Monday, March 24, 2014

March 23: Last day for the Sahali team

Hi everyone!

Today was our last day here in Guatemala. We started off with our final breakfast at Fernando's Café. We will really miss the food.

After breakfast we had free time, and we all took to the streets of Antigua to frantically spend all our remaining quetzals. By the end of the day, most of us were the epitome of tacky tourists: braided bracelets, guat shorts, pants and tee-shirts, hair wraps, bags and more. The boys invested in a character picture, and we all agree the artist got Rob's hair spot on. Our last day was a hot one, and we soaked up all the sun we could before coming back home to the inevitable cold weather.

We went back to the hotel at 2:30 and prepared to make our carpet for the procession. A rectangle of pine
needles was laid on the cobblestone, and we adorned it with beautiful flowers and plant seeds, which is a tradition here in Guatemala.

The streets were then flooded with people in purple robes, and spectators lined the sidewalks as we watched the floats go by and smelt the very strong incense in the air.

We had our last meal at Fernando's, and were treated to some comfort food: salad, pasta and chocolate mousse for dessert.

Now it is time to pack, and get ready to be up at 4:00am to head to the airport. Cole found a new friend (a wolf spider he named William) and is amusing himself while the rest of us are watching him, unimpressed.

See you guys tomorrow at midnight!

Hasta Luego,

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

March 22: Day 8

Hola Everyone!

Well, time flies - we only have one full day left in Antigua before we are homeward bound bright and early Monday morning.

We enjoyed a little extra sleep this morning, and headed to to breakfast at around 8:15. Fernando's was packed this morning, as a another school group arrived at our hotel last night. We enjoyed another delicious bite before walking to Casa Santa Domingo, where our shuttle was picking us up to go to our destination of the day: zip lining.

Casa Santa Domingo is a beautiful hotel that was once a monastery. The workers were picking petals off roses and putting them into buckets of water, and candles were lit everywhere. There was a small art gallery on the inside, and monuments that date back to the 16th/17th century.

We took a safari type bus up to the zip line. It was open at the sides, with a canopy roof on top. It was about a 10 minute bus ride. We arrived to a gorgeous site. Up way above Antigua, this recreational establishment that is a part of the hotel was a site to see. Beautiful mosaics made with tiles were placed everywhere, the grass was green and the view was breathtaking. We made our way to the zip lining booth and got harnessed in, and were given helmets and gloves.

We decided to take the long route - 11 zip lines, two huge stair cases and one very long ladder later, we made it to the end. The most dramatic zip line was our last: 600 metres long, and instead of the regular position we went "superman style". We were harnessed by our backs, faced down and sent to "fly like a bird". It sounds pretty outrageous, but don't worry parents, we made it out safe and sound!

We managed to work up quite an appetite and had some cold drinks and hot dogs for lunch before returning to Antigua to shop for the afternoon. Sarah, Jalees and Danielle decided to get some cornrows, while Shelby and Rachel opted for a henna tattoo (not permanent!).

We met back at the hotel at 6 and headed off to a group dinner. We had some tasty frozen drinks, which satisfied Shelby's Slurpee craving, and then all munched on nachos and various sandwiches.

We enjoyed our relaxing day, and are now back at the hotel winding down for the night. We have some competition for the terrace tonight, so we might be stuck hanging out in the boys room.

We miss you guys, but we're all pretty sad our time here is almost over.

We'll fill you in on our last day tomorrow!


The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 21: Day 7

Hi everyone,

Today was probably one of the most memorable days of our trip. Today marked the end of our work week in San Miguel Duenas. It was a very emotional day filled with good company, good laughs, and goodbyes.

In the morning both groups split up to their work sites to finish the last day of building. Neither groups were able to finish their houses, but put a solid dent in the building process. We had to carry heavy beams of wood for quite a long distance. It was a good workout!

The rest of the morning was spent exploring the village and looking at past houses built by Developing World Connections.

