Category Archives: Guatemala

Too Much of a Good Thing

Just a few hours north of Antigua lies the deepest lake in all of Central America, Lake Atitlan. It’s a lake neighboring three volcanoes just to the south. German explorer Alexander von Humboldt called Atitlan “the most beautiful lake in the world”. That’s a pretty bold statement. I had to see it for myself.

Instead of organizing a tour to the lake like most of the visitors in Antigua have been doing, a few of us decided to just hire a shuttle there and do our own thing. I dislike the word “tour” and everything about it. I much prefer to “wing it”. I was happy that the group of volunteers I was with agreed with me. We were scheduled to leave in the morning and drive for about three hours. Not too bad compared to the ten hours it took to get to Semuc Champey a couple of weeks ago. Carly, Laura, Ellie, and I had first dibs on seats before we picked up the others who joined us on the shuttle, including Hanni and Abby.

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I passed out to Carlos Santana’s Supernatural album on the way there. El Farol put me right to sleep.The motion pills I still had from Nepal worked wonders. But it wasn’t too long before I woke up from the swerving van zig zagging down a large mountain. I could see Lago de Atitlan as clear as day and it was beautiful, just like Alexander von Humboldt declared.

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Part of the “winging it” process includes not booking an accommodation prior. In some cases this can backfire. It’s happened to me before a couple of times. I felt comfortable enough to wing it this time though. The holidays were over and visitors were heading back home. We managed to book a stay in the small town of San Marco where we were dropped off. Instantly, I was reminded of Pokhara and it’s Fewa lakeside offering. San Marco was similar except much more forested and on a much smaller scale. Also less condensed. We put away our bags in our rooms and made way to a place we were recommended to go called Hostal Del Lago. We tried to go there first but they were completely booked but still we went back because they had a cool outdoor hangout spot right next to the lake. And man, there were hippies everywhere! This hostel, and San Marco as a whole was crawling with them. I’ve never seen so many in one place before! I said that about Pokhara as well but San Marco blows Pokhara out the water. Thankfully, the hippies here weren’t the mega hippies that I sometimes encounter. Everyone here was cool and down to earth. Like for real down to earth. It was a really nice vibe! We noticed most of them had blotches of insect bites, most likely from mosquitos, all over their bodies. I heard hippies do not believe in using mosquito repellent because it´s inorganic and it hurts the environment. Thankfully, I didn´t abide by those rules and deeted up! The others in my group did as well. We savored in the day mostly unscathed from any insect bites.

It was Saturday which meant “The Event” was happening. I asked one of the bartenders what The Event was all about. He told me that a few DJ’s will come by and play for blends of techno-y, earthy, shaggedelic, trance-y sorts of stuff. I’m not sure what the heck that was but I would find out that night. We still had a few hours before sunset.

We relaxed. We chilled. We drank…

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My group with another group of people we met at the lake.
My group with another group of people we met at the lake.

 

…and we had huge freaking burgers and burritos for lunch!

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Near the lake, there was a bamboo hut perched a few meters up. It was a place for practicing yoga. Carly is a yoga instructor back in her home of Los Angeles and decided to work up a few poses in which I helped capture in photos.

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She did this spontaneously, much to the delights of the carefree hippies lounging there. Before we knew it, Carly made herself a bunch of new friends. There was some spiritual vibe thing going on and they connected with her on the spot and so she offered to give her new friends a free yoga class right then and there. They all were keen. There were yoga mats stashed to the corner of the hut they all could use.

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After about an hour, her new yoga students swarmed her and embraced her into a group huddle. Carly was loving it.

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The day turned into night as a splash of pink painted the plumes above one of the volcanoes. Groups of DJ’s continued to play a blend of flutes and electronic music.

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Slowly, the night turned into an Alice in Wonderland, Legend of Zelda, hippyville, steampunk kind of shin dig with the stench of weed in every corner. What is a steampunk? It’s a trend I’ve never heard of. I saw a girl dressed like the Mad Hatter arrive and Hanni informed me that she was a steampunk, whatever that is. There were others like her around, dazed and in a hypnotic trance from the tunes of the DJ’s.

