Following our arrival at the Guatemala City airport, the group will meet with the Guatemala director of the Canadian International Development Agency for a briefing on the country through the eyes of internationals. Moving on to Antigua, the historic colonial capital of Central America, we will orient ourselves to Guatemala’s cultural and geographic landscape. Our aim during the in-country orientation is to provide the opportunity to experience modern Mayan culture and open your eyes to the realities of economic consequences of the pursuit of fair trade. Fear not the confines of a classroom, however, for 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 (pronounced Shay-la), for five days of intensive language and culture learning. We will 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 for a little salsa dancing!
Near Guatemala’s former capital and colonial jewel, we’ll spend 4 days in the hospitable homes of local families and the learned company of As Green As It Gets
founder, Franklin Voorhes. We will work on the slopes of Volcán Agua alongside local campesinos (farmers) while developing a better understanding of coffee production and basking in the Guatemalan sun. We’ll also get a healthy dose of Franklin’s healthy pessimism through informal chats on microfinance and small enterprise, coffee and commodity economics, as well as the realities of fair trade. Our team will also work with AGAIG on a number of agricultural and artisanal initiatives including the innovative clay pot water filter project, which OGG will help bring into production.
In this exclusive and utterly epic 3-day adventure, we will hike 48km up the super volcano and onto the highlands where we’ll follow in the footsteps of guerrilleros as we trek across remote forests and rugged hills back towards Xela. We will then climb one of Guatemala’s most infamous peaks before descending into the city proper for some well-deserved R&R.
Carrying on through the highlands, we’ll head to the community of Santa Anita la Unión for our main volunteer project and more fair trade education. The thirty-five families in the community are survivors of Guatemala’s civil war, which ravaged the country from the 1960s to the 1990s. The men of Santa Anita fought as guerrillas during the civil war, before trading in their guns for farm tools. They now work as a collective, farming organic coffee and harvesting bananas. Living with another participant in a host family, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the family’s way of life and hear their stories about the war. For your volunteer project, you can learn to plant coffee in the jungle, teach an art class in the elementary school, lead a workshop, or propose another project according to your particular area of interest. As the community is centered around coffee agriculture and post-conflict peace and reconciliation, we’ll have plenty of moments to discuss and ask questions about topics like political justice, fair trade, the global economy, and climate change.
After investigating the coffee trade in Santa Anita la Unión, we’ll travel to San Marcos, a mineral-rich area bordering Mexico, which plays host to several controversial mining projects. Meeting with international and local organizations working closely with the affected communities (including the phenomenal organization, Rights Action), we will be introduced to the ecological, medical, and socio-economic impacts of mining – potential benefits as well as negative repercussions. With visits to internationally owned mining sites and the locally affected communities, we will discuss the role of international trade in the global economy and its effect on the reputation of foreigners in Guatemala.
We will then decompress in the backpackers paradise of Lanquin. Those not unnerved by the sight of flying rodents will be awed by Guatemalan skies painted black by bats emerging from their daytime slumber and we will all venture out to the pristine waters of Semuc Champey, essentially a turquoise oasis, to mellow in self-reflection.
After some R&R we will roll out of the Polochic Mountains to Lago Izabal where we will be met 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. After a tough two days we continue out to Rio Dulce for a little fine dining and 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 beautiful 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!