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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008


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Hola todos!

Yesterday evening, we all completed our three-day homestay in the indigenous Ixil village of Cotzal. The reason no Yak Yaks were posted during that time was because most of us were living with families whose houses were without electricity, let alone internet. The drastically different environment--and culture-shock that came along with it--was something that we all ultimately came to embrace. We learned to live more modestly in the absence of electrical appliances, showers, "nice" bathrooms, and large food portions. In addition, over our three-day stay in Cotzal, we worked with our homestay organization, Cooperative of Women Weavers, to clear sections of fields with hoes and machetes, and ultimately plant black beans (frijoles) for them and their families to harvest and use in the future. On the whole, I think we all learned that adapting to environments with lower comfort levels doesn´t have to be a burden. To the contrary, it can be a fun, eye-opening experience.

Even though that powerful experience may take some time to fully process, don´t think that we´ve skipped a beat at all. We stayed last night in a hostel in Nebaj (a close, slightly more urban city than Cotzal) in order to be fully rested for the three-day hike we´re embarking on this morning. There, I´m sure we´ll all similarly learn new things about our physical capacities and appreciation for the wilderness.

Hasta luego,

Joey

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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Cotzal, Nebaj, and Trek Update

Joseph O´Donnell,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

Hola todos! Yesterday evening, we all completed our three-day homestay in the indigenous Ixil village of Cotzal. The reason no Yak Yaks were posted during that time was because most of us were living with families whose houses were without electricity, let alone internet. The drastically different environment–and culture-shock that came along with it–was something […]

Posted On

07/16/08

Author

Joseph O´Donnell

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Just a short note to let you know we made it to our next stop of our journey, Cotzal.

We ended our week in Xela with a graduation dinner at Sakribal Spanish school, then headed out on Saturday via chicken bus on a 7-hour journey to Cotzal, where the local women´s weaving cooperative greeted us in their local Ixil language and welcomed us into their very basic, but loving, homes. From the women, the students learn about their lives and the Ixil culture, the effects of the civil war in this tranquil mountain village, their strength to endure. The students, in turn, are working alongside the women to plant a field of beans to generate income for them and the weaving cooperative.

Next on our agenda is a 3-day trek of the Ixil Triangle. Please note that students will be out of contact during our time in Cotzal as well as during the upcoming trek, due to the remoteness of the areas in which we will be traveling.

For now, we are enjoying each day with an amazing group of young people, who with each passing day, continue to grow and see the world with inquisitive eyes and open minds.

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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Llegamos a Cotzal

Instructor Team,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

Just a short note to let you know we made it to our next stop of our journey, Cotzal. We ended our week in Xela with a graduation dinner at Sakribal Spanish school, then headed out on Saturday via chicken bus on a 7-hour journey to Cotzal, where the local women´s weaving cooperative greeted us […]

Posted On

07/14/08

Author

Instructor Team

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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Spanish school graduation pic

Instructor Team,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

We are so proud!

Posted On

07/14/08

Author

Instructor Team

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Every aspect of Guatemala has been an experience of its own. Every moment, every place, every person I´ve met so far has created a welcoming atmosphere. Even though I haven´t lived in Guatemala until now, Guatemala feels like my home. With an open mind and no preconceived ideas, I´ve been able to experience Guatemala through my own eyes.

The one thing that surprises me the most is the hospitality and friendliness that all the people have here. My homestay family here in Xela is so amazing and very welcoming. I was a bit nervous at first and didn´t know how living with eight other people would be, but as soon as I entered the Ramos home, all my hesitation disappeared. There are two parents, three children (19 yrs., 17 yrs., and 14 yrs.), and three other Spanish school students living here. Everyone has been really open, friendly, and comforting, and I´ve been able to create my own niche in the household.

I help out in the kitchen, make juice (I learned how to make jugo de manzana from scratch and it´s delicious!), set the table, and interact with everyone. One of the children learns English in school. As I speak Spanish around the house in an attempt to become fluent, he responds in English so that both of us learn something. The mother, Vilma, always talks to me about how she loves having students stay at her house because it allows her to gain insight on other cultures. She´s had Spanish school students live at home and has been associated with the schools for ten years; she´s had about 800 students stay at home in the last ten years!

Each member of our family here in Xela has made my experience in this city so wonderful. Last night, the daughter Carolina brought Jenga to the dining table and after dinner, all of us played together. We all laughed and made jokes, but more importantly, we all enjoyed each other´s company. It made me realize that no matter who you are or where you come from, or even what your primary language is, every one of us takes an interest in each other and we´re all compatible. Even though English, Spanish, German, and Hindi were being spoken at the table, our game of Jenga was so much fun and it united us through an unspoken bond.

