10 Days in Guatemala 2008.10.29

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

For Fayette High School Spanish teacher Alysa Sauder, not much surprises her when she makes a trek to Guatemala.

“Guatemala is my second home, so most things there are simply part of life to me,” she said. “But someone who has traveled there for the first time is always full of stories.”guat.stairs.jpg

Enter her nine traveling companions from a trip taken past summer.

“I felt as though I was in a different world,” said Aaron Hylander. “You feel as though you are far away from reality, simply because the daily life is so different.”

“It’s a different world down there,” agrees Gene Beaverson. “They’re a friendly bunch of people down there, a happy bunch.”

Guatemalans tend to work at a different pace than Americans might be accustomed to, adds Melinda Wyse.

“Everything happens eventually,” she said, but not when you might expect.

A couple members of last year’s Fayette graduating class asked their teacher if she could organize a trip to Guatemala—a country she’s visited many times. It didn’t take much arm-twisting. She was ready to go again.

Alysa arranged a cultural exchange that included work on a school construction project, along with time for sight-seeing.guat.top.jpg

They spent the first five days in the “cowboy town” of Chiquimulilla, a hot and humid city 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The school is located there and the construction project—now in its twelfth year—continues to progress.

This is where Melinda’s “everything happens eventually” comment comes in. The guests were scheduled to help with some particular chores, but those jobs weren’t ready so they went off in another direction.

Gene and John Dinius made a lot of progress with electrical work. Most of the others were involved in spackling walls.

“We took a lot of breaks, I thought,” Melinda said about the pace of work.

That was probably welcomed, with the absence of air conditioning.

Aaron was disappointed the group didn’t have more work to accomplish at the school, but he was told the situation is typical.

“You either have a lot to do or not much at all, and it was very normal to them,” he said.

The “Guatemalan way” presented a different pace to life, Aaron said.

“It is completely normal for everything to be later than you were told. At first it was frustrating, but you got used to it, and in a way it was kind of nice, because almost everyone there has such a ‘take it easy’ attitude, which is a nice change from our society.”

Gene says Alysa is a perfectionist at making arrangements and Aaron agrees.

“She did an amazing job at making sure we experienced the culture,” he said. “We did not have extravagant meals, expensive hotel rooms, nor air conditioning. We ate typical Guatemalan meals and stayed in a typical Guatemalan motel.”

Guatemala meals?

“The food was interesting,” Melinda said.

There were good meals except for the mush, a cream of wheat sort of meal. She ate it anyway because it was served on the group’s beach day and they weren’t going to have food for a long time.

Gene describes the food as similar to Mexican, but without the seasoning.

At the town of Flores, everyone in the group chose to order a different meal, but when the food came out of the kitchen, each dish looked just about the same.

“The waitress first stated that the cook chose to add the beans and plantains to everyone’s plate,” Alysa said. “Later she said that the cook just figured that everyone would want the same thing and would have changed their mind from the time they placed their order to the time the food arrived, so he just gave us all the same thing.”

Then the bill arrived. They were all charged for the different meals they never received.

The travelers list as the highlight of the 10-day excursion the trip to the Mayan pyramids at Tikal.

“The view was so amazing,” Melinda said, “and worth the effort to climb.”

Gene, the elder member of the group, was no slouch when it came to climbing. Sean Franks figured Gene might hold back the group, but noted later that he was actually the first one to the top.

Mayan ruins are scattered throughout the jungles, many still unearthed. Tikal is also the site of a “Survivor” series and the group hiked to the filming location.

Melissa also mentioned shopping the markets in the city of Antigua as a favorite activity.

“You get to barter and I have never done that in my entire life,” she said. “It was so amazing how pushy they are to buy their items, but they want you to barter because that’s their culture. They overprice the item to get you to talk to them.”

In many ways, Gene said, the Guatemala lifestyle seems to be many decades behind what he’s accustomed to—but he’s not seeing that as necessarily bad.

“Old school buses—worn out by our standards—are driven down there for another hundred thousand miles.”

There are no stoplights and few stop signs, but vehicles make it through the intersections without problems.

Aaron says the group was often out of contact with televisions and other English-language media sources.

“I can’t say it was a bad thing to get away from ‘real life’,” he said. “It was kind of nice for a change.”

Everything was different—some facets of life jarringly different—but adjustments were made.

“We were only gone for 10 days, but to me it seemed like so much longer,” Aaron said. “I guess it was because of being separated from our normal lives, but when we got back into Houston, I felt as though I had been gone at least a month.”

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