I'm In Complete Denial

As I'm writing this on the flight back to Los Angeles, my mind is telling me that I shouldn't be sad that this experience is coming to an end. My mind is trying to tell me to enjoy it because it happened and that I was blessed enough to have this opportunity. But my heart is not ready to let go of an amazing month with amazing people. Like I said in my graduation speech, I was a little nervous before coming to Guatemala. But I know now that I literally had nothing to worry about. I wasn't expecting to fall so deeply in love with this beauty of a country. I wasn't expecting to forge such a strong bond with everyone in this group and to leave this trip with 11 new friends. I wasn't expecting to truly have an experience of a lifetime. And I definitely wasn't expecting to have such a hard time accepting that this trip is coming to an end. Over the last 4 weeks, I've not only learned so much about Guatemala, but I've learned a lot about myself as well. Living in Guatemala for the last month has taught me what I really appreciate in life. Amongst all things, I've learned that I really appreciate the warmth and comfort of being with friends and good company because that's when I feel the happiest and most content with life. Being with our group has given me comfort and happiness for the last month, and knowing that our trip is finally over has made quite a heavy impact on me. I'm going to miss everything about this experience. And I'm definitely going to have a hard time transitioning back to life away from my new friends and away from the country that has shown me so much in such a short amount of time. With that being said, I'll recap how our last day went.

For whatever reason, I actually slept really well going into our last day here. In the morning, we went to grab breakfast before heading over to the artisan market to buy some gifts for family and friends. Following some shopping, we went back to Luna De Miel for some more delicious crepes before meeting up for a chocolate making class! It was a very relaxing last activity to do as a group and we got to keep some chocolate as well! After that, we took some group pictures and then went back to the hotel to change and get ready for dinner. Our last supper as a group was 3 large pizzas and 3 pitchers of beer. Pretty good last meal. To cap off the night, we visited this one bar that was actually really packed and looked pretty fun but I think we were all pretty tired and just wanted to relax for our last night together.

After everyone went to bed, I couldn't really sleep. I went back to the roof/patio thing and took in one last look at Antigua, and then went to lay down and wait until it was time for me, John, and Dr. Quinn to take the shuttle to the airport. I felt pretty numb during the whole process of getting onto my flight. I felt as if it wasn't really happening. But sure enough, Dr. Quinn and I said bye to John before he boarded his flight. And now I'm sitting in a cabin 35,000ft above sea level on my way back to Los Angeles. I really can't comprehend it. I'm going to miss this more than I would've ever expected to. Thank you Guatemala for an amazing four weeks of my life. Thank you, for everything. -Scott

Antigua Here We Come

This morning was so heart-wrenching. Mitchka, Katie, and I said bye to Mario, Nidia, and Estefany and it was so sad :( I really can't believe that nearly 4 weeks have come and gone and we're already saying bye to our host family. My heart physically hurts while writing this, and the thing that made it so hard was Estefany started crying when we were saying bye. I'm really going to miss their family, especially when they so easily welcomed us as one of their own.  

The last dab.

The last dab.

Moving on, trying not to think about actually leaving Xela. So when we got to Xelapan to meet up with Erika and the bus driver, I remembered that I couldn't find my keychain that had my USB drives and the keys for my room in Los Angeles. I remembered that I left my USB drive at the printing station when we were printing photos for Dr. Quinn and Erika. So I left my bags with Erika, Mitchka, and Katie and I walked over to the photo place right next to Tacorazón but when i arrived I saw that it was closed. I felt a pretty deep sinking feeling as I started walking over to the new meeting spot that Erika gave me. That sinking feeling only got worse as I sat by myself and wondered when, or if, they would be turning the corner to find me. I was by myself for a good 40 minutes before I looked up and finally saw the tour bus with everyone on it. When I got on, I told Erika and Dr. Quinn that the photo place was closed and they egged me on for another 20 seconds or so before Erika finally told me that somebody had my keychain the whole time. It felt much better once I got my keychain and the rest of the ride over to Antigua I felt pretty calm.

After getting to Antigua and checking into her hotel, we stopped by this amazing crepe place called Luna de Miel and I got this delicious chicken pesto crepe. It was a little bit rich so I wasn't actually able to finish it but it filled me up a good amount before we headed out for our tour of a coffee farm!

Like all good adventures, we all hopped into several tuk-tuks to bring us to the meeting spot with our guides for the coffee tour. After getting a brief introduction to coffee, we made the hike up to the actual coffee farm and we learned a lot of information regarding the tactics that they use in order to get the best coffee possible. We also got to see how they plant a new coffee tree and they showed us some ripe coffee beans!

Then we went to the coffee farmer's house to learn how the coffee is processed, roasted, and eventually ground up for drinking! The smell of the coffee during the roasting process was amazing, and grinding up the coffee with a long slab rock was really satisfying because it made this crunching sound that gave me a similar feel to popping bubble wrap. And don't get me started on the taste of the coffee. Oh my goodness. I got pretty used to drinking coffee everyday because it was always available at Sol Latino but the coffee that they gave us to try was something else. The flavor was so rich and it really seemed to me that there was an increase in quality.

After we got back from the coffee tour, we all changed for our last dinner with Dr. Quinn and Erika as a big group. The restaurant we went to was themed after Frida Kahlo which was actually pretty cool and the food and drinks were fantastic. Following dinner, we went back to the hotel to pre-game for a night out to celebrate Sofia's 19th birthday! We ended up going to this bar that I can't quite remember the name of but I do remember that we were dancing on top of tables and on top of the bar so it was definitely a really good night. To cap it off, we all came back to the hotel and there's this spot that you can take some stairs up to and it's this really nice panoramic view of Antigua. We all just sat up there together and reminisced at how fast this trip went by. It's actually really hard writing this because I so desperately want to believe that we're not done with our trip yet. I'm really going to miss this place. And I'm going to miss the bond that all of us forged together over the last 4 weeks. Tomorrow is our last day here and I can't believe it. I think I might actually cry. -Scott

Graduating from Spanish School and Last Night In Xela

Today has been an absolute emotional roller coaster for me. This morning we had our graduation from Sol Latino at this really cool family themed restaurant called Albamar. They had playgrounds and these giant concrete slides that would absolutely not be okay in the United States but that's what makes them awesome. I must've gone down it like 5 times. It totally made me feel like a little kid again. After playing around for a bit, we all came back inside to receive our diplomas and to give our thank you speeches. Mine is below!

