¡Hasta la proxima!

Breaking out smiles on the trail from Pachaj to Lake Atitlán.

Written By Soumya & Matt

Your OE Soumya here [Matt providing the emotional support], surrounded by lush green plants and a distinct lack of eight Carpe students, writing this from breezy San Jose, Costa Rica. As we celebrate the end of the end, we look back to the beginning of the beginning…

We hopped off the plane at LAX with our dreams and – 60 liter monster backpacks. We learned each others’ favorite ice cream flavors for the first time and landed bleary-eyed at 5 am in Guatemala. It was a wild ride from there. In Antigua we got our first taste for the culture and people, tripping over cobblestone streets and learning that as a group we loved to play games & sports – we could always count on Ian to get us going with a game of Sharks & Minnows and Ava to obliterate us in Assassin. We searched for Matt’s Dr. Pepper in vain and adopted our team mascot, Lil Turk the turtle.

Before long, we were ushered into the Chocofrutas-loving arms of Omar, Long Way Home’s amazing Volunteer Coordinator in Comalapa where we stomped endless cob, perfected our baseball throw as we built walls, learned about arte naif and painted, met a kitten who stole our hearts, ate so many tortillas (hay mas tortillas), played round after rousing round of Celebrity with the LWH community, celebrated Ana’s birthday with a bang (literally), and learned Spanish working alongside the construction teams.

From there, we hit the streets of Xela with full force. We saw Eli bested by a Xelapan dragon bread-eating competition, scrounged the racks at the Megapaca for hoodies for our newly shaven heads, rode in the back of pickup trucks for the first time, heard testimonials from ex-guerrilla members, celebrated Kaeley’s birthday with so much chocolate, and practiced our Spanish (and played soccer with) incredible teachers at our school.

Our journey took us to Pachaj, where we stayed in homestays for the first time and tried on the traditional traje, planted protected trees, observed a Mayan ceremony, and spent an hour wondering if we were about to get clobbered in soccer by the much superior local teenagers. We put on our packs and trekked (some of us for the first time ever!) through idyllic maize fields and woods, crossing creeks and rivers, sweat our hearts out in the temescal, basked in a glorious sunrise over Lago Atitlán, and luxuriated in hot showers and delicious organic food upon arriving in Tzununá.

We got inspired by Bitcoin, waded into the lake in a storm to plant tule, explored tucked-away waterfalls, built a pond, redesigned our lives according to permaculture principles, and had a fast & furious night of karaoke, giving Adele a run for her money. Then we hit the brakes and headed to El Paredón for some much-needed days of rest & relaxation where we fought those big waves and learned how to surf (some of us crushed, some of us got crushed), played endless rounds of Dutch Blitz and befriended the local barista.

Onward we went – we shouldered our packs to hike the much-talked-about Volcán Acatenango (elevation: 13,044.62 ft.. but who’s counting?), rubbed our eyes in disbelief at the lava explosions we witnessed from Volcán Fuego, marveled on the stunning but chilly sunrise summit, and retreated into the comforts of soft beds and treehouses and smoothies back in Antigua, where we stretched our sore muscles in yoga.

We pivoted in our semester as we arrived on Halloween dressed as each other in Costa Rica (shoutout to Maya Eli), spotted our first sloths from our Spanish classrooms, dove into frigid waterfall pools, brought all the smoke in the best cooking competition Turrialba has ever seen, reflected on responsible travel and learned about mindfulness, and added the best moves to our dance repertoire as Elberth the zumba instructor taught us how to shake it – in salsa, merengue, cumbia, samba, and bachata (our hips don’t lie).

We left the leafy hills for the warm, open coast of Playa Camaronal, where we ate enormous quantities of gallo pinto, released hundreds of baby turtles into the ocean as the sun set, and witnessed turtle mamas lay eggs by moonlight and rehomed them. In Mastatal, we propagated plantain plants, made lasagna compost (not the edible variety, unless you’re a worm), and harvested coconuts and made the traditional cajeta dessert. We put on the best talent show our host Javier has ever seen (complete with not one but two demonstrations of “the Worm,” a very squeaky Kaeley, and an alphabetically accurate rap), and left Villas with a gorgeous mural honoring Lil Turk spearheaded by the multi-talented Ana and Alesh. In one of Costa Rica’s many beautifully-carved out soccer fields, Flan led us into our last game of futbol and we left it all out on the field.

Our final adventures took us to Quepos, where we donned scuba gear, learned how not to hold our breath underwater, and got really good at signaling “OK” to each other as we spotted starfish, baby eel, lobsters, and pufferfish and explored the coral reefs. We surprised Soumya with a birthday scavenger hunt that culminated in throwing her in the pool with lemons, played a final round of Fishbowl featuring our favorite memories, and celebrated the end of the semester with piña coladas.

Through it all, we moved through the world with humor, humility, and curiosity. While our time together has come to an end, these adventures and our memories will sustain us as we integrate the changes we’ve experienced into our lives back home. Though we are spread across time zones and regions again, remember: our community is a home now.

Esta es tu casa. Te esperamos.

Your OEs,
Soumya & Matt

An early shot of The Real Housewives of Long Way Home from early in the semester featuring kitten Balam.
Building trust through a team-building exercise on retreat.
Enjoying hot beverages and watching the sunrise over the lake.
Returning from harvesting leafy greens in preparation for dinner at Mastatal.
Ava painting signs with eco-messages in Mastatal.
Ana and Soumya surfacing from exploring the deep ocean blue while scuba diving.
Bearing the chill for this stunning sunrise over Volcán de Fuego.
Alesh showing off his one-true love from Central America, the chocolatey biscuit known as the Chiky.
Ian showing off his plantain haul after he cut a plant down for propagation.
Central America’s Next Top Models featuring your OEs and achiote eyeshadow.
Meticulously dicing green papaya for our meal in Mastatal.
Ana and Alesh cheesing next to their work of art in Mastatal.