Our first day in Guatemala started bright and early, but we were all able to find some time to slow down and take in the sunshine and our surroundings.

Growing Guatemalan

Rebekah Ratcliff
Sep 15, 2016 · 25 min read

Of the many themes in Guatemala that could be discussed, the world seems to be abuzz with Guatemalan coffee. Though I would argue the country to be one of the most beautiful, the people to be some of the most resilient, and the heritage to be some of the most rich in all of the world; the great topic of conversation in Guatemala is becoming the coffee trade.

I was lucky enough to embark on the experience of a lifetime June 13th to learn, experience, observe, and share life with families and members of a variety of Guatemalan coffee cooperatives through local non-profit De La Gente. This organization is stationed in San Miguel Escobar and actively serves and supports coffee farmers throughout all of Guatemala providing learning opportunities, growth opportunities, and access to proper tools for small-scale farms pursuing direct and fair trade.

Walking through the various zones of San Miguel on our first day.

The preparation for our trip, however, began months before our departure date. After a variety of meetings discussing Guatemalan culture, coffee trade, travel expectations, fundraising opportunities, the role of the non-profit, and local heritage I was anxious to get on and off of the plane and finally have my feet on foreign soil. I felt very prepared, but there was nothing I could’ve done that would have prepared me for the experiences I was getting ready to have.

During our stay in Guatemala I was able to connect with families, have real conversations with community women about their life, their families, their dreams, what they hoped for their children, how they make their tortillas, and what their lives were like. I shared cookies and avocado with the girls who lived in my house. We danced, we sang, we colored, we explored, we participated in each others lives with curiosity through service projects, community history talks, demonstrations, working in the fields, and napping during the rainstorms.

Our Mama Blanca, host mother in Santa Anita de La Union.

Day 1: Monday, June 13th

5:30AM Arrive at Southern Oregon University Outdoor Program

Jacksonville to Ashland to Portland to Los Angeles to Guatemala City to San Miguel Escobar and our new home in La Casona.

Today Today Today! Today is the day! we are currently en route to Guatemala so far it has been pretty smooth sailing, the group dynamic will be interesting and not in the “hang out with strange friends” type of interesting, there will definitely be a few personalities that will be a lot over this short period of time, but that won’t be anything that I can’t handle. It is so exciting watching some of these people travel like this (granted so far there are a few I could never travel with again under different circumstances). I am determined to move with an open mind, a big heart, listening ears, and kind words. I hope to allow this experience to grow into itself, to break expectations, and to lear and be humbly curious in every experience. Some of the experiences I am looking forward to are: 1) speaking and reading Spanish again! I am really hoping to speak as much as possible to prepare for my classes in Cuba! I hope I can get in that mindset and try to speak without being embarassed that I am so rusty in this large group. 2) meeting families! I am SO incredibly beyond excited to live in a house and I am really, really hoping that the house I am in will have kiddos! It will be neat to learn about the family’s background, where they are from and how they’ve been impacted on their farms. 3) Beautiful Things!!! Colors, smells, tastes, people, and life! I just hope we have enough time within our itinerary to truly be able to experience the life that is lived in all of its beauty. I hope we have enough time to take itall in and sit peacfully in the wonder. I am so hoping to get some time to sketch some cool things and take pictures of the things I can see. I hope that this group appreciates the beauty in each moment. 4) Thunder and Rainstorms! I am so excited to experience the life of these families in their place; that includes daily rain. I am so excited to dance in the rain, splash in the puddles, listen to the thunder, and explain how in Oregon we don’t really make use of umbrellas too often because the rain is so different. 5) Connections! I hope to connect with this group, with different people in different ways and to learn through those connections and differences just how similar we really might be. 6) Coffee! I cannot wait to learn about coffee and the process and what it means to the people and how to make it well. I am excited to get coffee, to drink coffee, to learn how the exchange of coffee and the consumption of coffee is significant. 7) Be! I hope to continue to grow and become myself and through seeing more of other people’s lives learn what it means for my role in this world and how I can love bigger, give bigger, and live bigger.

They were tired even before we arrived!

