Volunteering in Guatemala

I had been wanting to take Rollie on my customary volunteering trip with Globe Aware for a few years, but the pandemic got in the way. We finally got it done in February, 2024. Long time readers may remember when I did similar trips (China with Andrew, then Costa Rica with Delaney) with my older kids when they were around 12 years old. The goal is to help them really understand the 20% or so of the world that lives in poverty, and that they can be happy without all of our modern conveniences. The poverty rate in Guatemala is around 55%, so I decided to take Rollie to El Remete, Guatemala.

As before, I wrote nightly emails to form this blog later, so I apologize for the raw form. I hope it gives you an idea of what it’s like and helps you consider your own trip with Globe Aware (the organization I’ve used for all 3 volunteering trips). I know this is way too long to read for most people, but I’m really writing it for myself and for my family. But I thought I’d share it all. Perhaps you’ll just scan the photos, which is fine.

Day 0 Travel to Guatemala City before our next day connection

Today was a travel day. We left the house at 9:15am and connected through Houston. When we got to Houston, Rollie at a huge late lunch. I wonder if he sensed that it would be his last American meal for a week? It was a BLT (extra mayo, of course) and he chowed down. On the first flight, we talked some about families and kids that don’t have much, but that they can still be really happy. We talked about poverty, and I was pleasantly surprised that Rollie already had a pretty good sense of what this meant and what portion of the world it affected. On the second flight we flew over Flores, where we’d go tomorrow (backtracking a bit, because we couldn’t get there on the same day). We arrived in Guatemala City at 7pm, and got through customs and immigration fairly quickly. On the drive to our hotel we were surprised to see Dunkin, Burger King, and Rollie thought he saw a Dairy Queen (but i couldn’t find one on the map). We got to our hotel near the airport by around 8pm. We went down and Rollie got a strawberry, banana, and Nutella crepe and we shared some fries (so much for no American food!). We played some hangman while we ate. After dinner, Rollie jumped in the bath and went to bed around 10:30pm, while I was writing this.

I remember from my two earlier Globe Aware trips that the first few days after arriving to the final site can be pretty really hard emotionally. I remember them being harder on me than they were on the kids. The feeling of being far from home, without the comforts of home, hits you quickly. Tonight we’re in a nice hotel, and things are fairly normal, but I expect that tomorrow will be a bit of a shock to the system for Rollie. And, for me, even though I know its coming.  I’m glad we get a good nights rest tonight, before the adventure begins tomorrow. Our flight is not until 1pm on Saturday, so we plan to sleep in a bit and maybe get Rollie some breakfast before we leave for the airport at 11am.

Day 1 – Guatamala City to Flores and Orientation

Rollie slept in until 10am, and our car to the airport was at 10:30am. We arrived at the airport by 10:45, and checked in for our flight, checked our bags, etc. We got the gate about 11:15am after fruitlessly searching for something Rollie would eat in the airport. There was only a vending machine at the gate, with warm soda and what looked like 5 year old bags of chips. We boarded our commuter twin turbo prop and took off early at about 12:45pm with 40 passengers on board.

It was a little bit interesting to see about 20 rusted out planes on the side of the runway.  When they’re done with planes, I guess they just park them and leave them to rot for decades.

The flight took about 45 minutes, and we landed about 15 minutes early. The Flores airport is pretty small, so our bags came right away and we we through to ominous looking immigration security checkpoint. I’m not sure why you have to show passports and do all of that stuff here, since we had already done that in Guatemala City. The checkpoint looked pretty serious, but the officers were very nice. I was able to speak only Spanish with them, explaining that we were here for a week as volunteers for Globe Aware. Language progress!

A man met us outside with a sign, and drove us 35 minutes to El Remete, to our accommodations. The hotel here is called Hotel Gringo Perdido, which instantly made me laugh (look it up!). We checked in, and again I was able to do everything in Spanish only including listenening to the orientation information from the receptionist about the wifi, the kayaks, water and tea, breakfast, dinner, etc. I think there was only one sentence I didn’t understand but I just let it go. I hope it wasn’t something important. Maybe it was “watch out for the crocodiles.”