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The night ended after Laura, Carly, Hanni and I split a couple of delicious pizzas just outside of Hostal del Lago. I’m not saying how much Guatemalan beer I had, but there are videos out there of me doing the snake wave dance in the restaurant’s kitchen.

I informed my group that the sun rises near 6:15 in the morning and that we should go to the lake early to see it. Most of them came and we snuck back to Hostal del Lago from our hostel. Del Lago’s door was locked so I climbed over the fence and opened it from the inside. We silently crept inside as a bunch of barking dogs made our trespassing known to the tenants. Still no one bothered us, it was too chill here. We walked to the lake but it was still pretty dark so we sat there in silence. The only sounds were of birds, bugs, and the gentle riffs of water. There were clusters of clouds in the sky with hues of deep purples and grays casting a haunting haze over Atitlan. I laid in a nearby hammock for a few minutes as the sun quietly rose, although we couldn’t really make out where the sun was coming from. There were too many clouds but that’s okay, it was still pretty neat.

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After the sunrise, we went to eat breakfast at an organic restaurant where I had possibly the best vegetarian sandwich of my life. Immediately after we beelined back to Hostel del Lago to join all the hippies, backpackers, and steam punks at the lake. The water was calm and it was hot enough outside for a cool early morning dip.

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After buying a bag of sun dried roasted tomatoes that I really didn’t want (the seller gave me a lot of free samples of everything so I felt like I had too), we went back to the vegetarian restaurant to eat lunch before our bus came to take us back to Antigua. It was about an hour late and we found ourselves packed tight with other travelers on the trip back home from the lake. So is Lago de Atitlan the most beautiful lake in the world? I can’t possibly compare. I’ve seen some beautiful lakes in my times, but never a lake surrounded by volcanoes. English philosopher Aldous Huxley famously wrote that “Atitlan really is too much of a good thing”. I couldn´t agree more. This was bittersweet because it was Ellie and Laura’s last day in Antigua before they left in the morning to go to Belize. They were awesome to have around but I had a strong feeling I’ll be seeing both of them sometime in the near future.

At this point, I started thinking ahead. I have a few more weeks in Guatemala with still no concrete agenda laid out. The unplanned plan. I’m not sure what lies ahead or where I’ll be going, even so here in Antigua. All I know is that my poor family and friends back in Michigan are freezing their tails off right now while I’m over here enjoying the sun. Come join me in Guatemala everyone! I’ll show you around!

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I have no intention on returning home anytime soon. 🙂

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A Guatemalan New Year’s!

The end of 2014 marks the end of another year of worldy travels, but I’m not stopping now! I’m continuing well into the new year, a first for me. I’ve never spent the New Year holidays outside of Michigan and to celebrate the occasion, I wanted to go balls to the wall in Antigua with my comrades here in Guatemala!

I’ve heard Antigua is a pretty special place to celebrate the dawn of 2015. Everyone gathers around the central park and underneath the arch in hordes and bunches. The plan was to spend the night with a nice dinner somewhere and then hit up the squares and see where the night takes us. My housemates Carly, Laura, and Ellie along with Hanni and Abby (Chicago, USA) from the Shakina volunteer house joined me for dinner at a place called Luna de Miel. Before we left the house, Olga warned me to watch out for pickpockets and thieves since this is the night if anything should happen. I brought my big bad Nikon which Olga advised against, but I always protect my camera is if it were my child. I also need it for blogging purposes. At Luna de Miel, we sat upstairs and ordered up a feast. I was feeling fancy, so I stuck with vino tinto (red wine) for a good majority of the night. After a bit, I asked the ladies to say something about their year that they were the proudest of; a moment or something that will stick with them about 2014. They each had some pretty neat things to say, all of them completely different.

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For me? I told them how lucky, fortunate, privileged, and blessed I am to be able to travel the world nonstop on a yearly basis with 2014 being my biggest adventure yet. The stars have aligned perfectly for me to be able to do this and 2014 was another terrific year that bid me well in those regards. I can’t take all my friends and family back home with me on these amazing trips, but the least I can do is share my stories and photos with them through this blog site.

