Day 17: Notre Dernière Journée

Day 17:


It is our final full day in Guatemala, most of us have to get up at 2:00 tomorrow morning. It is our final day in the school, we are finishing up with all of the kids race cars. The bus ride to the school was more interesting than normal today because we had to board a moving bus. The driver was very impatient. Once we got to school we went to class and played sports. It was the first time in Antigua where the P.E. teacher let the kids play soccer. Halfway through the day we ran out of cardboard in the classes and had to start pairing kids up for the race cars. By the time lunch rolled around we were struggling as only half of the team members were able to come, but thanks to our Spanish speaking leads who did most of the work, we were able to get the projects finished. As school came to a close most kids had finished making their cars and took them out into the courtyard to race them. Luis's heavily sponsored racer won a few, Jason's solid foundations and quadruple rubber band engine gave him some wins, and my double rubber-band four wheel drive won a few. The most impressive car was created by a 5th grader who used extra cardboard to create an entire shell of a car the looked like a real sedan with windows and everything. After school ended we rushed back to the Hostel and packed our things. We used the empty tubs, that initially carried the computers, as extra storage to lighten carry on luggage. I am leaving to fly out on an early flight currently and will be unable to report on the activities of later today. I may delegate the task of blogging about the trip back through Los Angeles to another member. But if I'm honest this will most likely be the last blog. I bid thou a good farewell. Au revoir.

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Day 16: Passage sécurisé et Guatemala City

Day 16:

Antigua & Guatemala City,

Today we would not be going to school. Today we will be taking a bus to Guatemala City, the capital, to take a tour of another charity operation in one of the cities dumps. We were roused for the occasion by the now iconic “breakfast is ready, wake up” calls from Mike up and down the hallway. We took one stop before we went to the big city to pick up four other adults who were also going on the tour. The ride into the city was an hour. Or should I say should be an hour. Our bus driver got lost a firm three times and had to ask random people on the street to tell him where to go. Once we got there we were introduced to Safe Passage. This charity is similar to the NGO that runs the school we are working with in Antigua as it helps to provide education for at-risk children and literacy education for their parents. Unlike the school in Antigua there is a very targeted group that they try and help: Dump families. The largest dump in Guatemala city is a few blocks from the school. There is an entire neighborhood of families that live by working in the dump, they pick through the trash to find items of value to resell. They do not use gloves or any form of protection. Even in the bus I felt sick from the smell, many of the team members had their shirts pulled up over their faces. The pollution was so bad that if you looked at a wall 30 feet away it was foggy, there was just particulate pollution hanging in the air. The jobs in the dump do not provide enough money, all of the families in the area live in extreme poverty and face huge health risks. The charity helps to provide education that allows the children to find jobs outside of the dump and to break the cycle of poverty. Of the three campuses we visited one of them was a school for ages 4-9 and was paid for by the University of Washington. The most striking of all of this was the dump itself. The city government made it illegal to take close pictures of it to hide the horrendus working conditions and state of things. I cannot describe how huge it is. They took a huge valley and started to fill it, trash piled hundreds of feet in the air, trash packed down so hard the tracks drive over the mountains to throw the trash off of cliffs, made of trash. The area of the dump could be the entirety of capitol hill for all I know. The charity was really doing a good job of helping the kids and providing the infrastructure to end the communities dependence on working in the dump. After the tour we drove back to Antigua, much faster this time. When we got back to the Hostel we did the regular thing that we do; I could just copy and paste? Yeah. After dinner some of the team went to the roof to stand in the rain and talk, some others relaxed in their rooms and battled for access to the patchy Wi-Fi.