Day 2: Tuesday, June 14th

6:30AM Arrive at the International Airport of Guatemala City

Arrival, Orientation, Coffee Brewing Methods, Walking Tour, Dinner with a Farmer

Here we go, a spinning head, and Juan.

Today was the day! I woke up to the most georgous sunrise then landed in Guatemala. It was a super nice airport compared to the one in Panama City. It was very clean, very organized, the people seemed much more adept to foreign travelers, and it probably helped that I wasn’t alone either (I definitely felt more confident). Stepping off of the plane everything was bright and beautiful even with my dazed time-change brain. Our driver Juan was very friendly and nice, he answered all of my questions and we joked around a bit. He has lived in Antigua his whole life and loves it here, he said he wouldn’t have a reason to leave. The workers here at De La Gente are all friendly, but also just downright cool. Finding employment somewhere like here would totally be something I would love to do. At first the Spanish was awesome, but now i’m not so sure, it’s going to be tough when we’re all together in the house to stay in Spanish mode. Maybe I will write some of my notes or journal entries in Spanish alonside the book I’m reading too? That could probably be good.

Beautiful and bright architecture from the center of our community. This remained a meeting place always.

“With the colors and senses completely overwhelmed, it’s a beautiful, wonderful world of new sights and new smells. Walking through a kaleidoscope city like the rush of a sweet first kiss on the lips the colonial walls and cobble bricks remind of old people and past trips. Something all too familiar, but yet as new and strange as it gets. There’s a shared sense of wonder, of curious awe. Because when you take on step in you are surely bound to fall. You begin to long for and dream of truly knowing it all.”

Este dia fue bueno. nos disfruten otras tipos de cafe y comimos sandwiches, despuez de una onita camina por la cuidad vieja todos estén cansados pero tenemos una cita con Emmy hablamos de servicio y las perspectivas que nosotros podemos entender para voluntarar en este communidad. Pienso que este communidad es muy bonita y un poco mas larga que yo pense. Todos los ninos son los mas bonitas que yo ve. Ojala que yo tenia mas opportunidades para hablar con gente en este communidad pero estoy nerviosa para hablar y tambien entender (apprender de) de la gente en este cooperación. Me encanta las colores, me molesta con la manera en que algun en mi grupo viaja. Yo quiero mucho mucho mucho para entender como hacer los textilos tradicionales de este lugar. Quiero pinto algo, pero no tengo pintas. Ojala que yo puedo tener una opportunidad para buscar a pintas. Pienso que yo necessito preservar mi corazón, quiero mantener una voz de amor, paz, y muy amable con todo. Antes de este cita nosotros fuimos a la casa de timoteo para cenar. Todo la comida fue deliciosa pero todo nosotros son todavía cansada, tener una bonita noche!

Big Ideas for Wednesday:

  • What economy would this place have without tourism?
  • Collective cultures: placing value on social capital.
  • Skilled people: people do and make things here, at home not as many people are in the creative class, maybe not as common (human capital).
  • See a need; fill it: women are innovatively diversifying their income through making things like peanut butter for tourists.
  • Family Oriented (watch how social capital works among families).
  • Religious function vs. tradition (we saw so many empty religious buildings today in their old Spanish colonial style. What are they really up to in there?
  • Presence and purpose of foreign tourism
  • Simplicity of life: beautiful but challenging in hard and globalizing economic situation the necessary simplicity is still beautiful.
  • Staff primarily North American, how participatorily led is De La Gente? What are community members like Lola’s roles?
  • Is the tourism here helping maintain the cultural heritage? If so, how can we manage sustainable models like it, or does all tourism reach a point where it becomes a burden
This family welcomed us with open arms, we dance, we sang, we drank coffee into the night, passed around family photos, learned how much their youngest daughter wanted to go to Disneyland, and washed the dishes. Sharing family moments like these with what we decided was “one of the happiest men in Guatemala” are truly unforgettable.

