3/1/15

Ziplining, Monkeys and Christmas presents to cute Guatemalan kids - December 20 - 21

What the life these kids lead!!!  Breakfast above the little waterfall.  Who needs milk and a bowl to have cereal?
Saturday, Sergio had to leave early to go to the temple in Quetzaltenango for his cousins sealing.  We kept Leah and went to a nature preserve in Panajachel.  It was really fun (and cheap).  There was a butterfly house, ziplining, big grassy areas, lots of trails and a restaurant.
We saw these weird creatures (can't remember what they are called) on one of the trails.

The main reason we wanted to come here was to zipline.  We all got to go (never would they allow 5 year olds to zipline in the states), and we go to do 8 zipline runs!!

Practicing how to stop and where to put our hands.
Those weird creatures came right up to us. 
We saw monkeys too (you can see one right in the middle of the picture).  We saw a ton of monkeys once the guide pulled out some bananas to feed them. Leah said she was going to pelt one with a banana.  I think she wasn't really trying to hit one, but she chucked a banana and nailed one of the monkeys. HA!!
We had to hike to the top of the mountain to start ziplining, so we crossed quite a few of these bridges.  Many were missing slats that made me a little nervous, but the kids didn't fall through so it was all good.
Grant was super nervous about ziplining even before we got to Guatemala.  The entire climb to the top he kept complaining that he didn't want to do it.   We told him to just try it, and sure enough, after the first run he was all smiles and kept saying how awesome it was.  After each run they rated how far and fast they went, and which one was their favorite.  The kids wanted to zipline all day.   Ava and Grant went tandem with a guide, but Noah got to go by himself.  He loved it.  The guides were really nice and told me about 10 times how beautiful my kids are.  So nice.  I think my kids are cute, but I find it funny how, in general, everyone think other nationalities are cuter.  I thought all the Guatemalan kids were so cute, and they stared and complimented my kids all the time.  Whenever we were in a market or walking down the street, I saw quite a few people reach up and rub Grant's head.  :)  So funny.
Leah

On this run, there was a cliff past those bars and Ava kept swinging from them.   The guide strapped her to the bar so she wouldn't fall off the cliff.  Smart - I should strap her to a bar more often. :)
After we got done ziplining, they had this bridge and swinging bridge thing at the end for adults to try.  Noah really wanted to try it, so they let him do it.  Before we started hiking up for our ziplining, we watched a group of girls squeal and fall all over this thing, and of course made fun of them (quietly, of course).  Well, it is harder than it looks and Leah and Adam had to eat their words when they struggled a bit to get across.  I didn't try it because I waited with Ava and Grant.
 Here are a few videos I took of us ziplining.  It was SO MUCH FUN!!!




We had lunch at the nature preserve.  They had this bike powered blender, that you had to spin to make your own milkshake.  Genius.  We didn't order one, so I took a picture of this stranger making her milkshake.
After the preserve, we left Lake Atitlan and started driving toward Antigua.   I think I mentioned in the previous post that people climb out of moving buses all the time.  This is the only picture I could get of that happening.  Seriously, these buses are crazy and fast, but they climb out the back and up the ladders to grab things off the top.  Crazy.
These are chicken buses.  Basically old American school buses that they pimp out.  You should see some of these.  They really add lots of shiny chrome and big tires to make them look cool.  They call them chicken buses, because (as you saw in the last post) people take their chickens to markets to sale, so they put their chickens on top (along with other things).  We were told not to ride them because they are pretty dangerous and the buses get robbed a lot too.
Some of the walls around peoples houses that I talked about in the last post. The gray gate is actually Sergio's parents house.  Crazy that behind that is a big green yard and their house.  Nothing is automatic either, so every time they leave, they get out to open the gate, drive through and then get out to shut it. Hmm.....
Sunday, we went to church in Antigua.  From the street you would never know it was a church.  We drove through a gate and the church was 'hiding' behind it.   Naturally, sacrament meeting was in Spanish, so the kids got a little antsy towards the end. 
We left Sergioby at church (he's in the stake YM's, so he had business to do) and went to get food at the Mercado. 

