Monday, November 5, 2012

Off to Antigua

I'm a little behind on the blog but that is normal towards the end of the trip. Too many long days and too many nights of sleep deprivation....what can I say.
Sat. morning we gathered at the hotel to take the van ride to Antigua, Guatemala....not to be confused with the island. Antigua is a wonderful place to decompress after trekking through corn fields and over mud trails.
Antigua is a UNISCO heritage site and the original capital of the Spanish Empire. It is a lovely colonial village of beautifully colored stucco walled buildings. Every now and then you get a glimpse of the inside courtyards when a door or gate is open. They usually contain beautiful gardens. Only 5 of us went in the van since Joy and Gladys stayed in Pana to take more Spanish lessons and Dave, Jay and Amanda hired a MF pickup and Samuel as tour guide to take them to a mayan ruin on the way to Antigua. We arrived at Hotel Bucaros too early to check in so we dropped our bags at the front desk and headed out. We made it as far as Frieda's Cafe where we indulged in Mexican food and adult beverages. We were enjoying the relaxing atmosphere so much that we were still there when the other 3 made it to Frieda's. We then all walked to the Park Central where we enjoyed the
fountain with the serinas (mermaids) spewing water from their tata's and listened to a couple of Bolivian musicians play pipe flutes then onto a beautiful art gallery. By then it was time that we could check into the hotel. We got to our rooms and relaxed for a bit then off to dinner at La Fonda for the best chicken soup ever!! I think I may have mentioned that in a previous blog update. There was an unusual amount of traffic and people even for a weekend. It turns out that Nov. 3 is a special day for weddings in Guatemala...not sure why...need to google that. There was even a lovely parade right past the restaurant so we got to watch that go by. We noticed on the way to the restaurant that they were creating live carpets on the cobbled streets so I should have guessed then there would have been a parade gathering somewhere.
Wasn't it nice of me to arrange a great meal and a parade!!! Dave and Jay were picked up the next morning by one of my favorite drivers, Jose, to catch there early morning flight to Boston and home. The rest of us left at a more decent hour...10:00AM for our respective flights home. I am always so awed by the wonderful people who join me on these trips and this group was no exception. Thank you to all who participated and to all who kept us in your prayers. I plan to do this until I can't!!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Free Day Friday Nov 2-12

Friday is free day. Some of us met at the El Dorado for coffee.
Lynn saw one of the young boys who sells gifts on the street whose shoes were falling apart so she took him to the shoe store to buy him some new shoes. He was very happy with his very cool new shoes. Then we hit the used quipil market.This is where I get a lot of my little zipper bags to sell. We then proceeded to shop our way down Santandar until lunch. After lunch we got in Tuk Tuk's to go look at the trade school that MF has recently opened up.
A Rotary group from home state...donated all the tools. MF has hired a teacher and my freind Michael oversees the shop. They are making wooden gift boxes, jewelry boxes, humidors and wine holders in beautiful woods. They are just getting started but I bet by my next trip there will be many completed goodies to buy.
In the evening Sharon and Dwight...2 of the 3 founders of MF...had us over for a farewell dinner. The women of the group got to play dress-up and modeled traditional clothing. They were all quite lovely.
They showed a video of our weeks activities which had touching and hilarious moments. A good time was had by all.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dia de los Muertes..or...All Saints Day Nov 1-12

Nov 1 is Dia de los Muertes or All Saints Day which is a celebration for those who have passed away. Many communities have kite festivals where some attach to the kites the picture of a loved one who has passed away in order to release the soul. We traveled to Sumpango Sac for one of the largest kite festivals. We drove about two and a half hours to Sumpango. We had eight of us along with some MF staff, Erin, Laura and Samuel to look after us. Dave and Jay were not with us since they spent the day visiting more families that Dave has been involved in making life better. We also had Eric, one of MF's drivers, who road in another vehicle, with us and he was our "bouncer" protection since these are very large crowds and many pick pockets are there. Once we found a parking place that both vehicles could be close to one another we walked up a steep hill through masses of humanity to view the kites. Our driver stayed with the vehicles to guard them. Somehow there is always one in the the group you can count on for a little comic relief and usually it is a SWA flight attendant. We do like to enjoy ourselves. Some of the kites are so massive they would not ever get off the ground unless there was a hurricane!! The frames are made out of sticks or bamboo poles for the larger ones and covered in colorful tissue paper. Very intricate designs using only tissue paper. They are amazing. They were each assigned a category of which I haven't a clue about. It was just amazing to look at them. We wandered around viewing and photographing them and then returned to the van for our fabulous picnic that once again the fabulous Mathilda prepared for us. Then back to the festival to watch them start to raise the semi large kites into the air. I think they were judged by how long they could keep them in the air. With such a hugh crowd they didn't have much running room but some of them got up and stay there for a good bit. Some started up and came right back down. The crowd would cheer as they started up and then a hugh sigh as they came down. We retuned to Pana and everyone including Dave and Jay came to my place to eat left overs since I still had so much from the party and picnic. It was a fun day.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Home Visits in El Barrranco Oct 31-12