Teresa introduced us to a family living in the village. The family was quite large and didn't have much. The mother recently passed away leaving behind four children with the grandparents. One of the sons had recently broken both legs in a work related accident, but the family can not afford to pay the medical bills. The grandmother spends her days selling homemade tortillas on the side of the road. Because of all of the cooking, the family's home is engulfed with smoke making it very hard to breathe, especially for the young children. It was a very emotional moment for our whole group when we saw how grateful they were with the little groceries and money we brought them. When we get back to school we are going to fundraise for this family in hopes of collecting $700 to pay for the son's surgery.

After lunch, we headed back to our work sites to say a final goodbye. The families were extremely grateful and more tears were shed. These families never expected to have a home of their own and it seemed like an unachievable dream. Even though we didn't get to finish the homes, it was very rewarding to know we were a part of this experience.

We headed back to the Open Windows Foundation to say goodbye to Teresa, Patrick, staff, and children. The goodbyes were hard but the relationships we made were celebrated with a piñata. We handed out Canadian pins to leave them all something to remember us by.

As soon as we got home, Mary and Mrs.Simpson booked us a salsa dancing class. It might of been the most we sweat all week. It was surprising to see how well the boys could dance. The rest of the night was free time in Antigua. Even with all of the choices of local Guatemalan cuisine, most of us opted for McDonalds.

We are now sitting on the terrace and we can see the red lava erupting from the volcano near our hotel (but relax parents - it's okay). We miss you all and can't wait (but can) to see you soon!

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

March 20: Day 6

Hi Everyone,

Today was a very hot, long, and exhausting day for us here in Antigua. We started off with the usual breakfast at Fernando's before proceeding to the work sites. The "Dirt Bags" house is very near completion and "Das Chavos" has some catching up to do but is not too far behind. Team "Dirt Bags" would not be as far as they are without the assistance of dedicated leaders Jill and Peter (Mrs. Simpson's parents).

We spent the morning filling the cracks between the bricks with cement and hauling dirt. We began running out of jobs to do because as our buildings have progressed there have been things that only the professional builders can do. Therefore, we spent some time with the kids near our work sites drawing with chalk and finger knitting.

We went to our usual lunch location for another home-cooked meal. Today we had chicken soup and tortillas, for dessert we had papaya.

After lunch only a few of us returned to our work sites due to lack of jobs for us. Arjun, Rob and Robyn continued working on the house for the "Dirt Bags" and Sarah and Rachel went to the "Das Chavos" work site. Everyone else worked with the children at the center, except for Cole, who spent the afternoon with a doctor, from Florida, who was doing check ups on children from the village.

Later in the afternoon we all met up to play soccer against a team of Guatemalan children from one of the schools in the village. After a long day in the heat we were extremely tired and couldn't pull off a win but managed to keep it a close game and lost 5-4. After the game our bus was surrounded by children saying goodbye to us.

We went to Teresa's house for dinner, she is the volunteer coordinator for us and runs the Open Windows Foundation. All the teachers from the center joined us for dinner as well as a couple other volunteers, including our translator Patrick. Teresa toured us around her house, which was exceptionally beautiful.

Everyone is exhausted from a long day.

Buenos Noches

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 19: Day 5

Hi Everyone,

We had another good day in Guatemala. We started off with the usual breakfast at Fernando's, and loaded the bus on time to get to San Miguel Duenas.

Today was hot, and we started work right away. At the "Das Chavos" work site, we spent most of the morning chiseling blocks and making re bar, while our builders continued to add to the walls. At the "Dirt Bags" site, concrete was made, blocks were hauled and some time was spent with local kids.

We went back to the same family home for lunch and had a very Canadian meal of pasta and bread, with watermelon for dessert. It was delicious again.

After lunch, Erin, Sarah and Danielle went back to the Open Windows Foundation while the rest of us went back to the work site. The Dirt Bags are eager to see a finished project by Friday. At the learning center, the girls taught the kids how to finger knit. They absolutely loved it!