After dinner, we went straight to Jungle Party, a hip hostel bar kind of place with swings at the rail in place of stools. It’s also the place with the cheapest beers that we’ve found so far. The bartenders here are really cool and pretty generous. They hit us up with multiple free shots!

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Cheers to 2014!
Cheers to 2014!

I always mention how I don’t like to talk about our drunken antics on this site, but psshhh…it’s New Year’s!

Carly, Abby, and I at the Jungle Party.
Carly, Abby, and I at the Jungle Party.

At the Jungle Party we met up with a few other volunteers and hit the streets. It was jam packed!

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I knew what Olga meant when she said this was the night of the pickpockets. I was on heavy guard though and thankfully I made it through the entire night with all of my valuables. Hanni, Abby, and I went over to Monoloco to meet up with a few locals who also gave us more free drinks. Beer this time. Antigua you’re too kind! It was about twenty minutes before midnight when we decided we should go near the arch and countdown to midnight. We found Jacob, who came back to Antigua for a visit, and somehow found the others as well and found the perfect spot in front of the fire explosives. As the time ticked closer to midnight, fireworks would go off behind us and all around us from all corners. I had a tube of confetti in my right pocket that was filled with compressed air that I blasted into the crowd!

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Ten seconds! Five…four…three…two…one!……..Nothing happened. Maybe Guatemala’s watch was a minute or two off. Twelve minutes went by, past midnight, until suddenly the New Year’s explosive sign lit and finally went off!

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The crowd was going wild and everyone held their smartphones and cameras up to capture all the action. We were squished arm to arm in the masses of locals and foreigners from all over the world and it was pretty great! The sparks flew and died down after several minutes.

“Let’s go to Parque Central!” I shouted as I pointed in the direction.

We grabbed each other so we wouldn’t get separated and slowly inched our way there. I had sparklers in my left pocket I had bought earlier that I wanted everyone to have and get silly with.

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The mood was just right. We had our sparklers as people around lit stuff on fire and set them into the air. One group had a miniature hot air balloon that they lit into flames and set into the air. However IMG_7430the balloon didn’t go very far and almost sailed right into our group. Kids threw their snappers  into the ground as other locals set off miniature fireworks in the park. There was cups and bottles of beer littered all over the cobblestone streets with people relaxed and perched on the corners of the museums and churches surrounding the square. Dozens and dozens of stray dogs were roaming between everyone, maybe looking for scraps of food or maybe just excited from all the exploding objects that were going off. There were people everywhere dancing and mingling. Everyone was having a great time!

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A few of us went to another bar somewhere near the arch street. At this point, my memory was a little fuzzy so I don’t remember the name of the place or where exactly it was or what time it was. I do remember someone had bought us another shot there. The rule is you can’t refuse a free shot. Abided.

I had the severe munchies.

“I want McDonalds,” I told Hanni. It sounded like a great idea but only if it were open. A few of us left the bar and straggled to the only McDonalds in Antigua. There were still masses of people roaming the street. Bad news was, we could see McDonald’s in the distance…dark, lonely, and absolutely closed. Good news, there was a Burger King right across from us that was completely open! That should do. It was the best Burger King of my life!

I think I got home just a little after 3:30 in the morning. I’ve lost my housemates ages ago and had to walk home by myself. Even though I had a few drinks in me, I was still cautious and aware of my surroundings if anyone had tried to mug me. I got home safe and sound and instantly passed out. I had no idea if the others were home or not yet.

I woke up the next morning with a text from Hanni that she sent when I fell asleep:

“Not even remotely sleepy… Going to hike Cero to see the city at night, want to come? :-P”

Crazy woman. I would have joined though.  🙂

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The English Entertainer

Out of all the countries I’ve taught English in, this one has been the most challenging.

The major difference here is that I’m not teaching at a school. I’m actually at an after school program teaching free classes for students who want to learn English. No grades or passes or fails. Students can come and go as they please which makes it quite difficult to keep structure. There aren’t any consequences if they are absent or don’t study. There are always a few new students every week, which means I have to backtrack a bit each time so they can catch up.