Rollie met the hotel dog right away, who looked a little bit like our dog Gemma. Her name was Lola.

The hotel is situated right on a very beautiful lake called Lago Petén Itzá. It’s a very long lake, so coming to the hotel you drive through the town of El Remete, and along the lake for about 3-4 kilometers. It’s very beautiful here. Our room is right on the lakefront, and there are piers out over the water with nice places to sit.

By the time we arrived it was around 2:30pm, and neither of us had eaten anything real. Rollie had a few girl scout cookies on the plane to hold him over. Anne came to introduce ourselves as our volunteer coordinator. She’s a Canadian who has been here 30 years. She explained that the restaurant has very good food, so we sat down there for a snack and she chatted with Rollie and me for a bit. Rollie ordered french fries and a soda and I had a chicken quesadilla and “agua mineral.” Rollie grabbed five crowns, which Anne said she’s seeing more and more from tourists, and that it used to be only Uno. While Rollie and I played 10 rounds, which he won by the approximate score of 130 to 7, Anne went over the week at a high level. 

She said that if we wanted, we could have downtime and enjoy the lake, or come with her and some other volunteers to do a few quick things. We opted to get right to the volunteering. 

First, Rollie, Anne, and I went to the home of a little boy who is autistic. The day before we left Boulder we had gotten a message asking if we could bring a yoga ball. We had ordered it from Amazon, and crammed it into the suitcase (deflated, of course). So the yoga ball delivery was on. One of the volunteers was a therapist and we went and explained how the 5 year old boy could use the yoga ball to help as part of his treatment. We didn’t get the meet the boy, but met the mom and her two year old. Rollie blew up the yoga ball and there were some tearful goodbyes between the mother and the between he other volunteers who had been helping this mom and kid for a while, because those volunteers are leaving tomorrow.

This house doubles as a second hand clothing store. It had a metal roof but when we looked up we could see openings that rain must come through all the time. You can get a sense of the home from the photo. That’s the yoga ball Rollie is pumping up. 

It felt nice to deliver something from the US, take it on 3 flights, and give it to this mom and kid to help them out.

Next we stopped by the home of 3 little girls to help the oldest (who is 9) with speaking. She had been communicating only non-verbally until about a week ago. The other volunteers had been working with her during the week, and she had been making some early progress making speech sounds. The two younger daughters (5 and 7) were progressing normally with speech, but had learned how to make signs with their older sister out of necessity.  This home was up on a hillside and Rollie had lots of fun bouncing around in the truck as we made our way up the rocky roads. 

Rollie and I watched with the two younger sisters for a while during the therapy session, from a bench attached to the home. 

Once the session was done, the three girls challenged us to some backyard football. Rollie jumped on that opportunity quickly, and we had lots of fun with the girls.

As we made our way back to the hotel, one of the volunteers wanted to pick up some honey so we stopped and Rollie met a bunch of dogs. There are dogs everywhere here, the community seems to be careful of them as they’re in the roads, etc. In fact one doggo was just sitting right in the middle of a road without a care in the wrold,, and everyone was carefully going around it.

Back at the hotel, I grabbed us a couple of drinks.

Off to dinner now, on the peaceful and quiet lakeside.

Dinner is taken nightly in the restaurant that we had our snack in earlier, but it’s a fixed menu each night with vegetarian, fish, or meat options.  We were told 7, but when we went, they said “no, 7:30”.  Rollie couldn’t wait and had a granola bar. And then another. From what I gather, dinner is going to be a multi course affair, with starter, main, dessert, and usually a “juice of the day.” We’ll see how that works with his “unique” kid-diet. 

We sat down in the covered outdoor dining room along the lake. Earlier, I had asked Anne about the crocodiles and mosquitos. She said they don’t really have either. She said that yes indeed there were crocodiles but not around this part of the lake because it’s generally too deep around here for them. That wasn’t super reassuring to me (lol) and Rollie said he wasn’t worried about it. There were several people just lounging along the shore of the lake, lying of rafts, etc.  I’m not sure if I’ll let him go in or not yet. She also said that mosquitos are not a problem right here, but when we go off into the jungle they can be. So far she’s right, I haven’t noticed any mosquitos. Anne then proceeded to talk about a couple of other insects that sounded horrible, and I asked her to help us avoid those. 😉

Dinner is a chicken enchilada, some yummy bread, watermelon juice, followed by a pollo asado, followed by some kind of banana dessert. 