Day 3: Wednesday, June 15th

Breakfast, Hike to Cerro de la Cruz, Colonial Ruins, Lunch, Global Coffee Trade Activity, Dinner with Farmer

Breakfast: I tried to help, didn’t really . We had pancakes, papaya, and plantains! Fun time in Antigua, but it is SO touristy (yikes!) Kind of neat how they have been able to maintain cultural heritage. Lunch was delicious, but I also kind of hated eating at such a clearly tourist restaurant, but then again, I am happy to support the local people working there, I just kind of am annoyed by how touristy this trip has already been. Coffee and rain dancing was wonderful to be in a small group and slow down a little bit and not be around so many consumer gringos all at once ;) . Dinner was fabulous, and I cannot wait to build other relationships with families. The fair trade vs. direct trade discussion was really intruiging. Yay for another beautiful, educational, insightful day! Yay for getting to absorb and acknowledge the knowledge and perspectives of others openly.

Thoughts: Why aren’t open conversations among individuals like us, who are VERY different as normal as they seem in this context? Creating collective groups and conversations breeds tolerance and pluralist peoples and we need more of that in our individualist lives. I wonder how much of the “tourist goods” are locally made versus externally imported?

Our first dinner without a translator meant a lot of awkward laughs and pressure to speak.

Day 4: Thursday, June 16th

Breakfast, Hike to Coffee Fields, Work in Fields, Farmers home for lunch, Coffee processing demonstration, discussion with De La Gente Staff, Dinner with farmer.

Today I woke up a little early to read but ended up taking some extra time getting ready instead so that I could be by myself. I think I want to try to be more reserved and take a backseat tomorrow, at the same time I feel like I want to be taking full advantage of every opportunity to learn from someone or talk with them and hear what they have to say. I especially want to take advantage of the opportunities to talk to the people here in their homes. I want to talk about myself less, I want to think about others more. Hopefully I can, while I practice my Spanish also practice walking in humility and gratitude too. From the famlies and people here, Guatemalan and otherwise I hope to grow to be: more generous, more grateful, more content, less individualistic, more collectivistic, more caring, more honest, less prideful, more gentle, more thoughtful, more wise, more adventurous, happier, less entitled, more hard-working, less incapable, more loving, i just want to be less of an arrogant “American” if that makes sense…

The conclusion of our seed to cup coffee processing day was us getting our bottoms handed to us by Freddy’s wife while she ground coffee beans in this traditional mortar & pestle. This was carved out of the igneous rock from the volcano they live on and is passed down generation after generation, if I understood correctly, this specific grinding stone has been in their family for nearly 200 years.

Today we visited the farm. I didn’t ask to help with breakfast again, but talked a little bit with Louis David (he doesn’t talk… he’s a baby). We had eggs, black bean sauce, and tortillas. Later we met Freddy and his sons (with their cool hats at the church in the center of the community) we walked up the hill and had the awesome opportunity of visiting their coffee fields and even lent a hand with the fields. my high points have all been connecting with the people through conversation on very personal levels, but that has also made me feel a little helpless/guilty and has definitley been my low point, breaking my heart to hear about these families, these kids like Alfonso and Carlitos and how they suffer and have to grow in a world where ridiculous people like me can travel around the globe, but they build homes of corn husks and alfonso can’t go to school. I don’t know, I guess tourism even in this form just bums me out because of the stark inequality and seemingly little remorse. I guess i am just having a hard time not feeling super guilty as a gringo. Still they are so generous and beautiful to the people who have destroyed and are probably currently destroying so much. Thoughts: teach me to have such tolerant and humanist grace, humility, gratefulness, love, spirit, and soul.

Coffee processing workshop with Freddy’s family on their patio. This bike is used to depulp the coffee cherries, it is also a great form of cardio excercise according to Freddy’s son who is learning English in order to give tours and interact with the growing coffee tourism economy.

Day 5: Friday, June 17th

Breakfast, Construction Project, Lunch at construction home, more construction, dinner with farmer.

