Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Week 1 - Antigua, Guatemala

After lathering our translucent skin in sunscreen, we are ready for our first day.  Our first breakfast at Patsy and Joaquin's is beautiful strawberry, mango, and canteloupe with homemade granola and yogurt. Of course, we don't eat the strawberry - Traveller's Diahhrea Prevention, Phase 1.

Our host mother is Patsy, our host father is Joaquin, and their children are Samuel (8) and Andrea (18). They are from El Salvador and have lived in Antigua 2 years.

"You are family. This is your home," says Patsy. She's so sweet and we are so happy to feel comfortable.

Rachel's trying to recover from a touch of strep throat, so I find the rooftop terrace of our home and bring my book and camera. Surrounded by misty mountain valleys and volcanoes, I can't believe I'm here.

After a nap, Rachel's feeling better. We immediately feel the heat and potential dehydration from this near equator sun, as we step outside. It's amazing, and 4 quetzales for a big bottle of water is nothing (just over 50 cents). We venture out into the uneven, crowded streets, and being here still feels surreal. We withdraw money, and guard each other one at a time. We are clearly gringos.

Today is our orientation at Maximo Nivel, the local organization we're volunteering with. Until then, we  roam the streets and play cards on the roof. As Semana Santa (Easter week) approaches, people pour into Antigua. The roof offers a great view. Day 1 in Guatemala is perfect.

March 31 - Welcome to Guatemala....via Texas...

We pack our bags with anything and everything that our little mountain girl minds can think of; excessive amounts of Polysporin (not used once), waterproof knick knacks (including playing cards, now worn), and dense, maleable, cumbersome protein bars jammed into every nook and cranny. We downsize as much as possible: "Rachel, I really think you are going to regret packing around that 2 litre bottle of TreSemme conditioner".

After a sleepless night in Calgary we make our way to the airport, miraculously we do not weigh over the limit,  and then we make our way to Texas, where we wait and wait and wait, and then fly again. Long journey, but well worth it.

We arrive in Guatemala in a daze. We desperately try to locate the man with the "Rachel and Leah Maximo Nivel" sign, among throngs of taxi drivers and hotel owners. We can't find him. Then he finds us - names misspelled, nothing official about the guy, not a word understood between us.... we follow him to the Guinness Tours shuttle and ride off into the night. A fellow volunteer from Wisconsin joins us, so we feel safe.

After 45 minutes we arrive. Cobblestones, lengths of stucco buildings with doorways every 12 feet, and a few dim lights. Entering one of the doorways we are instantly relieved. Stained wood details, burlap seat covers, shiny, beautiful faces smiling and waiting and welcoming us.... Our homestay feels safe. We gather bits and pieces of information from Patsy (our host mom), brush our teeth, and fall into a deep sleep in our upstairs bedroom.

We can't wait for the sunshine in the morning !