Antes de viajar a Guatemala, yo tenía un poco miedo. Pero después de llegar aqui en Xela, yo sabía que no necesito ser nervioso. La comida, la gente, y possiblemente la quetzalteca me mostraron que Guatemala es un país muy divertido y amable con vistas bonitas y mucha cultura. Entonces, nunca me olvidaré la memorias que yo creé aqui en Xela con ustedes. Jugando “basta” o “cucharas” con los maestros y los otros estudiantes, comiendo doblados, chocobananos, pollo frito de pinulito durante la pausa, o comiendo los tacos tres por diez despues una noche de bebiendo, yo siempre recordaré todas de estas memorias. Quiero agredecer Doctura Quinn, Erika, Sol Latino, y especialmente mi maravillosa maestra Annabella por todo. Yo tengo un regalo para Annabella pero ella no puede estar aqui hoy, pero quiero que ella sepa que voy a extrañarla. No quiero salir Guatemala porque este mes pasado fue una experiencia de vida. Y mi experiencia en Guatemala no sería la misma sin Annabella y sin ustedes. ¡Gracias por todo!

In english: "Before traveling to Guatemala, I was a little scared. But after arriving here in Xela, I knew that I didn't need to be nervous. The food, the people, and possibly the quetzalteca showed me that Guatemala is a very fun and friendly country with beautiful views and a lot of culture. I am never going to forget the memories that I created here in Xela with all of you. Playing "stop" or "spoons" with the teachers and other students, eating doblados, chocolate bananas, fried chicken from Pinulito during the pause, or eating 3 tacos for 10 quetzales after a night of drinking, I'm always going to remember all of these memories. I want to thank Dr. Quinn, Erika, Sol Latino, and especially my marvelous teacher Annabella for everything. I have a gift for Annabella but she couldn't be here today, but I want her to know that I'm going to miss her. I don't want to leave Guatemala because this past month has been an experience of a lifetime. And my experience in Guatemala would not have been the same without Annabella and without all of you. Thank you for everything!"

In all honesty, I have no idea how I didn't cry while giving that speech. This past month has been such an amazing journey in my life and I don't want it to end. Just having the experience to actually *live* in a different country to experience it inside and out has been utterly life-changing. After the speeches, we played around a little bit more and hit some piñatas for Sofia's birthday as well as the celebration of 10 years of Somos Hermanos. Then, we had lunch and said goodbye to all of the teachers.

After graduation, we walked around Xela one last time and did some last minute shopping while we were still in the area. We also checked out the bread house owned by the host family for Kurun, Elaine, Lois, and Sofia! Finally, Mitchka, Katie, and I had our last dinner with our host family and took pictures with everyone. It was pretty hard for me because I'm horrible with saying goodbyes but I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to have spent a month with such an amazing and welcoming family :) -Scott

Our Adventure Is Nearing Its End And I'm Not Happy About It :(

Today marks a pretty big day in our trip. We all met up in the Somos Hermanos office for the last time to deliver our presentations on our respective research projects. We all spent yesterday in various cafes and locations working and working and working but after we all finished giving our presentations, I had a very bittersweet feeling deep in my stomach. I was pretty happy to have finally finished our presentation and to have gotten it over with, but that also meant that we were that much closer to the end of our time here in Guatemala :( Having dinner at Dr. Quinn's apartment afterwards was really nice because it was very relaxing and homey to have everyone together under one roof. But I'm really not ready to leave yet. I love so many aspects of our lives here that I really don't want to leave for another week or two at the least. But time keeps going on regardless, and while it's sad that we're running out of time, it has to happen. Tomorrow is going to be another bittersweet day for me. Personally, I'm not very good with goodbyes or leaving places that I've come to appreciate and love. So I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to hold up tomorrow. But I'm going to try my best to stay positive through it all. Now, I have to prepare my speech for tomorrow's graduation. Ugh. No quiero salir. -Scott

A Much Needed Visit to Fuentes Georginas

Now during our trip to Semuc Champey, there were quite a lot of spills and injuries. I'm pretty sure Elaine fell down while climbing up the waterfall and Katie took a couple of spills at various points during the underwater caves as well. Overall, everyone seemed pretty beat up, sore, and exhausted from our trip. I know that my legs were pretty tired after all the hiking and impact on my knees. Going to the hot springs the day after our long trip was an excellent idea. The water was warm but not too hot and it felt very soft and soothing on my skin. However, the warmth of the water revealed about 15 mosquito bites to me that I was previously unaware of. I spent a good amount of time just scratching and scratching and scratching at all of the bites that I didn't know that I had received while in Semuc Champey. Hopefully my doxycycline comes through for me because I really don't want malaria.

We spent a good amount of time just truly relaxing and de-stressing one last time before we begin the grind the prepare our presentations for Wednesday. There was even an area that had cooler water than the main hot spring but there was a little tube that transferred water from the hot area to the cool area. I literally sat underneath of the warm water for a good 8 minutes or so. It was nice because the cooler water that I was sitting in made sure that my body wasn't feeling uncomfortably warm but the warm water flowing from the tube was almost like a hot shower with good water pressure. Which is coincidentally something that I've been missing since Panajachel.