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Day 15: La chocolaterie

Day 15:


I feel as if I am a broken record player at this point. It was an early morning, *sigh*, and we had a short bus ride lying ahead of us. We went to school. We went to classes. We helped the kids to builds cars. We dunked on some kids. We ate Lunch. We went to the cafe. 2:30 happened and we went back to the hostel. Today isn't about school though. We had five minutes at the hostel before we were off to a chocolate making class and history lesson on the other side of Antigua. As we approached the building you could smell the sweet smell of sugar and chocolate. We all surrounded a big table and put on brown aprons. To start we headed into a back room to hear about the history of chocolate in mesoamerica and south america. We learned about how the Incas ignored the potential of chocolate, but that the Mayans discovered they could roast it and make some good drinks. After our history lesson we headed back to our table and were given bowls of melted milk or dark chocolate to pour into molds. We got to pick our molds, some were pineapple shaped, some looked like soccer balls, and others looked like sea-shells. After we filled the molds we were given a range of additions to choose from: peanuts, cinnamon, orange slices, coconut, and crushed oreos. After we were done they were set in a fridge to cool. Following the creation of our solid chocolates we moved to making chocolate tea out of the shells of cocoa beans we crushed ourselves. After this we were going to re-create the hot chocolate of the Mayans. It was a spicy chocolate made from dark chocolate, some sugar, spices, and human blood. The lady leading our session mixed all of the stuff together minus the blood. To decide who was going to have a finger cut for blood there would be a competition. Two jars, one empty, one full of the unfinished hot chocolate. The task was to pour to chocolate into the empty jar starting from the lid and then raising your arm into the air and pouring it down from a few feet. Whoever spilled the most would be cut. At first nobody spilled very much. Then Luis stepped up to the plate and struck out, spilling a large amount of chocolate all over the counter. And just when it seemed we would be drinking his blood Olivia stepped up. She sorta spilled like half the jar and accepted her fate. We all waited as the lady walked into the back to get band-aids and some anti-bacterial stuff to clean the cut. Finally she reached under the counter to pull out a surprisingly large knife. She called it a machete, I would just call it a big knife though. Olivia came over and held her palm over the jar of hot chocolate. The lady drew her knife up level to her finger. Ready to slice. And after a extended and tension filled countdown. She put the knife down and said “just kidding, that would violate like every health & safety law”. I was literally only shocked by the fact that they had health & safety laws in Guatemala. Then we drank the hot chocolate and finished up. We grabbed out now solid chocolate bars and headed back to the hostel. Dinner was taquitos. I was hyped because I thought I would finally get meat, but it was just cheese. I was heartbroken. After dinner most of the team just went to sleep but some others went out dancing in Antigua.

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Day 14: Le deuxième jour de l'école

Day 14: 


Another day, another day in school. Pancakes for breakfast. Public bus to school. Schedules, same class, same tasks: posters, drawings, and cut out letters. The only break from the pattern was the science experiment. Initially I was critical of it, I wondered why we couldn't just wire up the computers like we were supposed to. But the cars gave us a real chance to bond with the kids, directly help them with school, let them practice a bit of english, and get them excited about school. As of yet I haven't even been in my classroom for a task from my teacher, no interaction with kids, but the cars are that outlet. I know that not everyone's shares my experience in the classroom, but I know that we all like the interaction as result of the experiment. Or at least most people, Justin didn't come to school today because he was too tired and wanted to sleep. After the science we had lunch. I go to public school, school lunch has never been something to look forward too. I shrugged it off and thought I can deal with it, no matter if it was any good. But I was wrong. It was bread, asian rice in a chicken soup and salad. Dare I say it was much much better than the school lunches we get back at Garfield High. After lunch a few of the team members had a break period, free period, and we decided to go to the cafe behind the school. The cafe is located on a horse riding ranch and park owned by a british lady. We walked out of the front doors and turned left to the large arch of ivy that was the entrance to the ranch. Halfway down the tree lined private street we walked past the gardens used by the school as both a class, gardening, and for therapy for traumatized students. Aside from the garden the school also runs a program with the ranch where kids with desensitization or attachment issues can bond with horses. At the cafe some got coffee, croissant, or doritos. Soon after we returned from our excursion it was 2:30 and school was over. Another bus ride, some relaxing time. But at this point many of the team members were a tad bit tired of guatemalan food, and to quench the need for something else Reed, Ciela, Olivia, Justin, Sylvia, Jesse, and Sage went to Domino's Pizza. It was the greatest thing I have eaten all trip. After that we returned to the hostel for the night, some of us ate the food they served there as well. After dinner some of the team went to the roof to stand in the rain and talk, some others relaxed in their rooms and battled for access to the patchy Wi-Fi.

