Day 15: Antigua

Written by: Brandon Faria

Today was the last day of the official trip, and would bring to an end one of the most memorable experiences. Our last morning together would bring most of us to La Esclonia, a beautiful outdoor café nestled amidst a lush nursery. It lays on the outskirts of town, south of Parque Central, and would provide a much needed escape from the heart of town. Once we were all satisfied with coffees, breakfast desserts and reminiscing over the previous couple of weeks, we decided to venture back into the hustle and bustle of Antigua and visit a few spots that we wanted to go before some departed. Most of us set out for Jade Maya, the jade museum and to the chocolate factory. Navigating down the rough cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks had almost become second nature by this time allowing me to take in more of the cities other finer details and architecture (without tripping or stubbing my toes). As we made our way through our few stops, admired and bought jade, and indulged on unique and delicious fresh made chocolates we ultimately made our way back to the terrace of Las Palmas, a local restaurant with seating on the roof and hard to beat views of the city and surrounding volcanoes. We had barely ordered food when Kelli realized that it was already time to meet Maria Angelica, a Mayan leader who agreed to come cook a traditional Mayan dinner for our group. I ran off to go meet her while Kelli waited for the food she ordered. I made my way back to our hostel, La Quinta, and saw Maria Angelica sitting there with her sister Sylvia. We chatted in Spanish a bit while we waited for Kelli, and set off to the market once she arrived. As I walked behind these two ladies on our way to the market, I thought to “myself what a unique experience I am in for.” I was about to watch these ladies shop for fresh ingredients at and outdoor market, see what they pick, how they barter, and how the interact with the vendors. I began collecting all their purchased goodies and carrying them in the bags to be helpful, only to have them taken from by Sylvia who then tactfully wrapped them in her sute and confidently placed it upon her head. I was amazed at her strength and balance, and to watch her walk without her head moving. After all the ingredients were purchased we headed towards the edge of town where there were bunches of firewood for sale. We bought what was needed plus some extra which I insisted on carrying back since my hands were still empty. Onto the roof of our hostel is where we made it back to and where we would be cooking the Mayan meal, pepian. I helped pull out the barbeque, and then went and bought refreshments for everyone helping which included San Pellegrinos and Coca-Cola. Dishes were brought up to the terrace, tables were rearranged as the group slowly culminated on the roof around the smoking barbecue and cooking pots of rice, chicken, pepian, and tortillas eagerly awaiting their completion. The sun was setting just as the food was ready, and candles were brought up as we began to sit down to our last meal together as a complete group. And there couldn’t have been a better meal to share and place to share it at. For many of us, La Quinta with its terrace had become a home away from home. As the night wound down and our bellies filled it was time to see Maria Angelica, and her sister off. There we many hugs exchanged and thanks given as we bid them farewell before they rounded a corner and disappeared into Antigua. After returning to la Quinta, most went off to enjoy the night as karl, Kelli, and I stayed behind to enjoy chocolate, ELO, and each other’s company. At 4AM the following morning the bus would be arriving to take Karl, Kelli, Mel, kalika, David, Jose, and Josh to the airport. And someone, probably Karl, suggested pulling an all-nighter in order to make the most of our last moments there. And as delirious as they were, they were still very memorable, and the perfect way to conclude the 2015 Guatemala experience!

Day 14: Vuelta Grande

Written by Josh Sylvia

The day of chichicastenago was an unusual place filled with unusual people. Walking down the streets were the stores and in front of the stores was a market filled with many various items, from jewelry and clothing to tools and food.  There were no set prices on any of these items. You can drive the hardest bargain or just walk away.

We all seemed to separate in our little smaller groups and the king of our group was definitely Pablo, also known as the ChiChi swindler. Pablo was throwing every might he could to knock the price down, sometimes even half of the asking price. He would mention things like we are volunteers and bringing potable water to the village of Vuelta Grande, can you do a better price. Some other things we would say, was he seen it cheaper down the street.

