Guatemala Adventures

      It was a warm fall evening and 10 well trained professionals were gathered for a final meeting to sort gear and prepare for their upcoming mission...well, trained professionals might be a stretch. I had about 3 evenings of Spanish class and a little time on some phone apps. We were actually a diverse group of newbies and old hands sorting out 800 lbs of school supplies to transport to Guatemala along with our own gear.  We got our sorting done, some serious prayer time, and left with our plan to travel and meet up at the airport in St Louis.  During the week I had a little freak out on the the volcano hike portion of the trip.  We were getting some sketchy information on availability of packs for the trip, but it was decided that all would be ok. Just in case bring one if you can. Saturday morning started with a 1:45 AM wake up and 2:30 departure.  We met up with our fellow travelers and got our two 50 lb bags per person checked.  We flew to Atlanta where we met up with two more members of our mission team and headed for Guatemala. The flights were uneventful, but full of excitement for the fun to come.  The Guatemala City airport was a little different. We got through customs with nothing more than a little self created stress, but once we got to the baggage claim things got real.  We loaded our twenty four 50 lb bags on carts with the assistance of some airport attendants and headed outside through a mob of people.  The team and luggage made it safely to our rides and we got the luggage loaded into trucks and people into a van.  The traffic and road rules were crazy, but seemed to work.  It is a crazy system of push, give, and take that gets everyone where they want to go.  We passed through all types of neighborhoods from makeshift tin homes to nicer communities with walls and razor wire.  On the way to the school/group home I saw McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell...can you believe there is Taco Bell in Guatemala!?!?!?
     Nothing was what I really expected.  The group home, school, and team dorms were awesome.    Thanks to the team members that had been their previously we were immediately accepted by the kids.  Each night we split into groups and ate dinner (beans) with a group of kids and at lunch all the kids and adults met in a dining hall to eat (beans) together.  Day two kids were pulling us to tables to eat with them and relationships were growing.  I will also say that beans several times a day did not do good things for my system.The language barrier was a little frustrating for us and the kids, but it seemed with a few words, facial expressions, and hand signals we could communicate fairly well.
     Marcy put together some great lessons for the campers.  All the team members volunteered for reading, acting, doing activities, set up, and clean up.  Day one was full of excitement and energy for us and the kids.  It started with a big welcome for the campers, getting them settled in, and some fun!  During the camp we did large group lessons on Moses, Gideon, and Joseph trying to use these bible greats to show the campers how God can use them.  Activities included hungry hungry hippo with carts and balls, egg smash, pinata (near death experience), and red neck slip and slide with plastic and shampoo.  Each night several team members bunked with the kids, which for the boys meant a little wrestle mania, pillow fighting, and temporary tattoos.  Day two was a little slower with everyone tired from day one, but was still a blast and included a trip into town for pizza at lunch time and a night time glow stick rave!  Day three of camp was at the amusement park and full of rides.  The kids loved it and everyone was beat at the end of the day. We also had the privilege of helping in a water balloon ambush on the older boys.
     I was very impressed with the kids. I think what made the biggest impression was that they simply asked we not look at their past, but who they are now. These young men and women are not defined by what others have done to them, but their choice to accept God and the choices they make each day going forward. I wasn't sure what to expect from Guatemala.  It turns out that kids are kids no matter where you are and God is great all the time!  I really am grateful for the time hanging out with them and will be processing all I experienced for a long time.
     Camp finished and part of the group headed home.  The rest of us stayed for a couple of volcano hikes.  Saturday we headed up Pacaya with some of the older girls from the school.  This was a day trip and not super technical.  We hiked up the volcano with a troop of locals with horses following behind constantly offering 'the express elevator' up the volcano.  I told one of them that I could run 200K and he came back with 'a horse is much easier'.  We all made it up and back down without having to resort to a horse.  The group was impressed with the entrepreneurs at the top who built a couple of shacks and carried up drinks, food, and souvenirs to sell.  Need a Gatorade or bag of chips at the top of a active volcano, you are in the right place!  I did not mention it earlier, but we had 2 guides this whole time as it is required.  They kept us on the path and when we got to the top they provided us with marshmallows to roast over the volcano vents.  It was a pretty good day and a good warm up for Sunday!