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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The Beauty of Xela

Nisha Dhawlikar,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

Every aspect of Guatemala has been an experience of its own. Every moment, every place, every person I´ve met so far has created a welcoming atmosphere. Even though I haven´t lived in Guatemala until now, Guatemala feels like my home. With an open mind and no preconceived ideas, I´ve been able to experience Guatemala through […]

Posted On

07/11/08

Author

Nisha Dhawlikar

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Our week in Xela has been outstanding for student Spanish language development --4 ½ hours of one-on-one speaking (with correction) is creating monumental strides in self confidence that can easily be appreciated. Xela has also been a wonderful place to explore student interests about Guatemala with knowledgeable locals through interviews, internships, and private lessons. A description of a few of these experiences is below.

With a handful of Dragons, we met with Miguel Tumax and his wife Irma (whose 10 month-old child was hidden within a tzute slung over her back in traditional indigenous practice). They had traveled about an hour to meet us from a Mam-speaking village known as San Miguel. The couple´s knowledge is in medicinal plants and the Maya medical system. Students Nisha, Robbie, and Jennifer had a hands-on demonstration of some of the most common medicinal plants which are identified as spiritually potent. They found out that plant known as ¨ruda¨ is actually used to remove negative energy from the body of the patient through ritual, while plants like pericon, romero (rosemary) and salvia santa can remedy problems related to the stomach, lungs, and childbirth. Jennifer asked questions relating to the state of Maya people today—The ancestors were in a tremendous balance with nature, explained Miguel (as I paraphrase)…. There weren´t such diseases as we experience today. What we are trying to do is rescue the ancient practices, the ancient knowledge. I worry about the younger generation and the loss of language and the rise of technology. We must value nature like the ancients have taught us. Students were surprised to learn that the Maya medical system is specialized at six levels dealing with all areas of well-being from mental health to blood disorders. It was eye-opening for the students to realize that 70% of indigenous Guatemalans still utilize traditional healing as opposed to modern clinics. We shared a medicinal tea together, then left for the market to buy materials for a Mayan ceremony the next morning.

It may be surprising to find that what I have called ¨shaman shops¨ (since the actual name eludes me) exist in such numbers in the Xela main market, but demand for these materials is great. Robbie, Jen, and Nisha enthusiastically gathered a range of sacred materials ranging from special herbs to high-grade copal incense shipped in from near the volcano Tacana in the department of San Marcos. These were the materials we would carry with us up the mountain the next morning. (See student description of this event.)

Ailee and Brooke expressed an interest in investigating the health care system of Guatemala, and Ailee especially wanted to do something where her time was spent with kids. We were able to organize a four-day experience in a Mam-Maya village known as San Martin Chile Verde outside of Xela. These students, whose independence and self-confidence in carrying out this project I so admire, ended up spending their mornings shadowing nurses at the local hospital and then in the afternoon, volunteering at a local nursery-kindergarten. Conditions are difficult in this little community, and resources are scarce. The teachers at the school asked for clay and puzzles, which the two Dragons students provided, and also a cake for the little kids. Having myself visited these kids, whose parents work as farmers during the day and who see foreigners just once a year, I can only imagine that this must have been one of the most touching moments of the trip so far for the two girls. We hope to be in touch with them in the future and work to better the conditions that this community is faced with.

These are a few of the independent study projects I was able to help out with this week in Xela, of the many enthusiastically going on in ¨Guate A.¨ I am proud that the students continue to experience first-hand their interests rather than just read about them; books can only go so far, and experience is where real education happens. This afternoon, we´ll head into the mountains to visit a project here in Guatemala which is boldly advancing reforestation while fighting North American companies which have attempted to exploit the country´s rich natural resources. Then tomorrow, we´ll take off for more remote homestays in one of the most interesting communities I´ve been able to visit in Guatemala, San Juan Cotzal in the Ixil Triangle, before beginning our trek.

