Lisa Bickford's daily
travelogue of the Rotary & Friends service trip to Guatemala
12 Feb through 20 Feb 2011
Day 1 - Sat Feb 12 - Arrive in Guatemala City
You are receiving this email because you expressed interest in the Rotary Guatemala 2011 trip. We arrived yesterday in Guatemala City at various times of the day. We met up at our hotel, Sofella, after a little banana incident at the GUA airport in which Lisa got a ticket for accidentally bringing US fruit (a banana) into Guatemala.
Day 2 - Sun Feb 13- Guatemala City to Chichicastanego
We took a 4 hour bus ride from Guatemala City to Chichicastanego, took a hike to the top of a hill (about 9000 steps total) and then walked around the very large public market. We each bought a few souvenirs. The most notable of which is a 30 pound rock procured in a very shady back alley deal by Ken Sawyer. :-0
The hotels last night and tonight have both been wonderful, the weather has been warm and sunny, everyone is feeling well, no illnesses noted in the group.
We had a nice dinner with horrible service at a local restaurant and we are all ready for a good night's sleep.
Day 3 - Mon Feb 14 - Chichi to Uspantan and back
Day 4 - Tue Feb 15 - Chichi to Panjachel
Day 4 in Guatemala found us up again by 6am or so and ready with our bags outside our rooms by 7am with breakfast in the dining room from 7am to 8am. Same 7 items on the menu as yesterday. My adventure for the morning was ordering what I thought was poached eggs only to have 2 whole soft-boiled eggs delivered to my table….so if you ever order huevos tibios, know that they are just soft boiled eggs still in the shell. ;-p
At 8am we boarded our bus for a 1.5 hour drive from Chichicastanego to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. The hotel here is the most beautiful yet, with lovely grounds, a swimming pool and huge hot tub, right on the shore of the lake with a wonderful view of the 2 volcanos across the lake from us. After arriving we took a brief break and then boarded the bus again for a very short ride to the dock in town where we boarded a boat for the 1.5 hour ride across the lake to the Hospitalito Atitlan. A large focus of our project in Guatemala is donating a substantial amount of medical equipment. The equipment is still stuck in customs somewhere at the Guatemala border, but we were able to meet members of the hospital staff, deliver the items we brought in our large suitcases, have a tour of the hospital and learn more about this wonderful facility.
I will send along a couple of pictures separately from this email in case some of you have trouble with graphics.
After a wonderful lunch provided by the Hospitalito Atitlan we boarded our boat for the return trip to our beautiful Hotel Atitlan on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We had to say goodbye to our new Rotary friends from Oklahoma City as they are leaving in the morning for Antigua and we will not see them again this trip. We made some wonderful friends and hope to see each other again soon!
After exchanging club flags and some Rotary speech making acknowledging all clubs who have contributed to this wonderful project, we boarded the darn bus AGAIN and headed to a local weaving cooperative to see how traditional Mayan weaving is done and to view some of the beautiful textiles that the local women weave. Many of us bought some items from the cooperative and look forward to sharing them with you all.
From there we split up into several groups, some having dinner in town, some taking tuk-tuk’s (small 3 wheel taxi type things) back to the hotel, and others taking the large bus back to the hotel. It was a long day and we were all tired so dinner was a little more quiet than past evenings and we all went to bed very tired, but with the promise of getting up a bit later tomorrow morning….meaning 6:30 am instead of 6:00 am.
Tomorrow we take another boat tour in the morning and hopefully have a little time to enjoy the wonderful grounds and pool at this beautiful hotel.
Love to everyone! We appreciate your sharing this experience with us!
Talk to you tomorrow!
Day 5 - Wed Feb 16 - Around Lake Atitlan
Day 5 in Guatemala for our group. We got up a little later this morning....6:15 am or so. :-)
Breakfast buffet setup in the restaurant with so many choices that everyone was happy with something. The view of the lake from the dining room is pretty spectacular and great way to start the day....and the coffee here is very good, homegrown and roasted locally.
We walked down to the dock at the hotel about 8:30 am to board our boat for another 1.5 hour boat ride across the lake to a different village. We dropped off about half our group to tour a local textile cooperative the hand-dyes local fabrics and makes textiles. I didn't see that but several people bought items that were incredibly beautiful there.