It’s 9pm now and we’re settling down for the night. 

Today, Rollie and I didn’t really do anything but “assist” but it was nice to be a small part of it, meet some families, and help the community. The parents who receive the help for their kids seem super grateful. I explained (in Spanish!) to the first mom this morning that the yoga ball had been on 3 flights to get here. She was so thankful for this and for all the help the other volunteers had provided her son in just a week. She was in tears when they left. It was a good first day.

Day 2 – Understanding Anne’s impact and some landscaping projects

I got up around 7:30a and took a shower and got dressed. I woke Rollie up at 8am to go to breakfast. Breakfast came quickly, as did Lola the hotel dog, and after a few rounds of five crowns, we went back to the room to get ready for a day out and ended up playing a little corn hole.

Today is a bit rainy, and the high is only expected to be around 70 degrees, which should be nice!

Anne came to pick us up around 9am, and gave us more details about the week ahead.   We headed out from the hotel in her truck, and immediaely picked up a local woman who does loom weaving at her home. Next we stopped by Ix-canaan which is a community project that has 8 dental chairs and a small volunteer medical facility and pharmacy. Before this was built, people who had more minor injuries either had to go without treatment, go to another village to see a doctor (expensive) or go to the hospital. Now the locals have a new option for basic health issues such as infections, wounds, etc.  30 volunteer dentists have been coming here for 20 years and they today. They basically built this dental center with their bare hands and raised money for equipment, etc. There is no dentist in this village, so most people just went without.  Apparently, coca cola and pepsi are cheaper than water here and most people drink it all the time. This leads to many dental issues as well as an unusually high incidence of diabetes. This facility helps with both of those and much more. The last photo shows all the locals that the volunteer dentists have helped (it’s much bigger than I could capture).

We picked up a little trash outside the buildings before moving on to the children’s center across the street.

The dentists group actually bought the building that ended up being the children’s center, and instead built the dentistry area next to the medical facility, so those would adjacent. 

The childrens community center is open to anyone in the village, and has a small library, some computers, and a soccer pitch. The soccer pitch is that cement blob, and it’s usually packed with kids. Today is Sunday so the center is not open, but Anne promised to bring us back later in the week for some soccer with the kids.

Next, we drove over the women centers, just up the hill.

The women’s center is where we spent most of the day. There was war here less than 20 years ago, and one of the women we met had to live in the jungle for 2 years and raise 20 grandchildren there, to get away from the war.

The women’s center land was donated with the belief that women should be able to grow their own food for their families.  So they are teaching each generation mayan farming techniques, including how to raise chickens, plant and harvest vegetables, etc. 

I was not aware that lemons got so big, as Anne is showing you.

Next, we got to do some loom weaving with the woman we met earlier.  To say that this is painstaking, difficult, time-consuming work is an understatement! Rollie and I took turns weaving, and hours later had just the beginnings of a finished product like the one shown below. Next time you see these sorts of things in an airport, if they are handmade, they are truly amazing works of art that someones heart went into!

At the women’s center, after the loom weaving session, we made tortillas.    The ladies who were showing us had a couple of different techniques mastered and could make them perfectly in about 15 seconds. It took Rollie and I more like 2 minutes to build clearly defective tortillas, but they still tasted amazing with lunch (chicken, rice, and potatoes, with juice, and homemade salsa). 

We saw this cute family of newborn chicks. Notice the one white one who was part of the family too…

After lunch, Rollie began speaking the universal language of soccer with a boy and they kicked back and forth for about an hour, laughing and doing tricks.

Rollie noticed that one of the dogs here was beat up pretty badly (not the one in this photo).  It had apparently been hit by a car, and had a limp and some face wounds, but seemed like it was recovering well. There are no vets for pets near here.  But there are alot of dogs everywhere you go. One of the needs here is for volunteers for spaying and neutering, to control the population a bit better.