After our visit to the hot springs, we headed back to Xela and tonight I'm pretty sure everyone is just staying in to work on their presentations for Wednesday. A lot of work that still needs to be down but we just gotta keep grinding. -Scott

Quite Possibly The Most Adventurous Weekend Of My Life

Oh boy. I really don't know where to begin for this blog post. This weekend was full of surprises, both good and bad, but I'm going to remember this weekend for the rest of my life. Let's start with the "bus" ride.

The reason "bus" is in quotations is because the vehicle that we took over to Semuc Champey was more a van rather than bus. With 12 people and our luggage, it was a bit of a tight fit. I luckily ended up with a seat that made it relatively easy to fall asleep in but others weren't so lucky. Giulia and Dory took turns sleeping on the floor in the aisle, Kurun passed out in the corner opposite of me, and everyone else just generally struggled to get some meaningful rest. Elaine wasn't having any luck at all because she got car sick and was having trouble making it through the ride. To be fair, the first part of the ride to Guatemala City wasn't that bad. We stopped at this really nice mall for 45 minutes for food and bathroom breaks. Going to the mall was so weird because it felt for a moment that we were all suddenly back in the United States. We had grown so accustomed to Xela and our lives there that being in such a modern shopping center was so surreal to many of us. After our break for food, we thought we only had another 8 hours. But we thought wrong. Construction, the driver needing to take a 2 hour break, and getting lost in the middle of nowhere for 3 hours tacked on an additional 6 hours to our trip. We had originally planned to arrive around 2-3am but turned into arriving around 8:30am. We weren't exactly the happiest bunch of campers by that point. But after getting situated, the trip slowly started becoming worth it.

After we took a brief nap, we all went down to the river to go tubing. The water was kind of chilly but it was pretty nice once you got used to it. There was a point where we were supposed to stop along the left but Lois, Kurun, and Dory got carried away by the current. So one of our tour guides had to go rescue them which was pretty funny. After tubing, we went back and changed to do a tour of a bat cave. It was really slippery pretty much everywhere we went which made it kind of treacherous but it was really spooky because we all had candles as our light sources. We also saw quite a lot of bats too which was pretty cool.

On Saturday, we did a full day tour that included the underwater caves, rope swinging, a hike up to a gorgeous viewpoint, and swimming in the natural pools. The underwater caves is probably the coolest thing that I've done in my life. Not many people can say that they swam inside a cave. But we didn't only swim around in the cave, we also climbed up a waterfall and did cliffjumping INSIDE a cave. That is actually insane. The waterfall part totally felt like something out of Indiana Jones. After the underwater caves, we got to go on a rope swing for a bit which was also really fun. Kurun went first and after seeing his spectacular backwards flip straight into a belly flop, I couldn't stop laughing for a good five minutes. After rope swinging, we stopped for lunch and took the chance to reapply bug spray and sunscreen before starting our hike. This hike was definitely strenuous, and I'd say it was harder than our hike at Laguna de Chicabal. The sheer elevation was a killer and I constantly found myself out of breath with each step up the hike. However, the view was definitely worth it.

Going up was the hard part of the hike, fortunately the way down wasn't too bad. And finally swimming in the pools after sweating the whole way up and down was like bliss. After swimming, we all piled back into the back of a pickup truck but it actually broke down on the way back. Me and this other girl from our hostel ended walking along and we hitched a ride back to our hostel. We actually got back with enough time before everyone else that I was able to shower and wash off from the day's activities. 

We left the following morning around 5am and the drive back to Xela was fortunately only 11 hours this time. If I had to sit through another 18 hours of construction, being lost, etc. I actually might have lost my mind. However, I'm back in my room in Xela, I'm alive, and I'm still completely amazed at how adventurous our weekend was. But spending a long time cooped up in a van somehow makes you more exhausted than I expected. So I'm off to sleep. Time for our last week in Guatemala :( -Scott

Seeing What A Public Hospital Is Like In Guatemala

So I'm writing this blog post throughout the our tour of the public hospital because I'm most likely not going to be able to focus on a 12 hour bus ride. I'm probably just going to want to sleep and knock out for as long as possible.

Anyways, when I was in the private hospital, Dr. Quinn told me to take note of how everything looks and the general state of the hospital. She told me she wanted me to do this because she said that the public hospital that we'll be visiting is very different. Now that we're actually at the public hospital, I can see what she meant. Overall, the public hospital is very run down in comparison the private hospital that I went to. As we walk through the hallways, it's easy to see mold, dust, and dirt at pretty much every step. Lighting is dim, food waste and food trays just lay around as flies constantly buzz over them, papers are scattered everywhere, you name it. In general, the hospital was very dirty and it's clear that it doesn't receive a large amount of funding from the government. Otherwise, the cleanliness and overall upkeep of the hospital would be much better.

But even though the public hospital isn't in the shape that it should be, the service that it provides to the surrounding area is completely necessary. The public hospital is one of the only places in the immediate area of Quetzaltenango that has a staff of specialized doctors in various fields. The care that they provide to the people that come in is completely free, regardless of economic status or even nationality. The resources they have in terms of supplies and manpower actually allows them to take care of a larger number of people than they currently are. The only thing preventing them from doing so is the hospital is currently at capacity and they're unable to take more patients. The public health sector really needs to be adequately funded.

Now, we're headed over to Tacorazón for lunch and then after that we're all going to do some last minute shopping before we commit to spending the next 12-16 hours of our lives in a bus. Wish us luck! -Scott

Two Fantastic Guest Speakers

The last two days, we've had the pleasure of getting to receive a plethora of information from two very different people. Yesterday, Dr. Rodolfo Sanchez, a specialist in infectious diseases, spoke with us about communicable disease and diseases caused by parasites. Today, Berta Juarez talked with us about her responsibilities as a midwife.