Roxy has never taught English before but has learned to hold her own the past two weeks. She has an advantage. She is completely fluent in Spanish. It helps when both your parents are from Honduras. The downside is, it’s tempting to speak to the students in Spanish when they don’t understand something. My Spanish is a little less than basic so not speaking any Spanish to them is easy. Roxy only applied to be here for two weeks and now her time was up. The students took a huge liking to her because they were able to communicate with her better than they could with me. But I warned the kids that once Roxy leaves, everything will be primarily in English!

On Roxy’s last day, she wanted to give each student cookies and cupcakes. We handed them out to each class and took pictures with them.

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She even donated supplies for the school to use. Spare books and writing utensils. Roxy was great at remembering all their names. I was not. It didn’t help that I was absent from class most of the week from being away in Monterrico and Semuc. I felt a little guilty leaving her on her own all week but I would pay the price the following week when I was all by myself, meaning I had to be there until new volunteers arrived. If I didn’t show up, it meant the kids wouldn’t have a teacher. I had no intentions on missing classes the next week though.

Roxy and I
Roxy and I
Our last chicken bus ride
Our last chicken bus ride

The next day, Roxy headed to Honduras to stay with her parents for a while before she headed back to the States. Roxy, I’ll catch up with ya sometime in the future! Also soon enough, Katie and the Italian guys, Mark, Valerio, and Marco would all be heading to El Salvador for the surf program over the week. Since it was a holiday week, there would be very few new volunteers arriving. None of them English teachers, which actually I preferred. I like having classes all to myself. I just had to figure out how to keep these students motivated. And I think I knew the way! I’ve gotta entertain these kids. Keep them coming back for more.

Since there aren’t any consequences for the students being absent and not studying, I began to implement fun English games with candy as bribery for the winners. Maximo prefers us not to give candy or gifts to the students because they will begin to expect it, but I will only give out candy as rewards and it won’t be everyday. I’ll be strict with it. I borrowed four small white erase boards from Maximo and broke up each class into small groups. I gave each group a board, a marker, and an eraser.

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To ensure the students remembered the new vocabulary we taught them such as colors and numbers, I would say a word or phrase in Spanish and they would have to write it down in English. Each team that got it correct would get a point. For the older classes, I would ask them a question in English and they would have to write a proper response for it. I told the groups that the winning teams would get a pile of candy by the end of the week. It became quite competitive which is always a good thing. Over the days, I introduced new games like relay races outside of the class and other fun games all with the basis of learning English. Every time a student asked me something in Spanish, I would say to them “Only English!” Whenever they asked me to use the bathroom, I told them they had to ask me in English otherwise they’d have to pee their pants! No Spanish!

I'd say "Perro Amarillo" and they'd have to write the English equivalent.
I’d say “Perro Amarillo” and they’d have to write the English equivalent.

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Some of the students were stumped! But these were the students who didn't show up everyday.
Some of the students were stumped! But these were the students who didn’t show up everyday.

Some of the students excelled at the games. Some did not. Those students who did not, didn’t get any rewards. Hopefully that will motivate them to study and do better. I’ll find out how each student progresses over the next few weeks. There would be days where we would review everything and I would tell the students to pay attention because the next day we will play a game with everything we learned with the prize being a pile of sweets and treats! It peaked their interest and in order to maintain seriousness, I had to be stern. No sweets whatsoever for the ones who lacked.

I really, really enjoyed my time with the classes. They’ve grown to really like me and would stick around after the day was over to ask me questions. I found out from Johnathan that the next week I would be joined by two new volunteers. I’ve already got a rhythm going with these students so we’ll see how that works out. I asked the students to not come on New Year’s Day, I’ll be out and about.

New Year’s Eve was approaching and it was going to be a fun one in the city of Antigua, Guatemala!

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas on Fire!

It’s Christmas Eve and it doesn’t even feel like it!

I looked everywhere in Antigua for a Santa Claus hat. Whenever I asked people where I could find one, I was always directed to the main outdoor market. The place was sprawling with holiday spirit!