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Day 13: Le Premier Jour d'école

Day 13:


A typical Monday: going back to work. After using the weekend for activities and rest we headed to the School of Hope in the outskirts of Antigua. It would have been extremely expensive to hire a bus to go to school every day, walking would take too long, and so we used to public system of chicken buses. In Antigua, and across Guatemala, they have a system of chicken buses that are used essentially a public transit system. School starts at 8:00 so we left to catch the bus at 7:25, Breakfast at 7:10, wake up at 6:50. When we got to the school we realized how extremely different from the school in San Juan it was. It is an NGO (Non-governmental Organization) school, and it was very organized with periods, bells, and classes. A few minutes in we received lanyards and schedules. Each of us would be assigned to a teacher in pairs to help them out throughout the week. We also started the science experiment which was based on the construction of cardboard cars powered by rubber bands. The project was designed to teach them about acceleration, tension, velocity, and other aspects of physical science. There would also be race at the end of the week, and it was most certainly a competition. One job given to team members Jesse & Luis was helping the P.E. teacher. In other words play kickball and basketball. The kids here aren't very tall, and Jesse being six feet two inches combined with very low to the ground hoops resulted in the bloodbath that was him dunking on every child in sight. No children were injured, that was hyperbole, I honestly don't understand why they liked it. At 2:30 school ended and we took another public bus back to the hostel. The team then did it's regular thing of splitting up into groups and either hanging out in the hostel or going out to eat in the town.

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Day 12: Nous Avons Escaladé un Volcan

Day 12:


I feel as if I am a broken record player at this point. It was an early morning, *sigh*, and we had a long bus ride lying ahead of us. We were served mini pancakes and cut up watermelon and pineapple for breakfast. The bus ride was not the longest of the trip, but it was certainly the most bumpy. When we reached the entrance to the national park I felt nauseous, and I doubt I was alone. After walking past a bunch of horses and a minefield of horse feces we arrived at the starting point for our hike. We had one guide, who thankfully spoke english, to take us up the mountain. The hike was steep, winding and very green. After 30 to 40 ish minutes of walking all the green disappeared, the trail flattened out and we walked onto the charred rocks and dead landscape that is the side of a volcano. At the top we waited for everyone to arrive and ate some banana-bread bought by mike. After a short break we kept walking, but now we were going down. On the side of the volcano there was a valley, it was filled with cooled lava from the eruption a few years ago. As we walked over the tangled mass of sharp rocks there was steam rising from the ground. Our guide then took us to a specific gap in the rocks and handed out marshmallows and sticks. Yeah, that's right, we roasted marshmallows over cooling lava. Immediately afterward we stopped to eat lunch in a little shack. At the shack Jesse & Sylvia found a puppy that was wandering around the area and fed it some food and gave it some water using the cap of a water bottle. After lunch we stopped to get gifts from the “Lava Store” a small shop on the volcano that sold jewelry and other accessories that were made out of molded lava rocks. Following our little shopping spree we walked down the mountain. On the way our guide decided to take us on a few shortcuts. Theses shortcuts were really just the gullies cut down the side of the mountain by extreme rainfall they were narrow, steep, and fun the run down. After a few more minutes of walking down we arrived in a second parking lot, boarded our little bus and drove back to Antigua. The hike tired everyone out. Nobody left the hostel until dinner time when half the kids went to McDonalds.

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Day 11: Une Randonnée à Travers la Ville

