levels off heat gave out. These holes have been giving off heat since the 2010 eruption (not uncommon for Guatemala's active volcanoes to erupt). It was so hot we literally pulled out marshmellows and cooked them over the vents. The scenery was covered in solid ash and formations decorated the landscape scarring the volcano's base with red tint. So yeah, I'd have to say that today was pretty heated.

- Will Stonehouse Salinas

Photography by Will Stonehouse Salinas

Semuc Champey - January 21st & 22nd

          Waking up early sure isn't easy! Even though everybody struggled to get out bed we all had a sense of excitement in our eyes. As we all slept on the long bus ride, waking up every few hours to use the restroom and eat, we arrived at a small town were we got off the bus and got on a large truck and traveled up and down a rocky mountain till we got to our hotel. Once we hopped out the back of the truck we went to go check out our huts we were going to stay in. Half stayed in the top room and the other half stayed in the lower room. Since we got to the the hotel late in the day and there was so much we wanted to do, but we could only swim in the river just under the hotel. As everybody headed to bed we all couldn't wait for the next day.

          The next day is when the fun began. It started after breakfast when the those on the lower level were going back to their room and found a tarantula crawling out from under one of the beds. After a few minutes of screaming we finally got it out of the room and lets just say not a lot of us got very much sleep that night. After that we took a hike up 800 steps to get to a place where the view was unbelievable. Then we hiked down a little ways to a river where we jumped, slid, and swam to different beautiful spots in the river where we had great time. After we hiked back to the hotel where we had lunch everybody got even more excited for the our activity: hiking through a cave filled with water and only candles for light. As we made our way through the cave we were joined by two other groups, one couple from France and the other from Australia. Going up an down ladders, over rocks, swimming through water and even climbing up a small waterfall. Once the tour was over and our candles almost burnt out we were told to grab our inner tubes for a relaxing float down the river. When we reached the end we walked back to our hotel where we jumped off rocks and a small bridge into cool river to add to a fun filled day. To top the day off we had a great dinner and a nice reflection where everybody agreed that it was sure a good day.

Norman Tipton

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First Day In Antigua - January 20th

Hi everyone! Decided to give the boys the night off from the blog. We left San Lucas early this morning and are now relaxing at hostel Villa Estella in the beautiful city of Antigua. The city is very different in comparison to the village we became so accustomed to, and everyone seems to be in shocked that a city like this exists in such close proximity to the indigenous little village. The city is surrounded by volcanoes and filled with shops and restaurants. One volcano that is visible from our hostel has been erupting all day, and now into the night! Tomorrow we leave bright and early for Semuc Champey (5am) - so far I think everyone is just excited to finally wear shorts.. but hopefully that won't remain the highlight for long. These guys are in for a great adventure!

No wifi in Semuc Champey - next blog will be Saturday night.
Group photo for the "Friends of San Lucas" facebook page- taken in front of the Mission in San Lucas Toliman

Pizza for dinner tonight in Antigua
Thanks for reading:)
Ms. Julia Mekrut

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Saints in Guatemala - January 19th

Crazy how time flies. I still remember the afternoon we arrived in San Lucas Toliman, a sunny hot day. It hit me last night that I am in Guatemala. If you would have asked me two years ago if I would be here right now I would have most likely started laughing.

This morning we split up into two groups, one went to the brick house and one to the wood house.
I got split into the group at the brick house. For about the first two hours we moved one big pile of dirt to one side of the house to the other. During the last hour we mixed concrete and helped the locals pour it into the footings. Also got to speak and work with Oscar, a young boy who only spoke Kaqchikel, one of the many Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala.

During the afternoon we surprisingly had no work. We were fortunate enough to listen to a lady speak about personal accounts during Guatemala's recent civil war. Really hit me when she spoke all of the tragic that occurred. After we went to play a game of soccer with some of the workers from the mission. Overall very successful day. Going to miss many of the friendly faces especially the dogs.

Brenden Legaspi
Lady speaking about her experience from recent civil war.