At 3:00, Arjun, Rob and Robyn stayed at their work site while the rest of us went back to the Finca compound to hand out the care packages we made. Some of the items that were in them were soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, yarn and little candies. Initially, there were only about 15 kids in the compound and we were able to hand out packages to everyone, but word spread quickly and suddenly about 20 others showed up. We had no more packages, and it is heartbreaking to deny these kids things we take for granted back home. Many of them have dry coughs, and runny noses and walk around in broken shoes and clothes that are too small.

We then went to a large field and started up a game of soccer with the Finca kids. It was disorganized, but their skill level was incredible. Seven year old boys were heading the ball and slide tackling, giving Shelby and Cole a run for their money.

We headed back to Antigua at 4 and were able to go to a few shops and enjoy the remaining daylight before a later dinner at Sabarico. It was in a lovely rain forest setting, and we enjoyed yet another good meal.

Talk to you tomorrow!

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 18: Cuarto Día

Today was another lovely day here in Guatemala. We started off the day with a delicious breakfast at Fernando's, the usual. Then it was off to San Miguel Duenos to begin a hard day of work. This year we have two sites we are working at. Keegan, Cole, Jalees, Erin, Rachel and Shelby/"Das Chavos" are are working at the first site for a mother with three children. Arjun, Robert, Aidan, Sarah, and Robyn/"Dirt Bags" are working at the second site for a family of four.

At the work site, there were many different jobs that had to be completed. Some of us started off with the backbreaking lifting of cinder blocks along with shoveling and sifting of dirt to make cement. We also created support for the walls from metal bars and wire. This takes an extreme amount of patience, partially due to the tools being dull and well used. We all became comfortable and confident after our first experience yesterday.

After breaking for another delicious lunch made by a family in the village, we spent the afternoon playing with the children and touring around the poorer regions. Most kids were extremely shy at first, but once they found out we had candy and toys they warmed up to us.

Before the end of our work day we walked as a group to the Finca Compound. This is an area where over 400 families move in and out of throughout the year. The children pick tobacco or coffee during the day and are unable to go to school. When we entered the compound, the children were hesitant towards us and did not understand why we were there. The conditions were very poor and most children did not have shoes or clean faces. Mary, one of our leaders, bought a big bag of candy to hand out to the kids. When we did, the kids swarmed hiding candies they had already gotten deep in their pockets. After getting them to calm down and telling them to share, they enjoyed what we had given them.

Tomorrow we will be heading back to the sites for another day of hard work, but for the time being we will enjoy the rest of our evening out on the terrace!

Adios por ahora!

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala: March 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17: Day Three

Hola amigos,

So today happened. It was a good day, many laughs were shared along with great memories.

Our bus left bright and early, and we headed out to the Open Windows Foundation, the learning center. We met our DWC connection Theresa and Patrick, a Swiss man who has been volunteering with the organization. We were given a tour of the Children's Centre right away, then we were divided up into two groups and headed to our work sites where we will be building houses for the next week.  Before we started the work, we were taken to both of the work sites and given a background story on the families that we were building the house for. One woman had been saving up for eight years to purchase a small plot of land.

After a few hours of vigorous work, we were treated to lunch in the home of a local family. It was delicious, and we all had a big appetite. Then we were back to the grind, and worked again until 4:00. We mixed cement, carried a lot of bricks, and made re-bar, among other jobs.

Tonight we went out for dinner in Antigua with Mary, and luckily the menu was in English too so we knew what we were ordering! We enjoyed a nice, warm walk back to the hotel (it's definitely not winter here :-) ) and headed up to the terrace to end the night.

Guatemala is treating us well. We'll let you know how day 4 goes tomorrow!

Buenos Noches

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

March 16: Day Dos LOL (translation: Day 2 jajaja)

Hi everyone! We are all sitting in the boys "penthouse" right now writing the blog post.

Today was another busy day here in Antigua. We started off with breakfast at Fernando's pretty early. Then we loaded onto the bus to head to the Pacaya Volcano... except it was the wrong bus heading to the airport. Luckily we got off and made our way to our actual destination. We drove through many little cities and saw a lot of garbage and crazy driving. A few of us got pretty car sick as the road was super twisty.

