With one last cup of glorious coffee in hand, we loaded/ piled/ strapped up the van to make the drive to Guatemala City for our flight home.
I wish that the van had been a good ol’ fashioned station wagon so we could’ve sat backwards to look out the back window during the ride. Beautiful, untouched mountains, fathers and children carrying home firewood, crops growing on vertical hills (how they manage to do that I’ll never understand), the list goes on. I have to say, Guatemalans are some of the strongest people I’ve ever seen, mentally and physically. Driving through the country one more time brought on a mix of emotions– excited for hot showers and clean water, but a few tears welled up thinking about leaving the country and the people (shhh, don’t tell anyone).
Well, now that the sappy stuff is out of the way–
We got to the airport in Guatemala City, checked our bags and ate our lunch before waiting a few hours for our flight to Miami. We managed to fill our time buying last minute airport souvenirs (sorry Mom and Dad), drinking more coffee because why not and taking advantage of the wifi to make a few Instagram posts.
Once we got through customs in Miami, boarded our flight home to Raleigh along with two other groups from the iMedia program. After getting all of our luggage, we loaded up the bus to head back to Elon.
Location: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Altitude: 9,000-10,000 ft.
Group morale: Off the charts
Friday morning we got up before the sun in the hopes that we would see a volcano erupt. What? Yeah, you read that right, we kind of felt the same way.
After only a few minutes up the trail we could see Xela from above, even though it was covered in the usual morning fog. We made it up the mountain in about two hours and about five minutes after our arrival Santa Maria erupted. Santa Maria erupts about 20 times a day, but you never know when it will happen so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I don’t think any of us had seen something so crazy, powerful, beautiful and awesome (or as similar to how our heads have felt). And then as if the view of Guatemala from the top of the mountain wasn’t enough, she erupted again. Okay, that’s it, I’m done talking about how awesome the volcano was.
Get on our level (10,000 ft.).
So Saturday was our free (a much needed free day). From the beginning of the week the agenda for the free day to hike a treacherous seven hour hike to a lovely hot spring, but due to sickness and lack of the ability to breath the plans were changed. The new plan was to hike a less treacherous mountain to its summit to see a volcano (Santa Maria) erupt. However I decided not to go on the hike (see later post from Fonzi about her hike experience) instead I stuck around with two other squad members and we explored Xela, so here goes my adventure. While the rest of the squad was up and at em by 6am I got to sleep in until 9am (which was much needed). Courtney, Tira and I had casual girl talk before we headed out for the day(which was also needed). Of course while in Guatemala we have to start the day off right with the best cup of coffee our tastes buds will ever taste! After small talk over coffee we set out on our journey. Courtney and I were on the prowl for drug rugs also known as Baja hoodies and souvenirs for family and friends, and Tira was looking for a traditional Guatemalan shirt as well as souvenirs. I was super pumped we finally got to explore the market we passed everyday, multiple times a day for the past week. Tira, the lovely spanish speaking groupie, taught me all the phrases I needed to know to bargin with the sellers (thanks for that). We browsed for sometime trying to find right color drug rug for a reasonable price (I was getting a little discouraged about finding one) but fortunately we came to a shop owned by a lovely man named Carlos and he had the drug rugs we were looking for! Courtney and I searched through the piles for a good 15mins before finding the right size and color (in there like swimwear)! After our long morning of searching and shopping we hit up the best taco place IN THE WORLD Tacorazon (way better than chipotle). After eating a delicious rice bowl with the best pineapple salsa I’ve eaten, we all headed back to the hostel to head out to the hot springs. Although we decided to drive instead of hike Im almost certain the car ride was just as treacherous as the hike would have been! Our driver was rather reckless going into all the turns and curves going up the mountain (I’m pretty sure we almost died multiple times). The hot springs though was rather amazing. I was a little worried at first, the first couple of pools were extremely crowded which was stressing me out! But, thankfully we found a warm pool with not many people in it (at one point it just the squad chilling there). It was extremely relaxing and I was happy to be submerged in warm/hot water for the first time all week! If we could have stayed there all day I definitely wouldn’t have mind getting more pruned than I already was (I was pretty damn pruned). All in all Saturday was one of my favorite days of the trip! Thanks Guatemala for showing me a great time! Hopefully I’ll see you again! Much love Franny!
