It’s been a while!

So it’s been a while and I wanted to take this opportunity to post my last post for my trip to Guatemala.  I have actually been back in the United States for 2 weeks now (time sure flies) and am just about fully settled back into the seminary routine (see my upcoming post on that).  This is just a quick wrap-up post about my awesome summer experience.

Definitely the most exciting part of my Guatemala experience was summed up in the pictures of my previous post.  Climbing to a Volcano and going to experience the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal were definitely the highlights of my experiences outside of the city of Antigua.  The remaining weeks were spent primarily in my usual routine of spanish tutoring during the week and the weekends were spent just taking things easy, wandering around Antigua, and trying to catch up on sleep.  In those weeks we were able to take a school trip to a coffee farm.  We saw coffee plants and learned about the process of harvesting the plants.  After finally coming to appreciate coffee in its fullness it was remarkable to actual see the plant that provides for the drink that I am so accustomed to.

During these weeks I was definitely feeling homesick so in order to feel a bit more like home I had my mom email me her recipe for chocolate chip cookies and I did my best to bake some with my host family.  We then ate cookies and played “Uno” (yes “Uno” is played in Spanish speaking countries too!).  It was a lot of fun, we got to converse with the kids and play a fun game too.  I won one of the games.

We also finally made our way up to the Cerro de la Cruz – a huge cross that is on the hill overlooking the city (see my picture below).  It was an awe-inspiring view at 6:00am with nobody up there besides ourselves.

All in all my summer was one full of God’s grace.  It was very challenging being in a place so far from home and feeling a bit isolated from everyone back home but I had God with me and persevered.  I even learned quite a bit of Spanish along the way!  (and made some great friends too)  I am no where near fluent in Spanish, but I am able to converse simply and have quite a solid foundation in grammar to continue in learning Spanish on my own back in the United States (by hopefully engaging in conversation with hispanic seminarians and by means of Rosetta Stone).  I also am very familiar with the Mass in Spanish and that will help me as I learn how to celebrate the Mass in Spanish as a future priest.  My experience in Guatemala has taught me to be grateful for everything that we, as Americans, are blessed with and typically take for granted (wide sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.).  I will never quite look at a shower in the same way again, definitely not without gratitude in my heart that we have what we have in the United States of America.

Gratitude.  Gratitude is the virtue that I would like to cultivate this year in seminary, and this summer experience was a good launch into that endeavor.

Real life coffee beans!
Coffee farm!
Out for a walk with my teacher.

 

Making Mom’s chocolate chip cookies with my host family!

 

Cerro de la Cruz – overlooking Antigua.
The “reflection shot” of the Arco de Santa Catalina.

 

The soil of the United States of America was a welcome sight!

Volcanoes and Ruins

Another impressive couple of weeks! I am now well into my fifth week here in Guatemala doing my best to learn Spanish and immerse myself in the culture. It’s going well, but I’m definitely feeling a tad homesick, the German in me wants more punctuality and rule following than what is commonly lived here (along with paved streets and wider sidewalks). It’s all good though! Living here definitely is making me appreciate the life that I am blessed with in the United States and I will take that gratitude with me when I return in August.

Two weekends ago I got to check off a bucket-list item. I hiked a volcano! (well in actuality we didn’t hike THE volcano, but hiked as close as we could). We hiked Volcan de Pacaya, which is an active volcano in the southern part of Guatemala. It is one of the most common volcanoes for tourists to climb because it is the safest (robbers sometimes frequent some of the lesser hiked volcanoes). The last major eruption of Volcan de Pacaya was in March 2014 (just 3 months ago!) and we even wandered out onto the lava bed that the volcano created then. The lava bed had residual heat beneath it that in some areas we were even able to roast marshmallows and ate S’mores. It’s truly incredible what our Earth is capable of!

Roasting marshmallows! Yay S’mores!

This past weekend was also filled with adventures as a group of us traveled to the northern part of Guatemala to see the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Some of these ruins were built around 8,000 B.C. and are still standing today! We spent a day in Flores (on an island in a lake near Tikal) and just enjoying a bit of vacation (we stayed in a hotel with AC). We got to eat supper at a restaurant and watch the sun set over the lake. Very beautiful. The day in Tikal was absolutely stunning. It’s quite literally in the jungle in Central America. It was incredibly humid and the heat index was roughly at 105ºF. We had a guided tour around the ruins and got to see all of the major temples and places the Mayans would have lived and were told the history of the ruins. We even got to see a bit of wildlife, we saw a couple spider monkeys, a tarantula (which was sure to stay a number of feet away from), and heard howler monkeys in the distance. We were able to climb a few of the temples and see the impressive view over the jungle and just marvel at the engingeering and intelligence of the ancient Mayans. Their mathematical and astronomical knowledge would have been on par with our modern understanding. Tikal is truly an incredible place to visit and I do not regret the crazy travel that it took to get there. We took two overnight buses (8 hours to get from Guatemala City to Flores) and when we were getting back to the bus station at the end of our time in Flores, we crammed 7 people in a taxi… eh, it’s Guatemala, these things just sorta happen without missing a beat.

