Archive for the ‘Guatemala’ Category

You know where you are?

You in the Jungle, baby!

Descending from Barillas I could feel it breathing – hot, sweaty, sticky gasps wafted through the vines .  My lungs waved a sad goodbye to the chilly pine-fresh air of the Cuchumatanes, as me and twenty-two of my new friends crammed into the Ixcán bound pickup.

Jungles and roads don´t get along well.  People don´t fare any better in the humid realm of snakes and mosquitoes. With each bite they remind me that I don´t belong, a mere passerby to be used and abused.  I felt like a smorgasbord and wondered ¨why did I come here again?¨

The answer: Laguna Lachuá.  A breezy blue oasis in a suffocating mass of green.  Carved out by a meteor in the middle of the jungle, inaccessibility and lack of facilities keep this wonder almost virgin.

I´d been trekking all over Guatemala the last seven months and I never thought a 4km walk could be so exhausting.  Luckily the payoff was more than worth it.  Memories of heavy packs and sweaty steps quickly faded as I dunked into the crystalline waters.


Alone on a mountain

Thoughts after a few days alone in a shack at 12,000 feet.

Mountain-top drizzle

Postpones all exploration

Except of one’s self




Busyness creates stress.  Stress creates negativity.  Negativity creates judgment.  Judgment makes others feel bad, which in turn makes me feel bad.

Calmness creates awareness.  Awareness creates concern.  Concern creates compassion.  Compassion makes others feel better, which in turn makes me feel better.

So, cultivate inner calmness.



Thank you Quetzaltrekkers

I just had the pleasure of spending seven months as a volunteer trekking guide with Quetzaltrekkers.  Sound like a sweet gig? It is.  There’s no boss, and nobody in charge.  The organization survives on the foreign volunteers to commit three months, learn the business, learn the treks, and teach everything they know to the incoming guides.  I was routinely blown away by how Quetzaltrekkers can thrive with such a rapid employee turnover.  But, it works, and it has been for the last 15 years.

It was humbling to be in an environment that attracts such quality people – both guides and clients.  As a guide, Quetzaltrekkers quickly becomes your life.  There aren’t any ‘kind-of’ volunteers.  On non-trek days, guides are in the office twelve or fourteen hours.  Though at times exhausting, it’s by far the most fulfilling place I have worked.  At the end of the day, you know that every Quetzal of profit is headed to Escuela de la Calle and the kids at Hogar Abierto.  They deserve every bit and more and it was a true privilege to be a part of it.  I can see how it has touched so many lives.

We made it! Sunrise on top of Volcan Santa Maria, after hiking all night in the moonlight

A few things I’ll miss:

chocobananos, Aussie slang, breadmaking (hats included), meals w/dairy, Scone Monday, chopping veggies, fighting with the Mercado Flores ladies over Q1 (it’s for the kids!), the spice rack, Sunday Nights, pizza, Monday Dinners, ridiculous party themes, Clos-infused meetings, pizza, crayons, the Black Hole, crazy Mama Argentina, Chino’s “Glolazo!”, Henry’s attitudes, Sueño Mojado a.k.a. Guante Brillante a.k.a. Grandpa’s Cough Syrup, Guapo’s mumblings, Team Captain Henry, Virgilio’s voice, Chepe’s English, Erik’s faces, hot drink kits, postre, cooking for 12 hungry people, TJ comedor ladies, Don’s pie, everything between Nebaj and Todos Santos, Hogar rockouts with Pedro & Mario, sharpening machetes, the Fuentes (R.I.P), Emergency Angel, chats with Wilson (en serio?!?), the pull-up bar, ponche, Santa Maria breakfasts, and the pleasure of hiking & working  & eating & cooking & partying & living with a bunch of amazing people in the Guatemalan highlands.

A sort of love letter

A sort of love letter, that takes place inside of a mate, sipped in a misty mountain pass at 11,000 feet.

Mi querida La Ventosa,

With each passing week you grew to become my favorite place in Guatemala.  A lyric from a song I like sings, “I feel home, when I see the faces that remember my own.”  I´ve lived in a few different spots and I can undoubtedly say that I´ve never felt so at home in such a foreign environment.  The love, unity, and plain good energy that one feels upon entering “Jeronimo´s village” is stunning.  For clients, it was a dry haven on a wet walk, where they could warm themselves in the chuj.  For me, it became a place to learn, to play, to teach, to laugh, and above all, to share.

I still remember the first time I lit my stove to heat water for a late-afternoon mate.  As I hooked up the fuel line to the bottle all of the kids crowded around the Whisperlite Magic Show.  They gawked as I filled the fuel cup, lit the match, and sent the liquid into a flash of orange flame as it heated the metal.  As I drank, they eyed my mate suspiciously, giggling whispers in Mam.  Bravely, William accepted my foreign delight.  He slurped it down and handed back the gourd as a smile burst across his face.  The others reeled back with laughter.  One by one, they received the conspicuous beverage with surprising enthusiasm.

When I returned two weeks later, everybody greeted me with the same question, “¿trajiste su té?”  And so it began that each time I walked down the driveway into Don Jerónimo´s family compound another cousin, niece and brother would yell ¡E-Scot, bienvenido!, and come share a mate.