Day 11,


                Back in Antigua. Back in the Hostel.  Still getting up early. Today the task at hand was hiking up to the Cerro de la Cruz. This is the giant stone cross that overlooks Antigua. These large crosses are quite common across Guatemala, San Juan had a much smaller one that we never visited; they represent the watch of Christ over the towns.  A majority of our walk was not on the hillside but trekking across the city of Antigua itself to get to the park where the cross resides. This short distance meant that many decided not to wear sunscreen or bug spray; this was a mistake. It was not even close to raining, the sun was out overhead and letting you know. The backs of many necks were lost today. When we reached the bottom of the hill we waited for everyone to group up and started our walk up. The path was almost entirely stairs, not a welcome sight. Midway up the path a tree had fallen across the path and had workers attempting to remove it. They had created a steep little dirt path up the side of the hill with the stairs, it was very slippery. When we reached the top it was filled with white people. The Cerro de la Cruz is probably the most touristy thing we have done and it showed, there was no peace and quiet for the cross, but it was a great place for pictures. We watched some Americans attempt to handstand on the railings facing the city and sat around for a bit. The area also had a great view of the volcano overlooking Antigua directly across the town. When we descended the mountain we were set free to wander and the team split up into a few groups. Some walked back to the hostel, others went searching to cats in marketplaces, and I’m sure at least one went to McDonalds. We all knew that we started working at the school tomorrow and tried to relax to the max for the rest of the day. Dinner was served at the usual 8:00. The desert for many was coco-pebbles purchased across the street or just the gift that is purified water. Similar to yesterday many took an early night today as school started at 8:00, meaning we had to get up at 6:45.

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Day 10: Un Bus de Tournée et McDonalds

Day 10,

San Juan and Antigua

            We woke up to our final day in San Juan knowing we would have to say goodbye. Some had packed the night before, others were rapidly stuffing things into suitcases, but we all met in central park at 9:45 to leave. At least one family member accompanied each pair of team members, when it was time to board the bus there was a mix of both heartfelt and awkward hugs and goodbyes. The bus this time was thankfully not a chicken bus but a small tour bus that had headrests and a much smoother ride. It was certainly a much less exciting trip than the way to San Juan, exception being a quick scare for one of the tires. The trip back to Antigua felt much faster than the drive to San Juan, as it always does. I feel as I am not alone in the feeling that the hostel is more comfortable than the homestays, in a way more reminiscent of home. After a week in a small rural town the need for that sense of American-homeliness was strong. Because of this almost the entirety of our team went to the Antigua McDonalds for lunch, and dinner. As a side note this McDonalds was not like an American one; for what I perceive as branding/marketing purposes this McDonalds was the cleanest, biggest and greenest restaurant we have been to, a full garden and courtyard included. After some good old American food we all retired back to the Hostel for the Night. At 8:00 Mike held a meeting to discuss the schedule for the week and our plans for tomorrow. We learned that once again we were to wake up early for a hike in the morning, many of us decided an early night would be the best decision. Besides, I don't think anyone had the energy to go out. -who knew napping on a bus could be so tiring?

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Special: Les Histoires de nos Maisons Temporaires

Host Families:

Olivia and I stayed with a family of four in a household of six— there was another woman (and her daughter?) living with us who served as an Au Pair of sorts. Our mother, Teresa, worked at the family tortillaria and made traditional Mayan shirts. Our father, Arturo, worked a mystery job that required a laptop and various papers spread out across the table. Our eight year old brother, Joshua, spent a busy day at the elementary school before coming home to watch dubbed Spider-Man cartoons in his Star Wars pajamas. Finally, Hans; Hans was our baby brother, somewhere between the ages of freshly born and walking. He spent his days crying until one of us rushed in with the Despacito music video, which made him dance.     

Ada and Olivia


Meron and I lived together with a family of four people, our host mom, Raquel, who works selling weaving and artisanal goods, our host great-grandmother, Micaela, our host great-grandfather Pedro, who usually wasn’t around, and our host sister who is 13, Karol. We also had our cat Blanca and her two kittens Neko and Dimet who Meron and I named while we were there which mean cat in Japanese and Amharic.

Chiyo and Meron


We lived in a really nice and big house with many people around the age of thirty. Our host dad was named Pedro and our host mom was named Juana. There were four children, but only three of them still lived there. Remin lived there with his wife, Blanca, and their two dogs Caillou and Loki. The other brother was Jose was not around too much but usually made an effort to have lunch with us. The final sibling that lived there was Candy who usually helped her mother with the cooking. She had almost every meal with us and was very kind and talkative. There was difficulty with communication but they always attempted to make a connection despite the language barrier. They were very helpful and allowed us to deepen our understanding of the language and culture.

