As I sit down to write this I feel overwhelmed. I wish I could just hard wire people to my brain, so you can absorb every exciting thing I am experiencing.
Let me back up a little though…
If you don’t know, I am in Antigua, Guatemala for my job. Aside from two U.S. offices we also have 15 other offices around the world. So every other year we have a World Staff Conference for most of us to meet together. We are also joined by farmers on our board of directors, a few staff members from our state commissions and a few other industry guests.
I have my nice camera with me so many of the ones in this post are either from my phone, or pulled off the camera unedited. When I get home I will do a couple of extra posts that feature the better pictures edited. But I also wanted to utilize my blog as a bit of a travel journal to better capture my experience and of course share with my friends and family. Aside from a family vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I have never traveled internationally. Not joining a summer or spring break study abroad in college is one of my few legitimate regrets. It is one of many reasons why I took this job, to have another chance to explore and experience more of what’s out there. I also want to throw a disclaimer out there, as a communicator and writer, I am WELL AWARE that there are lot of errors in the post. However, I didn’t have a lot of extra time to go through and edit, though I might later.
Day 1: August 29, 2015
The first day was mostly spent traveling. Most of us traveling from the headquarters office started out bright and early with a 7 a.m. flight. (Side note: one of our employees and his family who were joining us on the trip were involved in a accident in the taxi they were taking to the airport. Everyone will be ok, but one was hurt pretty bad, so sending some good thoughts and prayers that direction would be much appreciated.) Our connection was through Atlanta and we flew into the capital city, Guatemala City. This was also my first time flying first-class (insert 13 year old girl scream here)!! Now this isn’t something I should get used to for work, it was just a special treat because we had some points to use, but man that sure is the life.
There was some concern leading up to this trip. Guatemala can be an unsafe place at times, and is consistently toward the top of the State Departments list of dangerous places. But you know, some of our American cities can be just as unsafe too, so a bit of extra planning and a few talks about general safety (and common sense) and we were good to go.
Coming out the airport we were met by our shuttle driver. It was a little over an hour from the airport to our hotel in Antigua. The country of Guatemala is a week away from its elections, so propaganda is everywhere! Apparently they are also trying to impeach their sitting president at the same time (I’m a little confused by this so certainly don’t read this as actual news) so there are also a lot of protests going on, making it that much harder to maneuver through traffic. The drive to Antigua was a bit miserable. It’s common for me to get a little dizzy and nauseous in the car on windy roads and that combined with the down hill on straining breaks after a day of travel got to me a little. When I got to the hotel I took a short nap and felt much better.
Speaking of the hotel. Oh my goodness, it is beautiful! It is built in an old convent and everywhere you turn there are pieces of history, the entire place is considered to be 5 different museums. That first evening there was a wedding going on that passersby could view from a distance and the entire resort was covered in lit candles. So beautiful.
The evening was spent relaxing and venturing out to enjoy some dinner. One of our employees in our Mexico City office chose a place and ordered for the whole table. Mexican/Latin food is by far my favorite kind of food so I was in heaven. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures there besides the restaurant sign, but there was a marimba (?) band playing and you could watch the women making the tortillas. I think I ate at least 6…
Day 2: August 30, 2015
Let’s continue to talk about food…
When I vacationed in Cabo with my family a few years back I thought I had had the best meal that I would ever have at one of the Mexican buffets. But no…the buffet here was been better. Pretty sure we’re just going to stop counting how many tortillas I eat this week. And papusas! They are thicker corn patty, much like a dense pancake, that is stuff with I think sausage, chiles and other yummy goodness.
Because we have so many people coming in from around the world, those who got here on Saturday, an extra full day to enjoy. About 30 of us chose to go on a full day hike up the Volcan de Pacaya. This volcano is consistently active, but similar to the volcanos in Hawaii, so it doesn’t “explode” that often, just consistently steams and flows. It was an amazing experience. It took about an hour an a half to drive to where we started the hike. With a little ginger Dramamine, I did much better on this drive. The drive took us through a lot of Guatemala City. We’re told about 2% of the country has most of wealth so there is a lot of poverty. It definitely makes you take a step back for a moment. A couple of things I observed and information from the tour guide:
– They burn all of their trash and we saw that along the road.
– A lot of parts of the city did not have sidewalks. In a lot of places the homes and businesses are built above what I would call a ditch and so from the road there were a lot of small concrete ramps connected to the upper parts
– We continued to see lots of demonstrations, parades, etc. for the election, the tour guide said there was 12 candidates, including 2 women. This is significant because only 3 countries in Central America have had women presidents, but not Guatemala.
– There were so many little nurseries and beautiful flowers.