The second group toured a small village a short distance away, including a local coffee shop that picks, dries and roasts their own coffee on the premises and makes one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had in my life. After that we went to the home of a local Mayan shaman (I forget the Mayan word for their spiritual leader) and saw the area he uses for traditional Mayan religious ceremonies, the sauna they use for ritual cleansing, and the interesting mixture of Mayan culture and Catholicism that manages to co-exist in Guatemala.
We then took a wonderful walking tour of the village with our local guide from this town who showed us local artisans working on various arts and crafts, homes of locals who allowed us to see how they live and work each day, the local church, the town square, and many other interesting insights into the culture and history of this wonderful country. Guatemala had a 36 year long civil war that ended in 1996 with a peace accord but there are still lingering issues from the long and bitter struggle.
The people of Guatemala are some of the friendliest, happiest, and proudest people I have seen in any country. They are happy to explain their life and their cultural history, happy to offer hospitality and support for travelers, and happy in their day-to-day life, although it looks like a difficult life to me.
After the walking tour we headed back to the boat for the return trip across the lake to our hotel, Hotel Atitlan. The hotel has an amazing pool and hot tub with a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding hillsides. I'll send along a picture or two if I am able tonight or tomorrow.
Several of us took advantage of a few hours of daylight to take a dip in the pool and relax in the hot tub, take a walk around the beautiful grounds, and relax before dinner.
Dinner tonight was a wonderful group event with everyone from our District 5170 clubs in attendance. We also got to sing Happy Birthday to Kirk who was celebrating today. We had a wonderful cheesecake complete with candles to end the festivities. :-)
What a great way to celebrate a birthday!
Today was, by far, my favorite day in Guatemala so far. Learning about the local culture and walking around in a small town really gave us the flavor of the culture and the people like nothing else has so far.
Tomorrow it is back on the bus for a 3 hour ride to the outskirts of Guatemala City to a hospital where we have donated some equipment. We will do a dedication there and view our equipment installed, which will be a great treat for all of us.
It's late and we're all tired so it's off to bed now.
Love from Guatemala!
Day 6 - Thu Feb 17 - Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City and Antigua
Wow! Day 6 in Guatemala already and only 3 more days to go!
Today we got up about 6:30 am, took showers and cleaned up, had a wonderful buffet breakfast at our beautiful Hotel Atitlan and then boarded the bus for the 2 hour ride to Guatemala City which took 4 hours. You will hear us talk about "Chichi time" from now on...it refers to the time quoted to get somewhere...usually an hour or two....and the actual time it takes to get there....usually twice or 2.5 times whatever we were originally told. ;-p The bus ride was about 3.5 hours and it took us to Westmont Bethel Hospital in Guatemala City.
At the hospital we got to see much of the equipment we donated to the hospital actually installed due to the hard work and perseverance of Bob Padgett and the team from the hospital who worked tirelessly last night to get everything setup once the container made it thru customs and arrived very late on their doorstep.
The staff and volunteers at the hospital were incredibly warm and welcoming and told us about the work they do in the hospital and how they will use all the new equipment we provided to help those in need of good medical care in Guatemala. We are truly honored to be participating in such a wonderful project that will benefit so many people in this community.
After viewing the remaining contents of the container which will go to the children we met in Uspantan earlier this week, we got back on the bus and headed to our hotel, Hotel Sanyo Domingo in Antigua. This is another beautiful hotel with exceptional rooms with fireplaces, beautiful grounds, and all the amenities of any hotel in the states...except that their internet access is very slow and painful to setup. Dinner tonight in the hotel restaurant was a buffet for all us traveling Rotarians, several local Guatemalan Rotarians, Westmont Bethel Hospital staff, and the Hernandez family who built the hospital. Their children are doctors and nurses and administrators in the hospital and they also support the children in Uspantan. They are an amazing family doing their best to help Guatemalans left devastated after civil war and earthquakes and every form of poverty imaginable.
We are all a little tired and glad that we will be at this hotel for the duration of our stay in Guatemala. Tomorrow we will go to Casa de Fe to deliver more of the items we brought to donate and to see what Faces of Hope does here in Guatemala.
Happy Thursday! Have a good night!