Next up was the work project, which took up most of the afternoon. The women’s center has paths and open areas and we spent time clearing leaves, rocks, and debris to make the areas more usable.  In one area we repurposed large rocks and tree stumps to create sitting areas around the gardens and paths.  

Rollie found one particularly huge rock and spent about an hour trying to unearth it, to create more flat ground. Eventualy he got it out and it became part of a retaining wall.

We headed back to the hotel around 3:30pm for a rest. Rollie and I were both pretty sweaty!

Maybe you’re wondering why Rollie has on a hoodie in 70 degree weather while doing work outside. I was wondering the same thing.

After the work project, we returned to the hotel for the night and Rollie figured out his “go-to” dinner for the week. Pretty much every night, we’d play Five Crowns (cards) over dinner.

Day 3 – Building a cement floor for a family and learning about nice bees

Up at 8am, and heading down to breakfast. Today Rollie was able to get a crepe which made him pretty happy. 

Today is floor building day, so we’re expecting a long hard day. Anne came to get us at 9am, and we met the father and son that would help us build the floor at the son’s home. This is when Rollie got to experience his first ride in the bed of the pickup truck, which would become an addiction.

We arrived and met the family, including the baby (their first). 

The room that we’d be cementing was next to the bedroom, and I’m guessing we’d call it the family room. It’s the biggest room under the roof, probably about 20’ x 12’. Currently it’s dirt, which creates problems with parasites and this is especially no good for a crawling baby. So the timing is good.

The mother is already starting to cook lunch when we start working. The kitchen is outside the room we’re working on, under some shelter. First, we break open the cement bags and then add water and mix it with the dirt. Then we move this pile back and forth to different spots which has the effect of mixing the cement with the dirt and water. Then we move the rocks into the cement mix.  Next, we use water to create the perfect texture for the mix so that we can move it into buckets. We move those buckets by hand to the area for the floor, and pour it one stripe at a time from the back of the room to the front. At this point I was mostly moving buckets (and/or shoveling the mix into the buckets) and Rollie was mostly adding water, shoveling into buckets, and smoothing the floor after it was laid down. 

During one of the quick breaks in the morning, Rollie inflated a soccer ball and a few of the kids (around 3, 5 and 8 years old) from the other families who live on the same land kicked the ball around. Rollie then gave it to the kids as a gift. They were pretty excited. 

Back to the floor. This all took about 4 hours until around 1pm.  This is hard work, I was sweating like crazy and my clothes were basically destroyed, as were my shoes. Rollie didn’t seem to get much on his clothes or shoes, somehow. First time he’s ever been more clean than me after the same activity! 

The floor needs to set for 24 hours before it’s completely dry. One issue Is that there are about a dozen dogs on this property and 30 or so chickens roaming around. So, even before we left one chicken got “zapatos de cemento”. 

We used a little extra cement to put down a partial floor adjacent to the kitchen, until it was all gone.

Around 1:30pm we had lunch with the family. Fried chicken, salad, refried beans, juice, and amazing fresh tortillas. Anne, our coordinator wasn’t on site for most of the morning or for the lunch, so this was a great time to use my Spanish, because nobody spoken any English at all. It was awesome, I spoke with the family over lunch and we talked about all sorts of things. Of course I had to slow them down often, but I think I did pretty well! We talked about travel, pets, food, kids, and more. None of the family had been outside of Guatemala, but one had worked near the border of Mexico.  Families tend to stay very local, and travel is very expensive for them.

After lunch we said our goodbyes, and took a group photo with the family. We were told him much this means to them, because the materials and labor are very expensive. And it would keep their family healthier and happier.  Everyone was incredibly nice and appreciative, and Lunch was great too!

Next we went to the hotel to clean up then have a celebratory soda.

We had a quick turnaround to go to a bee sanctuary. This sounded terrifying to me, but hey, when in Guatemala…

By now, Rollie goes everywhere in the back of the truck, standing and holding on the bars. We’d be arrested for this in the US, but apparently here it’s pretty normal even for kids. My wife, Jil, is probably freaking out reading this but I do plan to bring our son back in one piece!