First, let's start with what Dr. Sanchez presented to us. The first lecture on communicable diseases covered a pretty wide range of diseases. The statistics that he had on malaria were actually kind of frightening. Also, apparently the doxycycline that I've been taking as a malaria precaution aren't effective in Semuc Champey, the place we're going for our free weekend. So that's kind of concerning. But I think I'll be fine, I trust my mom's prescription too. The second lecture he gave us on diseases caused by parasites was nightmare inducing. His description of how these parasites act is nothing short of a horror story. Not to mention, he also did us the favor of including some pictures of particularly nasty parasitic infections. Despite the grossness of it all, it did serve to illustrate how dangerous these infectious and diseases can be.

Next, Berta Juarez spoke with us about her experience as a midwife. Something that is notable about her is that she completed a two year course in which she worked with doctors to learn techniques that midwives typically do not learn. This allows her to recognize problems that other midwives may not be able to recognize. When she presented to us, she brought the actual herbs and flowers that she will use when working with an expecting mother. We passed them around and took the opportunity to smell them as well. The thing that I found the most interesting is she was telling us that typically around the 8 month mark, she checks to see if the baby's head is in a downward position for delivery. If the baby isn't in position, she works with other midwives to massage the baby into a head-down position to ease delivery. It can take up to 3 days to slowly move the baby into position. However, there are times when they are unable to move the baby, in which case they prepare the expecting mother for transport to the hospital. With 22 years of experience, she had a lot of interesting things to tell us.

Tomorrow we'll be visiting the public hospital of Quetzaltenango, and after that we start our 12 hour bus ride all the way to Semuc Champey. It's gonna be a long day. -Scott

Checking Out A Rural Health Center

Yesterday we were supposed to go check out the Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs but apparently it's been temporarily closed because of damages caused by the earthquake. Instead, we had a free day so we just all met up at Baviera Cafe to get some work done. I actually really liked having a free day because the constant pace and rush of our busy schedule is so tiring. It's nice to just have a day to lounge and catch up on everything.

Today, we took a chicken bus over to check out Primeros Pasos, a non-governmental organization that acts as a rural health center in Xela. The center was actually really well organized and looked to be in good operating condition. In addition to providing basic health services, the center also educates the surrounding area about hygiene and other healthy practices in order to achieve an increased understanding of health in the community. I also thought that it was really cool to hear from the other foreigners that were working at Primeros Pasos because their perspective on a lot of topics differed from my initial opinions on those same topics. One of the guys that was working there said that a lot of people go on medical brigade trips thinking that they're going to get some practice with medical procedures, but they also fail to realize that they're not licensed medical professionals and can't do much more than very basic tasks such as taking pulses or blood pressures. I think that it was interesting that he brought them up because it's actually very true now that I think of it.

Anyways, after we got back to Al Parque Central after our visit to Primeros Pasos, we had pizza at Salon Tecún as a big group. We ordered like 10 pizzas and my favorite was the one with garlic and shrimp on it. I could've probably eaten another 4 slices of that pizza. Right now it's getting pretty close to dinner time and my stomach is starting to growl. Gonna get going. Will update soon! -Scott

Fog Makes Everything More Dramatic

So we just got back from Laguna de Chicabal and it was SO cool. However, the hike to the Laguna wasn't exactly the easiest. First, we all hopped into the back of a pickup truck and we had quite a bumpy ride to the beginning of the trail. Once we started the hike, the initial hill going up was actually pretty steep and I found myself taking a lot of breaks to regain my breath. But once we got to the point with the really long staircase down to the Laguna, I thought it was absolutely worth. Just the stairs going down to the main attraction were so scenic and mysterious.

When we finally got to the bottom of the stairs, we were a little worried because the fog was so thick you could barely see 5ft in front of you. As the title of this blog post suggests, the fog definitely made the whole area feel much more dramatic. Luckily for us, as we started adventuring around the perimeter of the Laguna, the fog started opening up and it gave us some stunning views of the area.

I find myself constantly amazed by how beautiful this place is. Not only that, but the Laguna was so serene and tranquil, which I felt really added to the atmosphere of our experience. The way back was a little bit more difficult because it started raining which made some parts of the trail a little perilous but overall it wasn't too bad.

After we got back to Xela, I actually went to the hospital with Dr. Quinn to get this thing on my back drained. I actually had some trouble sleeping last night because I couldn't lay on it because it was so painful. However, the nurse at the private hospital we went to was able to drain it and clean it up no problem. That's not to say that the actual process of draining the abscess didn't suck, because it did. I can now tell my friends and family that I got a shot in my back. And it hurt. A lot. But it's okay because now the pressure from the abscess has been relieved and I can actually lay on my back now! Anyways, I'm going to get some sleep because today has been exhausting. Talk to you guys soon! -Scott

Life Goes On In Xela!

It's hard to believe that we've already been here for 13 days. I feel like the first week was kind of daunting because we had so much to learn and get used to in a such a short period of time. But after getting back from Lake Atitlán, it seemed pretty easy to go along with the flow of our schedule. I'm actually very surprised at how comfortable I'm starting to feel here in Xela, especially considering how welcoming and friendly everyone is everywhere you go.

So the last two days kind of mimicked the beginning of the week in that we've just had Spanish classes followed by activities in the afternoon. Spanish class is always really relaxing and no-stress because Annabella and I have a lot of conversations about various things like music, partying, my life plans, etc. Of course we also go over the things in my lesson plan such as preterite or imperfect but it's so nice just talking with her in Spanish and practicing my conversational skills.

Yesterday, our afternoon activity involved watching "Sin Nombre," a movie about a girl and her attempt to immigrate to the United States. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how I felt about the movie. It's a dark movie, and the ending left an almost sour taste in my mouth. But the dark and realistic approach to the movie really allowed it to show the terrors and perils that immigrants face when they attempt to come to the United States for a better life. I felt like the movie also did a good job of showing some factors that influence people to leave where they live, including violence, gang activity, and poverty. Another thing that I found interesting was the director also showed how different areas of Latin America have very different opinions and attitudes towards those that they to immigrate to the United States. In one part of the movie, the locals were giving food to the people onboard the train, while in another area the locals were throwing rocks and cursing at the people onboard the train. I think that did a good job of showing the variety in public opinion on such a controversial topic. Overall, I think the movie did a good job of not sugarcoating or over-dramatizing such a dark topic. But I don't think that I would watch this movie again.