Today was such a beautiful day! I woke up a little late, but came downstairs to find pineapple!!! After eating we finally met Timoteo. We had so many great experiences today. In the morning we worked with Timo to make new drying racks for his natural coffee he makes it to be more competitive in the coffee market. We had the chance to go to the mill and hardware store. Building the beds was a little frustrating because our group was not getting along super well. Anyway, we got to have lunch with his family and then finished all eight drying beds, then we took a great picture, I had my hair cut by a machete, and we head home. Eileen, Willy, Joseph, Megan, and I played soccer with some of the neighbor kids then I took a walk by myself to sketch the church. It was nice to not be in such a crazy large group people interacted with me much differently, there was a guy with a giant hole in his pants who grinned at me, there was much more cat-calling (yay for latin american machismo?!?), it made me miss having the freedom to liesure by myself, but then we went to dinner at Manuel’s house and I was reminded of just how cool it will be to share these experiences with this group of folks because no matter how many notes I take, whatever journal entries I do or photos I show people I will never get to fully express what happened, other people will never fully understand, and there is a bond in having experienced those things together that I am really grateful for!

One of our construction projects involved creating new coffee drying patios from the organization’s funds.

Day 6: Saturday, June 18th

Breakfast, Concrete construction project, lunch with farmer’s family, more construction, dinner with farmer.

Today we had a chance to speak with Timoteo during breakfast that was sweet, I love his little smile (also, Timo’s wife is the one who cooks our breakfast and his grandson is Louis David) and his family, it has been super need visiting various families but I also wish we couldve had longer experiences (more authentic) with the same families. I love being able to share parts and pieces of my life too but sometimes I feel guilty trying to compare/process and analyze because I really know so little. I have been so blessed by all the happy, generous, and hospitable people here. I am so enamored by their knowledge, curiosity, and the pride they take in all of their work and daily happenings. So often i feel so removed from my work or some of the things i do, i hope to live more boldly and in each and every moment with pride, joy, and more care in the moments of life that truly matter each day. Also today we danced and I played with papaya seeds and little girls taught me to make tortillas.

These kiddos all lived in this family space, and they were quick to show me how to squirt papaya juice and flatten tortillas.

Day 7: Sunday, June 19th

Breakfast, Artisan workshops, lunch, market, dinner at guest house.

There is something so sweet to waking up to the shouts of roosters and the calls of the crows. A world wide awake and moving far beyond what I’ve already done. Because sometimes I can feel so surrounded by the things I want or need so those sweet songs are gentle reminders that the movements of the world never revolve around me.

As the mountains surround me and the volcano on my right continues to release it’s puffs of smoke, the sweet smelling kitchen will cook on my left, I remember this song will keep playing long after I’ve gone.

This morning was a crisp and cool morning, the kind that you have when you’ve woken up from camping under the stars in a noisy tent and sleeping bag, the kind that makes you want to put on your fuzziest socks, sit in the direct rays of the sun, and soak in all the opportunity and wonder of the day that is to come. I went to the terrace with the intention of writing and after scribbling down a few thoughts realized i had nothing important to say than what the roosters, dogs, and whole of the world had to say. The volcano kept spitting its tiny tufts into the pure blue sky, leaving its own mark on the start of the day. Today we have artisan workshops and I couldn’t be more excited. Woot Woot!

Hupils are traditional garments for the indigenous women of Guatemala, each hupil design represents a different location in Guatemala, and Elena was able to tell us all about it while she also showed us how she is able to utilize the growing tourist industry effectively to pay for her children’s school. Some of these hupils are nearly 100 years old.

Today we made hupil bags. SOOOOO cool learning from Elena about Mayan traditions and heritage and current life. Then we had lunch in small groups, our group went to this really (and I mean REALLY) old couple’s house. We walked back and then took the bus into Antigua to explore the market a bit and then got some avocados (which was quite the ordeal and people were almost out of because we came toward the end of the day). The market was full of colors, things, all kinds of things, food, cd’s, underwear, and leather goods. It is so neat to see all the people working the market, but it isn’t exactly neat to see their reactions once they see a white person. Also, Emmy told us not to eat the street food, but that seems ridiculous to be in Guatemala and not eat the food that maybe wasn’t washed properly so I had some plantains, some papaya, some pineapple, and some other things too. Later we made way too much food for dinner, now I have a cold sore, a sore foot, a burnt scalp, and am going to go to bed to wake up with gratitude and grace! Goodnight, sorry I can’t write more. I’m so excited for Pacaya tomorrow!