As for myself, I know that I will always be that middle person between staff and students. The one that will always help keep us safe, the one to fill us up with inspiration and motivation. I put my heart into this project and I know all of us did as well. We built a water system, we built a community, and we built a family amongst ourselves.

We have the greatest team in the world and I wouldn’t trade it for anybody. We knew what we needed to do to complete our tasks and we put our heart into completing our tasks. When a member was down and out, we felt their pain and tried out best to comfort them. We ate as group, walked in the streets as group, and had fun as a group. And life should be about fun and games, until fun and games take over our lives.

Bad decisions can make great stories, but we have to be careful that one decision could ruin the rest of our lives. I personally have seen a lot of tragedy in my life and families broken from bad choices and I would not want to wish that upon us. I would personally like to see us come together many years down the road without a doubt of regret. Certain external forces can either unite us, or divide us. And I hope that our close encounters will unite us and make us stronger. The stronger we are, the more solid our foundation to grow.

Day 13: Chicicastenango

Written By Jose Flores

Waking up with a massive headache made it feel like my day was going to be ruined, and being 6:40 in the morning did not make me feel any better.So I started packing up my bags because in a few hours we were going to be leaving on our voyage to Lake Atlitlan and Chichicastenago. During the bus ride I was nodding in and out of conciousness, when I hear laughter erupt through out the whole bus. I look around and witness the importance of safety in Guatemala. There was a guy on the back of a truck standing on propane tanks with a downward facing shotgun around his shoulder. This is something you never see back in the states. Another peculiar thing that you don’t see that often was the co-ed bathrooms that we had to pay 2 quetzales for, or the dead squirrels they were selling as souveniers. Driving through the mouintains down to lake atlitlan we had a beautiful view of the place, we also saw a beautiful waterfall that ran all the way down to the lake. Once there we had 15 minutes to explore the stans by the lake, while Emmanuel searched for a spot were we could eat. However, the only thing Erik and I were intrested in was finding a stan that sold fresh coconuts so we searched around for a bit untill we finally found it. We headed back to the meet up spot but we only saw mama kelly, she gave us a scolding for not being back on time. Once at the restaurant I was a little sketched out to eat there. It did not look like a sanitary place, but I was hungry so I took the gamble and so far so good. While waiting for our food I was craving the coconut meat so I was trying to improvise a way to crack into it but everything failed, even when Brandon tried to pull it apart the cocunut drew blood and that is when we knew the coconut had won the battle. After the sketchy lunch we loaded the boat and headed to Sanata Catarina. Here I bought some fireworks for 1 quetzal and handed them to some local kids that were already setting off firework. After about 15 minutes we loaded the bus back up and headed to San Antonio. Once there our first stop was at the Pottery Place, were we saw parts of the process of how they made there plates, cups, pots, etc. The pottery was lead free so I bought to owls and a cup for tea. The whole time here we were getting bombarded by vendors trying to sell us things. After this we headed back to the boat because we were going to be driving to chichicastenango. When driving through chicicastenango the town didn’t seem very welcoming to tourist. The vibe it was giving of wasn’t very comforting it made me feel like I rather be back in Antigua. So we arrive at the hotel which was better maintained than la quinta. So then again we embark in a journey to see where we will be eating, and again we arrive at a what seems like a sketchy restaurant. But the hunger is real so I end up ordering breaded chiken. And once again Jose is 2-0 against diarrhea.

Now in our hotel safe and sound we are awaiting the next day so we can start our next adventure.

Day 12: Back in Antigua

Written by Janaye

I awoke to a strange mixture of sounds that ended up being my alarm. At La Quinta I can always hear voices that lead me to think i’m running late and everyone is awake before me. To my surprise it was just before 6:30am and it was the perfect time to meet kelli for a morning run. I dragged myself out of bed while trying to open my eyes all the way. I was happy to see kelli coming up the stairs because that meant I didn’t have to suffer my way back up them as if they were Mount Everest. I had made up my mind to not go on a run and go back to bed. My stomach was teetering on the edge of pure sorrow.