– There is so much color everywhere. Buildings, doors, signs and clothes, making even some of the really poverty stricken areas beautiful in their own ways.
– Corn is their main commodity and its grown in every little available patch of ground, even in the city. It was also amusing to hear our people from the PNW, who are using to farming on hilly terrain, to see grain crops grown on such steep grades, much like you would see done in vineyards.
– Other top commodities include coffee beans, bananas, beans, and many other fruits and vegetables.
– Once out of the city the drive up the mountain had insane switchbacks and curves, making mountain driving in Oregon look a bit pathetic.
Once we made it to the starting point of the hike we were swarmed by little kids selling walking sticks for a dollar. Now I am not a very coordinated person, plus I had my camera around my neck, so I really thought that a stick would just make it worse. PEOPLE, always buy the walking stick. About halfway up I took one from someone who had two, and while I could have made it without it going up, going down it was a lifesaver. The hike was REALLY hard. I’ve gotten back into running lately and was pretty optimistic, but it was really steep and pretty rough, not to mention the altitude. I took comfort in knowing that just about everyone, including those who were pretty fit, found it challenging at some point. Surprisingly I only tripped and fell once, getting a nasty bruise, because saving my camera meant breaking the fall with my leg. There was the option to ride a horse for a small fee, which I thought would be fun, but I really wanted to push myself and do it all on foot. The men with the horses followed us the entire hike and anytime you stopped or looked to be struggling they would yell “taxi?” I was a part of a group bringing up the rear, both because it was easier to go slow and steady, and I stopped a lot for pictures. It was kind of neat though because the guide that stayed with us would stop, with the help of one of our people translated, and share about some of different plants we were seeing.
The highest point that you are allowed to hike is at 75,000 ft., up to the start of what they call the lava fields. Last year in 2014, was the last time that the volcano had a really big flow/explosion (from what I understood.) The hike took us down into the fields, from where we had peaked and that by far the hardest part because the ash on the ground was very similar to sand (think running on the beach). I think I slipped and land on my behind at least three times.
Next was my favorite part… we got to roast marshmellows in a small hotspot hole that they found/dug that where you could see a bit of the lava. I know it goes without saying but it was SO HOT. In the picture, where you can see my hand holding the stick, I could only leave it there for a few moments at a time. We then stopped by the “Lava Shop” that sold jewelry and small woven bags, with much of the proceeds going back into education. I bought these three small rings made from the lava rock that came with bags for my mom, my sister and myself (Surprise Mom and Jancz!) The triangle represents the volcano, which Guatemala considers sacred in their culture. I was told that if you are feeling negative energy you wear pointing one way, and if the energy is positive, you wear it the other way. The circles represent the lake crater at the other volcano across the valley in many of my pictures. This is the “Agua” volcano, which is dormant. In 1541 (?) it rained so much that it filled one of the craters, creating a lake.
Side note: Has anyone seen the Pixar short film “Lava” that is shown at the beginning of the new “Inside Out”? Basically, its adorable. A lot of the jewelry had the phrases “I Lava U” and “I Lava It” on them, and apparently they’ve been selling those for about three years, but just this summer since the movie came out, those have become their most popular item.
I couldn’t get it to play for me so I don’t know if this is the whole video or not…
A few more highlights throughout the hike:
– The hardened molten rock, is really sharp, much like coral would be. We didn’t see any active red flows but the rock radiated heat both from the volcano and the sun.
– There were three dogs that followed us the whole hike. It is common to see dogs roaming around at various stages of health. These ones could not have been more than a year or so old, and though they were fairly clean, they were very skinny. Aside from the fact that they were begging, they were very sweet and most of us gave in at some point and shared a bit of our snacks.
– The guys at the Lava Shop told me that they had just celebrated their 1,500 hike, and that they usually opt to walk and not use the horses. One also said “it’s the best commute there, I can drink all the beer I want.” #priorities
– On the drive back to Antigua we stopped at a gas station. I was amused to see that the Coke products had Spanish names and phrases for the “Share a Coke with…” campaign.
– I put on sunscreen everywhere but my neck, and because of both my backpack and camera straps I have large, VERY red triangle covering one side of my neck.
Back in Antigua at our resort, we all rested until the evening reception. Like the wedding, our area was all candle lit. I thought it was a bit weird though that the servers were dressed as monks. Afterward, everyone broke into smaller groups for dinner. It’s interesting, because some of the restaurants have armed guards standing outside and some don’t. I shared a great filet mignon with one of my co-workers and since it was someone’s birthday, we had a round of tequila shots (so good!)
If you aren’t my family or close friends, I applaud you for making it to the end. I expect that this will be the longest entry, but we’ll see! It was a lot to write but I know I will be happy looking back later.