We have been back from our Guatemala Mission Trip for several weeks now, so I better do a brief synopsis of our trip. (not as brief as I intended) I am doing a more detailed series on the trip on All-travel-sites.com. You can click on each picture below to see the full online version. Additionally, you can go down to the bottom of the page and visit the Fromhousestohomes.org Facebook Fan page to see all of my Guatemala Mission trip pics.
Overall, it was a great trip…I am blessed to have gone. Guatemala, from what I saw is a very beautiful, but poor country. Antigua, is an old city, with cobble stoned streets and lots of ruins for tourists to tour threw. We actually went through the ruins of one old church on our first full day.
We arrived in Guatemala on Thursday the 28th of July in the early afternoon. Our work week with Fromhousestohomes.org (FHTH)began on the following Monday. On Friday, we climbed Volcan Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes….well worth the trip. The next day we went to Lake Atitlan, which is the largest and deepest lake in Guatemala, and is also a must see for any one touring Guatemala. Sunday we went to a bi-lingual church for our Sunday service. Other than buying occasional hand crafted goods from the locals, this was the extent of our vacationing.
FromHousestoHomes.org Mission Trip
- Guatemala Mission Trip day 1 -August 1, 2011we arrived at the office at 830am every day and worked until 430pm with frequent breaks to play with the family kids and neighborhood kids through out the day. We also ate lunch at noon, and depending upon the afternoon rains, might have a lengthy lunch or just a half hour lunch. Today, our goal was to establish the boundaries of the house, dig a trench for the footer, poor the footer, and then the first layer of block for the walls. Additionally metal mesh wire and rebar were installed before putting in the footer. Oh, the cement for the footer, was mixed by hand, and then the bucket brigade of us volunteers poured the footer.
- Guatemala Mission Trip day 2 – August 2, 2011Today we did about 8 courses on the walls of the house. Much of the labor involved mixing mortar by hand, keeping the two skilled masons supplied with buckets of mortar and block, and filling in cracks with mortar. There was lots of time for taking breaks and playing with the neighborhood kids today as well.
- Guatemala Mission Trip day3 -August 3, 2011Today we started out setting up scaffolding inside the walls of the house. Then the work involved again supplying the masons and with mortar and block. Also 4 volunteers were employed to fill in cracks with mortar. In the US, and else were masons typically do this at the same time they lay the blocks. They might have purposely not put mortar on the sides of block so the volunteers would have something to do today.
At about the 10 course, or about the middle of the wall, the blocks that were used had the middles hollowed out, so a trench was formed. The trench was then filled with cement and rebar. This layer of cement served to tighten up the house. The same process was then repeated at the end of the day for the final row of wall blocks. The back wall of the house was one layer higher than the front, so that the flat roof would have a slope for rain to drain off.
- Guatemala Mission Tripday 4 -August 4, 2011 Today was actually a very short work day. We started out the day by going to Escuela Kemna’oj de Santa Maria de Jesus, the Montessori elementary school in the town of Santa Maria De Jesus that is supported by FHTH and will be run by FHTH starting in November of 2011. This school serves to provide an education to many of the children in the poor town of Santa Maria De Jesus, which was the town were we built our house. FHTH has built over 150 homes in this small town alone.
Then after touring the school, our primary task today was to get the cement floor poured. So all the concrete had to be mixed by hand, and then bucket brigaded the cement into the house, where a mason poured it and floated a nice flat surface. All this was done before lunch. After lunch, we took the kids of the neighborhood out for ice cream at a local hacienda(store). After ice cream, the staff and volunteers were driven up to the top of the town to a field for a football(soccer) match. This was great fun. My team however did loose, but did manage to score two goals. A great day, with no injuries.