I got up a few hours later with the plan of skipping the sketchy breakfast at La Quinta and eating at the infamous cafe everyone had been talking about the day before. I looked over the balcony to see who was awake and something caught my eye. It was so golden, so round, and so epic. It was pancakes! I went downstairs like a child on Christmas morning with a big smile on my face. As I headed back up stairs my stomach made me feel as if were jumping on a trampoline after consuming a meal with a small bottle of quetzalteca. Damn La Qunita had sucked me into eating there again, I mean it is free.

A large group of us embarked on our journey to this peaceful cafe in the middle of a nursury. The table was covered by a wooden gazebo overgrown with plants and vines. I wasn’ t sure what to order at first but I ended up with a Guatemalan coffee. No big deal it’s a small cup of coffee right? Wrong, that nice peaceful cup of smooth coffee spiked my day. I became light headed so I had Melissa order me a bottle of water. To be exact it was called “watta” and had a picture of a camel on it. Makes complete sense dosen’t it?

I mosied back to La Quinta feeling light headed but I didn’t want that to ruin my day. A small group of us wanted to hike up to the famous cross where you can over see Antigua and some of Guatemala’s spectacular volcanos. We all cramed into a small van like sardiens to share the ride with those going up to the work site. We got dropped of at the bottom of the stairs and my first thought was to mentally prepare myself for this immence struggle up to many stairs to count. Little did I know it was the quickest and easiest trek thus far. Pictures seen on the internet do not do this view justice. I feel exteremely lucky to be in Guatemala, capturing moments like these in my mind. As usual there were Guatemalan’s trying to sell things to us as we walked around and snapped pictures. Most of the time I politely say no, but this time I got suckered in. After a few of us bought some hand crafted items the man proceded to give us all a free bracelt as a gift for new years. By this time I have collected two bracelets and I have a feeling many more will come home with me, each having its own story and glourious memories attached. I went to stand in the shade and happened to turn ever so slightly to the right. Standing about 100 feet away were a pair of Guatemalan cops, one holding a shot gun. Although this is not the first time I have seen that here, it still causes uneasy feelings and remids me that “we are not in Kansas anymore”.

We made our way back down the stairs but only got about halfway before geting into mischief. We saw this concrete structure that resemblied a slide and some mysterious pieces of cardboard. After David tested it out I quickly followed. The best part was going around the bend but shortly after, the slide ended. We walked back into Antigua and Evan led us into an amazing market with vivid colors in the textiles where items seemed to be hand crafted. As soon as I walked in I spotted this mask on the wall and I couldnt help but ask “Cuanto questa?” or “how much?”. I knew I could bargain at markets but I needed to shapen my skills. The price asked was 100 quetzales and I eventually got her down to 70 quetzales witch is about 9 dollars! This work of art had a cheif like face that was a dark wood and two green quetzals for the head dress. For some reason I wanted to wait to buy it, although now I wish I snagged it while I had the chance. I can’t stop thinking about how awesome it would look on my wall and how it is a great reminder of my improving bargaining skills. I am looking forward to visiting that same artisan market again.

After the market Kalika, Shae, and I made a lap or two around central park to find “Luki”, a woman who sold hand made scarfs instead of the mass produced scarfs made in china. It was unsuccessful but we will not give up yet. The three of us headed back to La Quinta and I immediatly grabbed my journal to catch up on the days I had failed to write about.

Around 5:45pm the entire group headed to La Union for a celebration dinner with a few of the home stay families and others who helped make our journey possible, such as Erbin, Jaun Carlos, and some of the Vuelta Grande kids that helped dig trenches at the work site. All of the amazing people we have met along the way have welcomed us with open arms, and as Karl stated “allowed us to use the worksite as a classroom”. It’s really a great feeling to know that I am always welcome here at La Union and in Antigua. It makes me feel more confident in my decision to come back next year to learn Spanish and finally bombard that language barrier with a wrecking ball. I am honored to be a part of this program and I can’t wait to continue to make the world a better place through engineering.