Today, our afternoon activity was our second salsa lesson! We actually learned some really complex moves, which was kind of challenging but still really fun! Mitchka and this other guy at the dance studio were dancing and they were really impressive to watch, like it seemed so effortless for them to just dance and go with the flow. I think I'm going to check out some salsa classes at USC when I get back! For now, I'm going to get some sleep since we're off to Laguna de Chicabal tomorrow at 7:30am. See ya guys there! -Scott

I Slept Through An Earthquake Last Night

So believe it or not, I somehow managed to sleep through a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck San Pablo around 1:30 in the morning. I don't really recall much but I do remember feeling like someone was trying to shake me awake. I also vaguely remember hearing the people in our house yelling "vamos, vamos, vamos!" but other than that I totally thought that it was a dream. When I woke up in the morning, I remember thinking "wait, did an earthquake really happen last night? No way." But when I checked my phone, everyone was freaking out about the earthquake that *actually* happened last night. Apparently, Katie and Mitchka went downstairs with the rest of the family once it hit and Nidia was asking them where I was and they said I was sleeping. Once we got to the bus, Dory also somehow managed to sleep through it as well, and John seemed particularly shaken because he's never experienced anything like that.

Anyways, we made the drive over to Chui-Mucubal to see how traditional Guatemalan women's dresses are woven. First, layer after layer of string is placed on top of each other in order to determine the vertical pattern of the design. It can take a couple of days just to get this first part of the design done, but then it'll take another 7-10 days to incorporate the horizontal threads and finalize the horizontal design. We watched as the wife of our bus driver wove thread after thread through a design that she was working on. I was positioned at the top of the design with my camera and I must have taken nearly 30 shots of her before I got the one that I was looking for.

After nearly 30 shots, this was the one that I was looking for. Definitely my favorite shot from this day!

After nearly 30 shots, this was the one that I was looking for. Definitely my favorite shot from this day!

After we watched how the horizontal design is determined, the girls in our group started trying on the garments that they have produced and the women from the village looked very happy to have the girls try on their work. Once the girls finished trying on everything, we said thank you to everyone and then we were on our way to our next stop. But first, I had to snag some photos of the beautiful scenery in the surrounding area.

Guatemala is effortlessly beautiful.

Guatemala is effortlessly beautiful.

Our next stop was very brief, and I actually didn't know what the purpose of the stop was until I got off the bus and turned the corner to see this beautiful church.

A very brief stop but for a very beautiful reason.

A very brief stop but for a very beautiful reason.

The vibrance of the yellow stood out so strongly because of the overcast day. The designs of the angels on the church were relatively simple but the contrast of the reds and blues amongst the yellow really makes them pop out. After stopping for 15 minutes or so, we got back on the bus for our last stop of the day. We drove over to this admittedly sketchy looking place to see how people pay their respects to San Simon. It wasn't exactly a traditional place of worship, and it was more of a combination of Mayan and Catholic traditions. But the overall vibe of the place was very unsettling and creepy. The first room that we entered was darkly candle-lit and there was a mannequin of San Simon that people could give tributes to. Upon entering, I felt a little uncomfortable to be there to be honest. But before leaving, we all went upstairs to see the areas of tribute up there. There was an area that was swarming with bees and a burnt looking bust of San Simon and there was also a fire that had firecrackers in them that would occasionally go off and scare the hell out of us. After seeing what was upstairs, we were pretty quick to leave shortly after that.

Wasn't exactly a fan of this place to be honest.

Wasn't exactly a fan of this place to be honest.

While the experience was a little uncomfortable, I think that it was still worth it to see a different aspect to the lives of the Guatemalan people. It also helped me understand another point of view that doesn't exactly align with my beliefs or practices. Today has been pretty tiring but it was really cool getting to see so many different things in one day! -Scott

Two Days of Spanish Class and Learning About Health Care Systems

I'll admit, the last two days have been very tiring. After our return to Xela, the following day we had Spanish class from 8:30am-12:30pm. I was still pretty exhausted from the previous day so I mainly relied on coffee to keep me animated for my lesson with Annabella and the doblado from the market and fried chicken from Pinulito were much needed morale boosters during the 30-minute break at 10:30am. After Spanish classes, Katie, Mitchka, and I went back to our house for lunch and we took a short nap before going to Blue Angel to watch two documentaries on the health care systems throughout the world. The first documentary about the health care system in Cuba was long but very informative and I learned a lot of things that I didn't know. I wasn't aware that Cuban had such an effective and efficient health care system. Nor did I know that Cuban doctors are very well trained and well respected among other Latin American countries. Watching that documentary was very helpful because the information that was presented in it could definitely be used in my research paper. I think that Guatemala could really benefit from implementing some of the things that have worked for the health care system of Cuba. It's unrealistic for Guatemala to implement changes that richer countries have effectively used because Guatemala doesn't have the same structure or resources that are available to those other countries. However, Cuba is very similar to Guatemala in terms of resources and culture, so it would be a good idea to look into what has worked for Cuba when considering solutions that Sofia and I could propose in our research paper.

The other documentary was shorter than the Cuban documentary but I really liked it because it did a good job of efficiently explaining the different health care systems in Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Great Britain, and Switzerland. While some of the things that are effective for these other countries may not be effective in Guatemala, it does open up the possibility for other ideas and solutions. After the documentaries, I went back home and just relaxed. I felt pretty drained after a long day of class and two documentaries and I was ready to just knock out, which I did.