Grey and Sylvia

We stayed with a family of six people, and often had many other family members come over for the festivities at the time such as the celebrations for San Pedro, the city next to San Juan, and for San Juan itself. Our host father was named Raul and so was his youngest son who was fourteen. Maria was our host mother and shared the same name with her oldest daughter who was twelve. Our host mother made all of our delicious meals that included lots of beans and handmade tortillas that we got to learn how to make. Deborah was the youngest daughter who was nine. They had one pet chicken who came and went as it pleased with her baby chicks, however we checked every morning to make sure it was still there. We played many games with our host siblings after school and helped them with their English homework.  We are very appreciative of the amount of time and energy our host family has spent emerging us into their culture and language. We will miss them very much and will always think of them when thinking about San Juan.

Sage and Ciela

The dog’s name was Luna. She was gray and brown with a few scars on her face. Domestic dogs play a different role in Guatemala than they do in the U.S. Luna protected the chickens, on nights where dog gangs roamed violently she stood guard at the entrance to our alley, Luna was only our family’s dog in that she was a given table scraps, a collar, and the occasional shelter from the storm. But Luna remained loyal to the family. She returned to the small house every night, sleeping on the concrete floor outside the two rooms that made it a home. Domingo and his wife Rosa treated us like family. We did all we could to help around the house but you could see in their faces the work they both did every day. Domingo worked as a farmer, harvesting coffee, maize, and beans. Rosa spent most of her day in the house, cooking and cleaning for her three children and for the two gringos she was hosting. Every member of that family was grateful for what they had; they each worked every day to maintain the lifestyle for themselves and those they loved. When I shook hands with Domingo on our final day, knowing that I was on my way to a hostel and him to the fields, I looked in his eyes with nothing but respect, respect for a man who works every day without question because he knows it’s what he must do. And respect for a man who hosted us, fed us, and took care of us with pride knowing that he had worked hard enough to be able to.

Justin & Jesse

Reed and I lived in a fairly small home, with just our host mom and brother. We had a dog, three cats and a turtle, although the turtle’s water was crazy gross. Most of the time, we were out and about exploring, but when we were home, we would eat and get to know each other. Our brother was a teacher at the school we were working at so it was pretty cool getting to see him some more. He worked in the government for a while, so his English was decent. We sat down with him for a while, and helped him out with sentences and vocabulary. The food was very consistent. We had eggs and beans everyday which was bearable for me as I was used to eating eggs and beans at home all the time. Reed, on the other hand, was struggling to down the food after the third day. We went out and played with the kids at the school, and played basketball at the town center. Samantha and I also went to the festival and got to play on the trampoline tower for a bit, although it would’ve been struck down in the States because it wasn’t the most structurally sound. We arrived on the last day of the town’s festival so there were a lot of fireworks going off and games, it was like a mini fair. Everyone was extremely friendly, and I will definitely miss San Juan.

Luis and Reed

Samantha and I lived with a family of four. Our host father’s name is Clemente who is a police officer and our host mother’s name is Flory and she works with the government.  We lived in a really nice house and our room was the children’s room, which they had to give up for us. The two daughters, Florecita and Marlin, both really enjoyed playing basketball, and we played a couple times with them. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner as a family. We spent a lot of time with the family besides eating; they once took us out to a concert. Samantha and I had the pleasure of celebrating Florecita’s 9th birthday, Luis and Reed were there too because their family was close with ours.  I would always complain about spiders so they gave me the nickname “Spiderman”. Overall, it was an amazing experience. My Spanish really improved thanks to the family and Samantha. I will really miss San Juan and hope to visit soon.

Filsan and Samantha

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Day 9: Tissage des Leçons et des Célébrations

Day 9:

