Tree Planting and Trekking!

Written By Ethan & Claire

Hello from Ethan and Claire! We’re thrilled to tell you about our past week of learning & adventure.

After a fun filled day at the water park, we packed up from the hostel and took a short drive to Pachaj for our home stays! Arriving to our partner organization, Chico Mendes, we met with Armando for an orientation and then separated to eat lunch with our host families for the first time. In the afternoon, the group took a “short” hike up the mountain to see a grand view of the whole city. It was our first hike since Costa Rica, so we were huffing quite a bit. We met back with our host families for dinner, and concluded the night with a relatively chill group meeting.

First day hike peak.

Our first day of work with Chico Mendes involved filling bags with tierra for future baby trees. We did this for four hours sitting over wheelbarrows (and had a silly group debate over whether it’s wheelbarrow or wheelbarrel!). In the afternoon, we transplanted young trees by cutting their roots and moving them to a nice shaded spot 10 feet away. Lots of us were in our Learning Zones as we encountered plenty of spiders, caterpillars, and slugs 🤮. After work, we headed back up the mountain for a traditional Mayan ceremony! A Mayan priest led many prayers in K’iche’ and we tossed candles into the fire for our loved ones. It was a fascinating thing to witness! Unfortunately, this night we found out that Maya had appendicitis and would need surgery. We sent her a video with all our best wishes- we still miss you, Maya, and hope you are feeling good!!!

Mayan cosmovision ceremony.
Prepping trees for planting.
Only way we could get Maya in the photo.

On our second day working for Chico Mendes, we rotated more plants in the morning. This day, we also cut their leaves and small branches to help optimize their growth. It was on this day that the two youngsters Toli and Franco started working alongside the group, making us all laugh. In the afternoon, we split into 3 groups and drove to the neighboring town on a bumpy car ride to buy food to prepare for our food making competition. It was awesome to walk through a traditional Guatemalan market of textile goods and try our hand at bargaining for produce. Once we got back, local women guided each group in making guacamole, fruit salad and Chohin and then we had a little food party to try each one. Even with our full bellies, we enjoyed wonderful dinners with our host families.

Sunset walks in Pachaj.
Sunset walks in Pachaj.

On our final day of work, Wednesday, we rotated more young trees, but our crew was down to six due to minor sicknesses and injuries. We had another busy afternoon with a testimony from a Guatemalan civil war guerrilla, in which we learned about his reasons for joining the guerrillas and his firsthand devastating experiences with fighting and being tortured by the military. Switching gears to something a bit lighter, we then headed to Pachaj’s local field-house to play a game of pick up fútbol. The stars of the game were definitely Rosa and Ethan, each being the main scorers for their team.

Thursday was the beginning of our trek! The first day was only a day hike because of armed conflicts between the indigenous groups in the region, so we drove a short bit and began our 4 hour ascent to la encima around 9:30am. We were lucky enough to have a wonderful guide, Nikte, who led us in uplifting activities at each of our resting spots. We were also joined by Toli & Franco, as well as MVP Don Juanito who carried the “Sh** Kit.” At the top, we appreciated a view of Xela and ate a picnic style lunch prepared by our host families. The downhill went very smoothly and we arrived back to our home stays around 4:30pm. Although exhausted and achy, Ryan led a beautiful CDL all about love, leaving each of us thinking about our own definitions of love and how we use the word itself.

The trek begins.
Emma and Claire finish the first big hill!
Alex and Jill with some picturesque farms.
Group transport to our Refugio.
Home for the night.
Thumbs up from Maddi.

The next day, we left for the trek at 8am. After a popsicle energy boost, we started the hike with the most difficult part: 15 minutes of straight uphill. With our large backpacks, it was a real challenge! Luckily, the whole rest of the trek was chill and scenic as we crossed over rivers and through corn fields. Only Alex fell into one of the streams! Our group’s energy stayed positive as Nikte led more mini games throughout the day, and Toli & Franco taught us phrases in the indigenous language of K’iche’ such as “hopa bish.” We reached the end of the trail around 3pm, and rode in the back of a pick up truck to our sleeping quarters for the night. We all collapsed onto sleeping pads for the next 2 hours, taking much needed siestas. Slightly rejuvenated, we led our Group Leader activity of Nice Notes, in which we wrote anonymous compliments to everyone in the group. Now, we have these special notes to look back on forever when we need them! Next, we took a short walk to view the sunset over the grand Lake Atitlan and had a group talent show! Highlights included Alex’s turkey whistle demo, Ethan’s backflip, Emma’s artwork, Maddi’s yoga poses, and a whole group drum circle led by Michaela! Finally, we enjoyed a quick dinner and roasted some marshmallows for Chiky s’mores before passing out once again.

Sleep was in short supply, however, as we awakened at 4am to pack our things and begin the final leg of the trek! This morning, we hiked to a lofted viewpoint to watch the sunrise- it was incredible! We were joined by locals and other tourists as well, sharing coffee and tea as the sky grew light. We even got to witness a small eruption of one of the volcanoes on the lake! Around 7am, we resumed walking. The final bit of the path was completely downhill from the mountaintop view point to the lake. A bit rough on the knees, but we made it in astounding time! The group celebrated the conclusion of the trek with refreshing coffees at a nearby café and said goodbyes and many thank you’s to our trekking guides. We had a quick lunch in the town of San Pedro (where we will be headed for Student Directed Travel!), and got to explore just a bit before beginning our afternoon of travel. First, we piled into a water taxi for an hour long ride across the lake. Next was a four hour van ride, followed by a quick jungle cruise style boat ride, and finally we arrived to El Paredón!

Here, we will spend the next few days learning about tourism and development with La Choza Chula. Stay tuned to hear about our final week in Guatemala!

Volcan de Diego erupting.
Emma and Maddi watching the sunrise.
Alex and Jill watch the sunrise.
Sunrise on Indians nose.
Huddled up together.
Group shot!
Sun peaking over the horizon.
Spencer, Rosa, Maddi.
Emma and Jill.
Claire and Rosa.
Ethan and Ryan.
Nap time.
On the lake!