- Guatemala Mission Trip day 5-August 5, 2011 Sadly, today was the last day of our official Guatemala Mission Trip. This days tasks consisted of painting the inside and outside of the house. Each family chooses the colors of their house, so each house is unique to each family. Our family’s house has a blue interior and an orange exterior. While the volunteers were painting the house, the masons were busy putting on the metal roof. For safety reasons, volunteers are not allowed to help with the roof. The family’s dad stayed home from the fields today to help with the final touches and to be available for the dedication ceremony which was when the volunteers gave the family the keys to the house and a plaque which is affixed to the house.The closing ceremony was marked with a lot of tears from both family and volunteers. To show their thanks to us the the family mother made us lunch which consisted of the most delicious Pollo Guisado (stewed chicken), cervesa(beer) and rum and cokes. Additionally, we also each given a hand made shoulder bag.
While we were in Guatemala, history was made. For the first time ever, Guatemala had a team in the World Cup and on Saturday night, they scored the first goal ever by a Guatemalan team, and beat Croatia 1:0. That night, there were fireworks all across Guatemala.
Tips for Traveling to Guatemala
- Take a bottle of Lysterine- gargle in shower to be sure you don’t drink any of the water.
- Ask for Agua Pure at meals..bottled water is the only safe water.
- Never eat roadside fruits..period..unless you want to be seriously ill.
- Only eat fruits that need to be pealed, like oranges, melons. If you eat apples or strawberry’s ask if they have been washed with pure water.
- Keep a record of all atm transactions, and check to make sure you have not been double billed. Be careful which atm machines you use. You may want to consider canceling your bank card upon return home.
- As with many countries, never exchange currency at the airport, unless you want to pay a poor exchange rate.
- Don’t just give money to beggars, but give them food. We always saved our left overs and gave them to homeless people.
- Be prepared to be swamped with goods to be bought by the locals. If you don’t want to buy anything be prepared to say ” No Gracias” frequently when out. Don’t get angry with locals if they are very persistent in trying to sell you their goods.
- Don’t flush Toilet Paper(eww), but put used TP in the bucket beside the toilet. Its gross to us int he US, but its what they do.
- Grilled food from roadside vendors is delicious.
- Spanish schools are really cheap, and immersion is a great way to learn a language.
- Visit by volunteering on a mission trip. Its a great way to get to know some locals, you are not just seen as a tourist, but as someone who wants to help.
- Don’t be afraid to barter with the locals for their goods, but don’t beat them up. Remember they need to make a living.
- At the time of my trip the rate of exchange was roughly 7.5 Quetzales(Q) to the dollar. I read on the FHTH site that teachers earn 1-10 Q per day..wow..for me, that would be really hard to live on.
- Don’t climb any volcanoes by yourself unless you want to get robbed.
- Ask around for a reputable tour guide, some are not to be trusted.
- Take a ride in a Tuk-Tuk (three wheeled taxi) its really fun.
- Be careful when crossing the roads, motorcycles are everywhere. Jokingly, I heard someone say, there are rules for driving in Guatemala, but no one follows them. But they do come to a crawl before speed bumps.
Additonal blog posts about my Guatemala Mission Trip can be read on all travel sites. The first post I did about my trip was Pre-Mission Trip Activities
You can see all my photos from the trip on the FHTH Facebook page.
Final thoughts about Guatemala
Guatemala is a beautiful but poor country that really should not be missed in your travels. As I have seen on other web sites, it is known as the land of eternal spring. Not once did it get so hot that I thought I would die. Even during our hardest labor, the temp was not much higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Its a country that has a lot to do, a lot to explore.
Things I would like to do on my next trip to Guatemala
- Do a mountain bike tour with oxexpeditions.com. I stopped in and talked with them, and it sounds like they have a cool ride around 5 towns which is geared to all riding levels.
- Take a zip line through the rain forest. I believe there are quite a few companies that do this.
- Spend a night or two touring the towns around Lake Atitlan.
- Go to the beach, next time we are definitely going to check out the beach.
- Rent a house instead of staying in a hotel..HomeAway has tons of homes for rental, and I believe I would save money doing..
- Visit some Inca Ruins.
- Take Spanish lessons.