 Sunday was the big day! Acatenago here we come! If you look back to the start of this you will see a comment about freaking out and packs. In true Guatemala form we ended up with some craziness when we got to the outfitter.  Lee, our friend and host, had a few packs for us.  I nabbed the bigger backpacking style pack figuring I would carry a bit more weight. The outfitter promised us a three packs which I assumed would be good hiking packs. They had an old military pack which went to Ben to carry plus some school backpacks. Ben and I had the better packs and loaded up the three 4 man tents, extra water,  some extra food, and our gear.  Several of the older boys from the home joined us on this trip along with Lee and Josh.  We had to wait a while for the groups coming down the volcano to bring us the outfitter provided gear, which turned out to be a wet mattress pad and ratty sleeping bag.  We managed to get everything tied on to everyone's packs and headed up the mountain with our guide in the lead. It was a long trek up the mountain with our guide regularly yelling vamos! vamos!

  Our group trudged up the mountain slowly and steadily (vamos! vamos!) going through jungle on trails of loose volcanic gravel.  It was tough and slow going.  I didn't keep good track of time, but after several hours the jungle turned to grasses and pine trees then to grasses and bushes.  Our grouped ebbed and flowed in position with all of us moving forward and back as energy levels changed, items came untied and fell off packs, and potty breaks became necessary.   We ended up splitting our group and a few of us went ahead (vamos! vamos!) to get tents set up and allow those that were dragging a little to ease up on the pace.  The guide took us to a long fairly flat bench about a thousand feet down from the rim with a great view of Fuego.  While we were setting up camp Fuego blew giving us an awesome view with not only smoke but visible lava shooting out.  It wasn't long and the remainder of our party joined us tired and maybe a little grouchy.  The guides started a fire and heated water for our ramen noodle style cups.  We dug into our slightly sketchy chicken and rice or steak and rice that the outfitter provided.  I watched as the others in my group including Lee dug in.  I figured that if he was ok with it I would take the chance, later finding out that his wife didn't think it such a good idea.  I apparently need to watch who I use as my barometer for safety! The clouds moved in around us, and I mean around us not above us.  We were actually in the clouds!  A light rain started to fall as we finished eating and prepared for bed.  Our group split up into the 4 man tents and I quickly realized I chose well on tents, but not on sleeping bags.  My bag had a bonus dirty tissue inside it. My tent may have had one coughing and one snoring, but I could hear the farting from the tent next to me loud and clear!  Thank you for small miracles! Ben was in the fart tent instead of me!
     Monday was an early wake up (vamos! vamos!) and climb a thousand feet to the top to see the sun rise over Fuego from the rim of Acatenango.  Some decided to watch the sun come up from camp and some pushed up the very steep loose gravel slope to the top.  It was awesome watching the sun come up and peak over the point of Fuego. Marcy and I sat together on the top of another mountain surrounded by new friends and watched a sunrise come up over an active volcano.  God's glory and beauty exposed to us through nature and relationship. Marcy, Ben, and I walked the rim of Acatenago giving me a chance to check out my running route.  It definitely had a little up and down to it along with some loose gravel and an elevation of 13,000 feet, but it was not technical by any means.  I was running out of time and our guide was trying to round our group up, so I stripped off some clothes and took off.  I was immediately huffing and puffing.  My around the rim run time was 3:44, about 30 seconds slower than I wanted.  I am never happy though and always set my goals too aggressive.  While I was running Feugo erupted again giving us one last show.  When I got back our guide was hollering vamos! vamos!. A few hours later we were down the volcano and into town for Texas BBQ...I know...Texas BBQ in Guatemala?!?!?!?!?   It's a pretty interesting place for sure :).


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