Templo 1 (Temple 1).
The Star Wars nerd in me rejoiced when I got to see the same place where the Rebel Base in Ep 4 was filmed (at Tikal)!

Please continue to keep all of us here in Guatemala in your prayers. A number of seminarians are finishing up their time here and are headed back to the USA, but we still have three and half more weeks of learning. As the weeks keep going it will be difficult for us to keep focused, so pray for our ability to absorb as much Spanish language as we can in the next few weeks! We’ll be back stateside before you know it!

Macadamia Nuts, Bombas, and Tortillas, the Guatemalan Adventure Continues…

Wow, crazy how time flies, it’s already nearing the end of my third week here in Guatemala! My Spanish is progressing. In the moments it can feel frustrating as if I’m not making any progress but when I look at where I am now compared to where I was the first day, I am able to converse much more easily in Spanish and obviously am learning a lot. My teacher is incredible patient with me (¡Gracias a Dios!). We have been slowly working our way through the nuances of Spanish grammer and in particularly we are working with the different verb tenses (for you grammer people out there: I have been working through the present, the preterite, and imperfect tenses so far).

Last Wednesday we got to tour a macadamia nut farm, and got to sample them. All the nuts are picked by hand and they use incredibly simple machines to remove the shell, dry the nuts, and sort them. They then sell the nuts by themselves but also make a variety of other products (macadamia oil for your skin, macadamia nut butter, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, plus other foodstuff). Additionally they use macadamia nuts in making pancakes in their restaurant and top them with macadamia nut butter… and they were most certainly delicous (we, of course, had to try them!).

On the 4th of July, we celebrated our Independence Day by having a fiesta at the school. Beginning with our national anthem, a barbeque commenced. We gathered food that could be cooked like in the United States and ate hamburgers and hot dogs (turkey dogs…), plus baked beans, corn on the cob (elote), potato chips, and beer. It was probably the worst (healthwise for me) I’ve eaten since coming here to Guatemala, but it was delicious and a nice reminder of home. We also had a few bombas (fireworks that aren’t for viewing as much as they are for making a lot of noise – they are usually set off during the day) that we lighted in celebration. Practically just like being home. I also listened to “America” by Neil Diamond, a personal tradition of mine and a song that I love.

Last weekend we stayed in Antigua again and wandered around the city, exploring more. We toured the ruins at the church of San Francisco and also went to Mass there.
The famous arch in Antigua, at dusk.

This week (along with learning more Spanish) has been even more awesome because we went to one of the family’s houses to learn how to make tortillas de maize. [Disclaimer: the tortillas weren’t made from scratch, but with a packet of Maseca, a pre-made corn flour mix]. 5 of us got our hands dirty and flattened the corn flour in our hands to make tortillas and helped Flory (the mom of the home) grill them slightly. Flory then taught me how to make guacamole (incredibly simple!). All I did was mix avocados with a little salt and some lime juice. Flory cooked carne asada and chorizo and we all got to enjoy tacos with our homemade tortillas. ¡Muy delicioso!

My incredible meal of homemade tortillas with chorizo & carne asada, onions, and salsa chiltepe. And guacamole!

This week I was also blessed to share some incredible coffee (espresso mixed with Mayan chocolate) with a good seminarian friend of my from the Diocese of Orlando, FL, Mark LaBelle. He’s here in Guatemala learning Spanish as well, just at a different school.

And so here’s to what God’s grace has in store for me during the next five weeks! Cheers!

Geronimo! Guatemala, estamos aqui!

This is the view of Antigua from our rooftop in the afternoon when it’s probably going to rain and visibility is poor, it was taken on the first day we got into Guatemala.

