I am SO sorry that it’s taken us so long to give you our feedback on the trip. We had the most amazing time - and it felt like Anne was very intentional and thoughtful about ensuring that the experience was both meaningful, interesting and fun. Riding in her pick-up truck was definitely a highlight.
We received an email from Joe Siple inquiring about the trip, and Sai and I took a bunch of time formulating our response because I wanted it to serve as feedback for you as well. They sound excited about the trip. We are jealous! This is what we wrote to them:
I have to say that our Guatemala trip exceeded my expectations which were, admittedly, rather low in that my sole intention was for us to do volunteer work while experiencing another culture. However, instead of feeling like we were “giving back,” we actually felt very taken care of - not just by Ann, our coordinator, but by everyone that we came in contact with. Ann was amazing from beginning to end - and bent over backwards to meet our needs.
The Hotel we stayed at was a welcoming, beautiful setting on the lake with hammocks and kayaks and swimming docks. The water was warm and inviting.
The rooms are very rustic. They are open, facing the lake with a tarp-like shade that you can pull-down. We chose to leave it open every night to enjoy the view. What I would say is that if any of you are squeamish when it comes to insects, I would opt for the luxury rooms next door. We are campers so we did not mind the occasional insects that would find their way into our room but if you stay in the standard rooms (like we did), you should be prepared that you will be one with nature - in all of its forms.
Ann had a set itinerary for us for each day with optional add-on trips. We did all of the add-ons except for the zip-lining because we ran out of time. It was such a nice mix of volunteering and enjoying the local culture.
Ann knows everyone and everything about the local people so it was fun, for example, to learn that the guy who led our horseback riding was also the mayor at one point. The guy who led our boat tour and who translated for us at the nature walk was the sweetest young man who lived in Pennsylvania for a number of years before deciding to come back to his hometown in Guatemala. Most days, she would fill the back of her pick-up with local people who needed a ride down the hill to their homes.
As for safety . . . I made the trip with my 13-year old daughter. Right before leaving, I became nervous about safety issues after family members began voicing their concerns. Ann put my fears to rest - and, after being there for a week, I can tell you that it felt extremely safe and very remote from any of the things that you may have heard. There was NOT a moment that we felt unsafe. The village felt like a home away from home for us; a small, beautiful community of people who were trying to make the most of their limited resources. Ann, and the people and families we came into contact with were grateful for our volunteer work and for the money that our trip brought to their community and their projects. Their gratitude was apparent and heartfelt. My understanding is that the safety issues and violence are in Guatemala City. My daughter and I flew into Belize and then took a puddle jumper from Belize to Flores so we never passed through Guatemala City.
In terms of what we did . . . I believe their is a sample itinerary online, and our itinerary closely mirrored that one. We spent one day helping to prepare a cement floor for a family of 6. We spent another day at a reforestation project replanting trees. Another day was spent at the Women’s Center helping with gardening. We taught english to the children in the afterschool program. We also did crafts with the children on a separate day - and we had a half-day exploring the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
My daughter’s suggestion was to bring crafts - although it’s not mandatory. We brought some easy to travel games like Uno, cards and spot-it to play with the children. We brought yarn to make “gods-eyes” (a project that they LOVED) and some Lanyards and string for friendship bracelets. However, you can lead whatever craft/art projects you choose. It is clear that they want you to enjoy your experience. You never feel that you have to do something a certain way or that you are not working hard enough. It feels like they are grateful for whatever you are able to offer up.
My daughter also suggested that you download google translate, though the coordinator Ann with you does speak English and Spanish, it gives you more independence to communicate. My daughter didn’t speak any spanish. My spanish was limited but improved as the week went on. My daughter discovered that with google translate you can hold your phone up to any sign or writing and the spanish would automatically be translated to english. She also found it useful when trying to communicate with some of the children. To the extent that you or your girls speak some spanish, you will be surprised at how much it improves during your time there.
My daughter also recommends the ice cream in town. We made a tradition of stopping off and getting a scoop after each day of service.
One other thing, Danny - who leads the reforestation project and has an incredibly gentle and inspiring spirit -and who has organized a soccer team for the children- has requested cleats for his players of you happen to have any that you or families you know have grown out of.
My daughter was very sad when it was time to leave. We really felt very much at home. We had fully expected to feel good about our service but we didn’t expect to get so much back in return. All of our experiences left us with warm memories and a sense of connection to the beautiful people of El Remate.
If you have any additional questions, we would be happy to answer them either by email or an pre-arranged phone call. We’d also love to know how your experience goes.
All the best,
Amy & Sai