Moo. Moo. Moo.
A set of triplet cows graced us with their presence today, apparently a rare phenomenon that has only happened 3 times in recorded history. After engaging with these curious beasts and capturing some calculated B-roll, I spotted a pair of twin puppies taking refuge under the shade of a small tree in the cows’ pasture. Of course, I was immediately enamored by these pups given that they were floppy, fluffy, furry, and fun-loving. As I approached them to offer some tender affection, their mother bolted at me from around the corner baring her teeth and growling ferociously as any mother would. I thought I was done. I thought she was coming for my jugular. And then someone told me to use my “stick” (a.k.a. the monopod with a Cannon attached to it) and swing it at her if I needed to. So I swung it around like I was some kind of awkward American-in-Guatemala samurai and barked at her–to my great surprise, this ferocious wild dog was terrified and retreated with her tail between her legs— completing animal mishap number 3 of the trip for this girl right here.
So- with that stroke of luck, the farmer of the day decided to give us a tour of his bees (on the roof of the house, by the way) following an in-depth discussion regarding production and implementation of homemade organic fertilizer on his crops and broad selection of medicinal plants. What did I decide to do with this newfound confidence after terrifying the mother of two terribly cute puppies? Put the 50mm lens on the Cannon, and politely ask our host of the day “Puedo ver los abejos?” He said he was worried about them stinging me, and I promptly told him that I didn’t give a shit– So he brought out one of those classic bee-mask-net-things, I zipped up my jacket, and spent 10 minutes trying to get footage of honeycomb while trying not to upset the thousands of bees carefully continuing to work within the grasp of the farmer’s four-fingered hand. Anyways, I didn’t get stung but everyone seemed to be a little concerned about getting some “picas” and tried to keep a safe distance.
Following the expanse of that rather lovely establishment, we took the rest of the afternoon to film and interview various vendors who use/sell products from the complex network of organic farms making up Tierra Verde’s organization. I can honestly say that Tacorazon stole my heart with the best goddamn taco I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming.
Triplets, bees, tacos, and some mangled español…I’d say our cultural exposure over the course of our stay was unparalleled. I never would have guessed that I’d have the opportunities to see and do the things that were made available to us. I tried to take advantage of absolutely everything that was thrown my direction.
Experience beats comfort. Every. Single. Time.
Today we started our work at a farm in San Cristobal Totonicapán. When we first arrived we climbed to sacred ground on the property where many of the natives have performed their own rituals. After, we walked around the farm interviewing as we went looking at all the avocado and lemon trees. It was so tempting to just pick them off the tree and eat them right away. The coolest part of the day though was when we hiked up to a waterfall. It was a bit of a trek to get there. We had to climb up and down steep slopes and on more than one occasion some others and I fell or tripped. However, this waterfall is anything but ordinary. The waterfall had pipes all around it because it actually produces hydroelectric energy. This energy is then used to power different things and to provide water to all the crops. The use of this energy ends up saving lots of money for the farmers. Not to mention that it is absolutely beautiful.
Later in the day we were transported to another farm that produces Stevia. Stevia is a plant that is a sweetener or sugar substitute that is extracted from the leaves. We even got to try the leaves! I was little apprehensive at first, but I gave it a shot and it really does taste like sugar. Here we saw where the seeds are extracted, planted and then dehydrated. So now we know exactly where and how sugar like equal comes from. After this we traveled back to Marco’s (the leader of Tierra Verde) farm for one last interview. It was the perfect amount of lighting because the golden hour was soon approaching and when we finished we saw a gorgeous Guatemalan sunset.