We drove along the lake and picked up the beekeeper. He had a bee sanctuary in the middle of the jungle. We parked, and hiked in to the jungle to the sanctuary (only about 5 minutes in). There, he had about 8 bee nests, for various varieties of bees. Good news – none of them sting – or so he says. He wore no protection and opened one of the nests to give us a good luck. He extracted some pollen, and some honey and offered a taste of both. We both tasted the honey, and it was very sweet. The bees were tiny, and zipping around everywhere. None of them landed on us or even tried to. We looked inside a few other nests, and he gave us a lesson about how bees work (super interesting!) and why they are so good for the environment. There are >2000 species of bees in Gatemala alone, and probably tens of thousands globally.  But many go extinct because there is less land for them and/or humans treat them as pests. But they are critically important for agriculture, and life in general. 

We saw a bunch of monkeys above the bee nests in the trees.

We hiked out, and rode back along the lakeside road. This time I decided to ride with Rollie in the truck bed, and helped him make a Timelapse video. When we got back he found a hammock and edited together a video with a few comments and a surprise ending.

We’ll head to dinner soon and hopefully Rollie can have pasta again, like last night. I’m sure we’ll both be hungry! Rollie has discovered orange Jarritos and uses his Spanish at the bar to give them the order and the room number (none of the hotel staff speak English).  So he’s learning a few new words. The plan for tomorrow is to go and see Flores, where we flew into. 

Day 4 – Flores

After a big work day, Globe Aware often gives you a chance to have a more relaxing and sightseeing day, and today was that day. We got up, had a nice breakfast, and Rollie hung out with Lola and the unnamed Gato.

We drove to Flores (the small town we flew into from Guatemala City on Sunday) to explore it a little bit. About 13,000 people live there. The “old” part of the town is an island connected by a small causeway to the mainland. It’s about 45 minutes by car from where we are staying and working in El Remete.

As soon as we arrived, we jumped in a small boat and headed out into the lake. This lake is pretty massive, it’s the same lake that our hotel is on back in El Remete. We arrived at ARCAS, an animal rescue center and shelter. This was a really nice place with every sort of local animal you can imagine. Animals who are injured or abandoned come here and in many cases can’t be released back into the wild, because they would not be accepted. We saw big cats, monkeys, crocodiles, a zillion types of birds, and much more. 

Back on the boat we rode over to Jorge’s rope swing. This is basically someone’s home, but they’ve hung a giant rope swing over a deep part of the lake, and they sell tickets. We were the only people there, but they still gave us bands to wear on our arms like we were at Disney World or something. This place is remote, so the idea that they need any form of crowd control is sort of funny. The rope swing is super cool and Rollie did it about 30-40 times, trying different techniques ranging from sane to completely insane. There was a long stick nearby to help retrieve the rope swing after each jump. Ultimately, Rollie scored 1 point and the crocodiles 0. I haven’t seen a single crocodile yet, except in the animal rescue center.

Back on the boat, we headed over to a lookout point. On the way we realized how high the lake was right now. We saw some palapas that were normally for shade on the beach, but they were basically underwater. Apparently, this lake rises and falls fairly predictably in a 10 year cycle, sometimes getting so low that docks rot out in the sun and have to be destroyed and rebuilt. One we arrived at the lookout spot, we left the boat and hiked up about 10-15 minutes to a big tower overlooking the city.  There were 4 people there on top of the tower, just hanging out and chilling. I didn’t know it yet, but we’d meet them later again. It was a nice view of the old city.

Next we returned to the old city and our boat tour was over. We met Anne for lunch in a local restaurant, which we had to reach by walking along the lakefront street, which was flooded. I almost slipped on the algie several times in my bare feet. We made the restaurant and put shoes back on, and broke out the Five Crowns game. Anne was pretty good at it!

We explored the old town after lunch, and the first order of business was to find ice cream. We hadn’t had any treats like that since arriving in El Remete.  Bad news: the ice cream shop was on the completely opposite end of town. Good news: It was a 5 minute walk. This is a small place. The ice cream was good. The restaurants on this side were flooded or close to flooding also.