Once again we piled into pickup trucks that Mayan Families sent to the hotel for the group. We first stopped at MF office and picked up the staff members that would be accompanying us to El Barranco and the food baskets that everyone wanted to take to their families. One truck also had two beds to deliver and water filter replacements. We knew where one of the beds would go and would decide where the other would go once we saw the homes. Then off we were through this beautiful country. The back of a pickup is the best way to see it too. Views of the lake are breath taking. We arrived at the EB preschool first so we could hand out kites to all the kids since the following day (Nov.1) is All Saints Day...Dia de los Muertes...and it is traditional to fly kites for this holiday. Since these families are too poor to buy a kite MF tries to see to it that each preschooler gets one. They loved them and it didn't take long until they were in the yard running with their kites. Since most of the kids whose home we would be visiting were at the preschool we also put them and their moms in the trucks with us. It was a bit crowded but a happy bunch. Somehow through all this poverty they still manage to be happy. We had to split into two groups since we had so many visits to do. I went with the group whose homes I had not been to. The first home was Amanda's sponsored student who I could not figure out why she had such short hair since this is not a style they use here. Turns out she like most of our own kids got hold of a pair of scissors and decided she was a hairdresser. Children all over the world are not that different. This family had so many needs and fortunately none of them were beds. They did however need a mattress and a water filter so I decided in lieu of a bed we would give the the mattress and a new water filter. She is a single mom whose husband died as a result of alcoholism and she is in debt to the bank as many are and in fear of losing her home. The next two homes we visited were children who had lost their previous sponsors and I am so grateful to have tender heart with me who wanted to sponsor them so they could stay in the program. They are preschoolers so this means they get a nutritional meal every day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a yr. One of these has a sibling who is sponsored by a member of my Feb group. They had the picture that was given them of their sponsor on the mirror of their dresser. They now have all the wiring done for electricity thanks to their other sponsor. Now we just need the funds to connect to the pole so they can finally have electricity in their home. The mother fears for her children since they have already had one small fire from using candles. Then the last family we visited was a fair distance. We drove as far as possible then it was a long trek through corn fields and some wooded areas. I can't begin to grasp doing this in the dark. These children walk, I would estimate, anywhere from 30 to 45 min to school. And can I just add none of it on smooth paths. This family now has cosponsors, Kendal and Sandy. They will share in the sponsorship of this sweet little girl. These visits are very emotional for the sponsors since it is hard to grasp the depth of poverty these families live in until you see it first hand. Guatemala is 6th in the world in chronic malnutrition and yet it is not at all a poor country. It is a sad state of affairs. We returned back in Pana exhausted and hungry so we headed to the Deli...they have one of my favorite dishes...Pollo Melinese....and while we were there the rains started. The calle became a river once again. I had to get home because I was in much need of rest so when it was a little lighter I grabed a Tuk Tuk and arrived home where a hot shower and PJ's were in order. Tomorrow is Dia de los Muertes and the kite festival.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Launcha to San Juan