Lots of chicken buses.

Tons of yummy produce for really cheap!!
As we left the market we found this cool looking structure, so we decided to stop and check it out.  It was La Recoleccion, a former church and monastery.   It was huge and really cool.  I'm always amazed to see what people built long ago without modern tools and conveniences.   It was finished in May of 1717 and much of it destroyed in September of 1717!  The whole city of Antigua has quite a cool story too.  I'll just link the Wikipedia, you can read it if you want.



I'm sure it was a pretty amazing building back in it's glory days.  There were big courtyards through almost every door.

All the streets in Antigua are cobblestone.  They looks really neat, but they are a pain to drive on. 
Another old church in downtown Antigua.  Antigua is full of history and old buildings.  Antigua is where many foreigners have houses, so it's actually quite expensive to live here.  It has a lot of 'American' amenities, so it's more of a touristy destination, but still surrounded by authentic Guatemalan culture. 
The house we stayed at in Antigua had a large courtyard that was shared by a handful of other houses.  Everyone's backyards back up to the courtyard.  The house next to us had young kids that immediately came over and started playing with my kids.  We had to send them home when we were leaving, and the minute we returned they came right over, walking right in the house and making themselves comfortable. :) It was nice for the kids to have 'built-in friends', and the kids were really friendly and nice.  They LOVED Leah's dog and mauled him.  All the kids found a huge sick poisonous frog on the front lawn.  Luckily, the neighbor kids knew it was poisonous and came and got us. Ava and one of the other girls were putting flowers over him when we got out there. :/  Ava claimed they didn't touch it, but I was still nervous for a few hours until I knew no one was getting sick from the frog.
One of the main reasons (besides going to visit Leah and Sergioby) we decided to go to Guatemala for Christmas was to show the kids a different culture and  have them experience first hand what it was like for people who literally 'live without'.   On Sunday we did our service project that we had been planning for a few months.   So I don't have to retype the whole experience, below is a letter we gave to my parents for Christmas (we gave them a day of service as their present).
What a different experience it has been to celebrate the holidays in another country.  In Guatemala there are no lights, haven't seen anyone with a Christmas tree.  Stores aren't advertising like crazy to purchase gifts.  As you know, Christmas traditions like the lights and trees are some of my favorite things; however, without the pressure to buy everything, my kids haven't asked one time what they are getting.  We've been talking about giving Christmas presents to the poor kids in Guatemala for a couple months, and the kids have been so excited about collecting all the goods and talking about how cool it will be to hand them out. 

Before leaving, Leah and I discussed what the Guatemalan kids could really need and still like, and she told me that these kids never have the opportunity to color or do crafts.  We bought a bunch of marker boxes, crayons, scissors and paper.  Leah also said that once it gets dark, they have no electricity, so they can't do anything after dark.  We brought over a bunch of flashlights and headlamps. Surprisingly it gets a little chilly every night here, and many of the kids don't have warm clothes.  We also brought over some beanies, gloves, and socks.  We also brought some English childrens books (Leah said they all want to learn English).  Grant was so excited when we were packing them all into the suitcase.  He made sure everything was nice and organized.  I didn't think I would have time to get the flashlights, because we were leaving the next day, but Grant was adamant that the Guatemalan kids really needed the flashlights.  We made a quick trip to Home Depot, and I'm so glad we did, because the flashlights were the favorite thing.

The houses they live in are so incredibly humbling.  Dirt floors, no plumbing, no kitchen, no electricity.  They are basically just a few pieces of sheet metal for the walls and ceiling.  These people are so humble and SO POOR, but they are happy and sweet.  The little kids blew me away too.  Never did I hear a whine that they didn't get something that someone else got, on the contrary, they were so thankful.  It was nice to see the kids make sure everyone was taken care of.  Every time we handed out a gift to one kid they immediately handed it to the person next to them.  All the kids look out for each other and make sure each other is happy and cared for. Such a nice thing to see. 

