This is the last full day in Guatemala so we are heading to Antigua for our last night and a short visit of this beautiful colonial city. At one time it was the capital of the Spanish Empire. There are many goodbyes and much packing of the van before leaving Pana. Many treasures are making their way back to the US and Canada. Once we arrive at our hotel in Antigua we head for a quick walking tour of nearby sites such as La Mercid church, the Arch and the Park Central. And then it is time for lunch at one of my favorite places...Fridas. I love their nachos and margaritas. After lunch everyone hit the streets for different destinations. Mine was back to the room for a nap!! Gene and Bill found a spa down the street from the hotel and got themselves a massage and Gene even got a hair cut by the same girl who did the massage. Their one hour massage was only $25 US and Gene's 45 min. hair cut and shampoo was $6 US....what a deal. Then we gathered for supper at La Fonda where my fav is the Caldo Pollo...a delicious traditional chicken soup. I salivate thinking about it. Once we were all full we took a walk to Santo Domingo to see it by candle light. It was at one time a monastery and is now a beautiful hotel and museum. One day I plan on treating myself to a stay there. All were full and tired so off to bed we went.
Today is a free day for everyone. Gene went across the lake with Jim and Louise to help with the house they are building for a family in Santiago Atitlan. He found out how strong the Mayan women are. I have heard more than one strong man tell me how these women can put them to shame. In spite of this Gene had a wonderful day working with Jim. Bill and Chas went back again today to Mayan Families work shop to help out there and do some work with Michael. Debbie and Bill got to spend the afternoon meeting with the three students they have been sponsoring through Mayan Families for some time now. As a result of their visit Debbie got her hair wrapped in the tradition of San Antonio Polopo and I have to say she wears it quite well. They both said what a wonderful time they had with them. Meeting your students face to face is so rewarding and makes this relationship more personal. Denise decided to go to the Reserva which is a beautiful park where you can see wonderful plant life, monkeys and zip line if you like. Denise decided against the zip line this trip. Before we got our day started we had coffee at El Dorado and watched a parade of the Pana preschool kids. Little Tomas was in the parade dressed in his traditional Chichicastanengo traje. Tomas is the son of Lucia who is a street vendor that some of you will have met. After the parade the rest of the ladies and I headed to the used quipil market searching for hidden treasures. And some were found. We then headed down Santander to shop for jewels. Four of us had lunch at my house since I had lots of leftovers from the party. And then we all gathered at Sharon and Dwight's for a dinner and a wonderful slide presentation of our trip. Susie does such a nice job of putting together a CD of group trips and makes sure we have the opportunity to purchase extra copies.
The boys work ...the girls shop!!! Our three macho men today went with Michael who has been volunteering for Mayan Families for over a yr now to do guy things. They spent the day building a hope chest for Gene R. sponsored student. They also gave some good input into how to improve some of the projects. The girls went to Chichicastanego for it's famous market. We visited the Santos Hotel, the church in Chichi that is built on a sacred Mayan temple and then checked out all the goodies for sale in the market. We had lunch together then a little more shopping before returning back to Pana to clean up for a dinner party at my place. Before dinner Marina, who is a volunteer at Mayan Families, gave us a Salsa lesson. Sadly I'm a little short on rhythm but we sure had a good time giving it our good ol' college try. Some did quite well getting the steps. We are fortunate to have a fantastic chef from Australia....Mathilda...who is a life long friend of Sharon who is one of three founders of Mayan Families. Mathilda made us a fabulous spread. It was such a pleasant evening with the team and other friends hear in Pana.
Today the team got to make a personnel connection with their sponsored students and install two Onil stoves. We jumped on the van about 9:30 and headed back to El Barranco. It took the better part of the day to do all of this. Since we had 9 students to visit we were fortunate that it turned out that the 2 stoves were going to two of these families. You know the ol'...killing two birds with one stone. It is always so heart warming to make that personnel connection with your students but also heart wrenching to see the conditions that they live in. Almost all of the families we visited today were sleeping on boards with a blanket over them...no mattresses or enough blankets. I never stop being amazed to see how this gentle group of people live and still have smiles on their faces. Everyone brought gifts for their students so their was much fun in seeing the faces of the kids receiving a gift. It turned out to be the birthday of Debbie S. student so she managed to find the pastry shop early in the morning and bought a birthday cake for her student. When that box was opened his little eyes got huge. I am sure it is probably the first birthday cake he has ever had. And she also gave him a soccer ball which he never let go of the whole time we were their. Not sure if I mentioned before that Denise fell over her suitcase the morning she got up to leave for this trip so she has one of the biggest shiners I have ever seen. I can't help but wonder if her student would know who she is without it. We have all gotten so used to it that it never occurred to me that someone should explain to her little boy that is was not normal.