We couldn’t help ourselves, the street food and fresh fruit is just too delicious.
Volcan Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala, our tour guide said he practically grew up on this volcano, he knows all of the plants, the trails, and could hike it in twenty minutes if he was really trying. This volcano has become such a tourist destination that after its last eruption it only took the station and shops two weeks to set back up so that tourists could visit (and pay for entrance, horse rides, walking sticks, guides, and souvenirs ) once again.

Day 8: Monday, June 20th

Breakfast, Volcan Pacaya, Lunch, Dinner with farmer

Today we hiked Pacaya! It was beautiful, I had some really interesting conversations with our guide who said her practically grew up on the volcano, it’s been so nice being able to speak conversationally with local people. We got to the top and… a tourist store, actually two had been set up. As if the horse bargain wasn’t a tourist trap enough, this entire volcano had turned into a tourist and money grabbing destination (and a beautiful one too). From start to finish it was all touristy, with kiddos selling walking sticks, horse owners pushing their horses on you, etc. Granted, roasting our marshmallows at the top was a highlight of my life… soooooo. Juan was our driver again which was really fun. We all fell asleep on the way home, I think we all needed a long nap and a lot of hibiscus tea to replenish our bodies.

Day 9: Tuesday, June 21st

Breakfast, Travel to Santa Anita, meet host families, orientation, tour of community, dinner with host families.

Bienvenidos a Santa Anita! This is the coffee processing building for the community, this path leads down to their main drying patio and to many of the farmer’s fields.

Today was our first full day of time here in Santa Anita de La Union. I feel super sick in my whole head, I have this splitting headache and I have two sores in my mouth and my jaw is super tight and my tonsils are literally pounding and every breath and swallow hurts and I just want to throw up and vomit all my insides out. ANYWAY that’s enough complaining. Today was really neat! I have had so many interesting conversations with Blanca (our house mother self-titled Mama Blanca) and the other mamas and farmers here. I am super intersted to learn more about these people and this community tomorrow. We didn’t do much because it rained most of the day today, but the women showed us around the community giving us a tour of the facilities, I had a lot of time to chat with community members, time to explore the creek, and some time to play basketball with twelve other girls too. All in all, another beautiful day! Our house is quite the popular place around meal times too because we have one of the only two corn mills in the community so all the women come and take a turn getting masa ready to make tortillas for dinner. It’s pretty cool because the girls in our house taught me how to do it, and they do it for the women that come by in the morning (always women) sometimes even girls that I would guess at being around six years old come over with a bowl full of corn and our little Angelis helps to mill it down.

Day 10: Wednesday, June 22nd

Breakfast, agricultural work, lunch, history talk, dinner with host families (Eileen’s birthday!)

Papa Michu and our little sis Angelis leading the way to the waterfall.

