14 Mar Alternative Spring Break in the Guatemalan Sun!
We are halfway through the Alternative Spring Break Program and it’s high time we take a break from our Guatemalan escapades to update family and friends back home!
Blogs by members of the group are still on the way but here is a quick update on all things Team Guatemala since our arrival in Guat City:
After our first family meal of Arroz Con Pollo Chapina (Guatemala style chicken with rice!) in Antigua, we headed west into the small town of San Miguel Escobar. Nestled under the Volcan de Agua (a 3,766m high volcano), this little town is known for being full of artisans and small producers with coffee as their main production. We worked with As Green As It Gets (AGAIG), a sustainable agricultural cooperative based there. On our first day we jumped right in, giving a hand in the community of Ciuadad Vieja. AGAIG received a donation of land in the region and since then, they have been working with the community to build a school for the 8,000 residents. We were able to help with the early stages of the school construction: picture 10 gringos lugging cinderblocks and mixing cement in the hot Guatemalan sun!
The next day we spent with AGAIG founder, Franklin Voorhes, learning about the exploitative history of coffee in this country, the economics, marketing and the truths behind “fair” trade. That afternoon the group picked a whopping 40 lbs of coffee between us and then continued on to learn about the peeling, drying, and roasting process that happens after the coffee is off of the trees! After a long day of picking on the side of Volcan de Agua, it was nice to sit back and enjoy the “fruits” of our labour in a nice cup of fresh java. Ole!
Our last day in the town, we worked with a start-up initiative within the community that makes cosmetics from local natural materials. It is a group of local women who use the fruit and oils from the trees that are used as shade for the coffee plants: avocado, macademia, vanilla oil, to name a few! Some of us even tried our hand at making bags out of leaves and husks from the trees!
Our visit to San Miguel Escobar sparked debates over fair trade and our own influence/impact, changing perceptions and stereotypes which we held before (or inforcing some?). But one of the aspects of our visit that many people in the group most enjoyed was the time spent with our home stay families. The group was separated into pairs and stayed with local families throughout our time here and decided to spend a lot of their down time with them! Where spanish failed, hand gestures trumphed, and some very cool connections were made!
We have spent the last two nights in our homestays in Santa Anita, an organic coffee and banana growing community formed of ex-guerilla combatants who fought during the 36-year internal armed conflict that ravaged Guatemala until 1996. On our first day there, a group of us helped with relief work to help local farmers combat a fungus that has already devoured over 70% of this year’s coffee crop. Another group was with Quetzaltenango, a coffee cooperative run by ex-combatants of the country’s 36-year civil war, who held a workshop on coffee splicing, planting, and bagging. Other than the functional knowledge of coffee and coffee planting, many people were inspired by the men and women and the stories they had to tell!
This small but mighty group of gringos has had quite an adventure so far. Full of rice and beans (and some of them smelling of lilac and coconut oil!) we head on to the next! Tonight we head to Xela, basecamp to hike of Volcán Santa María! We will join Quetzaltrekkers, a not-for-profit guiding company, for this incredible 3,800 m climb!
Hope all is fine and well back in the homeland!