About an hour after arriving back at La Quinta there were crazy noises coming from the terrace. It started out somewhat mellow then all the sudden sounded as if Noah’s arc was being loaded with animals that were stampeeding over the tables. At certain moments there were more screams of struggle than others but generally this atrocious noise was repeating and circling around like a sound wave oscillating, fading out and coming back. On top of that craziness there were particular sounds of silver clinking together or hitting the floor. What could possibly be happaning? Were the walls going to cave in and the ceiling crumble as if it were collapsing on top of everyone in La Quinta. If anyone were brave enough to slowly crawl up the stairs to the terrace and peak there head around the corner they would find…..a bunch of engineering students, including me, getting rowdy and competitive, playing an intense game of spoons.There was a bit of pushing, scratching, strategizing, and slamming on the table but it was all fun and games that brought us all that much closer.

Day 11: Tikal

Written By: Melissa Jimenez

It was 4am and as per usual I woke up in a coughing fit, except this time my insides felt like they wanted to be outsides. The delicious cake I’d had the night before (thanks Brandon for stealing me a piece) had suddenly betrayed me. Fearing I’d wake Shae I did my best to be discreet, but let’s face it, there’s nothing discreet about puking your guts out.

After my little trip to the bathroom I wanted nothing more than a hot shower. I looked at the clock and it was a little after 4am. I suddenly remembered it was pitch dark because the hotel we were staying at shuts off the electricity at night. Makes sense right? You’re out in the middle of the jungle, god forbid you have enough light to see a jaguar coming at you. I realized this meant I’d have to take a cold shower in the dark. Thankfully my phone is smarter than me and remembered to pack its flashlight because I sure didn’t.

A piercing cold shower when you’re recovering from a cold and stomach problems is so not what the doctor ordered. If only I’d known that the electricity would be back at 6am, along with hot water, then I would have waited. I stood in the shower shivering in the dark and inching farther away from the water as the seconds passed me by. Instead of standing under the freezing waterfall I pictured in front of me, I began to scoop cold water into my hands and splash it onmyself. I stood there and thought to myself I think I’m showering wrong. After a few minutes of shower scooping the freezing assault was over. I got myself back into my warm bed to rest, after all we had a hike at 5:50am and I was totally planning on going.

My alarm went off at around 5:30am letting me know that the otherswould be getting ready for the sunrise hike soon. I heard people outside my window talking and moving around to gather by the pool, but it all sounded so fuzzy and far. I thought to myself, if I can stand up straight I’ll go with them. I opened my eyes and tried to sit up in my bed. I immediately regretted the decision. I felt as though I had the strength and stamina of a small kitten. The world around me spun and moved much quicker than I could process. I heard my mind screaming Abort mission! Abort Mission! Vertical a no go!. I listened and laid back down in bed. I was sad I’d miss out on the morning trek through the ruins but better safe than sorry.

A few hours later I was feeling much better but not quite up for anything too intense. I wasn’t able to go on the guided Tikal tour at 10am either but eventually I found my way out to the ruins with the help of Kelly, Karl and Brandon. They made excellent guides. A few hours later, sweaty, exhausted and covered in jungle but satisfied, we loaded onto a bus and headed back to the airport for a very much pressurized and Mel-safe plane ride home.

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Day 10: Antigua/Tikal

Written by: Kalika Diaz

Today was quite an interesting turn of events. We left for Tikal today and let me start by saying that the level of adventure of the journey didn’t match everyone’s level of comfort. (And by everyone I mean myself…)

A brief explanation. Yes, I may be of small height and build, but that in no way means that I am comfortable with small spaces. Secondly, if I am already in an uneasy state I need everything to run smoothly or I am doomed to relapse into an uncontrollable state of emotional havoc.

Now to continue with the tale of my unbecoming of a civilized lady. The group met at La Union at 2. We dropped off our main bags at La Quinta, and it was off to the airport to Tikal. The energy on the bus was already at a good high, but as soon as the No Coco No song came on the energy was set into hyperdrive.