Guatemala 2011 Rotary Team
Day 7 - Fri Feb 18 - Antigua
It was a bright sunny day here in Antigua at Hotel Santo Domingo today. Our day started with a beautiful buffet breakfast where I was able to actually get 2 eggs over easy and a piece of toast this morning.
We have been warned not to drink the water and not to eat any fruit that we did not peel ourselves but a few people didn’t exactly follow those rules and they have been paying for it today….several of us had some minor intestinal issues today but everyone is doing better this evening, no need to worry about any of us.
We awoke at various times this morning and had breakfast in the dining room here at the hotel, which was included with our hotel stay. After breakfast we walked about 10 blocks down to Casa de Fe, which is a local support center for families in the area. They do cleft pallet and other surgeries here, along with supporting families who come in with other illnesses from the countryside. We were able to see and speak to several families and children here, deliver bubbles, beanie babies, and other supplies that we brought. We were also able to see where our "Faces of Hope" surgeries are done when Rotarians come here to help with those.
After Casa de Fe, we walked across town to another location, Sociales Servicios / Hospital Pedro Hermano and toured the facility there. They house several hundred mentally and physically disabled people from the surrounding area. Many are orphans or widows, but some are just so disabled that their families cannot care for them at home and have brought them here to live. They are well taken care of, fed and housed, and provided with basic medical services, but it is a pretty typical institution for disabled people. We were able to provide some smiles and laughter with our gifts and some much-needed support for the children and adults that are being taken care of here.
We have ended our official humanitarian work here in Guatemala. Tomorrow we will try to help stimulate the local economy by walking around town, having lunch, going to the Mercado (market), and spending some of our Quetzales (money in Guatemala – Exchange rate $1 US = Q 7.65 or about $13 = Q100). Speaking of money, I went to the ATM yesterday and it was pretty beaten up and a little scary. I used a card on an old account with very little money in it as there have been stories circulating about bank accounts being cleaned out by thieves who hack into ATM machines and capture card #s and pins. I’ll let you know how that goes if it happens to me. ;-o
It has been a wonderful trip and we have seen and learned a lot about daily life and the needs of the Guatemalan people. They are a wonderfully happy and proud people with interesting heritage, struggling to keep their Mayan traditions along side their Catholic traditions inherited from the Spanish conquistadors. The country has an interesting past and we look forwarding to watching her future unfold. For all of us this has been a rewarding experience.
I will send along a few more pictures and I will write tomorrow for the last time before I leave to fly back on Sunday morning.
Buenos Noches (Good Night)
Rotary 5170 Guatemala 2011 Group
Day 8 - Sat Feb 19 - Antigua
Another bright sunny day here in Antigua at Hotel Santo Domingo on Saturday! We had our first completely free day today on the whole trip. We all had breakfast at various times then walked around Antigua. Your friends and family will have to tell you what they did as we all did something a bit different depending on tastes and groups, but we all walked around Antigua and shopped, had coffee and lunch, and then met up at 7pm (Chichi time, which means that the bus hadn't showed up by 7:30 pm so we walked to the restaurant across the little town.)
For my group from Sunnyvale Rotary, Flo, Judy, Russ, Joe, Marie from Scotts Valley (my new friend!) and me, we met about 8am for breakfast in the hotel from the buffet included with our hotel, then walked all over town from 9:30 am to about 2pm or so. We started off at several Jade stores looking for some small disks with the Rotary emblem engraved on them. They have more Jade stores in this town than anyplace I've ever been! I didn't have any Jade in my jewelry wardrobe and now I have a piece and I bought something for my friend Michelle, too. All of us looked at various things, from inexpensive little necklaces to very expensive pieces that we didn't buy but were fun to look at.
After touring a jade factory to see what jade looks like when found, the colors it comes in (did you know that there are many colors of jade, not just green?), how they polish it, and what it means to the Maya, and how it is made into various pieces, we bought some Rotary necklaces and other things, then headed to the central Plaza for coffee and a brief break.