                Today was the first day all trip that we have been able to sleep in. We all took advantage of this; some even didn’t make the 10:00 Park meet time. It was our final full day in San Juan with our homestay families. We all ate breakfast before meeting at the park. Once all but some of us were there, *cough* Justin & Jesse *cough*, we walked to a nearby Mayan weaving company where they taught us about ancient techniques used for weaving. We learned that they use a variety of local plants to create dye for coloring, for example: beets for a dark purple-red color. Along with the dyes they showed us how they use a spinner to pull a string from the wool and even gave a few of us a chance to try and spin some out ourselves, it went better for some than others. They then pulled out a very complex apparatus that they attached to a pole and around their waist to try and spin out a full cloth.  The lady performing the lesson then skillfully interchanged two wooden rods separating two rows of cloth in a way that allowed her to create a pattern. The lesson didn’t last too long and afterward we were set loose in their store and some team members bought gifts for their families. We were set free after the session and went out for lunch. After lunch we went to the school early to help teach the older kids more complicated math problems on the laptops. After a short while the kids got a hang of it and we resigned to the courtyard to play soccer with the younger kids.  As school drew to a close they called us over for a celebration assembly to thank us. We sat down in the lawn chairs they pulled up, surrounded by kids, and they unveiled a big banner that said, “Gracias Technology services corps”. The principal pronounced the name slightly wrong but the message was good. Following a “Gracias” chanted by all the kids they called us up one by one to give us little pictures of San Juan drawn by the younger school kids. After the assembly kids lined up to be boosted into the air by Jesse or Jason, some of the older kids even asked for pictures.  Once the festivities slowed down we slowly left and went home to our host families for one final dinner.

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Day 8: Notre Voyage à Travers le Lac

Day: 8

                Today we were planning to take a boat across the lake to go zip lining in a nature park on the opposite side of the lake in the morning. Instead of this we took three boats across the lake and went zip lining in the afternoon.  We met up at central park at 7:45, a reasonable alarm compared to yesterday, but many people still had sleepy eyes. We walked down to the docks from the park. As we approached the park I noticed the engine of our boat had no cover on it. Our boat was also not docked on the main pier, but a sort of thrown together group of logs to the side. Both did not bode well for the success of our journey. We all filed on to the boat, got comfortable on our plastic benches. Around 300 feet into the trip the engine started to sputter, but then started to work again. As soon as the engine pushed us a reasonable distance away from the shore it decided it had done its job and cut off. Everyone sort of stared at each other unaware of what was happening. After our resident Spanish speakers told us that the engine had broken and that we had to wait for another boat to come help us there was a wave of tired moaning. A few minutes later, not long because we were close to shore, a second, and larger, boat arrived. The new captain tried to help fix the engine. It wouldn’t work so they just put us on that boat and continued on our way. Around 15 minutes later it was like the Mayan gods frowned upon us. The clouds parted and a ray of light came down from the sky and struck our new boat, breaking its engine. Now we were really in trouble, we weren’t by the shore anymore; we were in the middle of a vast lake with no engine. At this point a lot of kids started to lose a bit of composure; there was a solid amount of swearing and complaining. One could say being trapped on a small boat in a rough lake with nausea and diarrhea is not the best situation for anyone. After a solid 15 minutes our savior in an even bigger boat arrived to pick us up and finish our journey. At this point we assumed we would arrive at the other side of the lake in a 200 foot super-yacht. Once we got to the other side we pulled into a dock only to be told we couldn’t dock there. So we headed back into the lake and boated further along the coast to the public docks of a nearby town. From the town we took a shuttle to the nature reserve and finally got in line for zip-lining. We all got our gear on quickly and had to take a tiring, but beautiful, hike up the side of the mountain. The zip-lines were the longest I’d ever been on. But aside from the view, the best part was that they had pre-stationed an operator at each individual line so you didn’t have to wait for 25 people every time. These operators both expedited the process and exponentially improved the fun of the process. After a good 10 lines we were done and headed back to the boats. The ride back was thankfully uneventful and quick. After we arrived back in San Juan we went home to our homestays for lunch. After lunch we met back up at the school and taught the younger kids how to use the computers + RACHEL. RACHEL is the software/network that includes educational games and khan academy. IN our classes we focused on learning English colors and basic addition/multiplication. When school ended at 6:00 we all headed home for dinner with our families.