We got to the airport and I was a little confused because it was just a random office building.We all stepped in and completely took over the top floor. A few people left for the second floor, for what I could only imagine was due to annoyance. We couldn’t help ourselves.We were going to TIKAL!

“Now boarding orange stripe”.

Time to board. We walked out and all I saw were helicopters and small planes. Where was our plane? Surely we wouldn’t be getting into something that small. There were nearly 20 of us. We’d be getting a bigger plane, right? Right?!

I’m getting closer to this plane and realizing I could lay down and reach to front and back. Slightly nervous now. As I squeeze my way through the midget sized door I feel the walls closing in. I make my way through the almost impossible isle, my bags and body being hugged with each seat I try to pass. Instinctively I made my way all to the back of the plane and take the last seat with Mel. I’m trying to keep myself calm. At this point my trip can go either way; it’ll just be another plane ride, or I’ll have a massive panic attack. I want to calm myself so I ask for a paper bag to breath in. Mel hands me the plastic bag from the seat pocket. I start breathing into it and this is when Thomas, Eric, and Jack start to take notice. They can’t tell if my panic is real or not. Jack starts taking pictures of me breathing into the plastic bag and my breathing starts to pick up a little. I don’t like attention, especially when I’m in any state other than happy.

“Don’t worry. There’s a higher survival rate at the back of the plane if we do crash”. Thank you for that comforting thought Thomas…

What was that?! My secure wall starts to fall out. My feet are starting to fall from under me. My bags are moving on their own. How could we crash before we’ve even taken off?

Nothing to worry about, it’s just the back side door being checked and secured. But it’s too late. I’m already fighting back tears and my breathing rate has taken a life of it’s own.

After what seems to take eons, we finally make our way to the runway. Of course this would be a perfect time to make a phone call.

“You’re making a phone call?”

“Yeah. I just want to see if it works.”

Mel has absolutely no concern with the effects of her electronic device on the plane’s control system. None of this is helping. And just when things couldn’t get any worse. The plane gets off the runway and of to the side. A few seconds pass and the secret door next to me is opened and reshut. At this point I know it’s over. All the signs are pointing to the end. My end.

The plane starts to rumble at an accelerated rate. The smell of the sour burning of the engines starts to invade my nostrils. Complete invasion of my privacy. I didn’t ask for this. The plane goes into multiple uncontrollable jolts. More signs.

I shut my eyes. I don’t want to see anything. I don’t want anyone to see me. Mel is asking me if I’m alright every few minutes. Again the attention is not helping me.

“Just let me be,” I keep thinking. “Just let me be”.

Ground control to Major Tom..

My body becomes loose again and I get the overwhelming sense of calmness. I finally feel safe enough to open my eyes. It’s dark. It’s calming.

God provides you for what you need, not what you want.

“Kalika we’re here.”

Day 8: Vuelta Grande/Antigua

Written by: Nathan Wahler

The day started as it usually does, at 8:30, but this time we had the pleasant anticipation of finishing the project. We left promptly, stopping first at the hardware store for (hopefully) the last time. At the work site B-team finished off the ditches, A-team got the new tanks put together, Brandon got the last of the pipes glued, David and I got the tanks clean as the day they were built. The first feeling of accomplishment came when the A-team finished the three tank system. We all gathered around with smiles and excitement as they opened the gate valve to let the water flow. As soon as that was confirmed working, I ran back up to finish the tanks I was in charge of. After spending almost every work day trying to remove the dirt from the tanks we were finaly coming to a point we could consider it good enough. We spent the previous days siphoning the water out and were to the point where all that was left was the muddy streaks that the brooms had left behind. To take care of the streaks we had to scavenge for some kind of mop. After no mop was found we reverted to using two old t-shirts and did the moping on our hands and knees. The shirts worked and the tanks were clean. Brandon got the water turned on and we called it done. After work we played soccer with the local kids well we waited for the bus, (which was over an hour late). The game was great though, we were finally getting good, scoringing the last 3 points of the game, and ending with 8-15 (far more pleasing then the 1-10 game the day before).