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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Independent Study

Dave Schaefer,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

Our week in Xela has been outstanding for student Spanish language development –4 ½ hours of one-on-one speaking (with correction) is creating monumental strides in self confidence that can easily be appreciated. Xela has also been a wonderful place to explore student interests about Guatemala with knowledgeable locals through interviews, internships, and private lessons. A […]

Posted On

07/11/08

Author

Dave Schaefer

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WOW, 13 days together and we feel as if we have known each other for a year. Our students are amazing, so open minded to the new experiences of Guatemalan culture, interested in everything we offer them. We are growing, everybody, together, as a group in a stunning way. So after spending 4 days in San Antonio Palopó, living together with home-stay families and learning Spanish in the morning, we took off for a new adventure at the south coast, Comunidad Nueva Alianza. After 2 hours of an easy shuttle ride to Cuatro Caminos, we changed to a cattle truck, flying through outstanding natural beauty, and green, lush vegetation, coffee and macadamia plantations….the real off the beaten path. After settling in the old finca and having dinner, Oswaldo, one of the coordinators of the finca, told us about his story, about the common repression of so many agricultural workers throughout Guatemala, about oppression, struggle for workers lands and rights, exploitations and the self-organization of the collectively owned and run plantations as a community. The next day we started an introduction on Service Learning, picking up ripe and rotten macadamias for 2 hours and selecting coffee beans, at a community table, in the afternoon. After this day of hard work the students had some time to write in their journals, reflecting about the day, about the overwhelming and touching story of this place, about how their lifestyle affects the local one and how the workers life is connected to the world, contemplating the information that a worker earns Q30 ($4) daily (8 hours of work). I was impressed about the conclusions the students made after such a short time of traveling. They felt a strong link between their world and the Guatemalan one, the strength and passion of the community members required to get a better future, despite low pay and long days, keeping in mind the hard work and effort of the agricultural workers while buying coffee and macadamia nuts in the States.

Before heading to our next experience with travel via cattle truck and Chicken bus we took a refreshing shower under a waterfall, cleaning off the dirt from the warm but rainy weekend, eating fruits from the trees and enjoying the pure nature en la costa sur.

Un abrazo para todos,

eva

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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Comunidad Nueva Alianza

Eva Jahn,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

WOW, 13 days together and we feel as if we have known each other for a year. Our students are amazing, so open minded to the new experiences of Guatemalan culture, interested in everything we offer them. We are growing, everybody, together, as a group in a stunning way. So after spending 4 days in […]

Posted On

07/11/08

Author

Eva Jahn

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Greetings from Xela. Guatemala A students and instructors are now in Quetzaltenango, in Guatemala´s Western Highlands, known locally and lovingly by its shortened name Xela, itself an abbreviation of its original Maya name Xelaju. Although it´s Guatemala´s second largest city, it still somehow feels like a small town. Maybe because we have been so warmly welcomed to this country, maybe because we feel at home here, maybe because we have already learned so much about the tragedy and beauty that is Guatemala, maybe because the locals greet foreigners as if we belong.

Xela is a great base to study Spanish, live with homestay families, focus on independent study projects (ISPs) – our three priorities for the week. Our agenda is packed with the offerings of this city!

Sunday evening students met their homestay families, eager for a good night´s sleep before once again beginning one-on-one Spanish classes the next morning. Five hours of Spanish each morning is pretty intense, but wow, the students´ progress is unbelievable. I hear them talking about politics and economics with their teachers, interacting with the locals, asking questions in Spanish even when it might be easier to ask them in English, sitting attentively through hour-long presentations in a language which only a few weeks ago was foreign to them. It now sounds and feels more natural.

The Spanish school, along with Guate A´s instructor team, also offers activities in the afternoons. Monday was an invigorating salsa lesson for about 20 eager students, some of whom will continue to practice their moves in additional classes throughout the week, then show their stuff when we head to the salsa club on Friday. Tuesday we viewed the movie Discovering Dominga, a powerful look at the country´s civil war, immigration, and modern indigenous identity, raising many questions which the students will explore during the coming weeks. These questions were explored further during an evening presentation on human rights after the Peace Accords. Wednesday was relaxation at its finest, as we headed to Fuentes Georginas in the volcanic hills outside of Xela for some hot water soaking. Thursday is dedicated to ISPs, with a night out listening to typical Guatemala music. Friday afternoon has planned an excursion to Chico Mendez, a local project for reforestation and water sanitation, with the week´s grand finale to include a dinner at the Spanish school and salsa dancing.