We had breakfast with the family and went on another tour of the community. After our quick walk we all split up to work out in the fields with our host parents. Our host dad was still not back from Mexico (where I later learned he was doing business and participating in a rally) so we went to the fields of one of our neighbors. I loved doing the work, but it was so hot and I think the dehydration really started to bother me. After hauling all of his firewood, we were able to sit down in a little semi-circle on the ground and just chat with our neighbor, and it was so nice to just have conversations with him about the noises we heard, what our lives were like back at home, what we did on a daily basis, all of what we talked about was never super deep or profound, but I think I can say for all of us the moment we shared in that semi-circle was really important and connected our communities on extremely personal levels. We talked about moonshine for at least ten minutes, and learning about how there are folks in the outskirts of their community that also made moonshine (of different varieties) was really neat. After working in the morning, it rained in the afternoon. Many of us rested, after resting we also went out and walked about the community stopping at the one house that sold cookies, and then played some more soccer. We had another history talk with our neighbor that we had worked with earlier in the day. Our talk started outside (near the cage where they kept their five puppies) (oh! our host family has dogs too, they said they used to have a lot more kittens, but because they couldn’t feed them they died so now they only have the one… we feed her left over tortillas). The family continues to keep some of their chickens around, I asked if they were pets, she said yes, but I’m still not convinced that they aren’t going to eat them at some point. Anyway, back to the history talk, it started outside but then the thunderstorm got too loud and too wet that we couldn’t hear anything, even inside it was still kind of hard to hear. Our neighbor talked for about two hours about the history of the community of Santa Anita de La Union and how they fought in the Guatemalan civil war, how they witnessed their friends and family members being killed, how their land was taken away, how the government offerred to help but the people are still struggling and are without any assistance. He talked about how the school functions, how their community grew, the importance they see in education, how they formed a cooperative to purchase the coffee fields. He talked for hours, and it was the real life of the stories, the history that we read about. It was at that moment that I realized I was living in the home of the people I have been studying, I was making tortillas next to the people I have written papers about. Yet, we couldn’t find anything about Santa Anita on the internet, their story is not told, not many people would even know that they exist, but their story is not a singular example. There are communities, people, families, little girls like Angelis that live in communities that are struggling just like this one, that are trying to find ways to stay afloat, that are trying to build schools. This story is all over Guatemala. The effects of the civil war, of the actions of the United States, the politicians, and the tourists are not hidden and are not over. These people live in the effects of actions, of choices, it effects what they eat, where they go, and how they can learn, and how they live. After finishing our history lecture we all still wanted to listen, to learn (except for the people who were sick… they looked like they were about to fall out of their chairs right then and there so they all went home to rest) so our neighbor kept talking. He told us about how his wife taught guerilla soldiers to make tortillas, about how it felt to give up his gun. He told us about other students that had visited his home and shared the documentary with us that had been made about his community. It is called Voice of a Mountain, and I highly recommend it to all those who are not squeamish (it has some particularly poignant visuals) it was made about the community of Santa Anita by United States college students. The film gave even more broad insights about how life has adjusted after the civil war. As I shared a bushel of bananas with our neighbor and had him try peanut butter on his banana for the first time, I couldn’t believe that he had been in that war, he had seen those things, he was interviewed and photographed in this film, he is that history.

Voice of a Mountain, Life After the 36 Year War in Guatemala | 2015

Later this evening we helped mama Blanca make tortillas for dinner just to learn that we were all having dinner together tonight (all the families that were hosting us) to celebrate Eileen’s birthday, they bought her a cake and sang her a song, and it was the sweetest thing especially coming from total and complete strangers. These families aren’t just history though, they are living and growing and caring and they are our friends. It’s amazing how quickly we can connect on individual levels with people who live in such different circumstances, in seemingly different worlds than us. Oh! I forgot to say that Michu took us to one of the cacao plants that grows (naturally) in his field and it had a pod that was ripe and so we got to eat the fruit and it was so tasty, he takes the cacao seeds and dries them (kind of like you do coffee) and sells them in town for a little extra income. It was really cool, because his kids were just as excited as we were to have found a ripe pod because they really aren’t all too common. It was really a neat moment sitting on the cliff, looking over at the waterfall, and eating the fruit.

This was our neighbor, on his way to take us to his fields for work. He is the president of this cooperative and was a leader in guerilla warfare during the Guatemalan civil war. I truly wish I could’ve recorded every word he said. He now has plans and dreams to buy a schoolbus for their community’s kids to attend university and also to visit our university in Ashland.

Day 11: Thursday, June 23rd

Breakfast, agricultural work, lunch, dinner with host families (dance party!).

Buenos Dias! I feel a little better this morning. Today we had breakfast with Michu and then went on our waterfall hike. It was super nice to be out and about again, I think that the community here is amazing, and I could not have asked for more caring and hospitable house parents. After our hike we rested for a bit and then went over to our neighbor’s house so he could share some photos with us of the community members in, during, and after the war. The photos were old, low quality, with too much exposure; but they were some of the most incredible photos I have ever seen because they told such a story. They told the story of struggle, of the reasons they fought, of real people fighting, of families, of young couples, of my neighbors. Tonight after our final dinner with our host families we went over to the big house (the one with the drying pad) and the moms had set out a bunch of chairs on the patio for us to all sit on. The kids from all of our families put on a dance show for us, it was so fun and their moms were all just beaming with pride. They were even happy when their kiddos were unknowingly dancing to a very inappropriate American song in English, but no one cared, because we were sharing the time together. We danced, we laughed, we sang, and it was just the best way to spend our last night.