Next we walked up to the last operating Mayan temple in Peten. Oddly, there was a giant basketball court out in front of it that seemed to be a pop up.

We met back up with Anne, and drove back to El Remete, and when we arrived we went to the Children’s Center. Pretty quickly, a soccer game broke out.  Rollie played with the kids (and a one adult, the same guy we built the cement floor with) for an hour or so. Daniela, the non-verbal little girl was a darn good goalie!

Anne brought her possum over from her house, which is very close by. The kids all loved that.

We headed back to the hotel for some downtime, and the usual dinner and cards routine.

Day 5 – Sol y Verde – Permaculture

Today, we are learning about permaculture and working at Sol y Verde, https://solyverde.org/

Permaculture is the idea of working with, rather than against, nature for farming. We took a tour of the facility which includes lots of local fruits and vegetables and herbs. 

We met Balthazar who leads the project and a young lady who was helping out there for a sustained period of time, but whose name unfortunately escapes me. Balthazar has a crazy (good) amount of passion for what he’s doing. He believes that by teaching these techniques to others in the area that people can become more healthy. Tons of people here have diabetes from unhealthy eating and apparently that’s common in lots of places in the world where there is not much wealth. Knowledge isn’t being handed down from generation to generation well here, because nobody reads scientific reports or how to manuals. So they have classes, make simple videos for sharing, and try to educate. They have an education center on site and have regular classes and community gardens. 

After learning all about of this for a few hours, we began our work project. There was a composting area that had a roof that needed to be removed and a new roof installed. Roofs like this tend to be re-installed about once a year, using natural materials from the jungle that others are excited to get rid of. Rollie grabbed a machete (with no training mind you) and started hacking down the old roofing. Then he grabbed a hacksaw (also no training) and starting sawing off excess lengths of tree branches that were used on the new roof. I have to admit that I was pretty terrified by both of those activities, but tried not to be a helicopter parent. I kept replaying my wife’s words – “Just bring him back alive.”   She didn’t say anything about lost fingers and such.

Halfway through taking the old roof down, we came across a nasty looking hornets nest. But the folks that work here just say “they will move”. There is something about the wildlife in places like this. I noticed the same in Galapagos. What we are scared of in the US (wasps, sharks, crocodiles) are rarely an issue here. Somehow nature is more in balance and literally nobody here is afraid of these things. They’re just around, and don’t bother you, they say. Sure enough the 15 or so wasps lost their nest, and didn’t bother the people standing RIGHT THERE who had clearly victimized them. They just flew off to live somewhere else. No biggie. 

Next Rollie and I began cutting lengths of tree branches to match the size of the roof while 5 other volunteers tied them on, led by Balthazar. We finished the new roof in about 90 minutes. In these volunteer projects, it seems like everyone gravitates to a specific job and just does it until it’s done, then asks what else they can do.

After the roofing project, we had lunch in their cocina, using a fire to cook some chicken, rice, and fresh tortillas. We ate with the other volunteers. We found out a couple of them are camping on site for a month. That same couple had been up on the lookout tower yesterday. They had been gone from home (somewhere in Europe) for about 6 months, and planned to keep traveling and volunteering for another 6 months in various places. Basically until they run out of money. There’s a whole culture of volunteers who travel around, work, and stay for free or cheap where they are volunteering. Here for one week, we were the short timers for sure.

Sol y Verde has 3 cute dogs and one cat. Rollie named them Perro 1, Perro 2, and Perro 3. You can imagine what he called the cat.  Everywhere we have been it’s like this, there are lots of friendly dogs, often pigs, and a few cats sometimes. Rollie is getting his fill of animals.

Before heading out, all the adults did a gratitude ceremony (Rollie opted to spend more time with the dogs). We walked in the jungle barefoot to feel our connection to the earth, then gave gratitudes to earth in our own way, eventually tossing kernels from the first harvest of black corn for the season into the soil one by one. This is an ancient Mayan tradition, which Balthazar still carries out. 