To my delight, our host Don Jerónimo acquired an instant love for my Argentine treat.  At the summit of La Torre (3837m), I always heat up water for everyone to sip coffee and hot chocolate.  Jerónimo habitually appeared the minute the water was ready, “¿tiene su mate?”  I acted as cebador as he regaled me with stories of growing up in La Ventosa.  It is said that alcohol and caffeine are the lubricants of conversation.  With each gourd, Jerónimo imparted more wisdom.

He is a man who loves his land and his people.  But, like many Guatemalans, harbors disdain for his government.  As a child he didn´t have the opportunity to go to school.  Instead, he joined his fellow highland Maya working on the coastal fincas of rich ladinos.  His first two years he worked for nothing.  Then, 40 cents/week, then 80 cents, un quetzal.  The Maya of Guatemala have been oppressed and ignored and for centuries.  He is still oppressed and ignored.  He knows that foreign aid comes to fight poverty in Guatemala, but realizes that it won´t make it all the way to La Ventosa.  Aid money has a way of disappearing in the capital, as workers take their holiday vacations to the beach.  Jerónimo knows no vacations, no Christmas, no travel for pleasure.  He´s aware that my parents’ house is nicer than his.  But he´s glad I´m here, eating his tortilla, bathing in his temascal and sleeping on the concrete floor.  He worked hard for that concrete.  And, he´s just happy that his kids have more opportunities than he had.  They get to go to school.  They’ve learned to read and write.  After school they get to come home and play, and if I´m lucky, share a mate.

It is a humbling experience to feel at home in a strange land, learning life lessons from a man who never had the opportunity to learn to read or write.  I feel privleged to have been welcomed by Don Jerónimo and his family, and will fondly remember the crispy tortillas hot off the griddle, the unforgiving concrete floor, friendly cries of ¡E-Scot!, and each and every mate-induced smile.



Agatha Clean-up

It was 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning when I woke up to the relentless rain pounding on the corrugated metal roof.  A quick chat with other Quetzaltrekkers guides concluded with a unanimous decision to cancel all trips for the weekend.  The wrath of tropical storm Agatha had dropped Guatemala into an uninvited mud bath.

On Tuesday we finally spotted our near-forgotten shadows and soaked up some overdue Vitamin D.  All of the Quetzaltrekkers colunteers put our promotions duties on hold to visit Las Rosas, the neighborhood of Escuela de la Calle (EDELAC).  We met up at the school and with EDELAC teachers, volunteers, students, parents, and the kids from Hogar Abierto.  Everybody grabbed tools, split up, and headed out to fix the worst of the damage in Rosas.

We followed EDELAC founder/director Guadelupe up a narrow canyon, passing by an abandoned house.  ¨That´s a tiny house,¨ I mused at first glance, only to realize that our dirt ´trail´ was actually a river of mud that had solidified and thereby raised the ground level up four feet. Unfortunately, that river had also filled the house, leaving only the top few feet visible.

QT guide Russell standing on the river of mud.

We continued up to the house of one of EDELAC´s third graders.  Armando nervously greeted our group, but soon revealed his excitement to grab a shovel and work alongside.  Our first priority was a new location for the family´s water tank as it was in danger of sliding down the steep canyon walls.  After stabling the tank and installing a retaining wall, everyone lent a hand to dig out the stairs.

An assembly line quickly formed as teachers attacked the ground with shovels, Guadelupe filled barrels of dirt, volunteers emptied the muck across the canyon.  I realize we merely put a band-aid on a much broader problem, yet, it was truly inspiring to see the immediate cooperation of everyone involved.

Big Hair & Tortillas

I couldn’t help but laugh.  As I stepped over an old corn-cob on the dirt footpath, the caw of a rooster was drowned out by the “Rocky” theme song.  This is why I love Guatemala.

Strolling into Xexocom at dusk, the mayor sees us pass his house.  Before I can set down my pack, he’s at the door and handing me the keys to the school.  I follow behind as he leads me to meet the family who will be our host for dinner and temascal.   His Spanish is questionable at best but we manage a bit of small talk.  He gets a kick as I proudly butcher the few words I know in his native Quiché.  “Utz tuh,” I tell the family as I scope out their adobe steam sauna.  After a nice bath, it´s time to round up the group and head back for dinner.

It´s a misty night in the cloud forest but I can see florescent light glowing from the house.  “Damn,” I mumble to myself, “electricity.”  Among the twenty-one families who call Xexocom home, candlelight dinners are the norm and more than one light is unheard of.  At least that’s what I thought until María welcomed us with the Rocky theme blasting at full volume.  Yet, upon entering it still seemed like a normal house among the highland Maya – one open room with four beds and a table.  The décor ranged from a fighting elk tapestry to a diagram of the nervous system to Evangelical calendars.

It was Guatemala at its finest (or just at its self?).  The beans were salty, the peppers made you sweat, the 80’s mix tape was blaring, and the endless supply of thick tortillas were still warm and wrapped in a hand-woven cloth.

Beach Day!

What´s it like taking 15 Guatemalan kids to the beach? Shenanigans! The Quetzaltrekker crew took a well-deserved break from the office, hired a pair of micros and headed to the beach with the niños del Hogar Abierto. A few of the kids had never seen the ocean and the majority had very questionable swimming ability.  Luckily, a few guides are former lifeguards so everyone made it back to Xela alive – and burnt to a crisp!

Miguel, Henry and Tomás puttin on a show!

Fútbol con gringos!

Deep in thought after a long day in the sun.