Homestay Part 1
When we were asked to describe this portion of the home stay in one word, three came to mind, eggs, beans, and tortillas. After four hours of an anxious bus ride to the village, we nervously got off the bus; we were immediately greeted with hugs from our home stay mothers. Their smiles were comforting for the ones who were afraid of staying in a stranger’s home for ten days. We excitingly walked to our homes, and our first impressions were ones of surprise. The lifestyle here was so different then what we had expected. We missed the simplest things back home such as having a flushing toilet and a shower head of hot water. Those became the least of our worries as we had to report at work at eight A.M sharp, which was a community service project, painting the local school a mandarin color.
Our leader David jokingly referred to the orange color saying, ¨In the summer when it feels like an oven it will look like one to.¨ After work we did various activities like playing basketball with the local teenagers of the town (who we of course beat!). Spending time in the home stay and learning about the locals made us appreciate their culture, that was so different from ours but we had grown to love. Their traditional outfits and sounds of roosters and dogs at sunrise were going to be missed for three days as we made our next adventure at Lake Atitlan.
Para-Para-Paradise. Not a moment went by without Lake Atitlan taking our breath away. Our spacious glass windows in our hotel rooms overlooked the clear, mesmerizing, dazzling blue lake and its perfect surroundings. We began our adventure with 350 steps down to the dock for our day to kayak. Kayaking was so peaceful, yet some us managed to get back to the dock while struggling others had to be rescued by a man in a Speedo. We took advantage of our remaining time at the lake by jumping off boats, swimming in lakes, and entering a state of peace. Good times must always come to an end, and our stay at the lake did. We left sadly, but we had our home stay families to look forward too.
Homestay Part 2
It was definitely more comfortable this time around. Really getting to know our families was something we all valued. Many of our homestay fathers were hard workers with a low salary, but made sure to let us know that they were willing to do any work as long as they were coming home to a loving family. Being told, ¨take care of your selves¨, by the little kids as we left for work in the morning was so touching. After playing a game of a sort of sport, came the best part of the night which was gathering around a bonfire, roasting marshmallows, and singing our favorite hits. It was definitely a good way to spend our remaining nights at the home stay. Participant Clara mentioned about the home stay experience, ¨What at first seemed an impossible task, connecting with my host family, came to life in the second half of the home stay where I truly felt like I was in my own home, the best was returning home from work and smelling tortillas and saw the smiling faces of my family.¨ As days went by, it was needless to say that our host families were becoming out second families. As thanks four our hard work of completing the school, a fiesta was held in which we dressed in the Guatemalan traditional outfits. We stuffed ourselves with our last tortillas with guacamole, beans, and salsa, while listening and making our touching final goodbye speeches that even put some of us into tears.
Though leaving the home stay on a bittersweet note, we once again had a refreshing view of a crisp lake from our hotel- La Cason de La Isla. This particular colonial town was definitely smaller than the others and we wanted to stay here forever. Our hotel was filled with artwork and we even had a stone pool where we spent acting like kids again, playing the game of Marco Polo. Even these dinners could not have been more relaxing, eating over the music of Bob Marley. Spending the next day hiking the Tikal ruins was like a dream. We were surrounded by this century old pyramids that luckily we got to climb and once we reached the top we took pictures, took in the view, and some even took advantage of the peace and mediated.
On our last day on the tropical island, we took a peaceful boat ride to a museum, where we drank real refreshing coconut water. After our thirst was quenched in the humid weather, the water taxi took us to a unique beach, which had no sand but a lot of skin eating fish. Though the fishes freaked most of us out of the water, they managed to take off the dead skin on our feet. Our relaxing floating on the beach made it hard to leave, but we had an excited activity ahead! The water taxi took us to a primate reserve, which was a rehabilitation center for animals that were confiscated while being illegally trafficked. After learning fun facts about the animals and their senses, we actually got to see the animals in action. We were able to hear the loud singing voices of the tropical birds, the growls of the ocelots, and the funny squeaks of the spider monkeys. The monkeys definitely wanted our individual attention; they put on a mock circus show for us by jumping over great lengths, swinging by their strong tales, and even putting out their hands out to shake with a huge smile. The monkeys kept us smiling as they played a rough but sweet game of tug a war with a stick, of course the small monkeys won! Coming back exhausted we strolled around to different stores for one last night before heading to our hotels for dinner and last night.
Today is the day we all have been trying to escape. Sadly, our trip has come to an end and we will all spend our summers in different way, but share a similar experience. With the bitter sweet fact that we all live in separate states, we all made the promise to never lose touch of each other or this experience. As Maggie Alderman made a point saying, ¨This was truly a once in a time experience that we all were fortunate enough to be a part of, and I hope and know that I will remain close with everyone of the trip for the rest of my life.¨ We all have agreed that through the worst and best moments of the trip, it rounded up to be an influential life-changing and magical summer of our lives. As St. Augustine once said, ¨The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.¨
-Nahal, 2012 Guatemala Explorer Journalism Fellow
To see more pictures and videos about Nahal and her trip to Guatemala visit the Walking Tree Travel Group Blog.