On Sunday, we went to Leah's apartment and got all the supplies ready.  The first house we went to was just down the street from Leah.  They had 2 girls (12, Erica and 8, Carolina) and 2 boys (5, Edwin and 3, Estuardo).  Noah had a handful of supplies and gifts for Estuardo, Ava gave to Carolina and Grant gave to Erica.  Adam gave the rest to Edwin.  They were so excited and my kids had been practicing saying "Feliz Navidad", so afterward they each told the kids Feliz Navidad.  It was so fun. 

Next we walked a couple blocks to a "house" that had a few families living there.  When we arrived we asked the mom if we could give the kids some gifts.  All of a sudden a whole bunch of kids came out of the shack.  We gave them a few things and before you know it a handful of kids came out of their gate down the street.  They were just standing there watching these white Americans handing out gifts.  It was so sad, so I hid some of the books from the kids we were handing the presents to and gave them to the other kids.  We still had quite a few supplies back at Leahs, so we told them we would be back with more.  They were all waiting outside when we showed up again.  As we were walking down the street this adorable little girl (picture of little girl in blue shirt with pigtails in front of Noah) started jumping up and down.  I looked over at Noah and he had the biggest grin on his face and gave out a little chuckle.  Then I noticed that he was about to cry.  Jack pot.  That was the feeling I wanted with this entire trip to Guatemala.  Adam showed one of the boys how the headlamp worked, and he thought it was pure gold.  I don't think he had ever seen anything like it before.  When we were walking back Noah told me, "did you see how excited they were to get those crayons?".  I told him I thought it was so cool that kids can get so excited over a box of crayons.  I asked him if he was ONLY given a box of crayons for Christmas if he would still be happy.  He looked at me and said, "yes, because my other box of crayons is broken". Ha.  The last place we went was to a village of EXTREMELY poor people.  We just went to the first house we came to (it was super dark) and a bunch of kids came out.  We handed out the rest of the stuff and they were so grateful and loved everything.  The dad gave us a plant to thank us.  

What an experience this has been.  It has been so humbling and makes me so grateful for everything tiny little thing I have.  I'm so grateful for parents that taught me about service and the joy it can bring.  I hope my kids get that burning desire to give and help others



Aren't those kids adorable.  The pictures are blurry because I was trying to sneakily take a couple photos without them seeing. 


Definitely the highlight of the trip. 
On our way to deliver the last of the presents we stopped by Leah and Sergio's lot to check it out.  They are building one of their igloo homes here.  I believe they are not going to live here, just sell when it's finished. 

2/16/15

Guatemala - December 18 - 19


 A little tour around the Navas residence.  Leah and Sergioby (Ava called him that the whole time, and it sort of stuck) rent the basement apartment.  The upstairs was empty (that's where we slept), and there is another apartment behind the main one.  The van was our trusty rental.
 This is Phil, the Navas dog.
 
Of course, Ava took a liking to the dog, and the dog took a liking to her.
 For a puppy, Phil was great with the kids and all the excitement going on around him.
 Their apartment reminded Adam and I of our Guam apartment (cafeteria floors and all).  Isn't that the coolest table?!
 Sergioby and Leah hauled all these beds from his parents house and up the stairs, just so we could stay there one night.  So nice of them!
Highly dangerous and ineffective way they (some of the homes have water heaters, but majority use this method) heat the water.  Live electrical wires above the shower head.  Just remember to never reach up to adjust the shower head (a lesson you probably only have to learn once).

