“Today was the best day yet. We had a half day of work in which we finished the final touches on the “playground,” put our hand-prints in the cement, spray painted the Walking Tree symbol on the side of the cement, and worst of all, said goodbye to Jose (our foreman). The kids ended their two-week-long break from school yesterday, so they were around to see us finish. I’m happy we were able to give them a play area.
After work everyone went home to spend their final day with their families. At 6:00PM all of us met at the gym for our last dinner together. After dinner we sang a song we had been rehearsing during lunch hours to thank the community. The rest of the night we danced with all of the homestay parents and kids. It’s going to be so hard to leave tomorrow because everyone became so close with not only their host family, but with the whole community.”
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
We were all very anxious and excited to meet the people we would call family for the next five days. Living in a new, foreign place for five days is very difficult. Arriving in the village, most of us didn’t know what to expect. We were not quite sure what to make of what we were seeing. On the bus ride into the village, we were all practicing our Spanish and looking forward to seeing what our families would be like. When we finally got to the village and off the bus, the group eagerly waited until we were assigned our families. Greeted with open arms, we individually went off to our houses where we got acquainted with our families and were introduced to multiple family members. Many names and faces later, we all went to bed for an early rise the next day.
On Monday at 8am, we had to be at the clinic, where our community service project was to build a handicap ramp, install a bathroom and drainage ditch, and put up the walls for a new storage area. A few hills later, we all arrived on time and very sweaty. For it being so early in the morning, the temperature was about 35˚F over what I am used to, and much hotter than we all expected. As the morning progressed, we got our daily assignments and duties that were expected to be accomplished. With a fun day filled with sweat, water, and a lot of laughter, we got a good head start on the project. Our task consists of digging ditches, tearing down walls, laying down cement, and much, much more! With as much excitement and energy the group has as a whole, I am certain we will finish what is needed to be done. (Update: We did!)
Being completely immersed in a new and very different culture, from our own comes with its challenges. We have encountered many bugs we are not used to seeing; we have tried food we have never tried before. But the most difficult is trying to communicate with the families, who do not speak our native language, English. Most of us do not speak Spanish every day; therefore, we are not the best at it. Living in a house for five days where sometimes only one person, or even no one, speaks English, I would say is the biggest challenge yet. The language barrier really puts a strain between the host family and the student. We all struggle each and every day with communication; but in the end we make it work in order to have a good time.
After long, hard, tiring days at work, some of the students met the local ‘Tico’ kids at the plaza. Here, we enjoy a fun, friendly game of soccer or futbol. It may get a little competitive at times, but we are all in it for the fun. It’s a fun way to meet and talk to the locals and enjoy a little exercise as well. All in all, living in a foreign place has its challenges; but we all made the best of it in order to take this unique experience and cherish it for the rest of our lives. Hasta luego from San Salvador, Costa Rica!
“My experience in Costa Rica thus far has been an amazing one. In the home stay, it’s incredible to feel like I actually belong in this community. At the beginning, I felt a bit lost and couldn’t understand much around me, but as time has gone on, I feel at home. I’m comfortable around my host family, and they truly have become a family to me. I’m able to laugh and crack jokes with them and I love being fully immersed in the culture. I’m not able to speak any English with my host family and I can keep up with most conversations and what is happening.
It’s a challenge for me to convey what I want to say to my family and tell them stories with them actually understanding what I am trying to say. We all have to figure out how to communicate with our families and that has become one of the biggest accomplishments because we have been able to become a part of a family that speaks a different language. Nothing could take away from this experience. It’s so beautiful to connect with so many different people and completely live a different lifestyle. It’s hard to consider that this is almost over, because it seems so short and this time has flown by. I know that as we grow, we will always take a part of this trip with us”. -Mariah
“The trip of our lives is nearing its end. Nobody wants this trip to be over no matter how excited we are to see our families and be back home. We formed a bond with each other automatically and within a few short weeks have become a family. We really connected and are already talking about having a reunion. Being with such a cohesive group makes the experience even more amazing. We are not only sad to leave each other but heart-broken to leave our homestay families. They welcomed us with open arms and took us in as their own children. My parents even refer me as their own daughter or “hija”. San Gerardo has become our home away from home and we are not ready to say good-bye”. -Michelle
Dear folks back home,
A big “hola” from Cuzco, Peru! All is well here in the ancient Incan capital nestled high in the Andes. Much has changed here in the past 600 years — today this city has become an international destination, offering a wealth of activities to its visitors. Between exploring the tunnels of the mysterious temple ruins of Sacsayhuamán, sifting through piles of hand-woven alpaca wool in sidewalk markets, and sipping local “cafe con leche” in our new hangout, the European-styled Café Perla, the stack of heavy adobe bricks at our village community service project now seems far away.
Cuzco, though, can be a bit overwhelming at times; we often wind down the evenings playing games and tuning into televised Jenga competitions (yes, Jenga, the block-stacking game) in our hotel, Teatro Inca. We are, nonetheless, looking forward to returning tomorrow morning to our new home in Ollantaytambo, beneath the dramatic peaks of the Sacred Valley, where we have now all settled in with our host families. They have made the adjustment easy for us, opening up their homes and giving us a taste of the famous “Ollanta” hospitality. No doubt our younger siblings eagerly await our return, especially to the soccer field the and basketball court!
The new arts-and-crafts house at the local center for the disabled and retired is progressing by leaps and bounds. In the past week, we have laid a cement foundation and built seven feet of adobe walls. In the week to come we hope to complete work on the walls and prepare the beams upon which the roof will eventually sit. Please take a look at the attached pictures to get a better idea of what we’ve been up to. Check back next week for our next blog update too!
More about Jonathan ’s trip can be found here: http://www.walkingtree.org/a-big-hola-from-cuzco-peru/ read more →