The market in Antigua was sprawling with festive life!
The market in Antigua was sprawling with festive life!

I found plenty of Santa hats but none that could fit my big noggin. Finding a big fluffy red one required going into Guatemala City, which I didn’t have time for.


Christmas in Monterrico!

For me, Christmas without the cold weather and snow is like having Oreos without the milk. It’s like a hamburger without any fries. The Australians always tell me the opposite, they can’t imagine having a cold Christmas. This particular Christmas was gonna be a hot one and I couldn’t wait! Laura, Ellie, Carly, Mark, Valerio, Marco, Katie, and I organized a private shuttle about two hours drive to the Pacific Coast. Our destination: Playa Monterrico! Monterrico is a beachside village with slate black sand made of volcanic ash. The shores are torrential with consistently strong waves. The dark color of the sand heats as the sun rises over. During midday, the sand is scorching hot; too hot to stand on. The heat from it rises and boils Monterrico like a giant sauna. We arrived to Monterrico just before sunset on Christmas Eve.

T'was the night before Christmas...
T’was the night before Christmas…

The eight of us checked into a hostel resort called Johnny’s Place, one of the higher rated spots in the area. We walked around the villa and it really is the place to be! Tons of huts, pools, hammocks, and chairs to lounge on. We put away our bags and went to the outdoor restaurant near the beach. The mosquitos were biting! Thankfully, Johnny’s Place was smart enough to sell mosquito repellent to their guests. We sprayed it up as we began to drink and feast! It was only 7pm, so we still had ways to go before midnight officially struck.

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What’s great about this particular group of volunteers is that they’re easy people. We evenly split the costs of everything between the eight of us: drinks, foods, and even our rooms. Although majority of us shared a dorm, the Italians were stuck in a private room in which we just split everything evenly. It made life easier that way. Plus, still it was fairly cheap. We went up on the drinks and casually moved over to a hangout hut just a few meters away. There we met a separate group of volunteers, all from Germany including one named  Lionel. We merged our groups and played a massive game of “Werewolf”. Afterwards, Lionel joined my group over to another bar next door. Carly spotted a silly excuse for a Christmas tree there but thought it was festive enough to have a holiday group photo!

Top Row: Marco, Mark, Lionel, Valerio, Ellie, Me Bottm Row: Laura, Katie, Carly
Top Row: Marco, Mark, Lionel, Valerio, Ellie, Me
Bottm Row: Laura, Katie, Carly

The bar we went to was situated on a rooftop which was perfect for the night. It was too dark to see the ocean but you could hear the sounds of crashing waves booming in the background of the salsa music that was playing. Still it didn’t feel like Christmas Eve at all. I’m not used to all this heat during the holidays yet!

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As the hours went by, we began to realize that even though it wasn’t officially Christmas here in Monterrico, Guatemala, that it was Christmas in our respective countries. The Australians were first, followed by the Italians, and at 11pm in Guatemalan time, it was Christmas back home in Michigan. Everytime we announced it was Christmas in our home countries, we toasted and cheered! Soon enough, midnight hit and fireworks went off along the beach. Everything that night was more than amazing!

The next morning, I was feeling it. I had a little headache but it was the good kind of headache knowing it came from a really great night. Katie and I woke up a little after dusk and walked along the beach. The sun was in the beginnings of its intensifying rays as our feet sunk into the thick gravels of dark ash. Sizeable pelicans flew by across the shore scoping for their morning breakfast. During the morning, the ashy sand is cool enough to walk on. The waves left blankets of thick white foam among the crests. It was Christmas day and it was going to be a good one.

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Even though some of us weren’t feeling well from the night before, we still had an appetite, albeit a small one, for breakfast. I heard a vanilla banana smoothie does wonders for hangovers, so I ordered one of those. But it wasn’t until we decided to go into the water that my small hangover went away. I discovered the cure to hangovers! Those waves in Monterrico knocked the hangover right out of me! Those waves were freakishly strong!