 Ava and Phil exploring the yard.  Gate to a secret garden (it really isn't, but looks like it could be). :)
 Metal door you have to open to drive down to the house.  Almost EVERY house has large walls surrounding it - even if it's not anything nice. Leah said the higher the walls the nicer the house, usually.  That was a bummer (Leah hates it too) for us who like to look at properties and architecture. 
 The kitchen. 
Sergio making omelets for us.
 A little soccer field around the corner from Leah's house.
 The kids convinced Leah that they really needed to chop down 3 of those giant leaves to take to her house.  She obliged.
 After breakfast we packed up and headed to Sergio's parents house.  This is the igloo that's next to the main house where guests stay (Leah and Sergio lived there for a few weeks).  This is what Leah and Sergio are building to sell (for employment) in Guatemala.  This one has a little kitchen, bathroom and main living area (big enough for bed and couch).  They are building some that have extensions, so they are multiple rooms. They're pretty cool.
 Sergio's playhouse when he was a little lad.  Look closely and you can see Noah peeking through the slats.
 That swing set probably hasn't been used since Sergio was little.  Grandma Navas was sweet and pushed the kids.  We only stayed for a few minutes to drop off Phil and then drove to Panajachel (Lake Atitlan).
View from the house in Pana. It was pretty hazy most of the time here.  Of course the day we were leaving it cleared out. Still a beautiful place.  3 volcanoes visible from the house.
The house we stayed at in Pana was awesome.  Casa Juana. It was actually 3 small houses.
 
This was the main house with the kitchen, living room and our bedroom.  Where Grant is standing (far right), was the stairs to the second casita (where Leah and Sergie stayed), and the stairs in the middle lead to the 3rd casita (where the kids slept).  Each casita had a bedroom and bathroom. 
The grounds were quite amazing.  There was a huge medicinal herb garden on the property.  You follow a trail and it takes you through beds and beds of different herbs.  There was also a little waterfall right outside and the kids played in that a ton.  The houses are located up a hill, so we had to park at the bottom and walk up (over 200 stairs) every time we needed to get to the car. We tried to keep the trips to a minimum. 

Lots of fruit trees on the property.

 
Most rental properties like these have caretakers that live on the property.  At this house the care takers were awesome.  They lived in a little house just below where we stayed.  Otilia, came after we left and washed our dishes, made our beds and we even had her make us dinner one night - I could get used to having a full time maid.  She made us Jocon, a Guatemalan chicken dinner. It was really good.
 
Fresh flowers from the yard.
The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever to have their own "house".  They played pretend house a lot, and if we wanted to visit, we had to knock.  They enforced a no-shoe policy whenever we visited.  They didn't think it was as cool come night time and they were up there alone.  Grant ended up sleeping on the floor in our room, and Adam had to lay by them until they fell asleep.


Sergio Sr. hooked us up with an acquaintance to take us on a boat tour around Lake Atitlan.

Fisherman in his little wooden canoe.  I would love one of those canoes - so cool looking.
Cool house on the top of that rock.  Same shape as the rock.
Sorry, not the greatest pictures.  The mountains are so green and pretty.  My camera lens would fog up whenever I took off the cap.  Also, sort of hazy this day.  I was actually really surprised that it wasn't that humid.  Comparable to California, maybe a touch more humid, but not by much.
The pictures don't do it justice, but it is an incredible lake.  Lake Atitlan is considered one of the most beautiful lake in the world.   This lake is supposedly the waters of Mormon. Most mormons claim they know where the waters of Mormon are, so who knows where it actually is.  Regardless, it's beautiful here.
The lake is surrounded by small villages, and each village is known for certain things (i.e. art, fabric, woven items, wooden handicrafts, etc.).  Many of the villages are only accessible by boat, or Lanchas (boat taxis).   Our first stop was the village of Santiago.  It is the largest indigenous village on Lake Atitlan (I hope my facts are right. Sergio will have to correct me if I'm wrong). 
Most of the people (at least most of the women - didn't see as many men in the traditional clothing) still dress in their traditional clothing.  The women wear these colorful wrap skirts with the big band waist belts and colorful blouses.  The men's outfits are equally cool, but didn't get a picture of them.
-This is the place we got your shirt, mom-


Chickens for sale at the market.


Obviously I found it fascinating how they carry and sale their poultry.
Mountains of avocados.

