Following your arrival at the Guatemala City airport, we will meet with the Guatemala director of the Canadian International Development Agency which will set the tone for our adventure. Moving on to Antigua, the historic colonial capital of Central America, we will have an orientation of Guatemala’s cultural and geographic landscape. Our aim during the in-country orientation is to experience modern Mayan culture and open our eyes to the economic consequences of “fair” trade. Fear not the confines of a classroom, however, as our educational adventure will take us to volcanic black sand beaches, to Central America’s biggest volcanoes, and into its densest jungles.
Next, we’ll travel by chicken bus through the Western Highlands to the country’s second largest city, Quetzaltenango, popularly known as Xela, for five days of intensive learning. We’ll take Spanish classes (tailored to your experience level) and hear from local activists about socio-economic issues such as fair trade, labour policies, land reform, and mining. When night falls over the city, we’ll head to the clubs to try a little salsa dancing.
In an epic 4 day adventure we will hike from Xela to the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project where we will spend two days planting trees and clearing invasive species. We will then follow in the footsteps of guerrilleros across the highlands and down into the mouth of a super volcano known as Lago Atitlan.
After descending into San Juan we will arrive home at the OG hub where we will spend the better part of a week learning and working on experimental projects, including the construction of ceramic water filters, homemade photovoltaics, water catchment systems, and sustainable food crops. We will also join local tourism initiative Rupalaj Kistalin to clear local trails, visit local artisanal cooperatives, and work with local youth.
We will join Quetzaltrekkers and journey north to the colourful town of Todos Santos. After a brief orientation in one of Guatemala’s most war affected regions, we will set off on a week-long trek northwest across the majestic Cuchumatanes mountains to Nebaj and the Ixil Triangle. Partnering with Xela-based non-profit Quetzaltrekkers, our journey will take us by foot to rural Ixil and Mam villages, sacred Mayan sites, and war memorials. We will see the local woven textile and agricultural economies unique to the area and commune with the region’s rural peoples and culture. We will then descend into the Rio Negro valley – location of the Chixoy Dam and site of the infamous Rio Negro Massacre – where we will visit with the embattled communities that call it home.
In this incredibly isolated canton we will work alongside host families implementing projects developed at the hub, specifically, the clay pot water filters. There is also an opportunity to contribute to the continuing construction of the organic community garden and composting toilets which will surround the Cancha and community centre–a collaborative project initiated by the community and OG Guatemala in 2011.
We will then decompress in the backpackers paradise of Lanquin. Only those NOT unnerved by the sight of flying rodents will be awed by Guatemalan skies painted black by bats emerging from their daytime slumber. We will all venture out to the pristine waters of Semuc Champey, a turquoise oasis, to mellow in self-reflection. We will gear up and set off down the Rio Cahabon for two days of intense white rafting and riverside camping. We will feel the rush of these class III, IV, and V’s with local tourism and development initiative the Asociación de Turismo y Desarrollo Ecologico de Saquijá (ADETES) on a route rated one of the world’s ten best by Paddler Magazine.
We then descend out into the Polochic Valley where we will be met riverside by local activists, Angelica, Maria, and Raul. We will then be escorted to the isolated communities of Lote Ocho and 8 de Agosto where we will hear about the continuing struggles against forced evictions, police/military harassment, and the detrimental effects of the nickel mining operations and African Palm production taking place in the area. That evening we will continue out to Rio Dulce for a little decompression before ITT.
Participants will also have Individual Travel Time (ITT) – a staple of all Operation Groundswell programs. You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, participants are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for themselves. Participants are given the emergency contact number of program organizers during ITT for any advice or safety concerns. ITT is the ideal time for participants to learn more about their specific interest, whether it’s by volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing.
The group will reconvene for a program debrief known as the ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will likely take place on the black sand beaches of the Pacific coast. We will discuss our accomplishments, how we can stay in touch, and what future projects we can collaborate on before returning everyone to the airport for some tearful goodbyes.
Get ready to spend six weeks with some of the raddest people on earth…we’re not even exaggerating! Just click on their name to read more about them.
“Life is meant to be spent, not saved.” Sure, she may have lifted this quote from the side of a Wicked Van depot in Australia, but Miami-born Lindsey has adapted it as her life mantra. After seven stifling years in corporate America, Lindsey escaped the cubicles of New York City and found herself nestled in the vines of Mendoza’s wine country as a harvest intern. Skipping her original ticket home, Lindsey toured Andean South America, allowing the breathtaking scenery and dramatic landscapes to alter her outlook. She scored another life-changing role at Peruvian disaster relief organization Pisco Sin Fronteras (an OG partner), where she spent six months as volunteer and Project Manager. It was this leadership experience that convinced Lindsey to not go back to her former lifestyle and to keep on trucking. Her next truck stop was As Green As It Gets, in Antigua, Guatemala where she was able to combine her old life skills with her new life passions kicking up a storm in their marketing and sales department before heading back down to Peru to lead the OG Mind and Body trips last summer. Now after more than two years after leaving NYC, she has not looked back and is psyched to lead other backpackers around the lands that changed her life.
All the way from down under, Matt grew up in Australia and always knew that come adulthood, he would be off to explore the world. After arriving in Buenos Aires in September 2010, on his 21st birthday, he just hasn’t stopped. While bushwhacking through South America, Matt stumbled across the disaster relief organization Pisco Sin Fronteras in Peru, where OG was also working. It was there that he took on the role as Environmental Coordinator and realized the impact a traveler could have on a local community simply though good communication and teamwork. From Pisco, he continued his search for the next altruistic adventure and landed at As Green As It Gets, an NGO based outside of Antigua, Guatemala, that works with coffee farmers and the local community to develop sustainable agriculture practices and appropriate technology initiatives. Matt jumped at the opportunity to join the OG team in their quest for providing a sustainable and culturally significant experience for young travelers on the Peru Mind and Body programs. Now with two OG Peru, and Guatemala programs under his utility belt, Matt is super pumped about returning to Guatemala and the land of coffee and avocados!