A great day for a boat ride...but for a great start means stopping off at the El Dorado for a coffee then to the used quipil market. They always have great treasures. Bob was able to find some guys with tools near buy to occupy his time while the girls shopped. Then it was off to the hotel to get those who didn't indulge in the market. Dave and Jay went with Mayan Families staff to visit a couple of villages where Dave has so generously helped several families. My dear friend Stephanie guided us to the where the launcha (boat) was. The lake was clear, smooth and spectacular looking. Lots of photo opps!!! San Juan La Laguna has a large group of women's co-ops that make their own natural dyes and hand weave all of their goods. The results are the most beautiful scarves, handbags, shawls and table linens. So, you can't help but to shop and shop we did. Also Gladys brought some of her reading glasses and gave them to some of the co-op women to help them with their needle work. They so appreciate them. About 1:00PM it started to get cloudy and windy so we made our way to the launcha so we could get across the lake before the weather turned bad which it did but thank heavens it wasn't until we got back to Panajachel. It was a bit bumpy and it had stared to rain so the flight attendant in me had everyone put on their life jackets as a precaution. It waited until we were on the calle before the sky opened up....and boy did it ever. Calle Santandar became a river while we were in one of the shops picking up an order. Finally I had to get home to unlock the gate for the caterer. The fiesta must go on!!! I flagged down a Tuk Tuk (3 wheeled taxi) and went home. So glad I threw that rain jacket in my backpack. It finally slowed up about 6:00 then had one more burst before it stopped. EGADS it was a lot of rain. The party was great and everyone had a good time and of course Mathilda prepared the most wonderful food for everyone. My Maria kept the kitchen cleaned up the whole time. I feel so decadent here but it sure is easier to enjoy your own party when all you have to do is mingle.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monday morning the sun shown and the volcanoes were clear and all was well with the world. It was a beautiful day for a visit to El Barranco. Everyone gathered at the hotel and Mayan Families picked us up in the pickups to take us to the office to sort through the donations that we took to El Barranco.
Then back in the pickups we went to head up through Solola and on to El Barranco. Set up began for handing out donations and eyeglasses......and lines formed. The littlest children were put first in line and were fitted with shoes and clothes. With the girls in this village wearing traditional clothing they love shoes and sweaters or jackets. The boys are losing the tradition of tipica...traditional clothing...because it is so expensive. Many of the sponsors have provided the boys with traditional clothing so they save it for special occasions. They are given western clothing such as jeans and shirts.
The women lined up to be fitted with a pair of reading glasses that Gladys brings and she and her helper, Joy find just the right pair so they can once again see to do close work. Most make a living doing needle work and they are so grateful for a return of vision. When I say "make a living" I mean maybe $2 a day.
The children performed traditional dances for us and it was once again so much fun. They had several new dances for us this time. They attempted to teach us a Maya dance and I just can't even think of words to discribe what we looked like!!!
We had some students who have lost their sponsors and those who needed a sponsor for the first time and once again the wonderful people who follow me to this beautiful land came through. All participated in sponsoring a child in school and are giving them the opportunity to have a better life.
It was a long day without lunch...things always take longer than we plan...but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and got a true glimpse of this beautiful culture. We had reservations in the evening at Jose Pinguinos where they play traditional music and gave us a talk on the Maya culture. They taught us how to make tortillas...well they tried...served a Maya dish called pepion (sp?) which is a wonderful mix of chicken, rice, vegetables and an awesome sauce. Then for some of us it was time for bed.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The group has arrived!!!! Gladys and Joy arrived on Sat. and spent the night in the city. My friend Stephanie also had a friend arrive on Sat who stayed at the same hotel so Stephanie road into the city with me and our driver Oswaldo. Everyones flight arrived on time and we were on the road for our 3 hr. journey to Panajachel (Pana) in the beautiful highlands of Guatemala.CK8zGTWXr9c/UI5Wkoz6hGI/AAAAAAAAIP4/-0wvqe4Fkvk/s1600/IMG_5602.JPG" imageanchor="1" style=""> Because everyone brings containers of donations with them along with their personal luggage we needed one of Mayan Families pickup trucks to help haul it all. The Hotel del Lago in Pana is set on Lake Atitlan with views from every room. While we waited for the pickup to arrive with the remainder of the luggage...they had to make a stop on the way back so it took them longer than us....we spent our time enjoying the grounds of the hotel. We all went to dinner and Sharon and Dwight, two of the 3 founders of Mayan Families, joined us for a lovely relaxing evening. It just happened that one of the kitchen staff was the mother of a young man named Dilson who Dave helped with his medical needs until he passed away. It was very touching to see the relationship these two had even though they live hundreds of miles away and in totally different worlds. She was very touched by Dave's generosity. On Monday we will sort the donations and take the appropriate items with us to El Barranco where we will spend the day handing out those donations and seeing the children perform their traditional dances. Should be a great day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Arrived in Guatemala Sun. Oct.21 with my friend Lynn and we spent the night in Antigua. We did a little shopping and ate my favorite food there..Caldo Real..the best chicken rice soup you have ever eaten and unlike any other. I made arrangement with my driver to pick us up on Mon. at 3PM.It is amazing how close tres and seis sound. So at six in the morning he is calling to let me know he is at the hotel. We had a good laugh and he returned at 3PM. As soon as we arrived at my place we unloaded and headed into town to meet up with friends. I love being here. There have been luncheons and diners to attend. The week has passed quickly with buying items to bring back with me. I will use it to raise money for some projects here at Mayan Families. Today we went to El Barranco to visit 3 sponsored students. One of Lynn's and one of her friend Charlottes. Lynn had gifts and a bag of corn for her and Charlotte's students. Her and Charlotte had a good time shopping for them. Charlotte's family had a beautiful gift for her. I am always humbled when I see people who live in extreme poverty giving a gift they can little afford to do but it means so much to them to be able to do that. I also visited another student whose sponsor, Wendy, sent her a birthday package. Seeing the delight in each of these children receiving gifts just for them is always so special. It is a rarity if ever that the children here get a present. It doesn't even have to be anything big and they are delighted. We then went to San Jorge to visit 2 more students. One is sponsored by a flight attendant friend, Mary, who has done some favors for me so to repay her I visited Ulises, her sponsored student, and took a bag of corn for the family to be able to make tortillas. Then to one of my sponsored students whose home is on the side of a cliff and it was corroding away with each heavy rain so I had a retaining wall built this year and wanted to see it. They gave me a beautiful shoulder bag that the mom had made. Humbled again. Photos of today can be found on my Picasa site to the right of this blog. You will also see Mayan Families Picasa pictures also.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Time is nearing for the next Grace of Guatemala trip and it should be a fun trip since it will be over Dia de los of the dead or all saints day which is Nov 1. We will be going to see the flying of the hugh hand made kites and visit the colorful cemetery. We will be returning to visit El Barranco and the delightful people of this lovely little village and delight in the children and their traditional dances that they love to perform for us. There are those who are returning and those who are going for the first time. The mix is so nice because the veterans are so helpful for those who are coming for the first time. Several of the group have sponsored students so we will be visiting some or all of their homes which is always a highlight of the trip. Seeing your sponsored student in there homes and meeting their families is a very special treat and often very emotional. Everyone goes away changed forever in a very good way. Hope you will follow along on our journey come the end of Oct. I will try to keep up with the events as we experience them. Sometimes I get a little behind but I will do the best I can to help you see what we see.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Time to pack up and move on