After our day on the different farms we had dinner at the restaurant, Maya and then made our way to our salsa class. We got a little lost navigating through the streets of Xela, but we made it… eventually. At Salsa Rosa we learned basic salsa steps and ended up combining all our moves at the end of the class. This was probably the funniest thing because some of us had no idea what we were doing, but we made the most of it and had an awesome time even if it was by laughing at ourselves.
Bees, Trees and Rabbits oh my! This wasn’t our typical day in the beautiful city of Xela (Quetzaltenango) but more like a showering of stories and and gifts alike. Our morning started out with a buzz! The bee/cow farm was our first visit of the day. We learned about the organic process of making cow waste into strong healthy and chemical free fertilizer. The cows are fed a specific blend of corn, herbs and fruits. Once the waste is collected it is mixed with oranges and apples and cow milk and stored under a black heavy plastic sheet . In a maximum of 45 days the fertilizer is ready and can be used for all plants. The bees are stored in 3 boxes. Although we were unable to physically see the bees in action our framer let us know that he grows organic flowers for the bees so they can produce organic honey. The honeycombs are inserted into a hand-spun machine with extracted the honey from the honeycomb, producing approximately 1 cup of honey.
I had a brief conversation with the farmer and told him that I was very thankful to learn about his farm and he replied “No, it is I who is thankful for you all. This is amazing and my home is yours.”
Next on our journey around Xela was probably one of the most phenomenal experiences ever. Reforestation. The word is just as long as the process. Our farm from this site enlightened us with a story about a family tradition passed down from the oldest to the youngest. This family has been growing the trees that are becoming vastly indigenous in Guatemala and are doing so to protect their country; Pine, Cypress and Asperia trees.
Lastly on our adventure we encountered probably one of the most beautiful human beings to walk this planet. This farmer was so excited to have us at his house/farm that he set up a beautiful table and a centerpiece that was so delicious you would probably eat it! Have you ever been wined and dined like a king or queen? We had the pleasure of using old-fashioned royal bowls for our lunch. These bowls are only used for kings, queens, presidents and government officials. Our lunch consisted soup, rice, tamales, and salad;meat choices were chicken and rabbit(this location was a rabbit farm). After eating our scrumptious lunch our farmer then made a presentation about his farm and his reasoning for making rabbit waste into organic fertilizer.
Personally, I cried during his presentation because it was so beautiful. To have someone be openly honest with you and pour their life out to you is the most amazing and humbling experience. I can definitely say that this was my peak on our journey of when I became probably the most humble that I’ve ever bee in my life. Ending our day with the cute rabbits we were showered with rose petals and greeted with a Guatemala specialty of clothes weaving.
Today started our first full day in Guatemala. We started the morning off with breakfast at a local cafe, followed by a short, but strenuous, trek up the side of one of Guatemala’s mountains. We stopped partway up, enjoying the view before taking part in an authentic Mayan ceremony. We were guided through the ceremony by two native Guatemalans who had a lot to tell us about the history of the Mayan philosophies on life and our place in the universe. The ceremony took place around a fire circle, where we offered up a variety of natural plants and symbols. Each item offered held special meanings that urged us to think about our life and our place in the lives of others. The entire experience was calming and meditative, allowing me to think more about where I had been and where I would be going in the future.
From there, we traveled to the home of Marco. He introduced us to Tierra Verde, provided us with a wonderful homemade Guatemalan lunch, and gave us a tour of his farm, where we gathered footage of his food drying process and his greenhouses. He showed us the various products that the project sells, and explained their distribution process. We then visited one of his neighbors, who is also a member of Tierra Verde. There we gathered interview footage and footage of some of the livestock that the project deals in.
After leaving the farms, we returned to Quetzaltenango. After collating our footage onto a backup hard drive, we took a quick tour of our part of the city, which ended in a meat-free dinner at a local cafe. After that, we talked about how our day had gone, discussing what footage we got and what we still needed to get in the coming days. After putting together a plan, we all took a well-needed rest.