After the second best cup of coffee I've ever had (from Guatemalan beans!) we headed for a couple of other shops that sell local made goods. They are famous here for their weaving and textile work and we all have a few great examples to bring home and share with you. The colors are vivid and beautiful on all the pieces. We even found some drums and other musical instruments to bring home to share. There was a great artist cooperative in town with indigenous art from all over Guatemala, including the colorful shirts embroidered with themes from each town and area. My favorite thing here was the beautiful prints of the local people...I even bought a small picture of people on Lake Atitlan in boats to have framed when I return home.
All the walking and shopping made us hungry so we stopped for lunch at a great restaurant Joe picked out for us. In the plaza as we walked by there was a local artist painting oils of local scenery. Both Judy and I liked them, but the ones we each picked were still wet and the painter said that they were not dry enough to take on the plane on Sunday. I found another that I liked and I borrowed Q100 from Russ so that I could buy it. Someone remind me to pay him back (Note: Q100 = about $13 US)
On to lunch...which consisted of the best hand-made corn tortillas made by the woman at the grill to the left of the table, home made guacamole, soup and grilled chicken for me. We all stayed away from the local salsa because of concern about contamination and food-born illness, which a few from our group had problems with, but it looked wonderful and I was very tempted.
After lunch we walked back toward our hotel and stopped at two stores we had previously visited.....one store to pick up a pair of earrings that I requested altered earlier in the day, and the second store to see if they had my passport copy and credit card, which I seem to have dropped there earlier in the day. Amazingly, they had both in the cash register behind the desk and happily handed them to me when I arrived....they also told us about the other credit card that they had that had been left by some man... they were patiently holding on to it for the last 6 months waiting for the guy to come back....too funny. It does show the honesty and friendliness we have experienced all over this country and I was very grateful to have both of them back. (I still don't know how I managed to lose them, but I think it must have happened when I pulled out my credit card to pay for the earrings I bought.)
After a few stops to brows we headed back to the hotel for a brief rest (they do not take siesta in Guatemala, just fyi). Several of us headed for the pool and the hot tub as well. I met some very interesting gentlemen in the hot tub. One younger man was here from L.A. for a wedding...he was a film producer and here with 2 friends who met here and had returned to get married, and another who was here on a mission trip from Virginia to build some eco-tourism housing for a village a short distance from Antigua.
A note about our hotel: Hotel Santo Domingo is a 17th century catholic monastery that has been restored and added to to create an incredibly lovely property rich with amenities and local history. There are 3 or 4 museums on the property that we are free to walk around in, a candle shop, a chocolate shop, a beautiful pool and 2 hot tubs, a spa complete with massages and facials, a restaurant and bar, and fountains and gardens everywhere you look. In keeping with the monastic atmosphere, all paths and walkways are lit with candles everywhere in the evening to light your way, which makes for a soft glow and pleasantly relaxing strolls after dark. When you walk thru the crypts complete with skeletons of past residents or walk by a fountain that was used hundreds of years ago by the monks here, you realize the rich history that exists in this country, not just here, but everywhere we have been.
We had a group dinner which we gathered for a 7pm. Since the bus didn't show up most of us walked as a group to the restaurant which was 8 or 10 blocks away. Along the way we stopped to assist a teenage girl who had walked into a window frame and knocked herself to the ground. The window frames and bars jut out into the walkways along either side of the street and if you're not careful you can do yourself serious damage, either from knocking yourself out or tripping on the cobblestones. Speaking of tripping on the cobblestones, this is what happened to Dieter last night just before dinner. We got to the restaurant to find Dieter with ice on his ankle and unable to walk. He was taken by car to Hospital Pedro Hermano for an X-ray (not broken) and then brought back with a wrapped ankle. We hope he does okay on this next 3 days in Tikal!
After dinner we headed back to our hotel for an early night. Many people left by bus for the 45 min ride to the airport at 6am this morning (Sunday). Because we had an early night I did not write last night, but I new I would have a lot of time to write this morning since my roommate, Mary, was on the early flight, but I'm on a later flight.
It was sad to say goodbye to all our new friends, but we live relatively close together and we have promised to get together for coffee and catching up sometime soon.
I hope you have enjoyed these travel journals as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. Thank you for supporting us on this wonderful trip to Guatemala. We haver done some great service here and collected wonderful memories of a beautiful country and a beautiful people.
Love from Guatemala! Vamanos a casa ahorita! (We are coming home soon!)