We didn't want to look flashy, so we packed very little and wore our dingiest clothes (OK, OK, my everyday wear, but I felt right at home with Leah :)).
Probably the oldest church I've ever been in - 1547.


They sure do like their gold inlay.
Everywhere you look in Guatemala you can see a volcano.  Totally not fact, but at least everywhere we went, we saw multiple volcanoes.  There are 22 volcanoes in Guatemala (I thought Sergio told me 30, but maybe I misheard him) and 7 are still active (according to Wikipedia).

SPC Guatemala :)

Tuk-Tuk  
These are everywhere.  They are like just like Taxis.
I think the biggest difference I noticed was how there are little or no rules, regulations, social norms, etc.  You see little kids (like the little girl above) in places you would NEVER see a kid in the states.  The street she is laying in is a busy street with Tuk Tuk's buzzing by, and she isn't even fazed by it.  She's probably 4.  Actually Leah said, and we found this to be true too, that everyone there looks way younger than they really are.  It became a joke, and a game, to guess their ages.  We would guess this little girl was 16. :)  
Another example of the rules thing: when we were flying home my kids kept playing right by the door and desk where you board the plane.  I kept telling them to move, because they weren't supposed to play there, and the worker told me they were fine to play there, and didn't seem fazed by them being there.  The same thing happened in the states, flying to Guat, and they were reprimanded a few times and told to stand behind the line.  Multiple times I would go to tell the kids to stop, or you can't do that, only to realize that it was o'kay to do there.
I found it actually a bit liberating not having to worry about so many rules, but can also see how it can actually hinder your life as well.  Where can we live where there's a happy medium?!?!? 
This little girl was selling trinkets, and Adam got suckered.  Ava got a little bead bracelet (I think it was like 5 quetzales - about 75 cents). 
Little old man with chickens on his back.
Noah's souvenier was this little whistle thing.  All Grant wanted was junky American looking toys. :) 
The next village we stopped at was San Juan.  Obviously the water levels have risen. Ha. :)

This was a small village known for their natural dyed fabrics.
Most bathrooms here you have to pay to use.  Adam bought a soda so the kids could use the bathrooms.  I'm sure they have them here, but I never saw a can a soda, only soda in glasses.  If you need it to go, they simply dump it into a plastic bag and give you a straw. 

We saw a lady wrapping her yarn, and decided to stop in and look at her shop.   It was owned by this lady and her mom.  They grow the cotton at home.  They showed us how they pick out the seeds after it's picked, then they spin it into yarn, then they dye it (using plants and other natural things) or keep it the natural color, then they wrap it (to keep it from tangling) and then they weave it.  Amazing how much work goes into one scarf/table runner.
-This is where we got your table runner from, Squaggle-

Leah trying her hand at the spinning.



  These are the runners I bought for myself.  The brown one is the natural cotton grown at their house.  The blue one was dyed with some plant (can't remember the name).  I wanted to only buy things that were actually made by Guatemalans and authentic, so it was great to actually see them making them. 
 
This one Adam was suckered into.  Some lady was selling these late at night in Antigua and she had her two kids (one about 8 and the other was a baby strapped to her side) helping her sell them.
 
Noah chillin with his new hat and harmonica.  Ava and Noah both got those hats from the same shop we got the table runners.  That's pretty much all the souvenirs we got (Rachelle requested pictures of our purchases).  Grant was still determined to find a cheap car with wheels that turn. :)

Next stop was to a beach where we could swim. 





The kids needed to go to the bathroom really bad, so Adam found the closest restaurant and paid the fee to use their dirty, grimy, scary bathrooms.  This is about when I started wondering if my mom could ever travel to somewhere like Guatemala.   I like clean bathrooms as much as the next person, but when you're traveling (especially in a third world country) you don't expect to find those type of amenities.  A luxury I can do without in order to travel to amazing places like Guatemala. 

After the boat tour, we ate lunch in Pana and then went back to the house.  Otilia made us Jocon for dinner.