The volunteer-work scene in Xela means there are a host of non-profit organizations willing to share their experiences with our students as they progress on their ISPs. Robbie, Jen, and Nisha are interested in learning more about Maya medicine and practices, and so they spoke with a shaman medicine man, participated in a sacred early morning ceremony, and will visit a museum of traditional dress. Brooke and Ailie hope to study health care; this week they have an internship with the clinic of Xela Aid, which also provides opportunity to work with kids in the nursery. Nisha, Lauren, and Robbie want to improve their salsa moves and so will take individual lessons throughout the week – we can´t wait to see what they´ve learned come Friday in the club! With his capability in music, Danny has decided to try his hand at the marimbas with the famous Chepe Lepe. It takes a long time to learn, but hopefully two lessons will give him a good taste. Darcy, interested in local cooking techniques, will help with the preparation of the school´s dinner on Friday, learning to cook the regional specialty pepian. Elisabeth will be visiting an organization focused on green, sustainable, community-based development for an afternoon to learn more about renewable energy, projects for water sanitation, hydroelectric power, and biodigesters. The interests of Gaby, Joey, and Laura lie in the realms of economics, politics, and US-Guatemalan relations; they have been busy reading the daily papers and will interview the founder of a community radio station for the construction and strengthening of peace, including testimonies from those who fought during the civil war.

You can see that we have been very busy during the past week! I continue to be amazed by the students´ desire to learn through experience, willingness to engage with the local culture and people, interest to explore difficult questions, and strength to come to their own conclusions. They are an impressive bunch.

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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Saludos de Xela

Stacy Gery,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

Greetings from Xela. Guatemala A students and instructors are now in Quetzaltenango, in Guatemala´s Western Highlands, known locally and lovingly by its shortened name Xela, itself an abbreviation of its original Maya name Xelaju. Although it´s Guatemala´s second largest city, it still somehow feels like a small town. Maybe because we have been so warmly […]

Posted On

07/11/08

Author

Stacy Gery

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    [post_date] => 2008-07-10 00:00:00
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    [post_content] => 

hey so this is an entry i wrote during our stay in a small village called san antonio, and it was right after a spanish lesson so my head was full of spanish and i found that some ideas are not as beautiful when translated into english, so here it is in spanish...

En este momento estoy sentada en mi cuarto en la casa de la familia de Perez Perez, quien ha sido mi familia por los cuatro dias pasados. Brooke y yo hemos aprendido tantas palabras nuevas aqui en San Antonio con nuestras maestras de espanol y nuestra familia. Unos errores chistosos esta semana: "bota" means "boot" not "boat", "boca" means "mouth" not "cow", and "papel" means "paper" not "cake". Pero en general, todos los indigenes aqui tienen mucha paciencia con nuestro vocabulario malo. Y por eso, siempre estamos riendo con la familia sobre nuestros errores.

San Antonio es, en realidad, un lugar lleno de magia. Las personas son generosas, sin limite; el primer dia, nos aceptaron sin dudas. Hemos aprendido tanto sobre la cultura de los Mayas, y en una manera mas interesante y vibrante que un libro de historia. Cada dia que nos quedamos aqui, hemos visto vistas bonitas y descubrido algo nuevo. Ahora yo puedo decir que he nadado en el Lago de Atitlan y que yo se exactamente donde se puede comprar los mejores chocobananas en el pueblo. Hoy, mi "mama perez" me dijo algo profunda: " Uds. Americanas no son las unicas turistas aqui. Somos turistas de su cultura tamien." Entonces, creo que este viaje es mas que una experiencia interesante- es un verdadero intercambio de culturas. ¡Quiero quedarme aqui y aprender mas Kaqchikel y enseñar mas ingles! Pero estoy segura de que vayamos a encontrar muchos otros milagros en otros lugares, y no puedo esperar por ellos. Aunque vamos para Xela ahora, nunca olvidare la magia de San Antonio.

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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La magia

Darcy Andrews,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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hey so this is an entry i wrote during our stay in a small village called san antonio, and it was right after a spanish lesson so my head was full of spanish and i found that some ideas are not as beautiful when translated into english, so here it is in spanish… En este […]

Posted On

07/10/08

Author

Darcy Andrews

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We all knew that coming to Guatemala would allow us to see more of the world, but we didn´t expect that we´d have an eye-opening experience at 6 A.M. Eliuj, a Mayan daykeeper met us in front of a delicious panaderia to later drive us into the mountains surrounding Quetzaltenango. Driving through the refreshing mist in the early hours of the morning, having a view of Quetzaltenango (Xela), the second largest city in Guatemala, we realized how sacred every moment spent in Guatemala is. After a 20 minute drive in the back of a pickup truck, we arrived at a small opening called El Baul, and began our religious ceremony.