One of the dogs from the mission.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Trabajamos Mucho, January 18th

Unfortunately today we all had to wake up a little bit early. We set our alarms to 7:25, and were inside the cafeteria by 7:45 to start the dishes for breakfast. For breakfast we were given a feast of oatmeal, black beans, and rolls. After consuming breakfast we then washed all the dirty dishes and prepared for the long day of work ahead of us.
              For the first activity today we all climbed into the back of a truck and headed over to a construction site for a new house. This house was being built in a completely new area to us. As soon as we hopped out of the truck we were met with many kind greetings as well as an occasional, "gringo" shout. The work at the construction site consisted of moving dirt for concrete, placing rocks around trenches, and placing metal re-barb. This work was both humbling and tiring at the same time. Because we have been working with the same contractors for the whole time I have created many great friendships. After we completed this activity we got in the back of the truck and headed over to the mission for lunch.
             For lunch we had a delicious meal which consisted of fried rice and pineapple. After lunch we were given a choice of  going to the Women's Center or helping build walls at a different house. I was assigned to the construction cite were I  was given the opportunity to raise walls. This activity gave me a new outlook on what I was doing in Guatemala, because I felt as if I was actually making a difference. The group that went to the Women's Center ended up doing yard work, and eventually started a pick up game of soccer with the locals. As we headed back to the hotel Ms. Mekrut took a small group with her to have a water balloon with the kids who didn't live to far away. After the water balloon fight we all decided to get some rest for the hard day of working which is in store for us tomorrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Jungle Pools Sunday, January 17

          Today was the most relaxing day of the trip thus far, we woke up a little later than usual for an 8:30 breakfast consisting of french toast ( a nice reminder of home). Then we hopped into the pickup truck and headed about twenty minutes outside of town to some "pools in the jungle".  We had no idea what to expect because we are the first group from Saints to take the excursion.
          The truck pulled to the side of the road and we all hopped out, the driver pointed to a path through the jungle.  With no other directions we headed out, after fifteen minutes or so of confusion and back tracking we came to the pools.  They were man made and filled with moving water from the river not more than twenty feet away.
          It was a refreshing break from the work week and we took advantage of every moment.  Ms. Mekrut packed us a lunch of fresh fruit, cheese, tortillas and avocados from the market and an added treat of fresh guacamole made by Brenden and Will.
         We headed back to San Lucas with yet another great adventure behind us.  Hopefully we sleep well tonight because tomorrow will be another fun day of work.

Aidan Dougherty

Saturday, January 16, 2016

1/16/16 A Day of Relaxation

Today we reached the halfway point in our Guatemalan trip, and Ms. Mekrut and Dr. Rey gave us a day to sleep in, giving us the opportunity to sleep in past the early 8 o'clock dinner, giving us the chance to sleep in till 12:30 lunch.  While most of us did not sleep in till that time, it set the tone for the rest of the day, and gave us all a chance to relax after a hard week of service work.

After Lunch, we all went on a hike up one of the several mountains surrounding the town.  At 2 o'clock we set out in foggy weather, making it a cool and relaxing journey.  Our hiking guide led us through a poorer neighborhood to get to the trail.  When even recognized some children in the area from working there earlier in the week, and one even decided to join us on our hike.  The trail was extremely narrow, forcing us to walk in a single-file line.  The trail had many leaves and lose sand, causing many of us to lose our balance.  The trip up the mountain took nearly an hour, and by the end everyone was winded.  At the top of the mountain, there was a small store set up for tourists like us.  After some gift shopping, admiring the view, and some picture taking, we started back down.  the trip down was much easier, and only took a half hour.

With our hike over, most of us went back to the hostel to kill time waiting for dinner.  After dinner, we went to 7 o'clock mass in the mission church.  Even we could understand very little, we all gained from the experience.  All of the Guatemalans sang in unison, despite their lack of song books in the church.  It was also interesting to see the small differences between an American and a Guatemalan mass.  One of the more noticeable examples was the way they received communion.  In Guatemala, there is no option to receive the host in your hand, the Eucharistic Minister delivers the host directly to your mouth. When mass ended, we all went back to the hostel.

Being in Guatemala did not stop us from keeping up with sports going on in America.  Back at the hostel, everyone got together and watched the duration of the playoff game that was on this night.  We were all delighted by a good game with many nail biting moments.  This capped off the day nicely, with everyone having fun cheering for their team.  It was the end of a nice day free from work, and a great start to the second half of our trip.

-Sean Whitty