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The tide was so brutal that it literally swept you off your feet and pulled your whole body into the currents. It was advised to not go out too far into the ocean or else you could get trapped out there. At times I felt like I was stuck, but in these kind of currents it’s best to just relax and not fight it. Flow with it!

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Later on, a group of volunteers from Antigua joined us on the beach. Roxy and Hanni among others. The sand started to become too hot to walk on. Our plans to play soccer and volleyball during the afternoon were put on hold. It was so hot that the sand made the air and everything around it sweltering. I’m known for doing dumb things, so I challenged Hanni to see who can withstand the sand the longest between us. We weren’t even out there for 20 seconds before we caved. We felt our feet burning for a long time afterwards. Don’t do what we did!

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It was so hot out that all of us stayed under the huts, lounging on the cushions and hammocks. What a relaxing holiday!

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Lionel volunteered here in Monterrico with the sea turtle rescue project. He knew of a place, about five minutes walking distance into the village that served cheap but tasty food. We followed his lead and went on. There we spotted a litter of puppies, barely a couple of weeks old scattered among the village. I’m a sucker for cute animals.

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It was midday and the suns heat began to lessen a bit. The sand was still burning, but now it was bearable as long as you didn’t stand in one place for too long. It was perfect for volleyball because it forced everyone to move around. It was team Mark vs team Valerio. I was on Valerio’s side and we ended up losing by two points. It made for a great game though.

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My group I came with only planned on staying one and night and headed back to Antigua at 4pm on Christmas day and what a Christmas it was. Pure relaxation and fun under the Pacific sun. Thanks for hanging out with us Lionel!

This was the best Christmas gift I’ve gotten this year and I’m glad I got to spend it with such a great group of people.

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Piñata Party Especial

It’s not just the places that make a trip unforgettable, but more so the people you meet along the way.

I’ve met a wealth of interesting characters over my years of wandering Earth and there are a few of them who I’ve become really good friends with. Most of the time I travel alone but never am I really alone. I always meet individuals who are just like me in one particular aspect: a strong will to experience a totally different world. Here in Antigua, Guatemala, I was fortunate to meet a whole crew of new characters who are nothing but kind and are here for all the right reasons.

The night I arrived home from Semuc Champey, I met Uma, reunited with Katie, and met three other new volunteers who would live with me at Olga’s house: Carly (Australia) and sisters Ellie and Laura, both from Australia as well. I met them and the three were quite receptive and happy to meet me. I felt a good vibe off of them almost instantly. They mentioned going out to dinner and said we had to meet a few more new volunteers underneath the famous yellow arch near the park.

At the arch I met another new housemate of mine. His name is Jacob (Canada). Before getting something to eat, we all went to a wine house near the arch. We sat in the squared center, in the spotlight of hoards of aging wine and toasted to new memories in Guatemala. A few minutes later, three more new volunteers came to join us. Three Italian dudes Mark, Marco, and Valerio. The three of them live in a separate homestay but planned on joining us that evening.

From L to R: Laura, Valerio, Carly, Uma, Mark, Ellie, Katie, Jacob, Marco is hiding behind my big head, Me.
From L to R: Laura, Valerio, Carly, Uma, Mark, Ellie, Katie, Jacob, Marco is hiding behind my big head, Me.

The ten of us enjoyed dinner at a nearby restaurant and introduced ourselves and what we did back home. Afterwards, we went to another spot called Monoloco where Mark suggested that we play “Werewolf” in which I played many times in many countries much to his liking. By the end of the night, I was glad that a great, easy going group came in while I was away for the weekend. I went to sleep in my monks room ready for a new week of teaching!

The next morning during breakfast, I received a text message from Hanni:

“Did Jonathan call you about the party? We’re meeting at Maximo at 7:45 :).”

I didn’t get a call, but since it was only a few minutes to, I briefly made my way to Maximo to find out what was going on. I was told of a holiday party before, but the details were unknown to me. When I arrived, I met up with Hanni, Roxy, and a couple others from their house who had their bags and looked like they were ready to go somewhere.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“We’re just waiting on Johnathan to take us to the school,” replied Hanni.