The following day was very similar in that we had another day of Spanish class but instead of watching documentaries after lunch, we met with Dr. Fredy Salanic to talk about the health care system currently in place in Guatemala and the problem that diabetes plays in Guatemala as well. The thing that stood out to me about his lecture about health care in Guatemala is he said that two main factors in health outcome are poverty and education. Dr. Salanic also mentioned that a big factor is the inequality and poor distribution of wealth in the country. He mentioned that Guatemala has the 2nd worst distribution of wealth in Latin America and the 9th worse distribution of wealth in the world. That's absolutely ridiculous to me. Another thing that he brought up was there are five families that are very rich and powerful in Guatemala and they control a lot of the economic decisions that are made because of their wealth and power. In addition, those families aren't paying taxes that directly contribute to education and health care, harming the state of the country. There was a lot of information in his presentation that could be extremely helpful when writing my research paper with Sofia.

Now I'm just trying to catch up on editing all of the vlogs and photos that I've shot over the last couple of days but as of now I'm really enjoying my time here in Guatemala. I'm honestly learning so much and having such great experiences that I don't want to leave! It's crazy to think that we've already been here for 10 days. Time needs to slow down. -Scott

Back in Xela!

Katie, Mitchka, and I just got back to our host family's house in Xela and we're absolutely exhausted but we did a lot of really cool things this weekend! Let's pick up where we left off in the last blog.

So we had dinner at this place called Circus Bar at the end of the main street in Panajachel. It was a little cramped but the food was delicious and the live music was great! Even though the power went out for like 5 minutes during dinner and we were eating with our iPhone lights out. After dinner we all came back to the hotel and we had some drinks before checking out the bars and dancing around. Shoutout to Kurun for going hard with the tequila shots at literally every bar we visited lol. The following day we took a boat over to Santiago to visit the private hospital there. The facilities they had were very impressive and they took a lot of things into account such as natural light and solar energy. The hospital was very considerate of its impact on the surrounding area and they utilized natural light and other design considerations to make the hospital more welcoming to the people in the surrounding area. However, there seems to be a disconnect because the resources are there but they seem to be underused. One reason for this may be cultural, as some people may want to stick with traditional forms of medicine and may not necessarily approve of Western medicine. It's also possible that word of mouth can steer people away from wanting to utilize the resources that are available. For example, one person may go to the hospital and have a bad experience and then tell other people, causing less people to utilize the resources that are available to them. The cost is something that may also cause people to only go to the hospital in emergency situations instead of going for regular checkups or for preventing symptoms from escalating.

After the hospital, we came back to Panajachel and relaxed and explored for the most part. We were pretty tired so instead of going out we decided to just drink and hangout in mine and Kurun's room. The following day we had our free day so we decided to visit San Marcos and go cliffjumping! That was really exciting until I lost my GoPro after jumping in :( I really thought that I had it secure in my hand but the force of the water just ripped it out of my hand as soon as I jumped in. After San Marcos we went to San Juan to go explore for a bit and I met three ADORABLE kids. I was pretty bummed about losing my GoPro to Lake Atítlan but hanging out with those kids definitely helped cheer me up. Before I left, I gave the oldest girl a quarter from the US and she was really happy and they all hugged me! I probably would've been in a much more sour mood if it wasn't for them.

These kids made my day :)

These kids made my day :)

After San Juan, we all got dinner again together and had some drinks before going out for our last night in Panajachel. The following day me, Mitchka, Lois, Sofia, Elaine, and John all went kayaking on Lake Atítlan! It started raining literally seconds after we got in our kayaks but I feel like that just made the experience more dramatic and fun. The water in the lake was actually surprisingly warm and it was fun to just coast along and take in the sites. Once we finished kayaking, we went back to the hotel to rinse off before boarding our bus to go back to Xela. On the way back, we took a short stop by a really scenic view point to take some pictures and my goodness was the view beautiful.

This is absolutely unreal.

This is absolutely unreal.

I had such an amazing time in Panajachel, and even though I'm happy to be back in Xela, I'm definitely going to miss Lake Atítlan and will have to come back in the future! -Scott

Making the Journey to Panajachel

So we just got checked into our hotel at Lake Atítlan and I have some time to write this blog really quick before we head out to dinner later tonight. Let's rewind to this morning.

Our original departure time for Lake Atítlan was scheduled for 7:30am but it got pushed back to 5:45am because apparently there were supposed to be a lot of protests on the highway. I'm not quite sure what the people were protesting about but Erika was telling us that these protests are fairly common and can shut down highways for very long periods of time. So it made sense for us to leave earlier in order to get a good head start. It was pretty cold in the morning but once we got on the bus we all pretty much knocked out until we stopped on the road to check out an amazing view of some of the volcanoes in the area.

I love how the clouds just sit over everything.

I love how the clouds just sit over everything.

After snagging some pics, we all got back on the bus and made the trip over to Chichicastenango to visit Doña Sebastiana. She's a traditional Mayan style healer that specializes in the use of natural herbs and other forms of healing such as massage and prayer. When she first welcomed us in, we all sat in a circle and sang a song about how being together in a circle symbolizes equality between all of us. Then we talked a lot about the health issues that she's seen in the last couple of years. She said that it's becoming more common to see teenagers self-harming and suicide is becoming increasingly prevalent, even though it really hasn't been a problem in the last 5 years. Infidelity and domestic violence are two issues that she's also seen pretty frequently. One story that I found particularly amazing was the story of how she was approached by a couple that was having trouble having a baby. The couple had been trying for seven years to have a child but were unsuccessful until they visited Doña. She massaged both the husband and the wife for 7 days and they were able to successfully have a baby shortly after their visit to her. And as a thanks, the couple is flying Doña out to France as a thank you because the baby had just turned one. While these stories were amazing, I got to experience her skills first hand. She asked our group if anyone has had a cough or has had trouble breathing lately, and I told her that I'd had a persistent cough for about 2 weeks. She responded to this by saying that she could tell by looking at my face that I looked stuffed up. So she told me to lay down and she proceeded to massage my face, my neck, my chest, and gave me some type of fresh herbs to inhale. I focused on my breathing and after she was done, I truly felt that I was able to actually breathe deeper and I felt more open. Truly amazing. She also gave me this ointment-like paste that she told me to put on my neck before sleeping. I actually ended up trying it the first night and it was really cool and soothing! Last, she also read our "nahuales," which are basically Mayan horoscopes (kinda). She told me that I'm very respectful and appreciative of what my ancestors did for me and that I'm one with nature. Both of those are very true, which is very interesting because she told me that only knowing my birthday. I am really appreciative of everything that my parents and their parents have done to ensure that I could have the life that I'm having right now. And I absolutely love being in nature because I truly feel relaxed and free.