Day 7 and it is time to pack our belongings and head to Antigua.

Most will be flying home the next day. As the last minute packing is going on everyone is also saying their last good byes to the street vendors and making last minute purchases. Suitcases are stuffed to the brim and in some cases new bags were bought. There are some very tired peeps.

We get to Antigua in time to get checked into the hotel and off to have lunch at Frieda's Cafe for nachos and margaritas.
There of course is some more last minute shopping to do and exploring this very interesting city.

Antigua is a UNISCO World Heritage Site and the original capital of the Spanish Empire. There are a great many ruins from an earthquake in the 1770's.
In the evening several of us met for dinner at La Fonda where I always have to have their traditional Guatemalan chicken soup..Caldo Real. Love it!!!

Free Day

Friday was a free day. There were several lining. A good many of us did the hike which was advertised as an easy down hill hike.

I wouldn't quite go that far. We rode in the back of a couple of pickups to the top to start our hike. It was a bit strenuous and we had several falls but everyone made it down the mountain to San Antonio Palopo. We visited the pottery shop and made our share of purchases.
Then into pickups again to Santa Catarina for lunch at a lovely hotel. It was a beautiful setting and good food.
Those of us on the hike who were taking the cooking made it back just as the class was starting.

We made several traditional dishes...Chuchitos, Chrimol, Guacamole, Tortillas,and Rosa de Jamaica... and then got to enjoy our handy work.
We also received an apron and a small cookbook of the dishes we prepared.
There were those brave souls that went zip lining and as soon as I have pics I will share them. It sounded like they had a blast.
That evening MF had a farewell party at the main offices but before that started many of the families that had students sponsored came in to receive the gifts their generous sponsors purchased for clothing...beds...and other gifts.
Let me apologize now for whatever was on my camera lens. UGH!!
Then the presentations began. MF honored our youngest member who raised over $1000 for the trip to be used for their families they sponsored. Grace is only 12 and out did us all ...with the help of her mothers baking skills.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Thursday...a fun day

On Thur. those who wanted or felt well enough went to Chichi for a day of shopping in their world famous market. It is a place with so much color it is overwhelming. Lucia, one of my favorite street vendors went with us and was our guide. Lucia was born in Chichi but now lives in Pana.Some stayed at the hotel to tend to a couple that were not feeling well. And four went with Michael, a MF volunteer, and did a construction project. When I get some pics of that I will add them.

We first went to their very colorful cemetery which resulted in us having to hike back up a very steep street. UGH!! Some of us were huffing and puffing by the time we got back up to the market area.
We went in the min church and when I saw Ann lighting a candle it was such a great picture that I took one before I remembered your not suppose to take pics in the church...OOOPS! The quickly reminded me.
Then once again there was a great boost to the economy in Chichi.
The boys and Jessica spent the day elping Michael and Carlos in the wood shop. It looks like they had a great time.

In the evening we had a dinner at me Casa.
There was great food and a wonderful camaraderie that comes from a shared experience. We realize how blessed our lives our when we view true poverty and see that even with so very little these people still have joy in their hearts. Who are we to complain about anything.