Debbie L. asked one of her students what she liked to do in her free time...what hobbies she had. Her response was that she didn't have time for that...she had to work when she got out of school each day. Many of these children live lives like this..never knowing what we consider a real childhood. This is the kind of day that changes your life forever. For any of you who would like to help a child in Guatemala possibly have a better life just let me know and I will get you connected to a child in need. Or if you would like to send a donation we will use it to get the preschool in El Barranco up and running. The preschool will select the children at the greatest risk of malnutrition to be the first to attend since they will be fed each day at school.
Today was a big day. We met up at MF and sorted through the donations we brought down to find the things that would be best to take to El Barranco. After the sorting and repacking we first headed to San Jorge to visit the preschool and the elderly feeding program. I felt it was important to show the group what a functioning preschool was like so they could see the vision for El Barranco and it's soon to be preschool. The children in San Jorge are so used to gringos coming to visit they are no longer shy. The teacher is one of the best preschool teachers.It is always fun to visit them. On the second floor of the preschool is where the sewing classes are held and the ladies from the classes had their beautiful handmade items out for sale. I think the group made it a great day for them. During the visit to where the elderly feeding program is held Debbie L. found out that one of the cooks was a single mom and her son was not sponsored in school so she sponsored him on the spot. His mother went and got him and he came right over so we could meet him. It is little things like this that can change a child's life. Then on our way to El Barranco we stopped at Pollo Comprero for lunch...It is the Guatemalan version of the Colonel only the chicken is better. We arrived at El Barranco and all the ladies had their hand made goods out for sale so many transactions took place. It is a village of weavers so there are many beautiful things to select from. The kids then did their traditional dances and grabbed at the hearts of all who were watching. One of the students who had lost her sponsor was sponsored by Sherry and Gene R. before the trip ever started so they really enjoyed meeting her and seeing her dance. Then came the time to hand out shoes...which their are never enough of....and to find out who wanted to sponsor students and what students needed sponsored for school. There are 9 team members and 9 children were sponsored. And of course there were lots of tears and touched hearts this day. The first time you meet your sponsored child can turn your heart to mush no matter how big and strong you are. Children here so want to go to school but when there is not enough food you can't even afford a pencil for school. The evening ended with dinner at El Bistro with lots of conversation about the darling children that had interred the hearts of those who met them this day.
We started this Valentine Day with a trip across Lake Atitlan to see my friend Louise and her husbands project in Panabaj. They are building a house for a family who's house was literally falling down around them. We also visited the school where Louise and Jim have made such a difference in by building a toilet for the school...teaching gardening by giving each student plants to grow and measure....and providing many books. We then saw Maximon the Mayan god and then had lunch. We shopped along the way back to our launcha for the return trip to Panajachel. Had a bit of a rest then we were invited to the Mayan Families office for snacks and a demonstration of an Onil stove. Several of the girls tried their hand at making tortillas on the newly constructed stove. Then they were treated to a couple of videos showing the many projects that Mayan Familes have started. Tomorrow we visit El Barranco.
The group of volunteers arrived today Feb.13 on 3 different flights. First was Debbie S. and Denise. Then an hr. later came Gene, Sherry, Chas, Pam, Bill and Debbie L. There was about 2 hrs. until Joyce's flight came in so we went to a near by hotel and had coffee while we waited. My friend Lucy and her sister Ana who live in Guatemala City came to see us and brought goodies from Lucy's coffee shop. They are wonderful Guatemalan women who want to help with what Mayan Families is doing in the highlands. I met Lucy on a flight to Guatemala last yr.and we made quick friends of one another. I ran back to the airport to pick up Joyce who was patiently waiting at the curb. We then went back to the hotel for a short visit then we got in our van and headed to Panajachel. Our group is one short because my very dear friend Nelda had to cancel to be with her daughter who is having surgery. We will miss her. Got everyone checked into the hotel...got some Guate money and had dinner. Tomorrow we head across the lake.
Had a wonderful opportunity to visit San Cristobal,Mex. My friend Margaret and I set out on Wed. and the tourist bus ride took 12 hr.....which I might add you're told is an 8 hr trip. Maybe the actual driving time is 8 but between stops...speed bumps...and border crossing stamps it was 12. But we arrived safe and tired but hit the streets right away. It is a beautiful town in the state of Chiapas,Mex. Lots of beautiful colors on the buildings, live music, wine bars, coffee shops and of course the lovely clothing made there. We spent 3 nights of eating great food...having wonderful margaritas....and shopping. I recommend it if you are traveling through Mexico.
I arrived in Guatemala Thur. the 3rd and have been to parties Thur. and Fri. nights and out to dinner with my friend Margaret last night. A little short on sleep but having a great time. The weather is fabulous. On Fri night there was a going away party for my sweet friend Sapphire who is returning to Australia. She will be very missed but expect she will be back. Planning to go to San Cristobel,Mex on Wed for three days. I am very excited to do this because of the pictures I have seen and the friends who have gone. Pictures will follow that trip. Have started the usual jewelry buying so hopefully I will find some good venues to sell it.