Such an amazing woman with so much knowledge and care for others.

Such an amazing woman with so much knowledge and care for others.

After saying bye to Doña, we stopped by this hotel close to the Chichicastengo market to eat lunch. The entrance to the hotel was very pretty as it had a fountain, some nice flowers and greenery, and two beautiful parrots just chilling on their perch. I was really hungry by the time lunch came so I pretty much devoured everything that was put in front of me. The only thing that I really wasn't a fan of was the goat cheese that they paired with the beans. It was a little too strong for my taste, but nevertheless lunch made me very happy. Following lunch, we spent about an hour exploring the largest market in Central America. I didn't buy anything but Kurun and Giulia were trying their best to bargain and get some good deals. I took some portraits of some mothers with their children on their backs and I get some good shots of some of the things that they were selling. The market truly was huge, and I wouldn't be surprised if people have gotten lost in there before.

One of the many aisles of the market at Chichicastenango.

One of the many aisles of the market at Chichicastenango.

After exploring for a bit, we all re-boarded the bus and finally drove over to our hotel in Panajachel. The hotel is actually really cute and the rooms are really nice! Kurun and I are sharing a room and the showers are HOT and have good water pressure. The shower in our host family's house in Xela is pretty cold and doesn't really have good water pressure so the shower in the hotel was a godsend. Really makes me appreciate the simple things in life such as a nice, warm shower. We're about to go grab dinner as a big group and hit up some bars and go dancing after so I'm gonna wrap up this blog here. Today has been really tiring but also really exciting! -Scott

First REAL Day of Spanish Classes

Today everyone in our group got matched up with our respective teachers and I got to meet my Spanish teacher for the next 4 weeks! Her name is Annabella and she's very bright, bubbly, energetic, and funny so I can already tell that we're going to get along just fine! We started with reviewing preterite and going over its conjugations and uses. I really like the structure of the Spanish lessons. It's very relaxed and conversational and we basically just got to know each other this first lesson. She asked me a lot about my hobbies and the things that I've done in the past and just practicing talking in Spanish has been very helpful. Also, the structure of our lessons in the morning is pretty simple. Basically, we have a session from 8:30am to 10:30am, then a short 30 minute break, then a second session from 11:00am to 12:30pm. During the break, we visited this woman in the market right next to the school that sells doblados, which are pretty much tortillas that have been folded in half and stuffed with chicken and onion, sautéed/fried in oil, and garnished with salsa, cheese, and other delicious goodies. They are DELICIOUS and the best part is they only cost 4 quetzales (roughly $0.60 USD). That is insane.

Just LOOK at this thing. Absolutely mouthwatering. 

Just LOOK at this thing. Absolutely mouthwatering. 

Anyways, I also got some fried chicken from this place nearby called Pinulito and I think I can honestly say that it is some of the best fried chicken I've had. The skin is so crunchy and tasty and the actual meat is juicy, soft, and delicious. As I said in a previous blog, I'm definitely going to be eating a lot during this trip, especially since a big chicken leg and a doblado is only 12 quetzales ($1.60 USD). Again, that's crazy cheap. Following the break, we finished up the second session and I got assigned my homework which consists of listening to a song on YouTube on writing down all of the verbs that are in preterite. Katie and Mitchka are kind of mad at me because they got much heavier assignments, sorry :)

Following Spanish class, we walked over to the Somos Hermanos office right by Al Parque Central and we watched a brief documentary on the genocide that occurred in Guatemala after the United States sold weapons to the Guatemalan military. It was really difficult to watch because there was a part in the documentary where a man was trying to get his family to hide with him in the hills behind their village before the military came. His wife told him that he should be the one to go hide because the military won't hurt women or children. However, his wife was wrong, and the man's wife and three children were executed point blank. When the man returned, he found his family dead and he buried them and ran away. In the documentary, years following the genocide, an archaeological team came to the village to locate the bodies that had been buried. And the man watched as they uncovered what was left of his family. I can't begin to imagine how I would've handled that. To think that so many innocent Guatemalan people were killed at the hands of their own government's military is horrifying. But it really gave me an idea of the history of this country and the oppression that the indigenous people have faced. Definitely something to think about when considering the country as a whole.

Anyways, it's getting late and I should really get some sleep because we are waking up at 5:30am so we can start our drive over to Lake Atitlan. We were originally supposed to start our drive around 7:30am but apparently there's going to be protests tomorrow that block the highways in Guatemala, making travel very difficult. So we're going to try to cover as much distance as possible and avoid that. Wish us luck! -Scott

Spanish Placement Exam and Salsa Lessons!

So we just got back from our first salsa lesson and that was SO much fun but first let me recap on what happened earlier in the day!

We all arrived at Sol Latino at 8:30am to take our Spanish placement exams. Fortunately, the teachers told us that the placement exam is very no stress and not to worry if we don't know how to answer certain questions. After the written portion of the exam, I had a really brief oral conversation with Jose Carlos (who is the husband of Erika) and we formed my lesson plan for the remainder of the time that I'll be in Xela! My biggest focus is definitely on preterite and imperfect in Spanish because I really like telling stories and describing what happened in the past but I need more practice on conjugating verbs in past tense and making conversations more fluid. Once I get through the past tense, I'm also going to start practicing future tense as well.