As soon as we got to the volcano we were swarmed by many little boys trying to rent us their walking sticks. We all rented one and made our journey up the volcano with the help of our tour guide Checha. He was an awesome tour guide and took us on an advanced route through poison ivy and many bushes. There were sections along the hike with pretty viewpoints and people trying to sell us food. We all got to try orange slices with salt because "when in Rome...". They were actually very good and fueled us for the rest of our journey.

On one of our pit stops we spotted a "little Tarzan" climbing a tree. Hooper felt the need to show off as well and quickly followed, along with Aidan and Robyn.

After the tree climb we continued on our way at a steady pace. We had some hiking buddies- a few friendly stray dogs. They were so cute and we shared our lunch with them. When we reached the volcanic ash we could definitely feel the warmth under our feet and roasted some marshmallows that we bought from the vendors (thanks Laurie, but Keegan forgot them at our hotel). We also saw some lava and a lot of steam.

After our long hike on the volcano we went to a pool. Mrs. Simpson told us it wasn't going to be that nice but we were pleasantly surprised. It was gorgeous! There were various pools and several levels- it looked like a castle!

We made our way back to the hotel for 4 o'clock. We had a bit of downtime then walked outside our hotel to watch a bit of the Roman Catholic Procession. It was very different from anything we have ever experienced.

Pizza was for dinner tonight and now we are resting from our long day. Our first day in San Miguel Duenas tomorrow to start our volunteer work.

Until tomorrow! :-)

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

March 15: The Sahali team arrives in Guatemala!

Hello parents and friends! Sorry for the delay in posts.. we had some technical difficulty. But we are here and safe so nothing to worry about. :)

Yesterday was easy and all the flights were good. Rachel, Danielle and I (Jalees) saw Harry Connick Jr in the Dallas airport! Unfortunately, he was in a rush and didn't want a picture. We flew into Guatemala City with a beautiful view of the sunset.

As soon as we got off the plane, we noticed many differences from Canada. The airport was very humid and there weren't many lights on. It was a very interesting drive from the airport to Antigua. The streets were crazy! People were all over the street, in the backs of trucks and crowding corners. It was about an hour drive to Antigua, but we didn't mind because there was so much to look at. We got to our hotel at about nine, and were greeted with sandwiches and soup. The hotel owners are so nice and friendly to us here! Our hotel has a patio on the roof and we all spent the rest of the night up there together. It was pretty easy to get to sleep due to our long day of travels.

Today, most of our group was woken up by church bells and roosters - except for the few heavy sleepers in the group. We spent the morning on the rooftop admiring the beautiful view of Antigua. We could see volcanoes and the colorful houses surrounding the hotel. We ate breakfast Fernando's restaurant right next to the hotel. It was delicious and we had so many options to choose from. Some people had omelettes, or crepes and all the boys had Tipico which was black beans, scrambled eggs and fried plantain. We all drank Guatemalan coffee as well. It was great and got us energized for an exciting day.

We spent the morning in the city, checking everything out. We went to the market first and saw more shops than we could count. There were a lot of people trying to sell us trinkets. "No Gracious" is by far the most common saying so far. We went to the town square and saw the beautiful buildings and fountains. Rob, Arjun and all the girls decided to get hair wraps. Then we went to lunch in a cute little restaurant. Lunch was delicious and then we headed to a chocolate shop. Mrs Simpson signed us up for a chocolate making workshop and our teacher, Pablo was very animated. He taught us the history of chocolate and we got to make our own chocolate and chocolate drinks.

After chocolate making we had some free time to explore Antigua. The market was even more crowded in the evening. We came back to Fernando's restaurant for empanadas and chocolate cake for dessert. Cole ate almost everyone's leftovers. After dinner we went back to the town square to listen to some jazz music. The music was great and some of us got to practice our salsa dance moves. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest.

Tomorrow we are climbing the Pacaya volcano. It will be another long and exciting day! We will write another post tomorrow to keep you all updated

The Guat Crew
DWC Participants & Sahali High School Students
Guatemala: March 2014

P.S. If you haven't checked out our TV interview on CFJC, you can find it here on DWC's Youtube page.