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Day 7: The Mountain

Day 7: The Mountain

                Today we got up at 6:00 in the morning, breaking our past record for waking up early. Today we were planning to climb the nose of the mountain nearby. The nose is the highest point of the range, and is called such as together the peaks look like the silhouette of a face looking into the sky. The climb to the top was not so long as we took a truck to the foot of the mountain, but it was steep. Once we reached the top it was very serene, until the constant blast of American patriotic music shattered the silence. It was July 4th. Despite the noise it was still a very good spot for taking pictures.  Near the very top of the mountain there was a sketchily-constructed watch tower with a untethered and suspect ladder that allowed for an even better view of the lake. At this point we all know safety is not the #1 priority in Guatemala. After a solid amount of time at the top we hiked back down and shuttled back to the town. After a lunch reprieve we met up at the school. Because there was a power outage in the town we couldn’t use the full functions of the laptops so instead we taught short English lessons in the classes. These English lessons varied significantly in success: some accidentally resulted in full class bathroom breaks, others taught some kids –and their teachers– English pronunciations pretty well. At 6:00 school ended and the team went home to either eat at home or meet up later. Further on in the night a large group of members chose to treat themselves to a night out: restaurant food. The food was fantastic at the time; but caused certain adverse health effects on certain members that would last into the coming days.

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Day 6: Laptops & Mayan Ceremonies

                Today was another early morning. We all got up to cold showers and home-cooked meals. The meeting place was the city center park. Once we had all assembled in the warm and windy weather we walked across town to a large building that was both a house and a center for Mayan practice. The menu for today included a Mayan ceremony in the morning that would focus on our inner character and the necessity of thankfulness. This ceremony would be followed by our first day in the school. The ceremony was focused on fire. As we walked into the lush green yard facing the lake the only centerpiece was a small foundation for a fire, a circle of spherical coals covered in multicolored candles. As we started the ceremony we were all handed a blue candle, a white candle, and a personalized necklace corresponding to our birthday on the Mayan calendar (similar to a horoscope). First we all closed our eyes as the fire was lit and meditated for a solid and indistinguishable amount of time on our luck, our thankfulness, and the earth and sky mothers. Following this session we one by one were told to stand up and place our blue candles in the flame to burn. The smell of heated and melting wax mixed with the smells of other spices and items placed in the fire created a smell I had never sensed before. Directly after we were called up in pairs or solo, depending on whether you shared a horoscope-thing, to be told what the Mayan gods had bestowed upon you and to be told what kind of person you are, and to be told to place your white candle in the fire. Some examples of this include: Justin being given the bunny as the animal, creativity (?), and plant growing as a trait; Sylvia and Reed being given the woodpecker as the animal, persistence, and knowledge/intelligence as the trait. After the Mayan ceremony we rested until our session of school started. Once we arrived at the school we started to set up the laptops and check to make sure the software was all working. After setting them up we were told to move the laptops upstairs to a larger and more suited room. Once we had set up and organized the power cables and laptops we were again told to move them, this time to the office for the night as the previous room was no secure enough. On our first day we really reached new heights in direct involvement on the trip. Once 6:00 hit and our time at the school ended the team splinted back to homestays and social groups, knowing we would be up early tomorrow morning as well.

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Day 5: San Juan & Sleep

Day 5: San Juan & Sleep

             Today was our first full day in San Juan. I’d like to say it was full of exploration and adventure; however, it was actually filled with either sleep or an early morning. Many team members were left tired from yesterday’s travel and were allowed to sleep until 10:00 or even until noon. Others, myself and Luis, were less fortunate. Church started at around 8:15, which meant breakfast at 7:45 and waking up for showers and preparation at 7:25. From my now personal experience as an English-only speaker listening to a Spanish service I know that context is not enough. Many others may have experienced their own unique mornings in San Juan, each specific to their host family, but first –and only– contact was not until 4:00 and there was little time to share. We met in the central plaza and park to discuss the schedule for the week including when we would work in the school and what other activities were planned. Once we had gathered Mike told us our schedule: tomorrow we would have a Mayan Ceremony, followed by climbing the nose of the mountain, followed by zip-lining, followed by a lesson in Mayan waving techniques. All of these events would take place in the morning and be followed by a multi-hour session working in the local school. Later this week there is a session for the team to gather and share what life was like in their homestay, and only then will I know the little things that happened on this quiet Saturday.