After our placement exams, a few of us went to a bake shop that has some of the best donuts I've ever tried. I got one that was cream filled and I devoured it, and I also bought a bag of donut holes as a snack for later. The bake shop was actually very busy when we went because it is actually only open on certain days (Tuesdays and Thursdays I think?). On top of that, they only have certain amounts of each food item so if you really want something specific you better get there early.

Next, we went back to our host house for lunch and we stopped by a cafe called La Chatia to do some research for what we wanted to do for our free day in Panajachel this upcoming weekend. Paragliding seemed like a good option but we were also thinking of checking out some of the surrounding areas around Lake Atitlan such as San Marcos and San Juan. I also worked on some of my vlogs and got some fresh orange juice which was really good. Then we headed over to Salsa Rosa for our first salsa lesson and it was really fun! Having danced ballroom when I was in middle school, it was very natural for me to get back into my old steps and have fun again. We learned a lot of cool moves and it was really nice for helping us bond as a group!

Katie, Mitchka, and I are going to eat dinner in a little bit with our host family and then we're gonna head out to a bar for Trivia Night around 9pm. Our first real day in Xela has been amazing so far :) -Scott

Update June 11: Here's the accompanying vlog to this blog!

Meeting My Host Family in Xela!

Ahhh where do I start. Today has been another long day of traveling but we made it to Xela! We woke up pretty early to start our trip over to Xela from Guatemala City but I spent most of it snoozing on the bus. We made a small stop in a strip mall to grab lunch and John and I got some chicken that was pretty delicious. I'm also very astonished at how cheap everything is here compared to the US. My lunch was a two-piece chicken meal with a side and a drink and it cost 18 quetzales if I remember correctly, which is about $2.50 USD. That is INSANE. I can already tell that I'm going to be constantly eating here haha.

Anyways, after the small stop for lunch we kept driving along and made another stop to refuel our bus at a gas station. It started raining during the trip over and the high elevation made for some really cool shots of clouds sitting along the tress of the country side. After the second stop, we drove straight to Xela and of course I knocked out again along the way and I only woke up until we finally arrived right in front of Sol Latino, the Spanish school we will be studying at for the next 4 weeks. There, Mitchka, Katie, and I got introduced to Nidia, our host mom in Xela. We then made the walk from the Spanish school to our house so we could figure out how to get back to the school the following morning. At our house, we got showed our rooms and we unpacked everything and got ready for dinner. We got introduced to most of the family that lives there and we also met some of the other students from Guatemala that are living in the house as well. There's Melanie and Estefany (the two daughters), Diego, Estuardo, and Wilson (three other Guatemalan students), Peluche and Nena (the two dogs), and Nidia and Mario (the grandparents in the house). Michelle is the daughter of Nidia and the mother of Melanie and Estefany but she couldn't be there to welcome us because she was working. We helped make dinner, I showed everyone my photography, DJing, and magic tricks (which they loved) and danced a little bit before heading off to a bar called El Portal by Al Parque Central to have some drinks before we wrapped up our first night. I absolutely LOVE our host family and I can tell that I'm going to thoroughly enjoy the next four weeks here :) But again, I'm going to get some sleep since we have our Spanish placement exam tomorrow morning. Hoping for the best! -Scott

Update June 11: Just uploaded the vlog from today's events on YouTube! Check it out below!

A Long Day of Traveling But FINALLY in Guatemala!

Today has been quite hectic but I'm glad to be finally writing this while sitting in my room at Dos Lunas in Guatemala City. To start, I thought my flight to Guatemala was at 10:40am. However, it wasn't until I arrived at O'Hare and checked my bag in did I find out that my flight was actually scheduled to depart around 1:40pm. Whoops. Luckily I live pretty close to the airport so my family just drove back home and I took a nap before finally driving back to depart for real this time. The flight to Atlanta wasn't too bad, I slept through most of it and woke up about 15 minutes away to landing so it went by pretty quick. Shortly after landing at Atlanta, I met up with my professor Dr. Quinn before boarding and we got re-acquainted and I asked her some questions about my research paper and some of the plans we have ahead of us. Anyways, the flight to Guatemala City was actually pretty bumpy and it was hard to do work since I was getting pretty nauseous from the turbulence so I just ended up trying to snooze through it again. Upon landing, Dr. Quinn and I spent a good 30 minutes waiting at the wrong baggage claim but after we finally got our luggage we received a warm welcome from Erika and made the short drive over to Dos Lunas. It was so nice finally seeing everyone in our group again and I'm beyond excited for the trip we're going to make tomorrow to Xela! It's so surreal because I've been excited for this trip for so long and now I'm actually in Guatemala, so crazy. Anyways, I'm exhausted and I need some sleep. Will update tomorrow! -Scott

Update June 7: I made a vlog from this portion of my trip! You can watch it below :)

Leaving for Guatemala tomorrow morning!

Well it's currently 12:37am and I'm sitting in my room in Chicago pretty much all packed up and ready to go for Guatemala tomorrow morning. I'll admit, I kind of wish that I had more time to enjoy being back home because I've only been back for a week and I'm already leaving again tomorrow. However, I'm beyond excited for what's to come the next four weeks! I'll be updating this blog regularly as the course progresses and as I experience cool things to share but for now, I should probably get some sleep as I'm leaving for the airport at 8am in the morning. My first flight to Atlanta departs at 10:40am and from there I have a four hour layover until my 5:00pm flight to Guatemala City! Dr. Quinn will be on the same flight as me on the way to Guatemala so hopefully I'll be able to meet with her in Atlanta and ask her some questions about my research paper and all that is to come. Gotta catch some sleep! -Scott