Hey everyone! I am now in Guatemala, beginning to learn Español as best as I can. We are 1 week into our 8 week program at a language school called Probigua in Antigua, Guatemala. This place is a whole different world! (por supuesto). I was expecting a drastic change in culture from the USA, so my transition to life in Central America is going extremely well. As long as I am able to just go with the flow everything happens smoothly and I am able to not get stressed out. We flew out of Denver on Sunday June 22 to Guatemala City. I was surprised at how relaxed I was about the whole process. I knew that we would land and someone would be there waiting for us with our names on a sign. That was all I knew, and I was okay with that. I knew God would take care of me and so I let things happen as they would. Everything went very smoothly and we were picked up and we drove out of Guatemala City to Antigua and were dropped off at our host family’s house. Our host family is great, a single mom (dad passed away) with 3 children (a teenager boy, and 2 girls ages 12 and 10). Her grandpa lives here too and other family members live very close by. I get my own bedroom and Deacon Augustine (another seminarian from Wyoming) has his own bedreem and we share a bathroom. We basically have the top level of their house to ourselves. Their house is organized differently from houses in the USA. My bedroom opens onto the rooftop (it is an outside door), and Deacon Augustine has the same setup. The first floor has a small kitchen, dining room, living room, and other bedrooms and a bathroom.

I was impressed by the beauty of the land in Guatemala. We are in a valley surrounded by montains and the weather is vastly different from Wyoming. It rains almost everyday here. Out of the 6 days we’ve been here so far, only one day was without rain. The seasons are backwards to what I’m used to. The locals call this winter even though we are still north of the equator (we are in the rainy season). It’s a good thing I brought an umbrella…it’s definitely getting used! The morning after we got here I was blown away by the view I got when I stepped outside and looked south. Guatemala has volcanoes! Antigua has 4 volcanoes nearby and a huge one directly south of town that overlooks the city. This particular volcano is called: “Volcan de Agua.” It is called the Volcano of Water because it is an inactive volcano and a long time ago the crater at the top of the volcano filled with water because of rain and overflowed down the mountain destroying the nearby towns.

Volcán de Agua from our rooftop.
Volcán de Agua
Probigua Language School

A typical day for me here in Antigua consists of breakfast at 7am, classes from 8am to 10am then a thirty minute break (which is nice for grabbing coffee or tea) and then class again until 12pm. Lunch is at 1pm back at our host family’s house (about a 15 minute walk). In the afternoon I have class from 2pm to 4pm and Mass is at 5pm (at La Merced). I am hoping to go to the gym every day after Mass before supper which is back at our house at 7:30pm. Then it’s homework and study and bed. My days during the week are very full. Class for me is one-on-one learning with a tutor. My teacher and I sit and talk completely in Spanish the whole time. She knows only a little English so occasionally we look up words in a Spanish-English dictionary. She is teaching me the grammar of Spanish and a whole lot of vocabulary words (I’ve got quite a bit of memorization to do!). I find I am remarkably better at understanding Spanish that I thought I would be. I can understand my teacher fairly well (of course she is using a much simplier vocabulary) and am able to communicate many things that I didn’t think I could. I am growing in confidence and with 7 more weeks of this I hope I will improve a lot.

La Iglesia de La Merced
A typical lunch: Carne de vaca, frijoles, potato, nachos, y tortillas.

I also find that I love the food here in Guatemala. I have always liked Mexican food and the food here is very similar. Typically for breakfast we get lots of fruit (bananas, apples, mangos, and papayas) and sometimes eggs or toast or cereal. We also get orange juice and instant coffee. I am definitely not used to instant coffee. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day and includes meat, potatoes, refried beans, and (my favorite) corn tortillas! Supper is a lighter meal and so far has been soups with pan dulce (sweet bread). The food here is much healthier than typical meals in the USA. Our house mom doesn’t prepare anything that has been processed, everything is fresh. The fruit especially is extremely fresh and local. And it is all delicous! Is it bad that I really look forward to every meal?

A typical supper: mushroom soup (with cheese sauce) and pan dulce.
Volcán de Fuego was smoking one morning as we walked to school.

This first weekend we stayed in Antigua and did a bit of exploring around the city. It is a small touristy city so there are a lot of things to see and shops to visit (there is even a McDonald’s). Also, this Sunday is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, but in Guatemala each Church takes a Sunday throughout the months of mid-June to mid-August to celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in a grand way. So we went to Mass at La Mercad where they were celebrating Corpus Christi this Sunday and that meant fireworks outside the Church as Mass began and a Eucharistic procession after Mass throughout the streets of Antigua. The people covered parts of the streets with flowers and leaves for Jesus. The procession was a few kilometers and took a number of hours to complete and there were fireworks practically at every part along the way and a marching band too. It’s definitely a vastly different experience than what we experience in the United States.

In future weekends we plan on getting out of Antigua and seeing Guatemala as a whole. We want to visit Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlán) one weekend, go see the Mayan Ruins at Tikal (northern Guatemala) another weekend, and also climb a volcano (Volcán de Pacaya most likely). This summer is going to be a great way to see and live in this amazing culture in Guatemala, learn the language, and keep growing ever closer to God, our Heavenly Father, as I am constantly reminded to place all my trust in His most Sacred Heart. Keep praying for us down here and know of my prayers for you all and that I miss you!