Our circle that we sat in to chat while taking a water break.

Day 12: Friday, June 24th

Breakfast, Lake Atitlan, San Juan, Dinner together in Antigua with Executive Director.

For our last full day here in Guatemala we are visiting Lake Atitlan, there are seven communities nestled around the lake, we are going to drive into the largest one and have about three hours to explore. The largest city is clearly very touristy with a giant market and lots of restaurants everywhere, but I talked with our translator, Joe, and our director Emmy and the anthropology student, Amy, that had been with us for most of the time to see which of the communities were most worth visiting. After a grueling, windy, bumpy, and speedy drive through the volcanos and over potholed roads we arrived at our destination, and practically to the boat dock. Megan, Joseph and I were the only ones who decided to visit another town, and I am SO glad we did. We took a thirty minute lancha to the other side of the lake to the town of San Juan. When we arrived, we knew we had made the right choice because it was a beautiful little town that was primarily indigenous folks (Emmy had described it as the hippie town on the lake), it was home to a big backpacking organization that stresses sustainable backpacking for “good,” hupil and textile making demonstrations, three medicinal gardens, delicious restaurants (but who needs restaurants when you have delicious chocolate covered bananas and papaya smoothies). We came on a very special day though because we stumbled upon the community celebrating the day of their patron saint, San Juan so the church was all decked out, people were giving offerings, there was a ferris wheel and a carnival for the kids, there were flags everywhere, people selling lots of ice cream all in this tiny little community center square. It was an incredible surprise. After exploring a bit we had to rush back to our boat and race across the water. We were the only white people in the lanchas both ways and many of the women, actually probably the majority of the women were wearing their traditional hupil attire. While we were on the lake a storm broke out so we were late getting back to our bus, but it was all worth the rush, the running, and the close calls to see more than just the market around the lake. We hopped back in our van for another four hour drive back to Antigua where we had dinner with the executive director of De La Gente. We had the chance to talk a little bit about opportunities in the future as an intern and Andy, the Executive Director, and I talked a lot about Cuba and what I was going to be doing while I was down there, and what he thought of Cuban Spanish. Everyone was pretty tired by the end of the night so we headed home to start packing, and when we got there we were surprised by one of the farmers we had had dinner with a few nights ago who had brought us some of his own coffee to purchase (we felt bad because it’s actually not his turn to sell coffee to the guests but we bought it anyway because he was so nice and we didn’t have anything else to spend our Guatemalan money on.) I had to communicate to him that there were two members of our group that had no more money and couldn’t pay for the coffee they had ordered which was really uncomfortable. But we all worked it out in the end. We packed up and got ready for our early morning 3am wake up calls.

Strolling around and looking at different colors.

Day 13: Saturday, June 25th

Breakfast, leave for airport, arrive in the states, make our way to Portland, drive home & try not to vomit!

Volcan Pacaya & Megan & Willie & other Megan (aka: the adventure crew)

Hasta la vista! I really did not want to leave. Guatemala was beautiful, but it was time to go. After one last life threatening ride in our van we made it to the airport, got all of our coffee checked in, and were on our flight to Georgia. It was wonderful to be home, but it was sad to go. I am lucky enough to be able to stay in touch with the family I stayed with and our leaders and farmers through email and facebook. It was a short time, but the connections we made felt very meaningful, we shared so much, and truly hope to go back to visit those same families and drink more coffee some day, talk more about politics, about Donald Trump, about soccer, about coffee, about trade prices, about airline costs, about everything and anything that may connect us. I cannot wait to dance, sing, and walk in the rain of Guatemala once again.

After a long flight and drive home full of diarrhea, vomit, good conversation about gentrification, machismo, coffee, and all other sorts of things we finally made it home and I was in bed by 2:00 am. I didn’t wake up the next day until 3pm; but it was all worth it, and when I woke up I could only wish that I was still in Mama Blanca’s house (except for when we ran out of water… it was nice to be back for the water). Until next time Guatemala.

Thank you Megan and Andy for adding to my photo collection of this trip, you have helped me save some of my favorite memories and stories!
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