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Day 4: The First Day in San Juan

Day 4: Antigua & San Juan

No time was to be wasted today; the team was woken at 7:20 in order to eat breakfast and quickly get on the chicken-bus to San Juan. After the initial rush to get ready things slowed down significantly. The ride was long, and very bumpy. Just as we all thought we had made it to San Juan the bus needed to stop and have its breaks checked. Little did we know why. Right after this pit stop we began our descent to the series of villages surrounding lake Atitlan. The road was winding and tight, a hundred foot drop just meters away and the visible remains of where past cars had smashed through the metal barrier wasn’t exactly a confidence boost. After multiple stressful turns we finally reached the bottom and started the final trek to San Juan. Our bus pulled in to the town center: a small park bordered by an arching concrete roof covering a large area that could be used for basketball, futsal, or concerts. Soon after entering the town we all got to finally meet our home-stay parents learn who would be our roommate. After some awkward introductions and suspect Spanish we all followed our new parents to our homes for the next week. After a short tour of the town we learned there would be music and dancing at the town center because of a holiday. There was the initial excitement for live music performed by the Super Combo diamante tropical band. After the first set it sounded good and most of us went home. Little did we know that the music would continue to be played until one in the morning, and keep many team members awake, including the blogger who is currently writing this entry.

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Day 3: Antigua

Day 3: Antigua

Friday, June 30th

                Following a day of torrential rain and cloudy skies it was nice to wake up for our first full day in Antigua with the sun shining. After breakfast we took a tour of the ruins inside the Casa Santo Domingo hotel. Following our meeting with some parrots and some gawking over expensive chocolate we took a tour bus up the side of a hill to the sculpture and art area of Santo Domingo. This area provided a wonderful view of the city along with being a picturesque spot for some touristy pictures. There was a quick and entertaining run in with some birds, running rampant on in our hair and on our arms. After a lunch and shopping break we went back the Iglesia de la Merced. We toured the inside of the ruins and got a look at the old colonial architecture. Inside there were arching gateways and a large star shaped fountain. Both of these things proved irresistible to our resident amateur free-runner Jesse who leaped and climbed everywhere he could inside the ruins in a safe and non-destructive manner. Immediately after the tour the team was set loose on the town. Some went to get ice cream, many bought gifts for their families, a few even went aggressively knife shopping. Tired from walking around Antigua, and exhausted from bartering with street-vendors, most team members went to bed early as we knew it would be an early morning tomorrow.

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Days 1 & 2: Travel & First Encounters

June 29th, 2017, Tacoma & Guatemala City & Antigua

Traveling: The journey to Guatemala began at 3:00 in Sea-Tac airport. The process of transporting the tubs through security was not quick but went through without any major hiccups. The flight to LA was a reasonable 2.5 hours and most of the group slept through it. Once we landed in LA things started to get more bumpy. In order to reach the terminal for the flight to Guatemala the entire group had to leave the terminal and walk across LAX. After we had a entertaining run in with some poor drivers and two loud fire-trucks we were forced to go through security a second time. After an arduous 4.5 flight to Guatemala we hit another hurdle when customs officials decided that we had brought to many computers and were due to pay a tax. After this long delay we walked out into the humid Guatemalan air and boarded our colorful and decorated "chicken bus" and rode it all the way the to Antigua.

First Impressions of The Town: The cobblestone streets draw an direct connection to the old colonial area. The traffic is crazy, crossing the street is a deadly gamble to get to the vistas of Antigua. We had a tour of the city, saw some cute cats, and retired early to recover from our red eye flight the previous day. The winding streets of the city did result in two students getting lost. After a short panic all students were back at the hostel and enjoyed an authentic Guatemalan meal.

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Packing Party

Saturday, June 24th,

10:00 in the morning on the first day of summer and the TSC crew is out working to pack for the Guatemala '17 trip. The main task today is loading the computers into the boxes and wrapping them in bubble wrap to protect them for the long journey south. At 11:40 progress if going well, computers have been packed, bubble-wrap has been popped, packing peanuts have been lost, and tape has been stuck to every manner of clothing. Everyone is becoming accustomed to their assigned jobs for the trip: the blogger is learning to craft illuminating posts, Jesse is learning to carry the boxes, and Justin is learning how to avoid work. The weather currently sits at a warm 81 degrees, a number a bit higher than the expected weather in Guatemala. The crew is doing more than just packing boxes, but gaining valuable experience working together as a team. If today is any indication, the rest of the trip will be a smooth and successful one. Every team member is looking forward to the day we go to Guatemala.

-Reed Kass-Mullet