We first drew a Mayan cross, representing God, Mother Earth, the sky, and la naturaleza. Drawing a circle and connecting the four points, we brought humanity in tune with mother nature. Eliuj then explained the significance of our colored candles. Red represents the sun and the beginning of life and of the day. Black represents the night, darkness, and the end of life. White represents purity, peace, and harmony. Green represents the heart of the earth and blue represents the heart of the sky. Yellow represents knowledge and energy. We were all given our nahuals, our Mayan protectors who guard us throughout life. Eliuj then started the ceremony and we prayed to all 20 Mayan protectors, repeating each name 13 times. The Mayan calendar has 260 days (20 times 13 equals 260). While praying to each nahual protector, Eliuj explained the symbolism and thanked every nahual for protecting every aspect in our lives. We all gave a sacred offering to the fire that was made with our candles. After praying to each nahual and learning more about the Mayan ritual, we headed back down the mountain, ready and eager to start our third day in Xela. We are really grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with an Ajq´ij, or Mayan daykeeper, and perform a real Mayan ceremony with him. This is one of the great experiences that all of us will keep in our minds for the rest of our lives.

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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Ajq’ij Ceremony

Nisha Dhawlikar, Jennifer Reeve, Robby Ashenberner,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

We all knew that coming to Guatemala would allow us to see more of the world, but we didn´t expect that we´d have an eye-opening experience at 6 A.M. Eliuj, a Mayan daykeeper met us in front of a delicious panaderia to later drive us into the mountains surrounding Quetzaltenango. Driving through the refreshing mist […]

Posted On

07/10/08

Author

Nisha Dhawlikar, Jennifer Reeve, Robby Ashenberner

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    [post_date] => 2008-07-10 00:00:00
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When we were finally allowed to stretch our legs after a cramped ride on yet another chicken bus, I smelled the fresh diesel emmited from the surrounding buses. But the former sentence is a stark contrast to the beauty and diversity provided by Xela. Not only is it a city short on crime, congestion, and crowds (the three Cs as I like to call them), but montains paint the background with awesome gothic buildings in the foreground as well. There is some presence of America culture here, heck there's a McDonald's on the corner close by, but with influence from local Mayan villages and the mass amount of Spanish schools, Xela remains Guatemalan at heart; I also think that it helps that we are staying with true Guatemalan families who provide us with a more urban setting of Guatemala. We still eat the "original" tortillas and frijoles on a daily basis, but after long days at the school (5 hours to be exact) any food that provides energy sounds absolutly fine with me.

In between our long hours slaved at school and eating local grub, we fill our time with our ISPs (Independent Study Projects). Whether it be working at a local clinic or attending Mayan ceremonies, I think with this aspect of the program we're given a different taste of Guatemala. Currently mine is sweat and dirt due to my salsa classes. I love it though, I did kick my teacher on accident today. HA! Oh well...

Yesterday we 'ventured to Fuentas Georginas, a relaxing hot springs at the scalding temperature of about 110 degrees. That may seem hot, but you have to remeber the last time we had hot showers anywhere close to that temp. was about 2 weeks ago. It's amazing to think that we've been gone only 2 weeks-we've accomplished so much already spanish speaking wise and personal growth wise (my personal growth has been at the waistband; thanks panaderías!). Talking about Spanish, I think for the most party our classes have continued to go pretty smoothly. If we wanted to, we could probably post our yak yaks in complete spanish...you up for the challenge parents?! Everyday during spanish school, we have a pausa (or break) which is usually when we hit up a local bakery, Xelapan. Everytime I go in, I'm so tempted to by everything, luckily I have amigas to hold me back from going eclair crazy.

Well that about explains what has happened in the past, I figure I should give you all (ya'll in Texas) a little brief outlook for about the next two days.

Tonight (Thursday): I believe that most of us are going to a local café to listen to some cuban music.

Tomorrow (Friday): Spanish class, trip to a market about 45 min. away from Xela, and then we're hitting up a local salsa club to show off our brand spanking dance moves. WOO!

Saturday: Sadly we are leaving Xela after a great week. Several chicken buses to Nebaj, a remote Mayan village in the mountains.

Well that pretty much wraps it up here. Speaking for all of us, we want you all to know that we are having a great time and thank you for giving us the opportunity to do this. ¡Hasta Luego!

-Lauren

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Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

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The beauty of Xela

Lauren Rice,Guatemala 4-week, Group "A", Summer 2008

Description

When we were finally allowed to stretch our legs after a cramped ride on yet another chicken bus, I smelled the fresh diesel emmited from the surrounding buses. But the former sentence is a stark contrast to the beauty and diversity provided by Xela. Not only is it a city short on crime, congestion, and […]

Posted On

07/10/08

Author

Lauren Rice

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