“We’re going now???”

“Yeah, for the Christmas party.”

I can’t go now! I had too much stuff to take care of in the morning. I had to book a bus to Monterrico Beach for Christmas, I had to do my laundry, I had to respond to loads of emails; questions about my blog and questions on why haven’t I posted anything new in over a week. I had to blog because at that point, I was dragging behind. I would be missing out on the party for the children with special needs…and instantly I felt guilt flowing through my veins. So I put everything on hold and joined them for the party.

There were two vans picking us up. I saw all the volunteers from my house and the three Italians come up to Maximo. They mentioned they had a Christmas party this morning but I didn’t think it was the same one that I was told about. Regardless, I was glad they were able to join us. I heard there were going to be up to 55 children there! So we needed all the help we could get to keep them occupied. I sat next to Frosty and we were on our way!

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Upon arriving at my school, Johnathan gave us a bag of balloons to blow up and hang around the main hall, but we just left most of them grazing along the floor. The kids liked that and we found ourselves in a balloon frenzy for the first part of the party. More and more children arrived and sat along the desks spread along the sides of the hall. I went around taking photos of everyone in action, as holiday tunes and classic Michael Jackson played in the background.

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I was impressed with my fellow volunteers. Every single one of them completely engaged themselves into entertaining the children. Each child had a certain disability and each required slightly different methods of care but all required the upmost patience. There was one boy who would have sat in a corner all by himself, only if Hanni wasn’t there to keep him company for the majority of her time.

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Carly, who has the voice of an angel, was very motherly towards the kids and always kept a smile on her face as she gave each child the attention they deserved.

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Mark, Valerio, and Marco put on a giant-sized show of “Ring-Around-The-Rosie” which the kids really loved.

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The other volunteers all spent time engaging other kids and especially the kids who sat by themselves.

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I’ve barely dealt with special needs, but no matter the disability EVERY kid loves gadgets, gizmos, and video games! I handed over my camera to a brother and sister duo and let them have at it.

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I also gave my phone to two girls sitting by their lonesome and helped them learn to play “Fruit Ninja” in which they were really amused. While we all played with the kids, the staff from Maximo Nivel were busy setting up a snowman piñata outside. Once they finally hung it up appropriately, we were all summoned there!

Gradually, we all brought the kids to the front. Some of them we helped along because it was difficult for them to walk. Some were in wheelchairs and some had to be carried. We left no child behind and made sure each had a proper place outside to view all of the action.

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Valerio manned the rope attached to the snowman while I sat on the opposite side of the yard to capture every moment. As I sat on the grass, looking through the view finder of my camera, all I captured were smiles upon smiles as eager kids came up in turns to swat at the piñata. They did some damage! In order to get as many kids to have a turn, Johnathan constantly had to tape up the piñata to add extra durability. Spurts of candy would pop out occasionally. Some of the kids would grab them.

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Eventually, one child who had the strength of a bulldozer bashed open the snowman’s abdomen and all sorts of sweets and treats came pouring out. As a chunk of the kids rushed out to grab all they could, the volunteers were on the lookout and grabbed candy for the ones who weren’t physically able to get the sweets for themselves. We made sure everyone got a little something.

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We cleaned up and went back inside the school. Maximo supplied lunch, cake, and juices for all the children.

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While they ate, we continued to play with them some more. Later on, Maximo passed out wrapped gifts to all the boys and girls. Some boys got monster trucks and race cars while some girls got dolls and ponies.

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Each child had a really great day, catered all just for them! It felt really great to be a part of that.

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I told Roxy, my fellow English teacher, that I wouldn’t be staying at the school today to teach with her. I had to take care of too many things that I meant to take care of this morning. Thankfully, Roxy is a trooper and willfully stayed behind while I went back with the others to Antigua.

Christmas was approaching and I had special plans. Months ago, I knew I wanted to spend Christmas on a nice beach. A first for me. I told Katie, Laura, Ellie, Carly, Mark, Valerio, and Marco of my idea and they were all in!

This was going to be one very hot Christmas! 🙂