We said our goodbyes, noticed a nest with baby hummingbirds on our way out, and headed back to Gringo Perdido in El Remete.

We headed to dinner a bit early because we knew we needed to get up very early the next day. We watched a movie in bed, and fell asleep by 9pm or so.

Day 6 – Tikal

Today is our last day in El Remete. The alarm woke us up at 4:15am. We were in a van to Tikal at 4:45am. We picked up 4 other people on the way. On the way to Tikal, we almost hit a horse who was meandering in the middle of the road. As we got closer it veered towards us, and I think we missed it by about a foot at 30 miles per hour or so. That could have been bad. 

We arrived at the Tikal gates at 5:45am. The park opened at 6am and we went in. 

Why the heck did we go so early? Well, more chance of seeing the animals, we had been told. True, regarding the road horse I suppose. We were told there might be jaguars and all kinds of stuff just roaming around in the jungle with you (again, nobody is worried).

But, it took another 30 minutes to drive from the gates to the parking lot. Now it’s 6:30. Then we are waiting for others to join our tour group. 7:00. Now people are having breakfast. 7:45. Finally we head in at 8am. So we had gotten up at 4:15am to drive an hour and stand in the cold until 8am. That was suboptimal, but at least we were going now.

We entered the park and stopped to learn about the area a few times as our guide explained things. Around 30 minutes in, we came to some of the first temples. Tikal is huge, compared to something like Chichen-Itzá. Tikal has only been about 5% uncovered. They’ve imagined it and found 20,000 buildings underground. Only a few have been unearthed for the public to see. Nature is preserving the rest for the future. 

We climbed about, oh I don’t know, 1000 stairs during the day. We climbed to the top of the temple that has the view from the first Star Wars movie. Amazing. We climbed a few other temples. You use wooden stairs up the sides and in some cases do actually walk on the actual structures. In other cases there is just a viewing platform at the top. The whole place is pretty amazing.

Around 1848, people were exploring the area and finding ingredients for gum. In the middle of a zillion miles of jungle, they literally walked right into this temple in the video below, similar to how we approached it. In doing so, they discovered a Mayan civilization that had been abandoned for 1000 years.

We finished our tour around 1pm, and got back in the van. When we arrived back to El Remete we met Anne at a restaurant in town for lunch. More five crowns with her (her luck was not as good today). 

After lunch, Rollie walked through the town and found a small ice cream shop.

As our last stop with Anne, we went back and checked out the cement floor we had made earlier in the week. At first we throught nobody was home so we wouldn’t be able to see it. Then we heard a little voice. Maybe 3 years old, one of the kids was there alone, playing on a cell phone. We asked where the adults were and he said they weren’t there. Kids learn to be on their own early here, I guess! He was fine. He said we could go see the floor. It looked great!

I told Anne we might want to have a special dinner on our last night tonight and that I had noticed an Italian restaurant about a mile from our hotel. She said it was great, so we stopped by there to ask if they take credit cards, and if Rollie and I could come at 6:30pm. We met the Italian owner, it’s basically a porch at his house.  Rollie saw a pepperoni pizza and started salivating. And, there was a dog. So we’re gong back for dinner tonight.

Anne dropped us off at our hotel and we said our goodbyes to her. Anne is a real force of nature in this town. She is doing so much for so many people. She’s really incredible. Her fingerprints are on all of the amazing community work that is being done here. I thought back to the dental center, the medical center, the womens center, the childrens center. She wants to build a music center. She’s incredible.

Back at the hotel, I arrange for a TukTuk (they serve as taxis here) to come get us at 6:30pm to take us to dinner. A few hours of downtime and rest before we head out for that.

TukTuk to the Italian place was fun. Food was great! Nice to have a change of pace. The dog was named Croquetta. I’m starting to think Lola really gets around because the owner explained that Croquetta was related to Blackie and Lola. At least he thought so. We also saw the biggest block of cheese I’ve personally ever seen in my life, and the owner offered us a taste.

Going to bed early because we depart at 5:45am tomorrow. We have a long layover in Guatemala City, and then another connection in Houston. If we’re lucky, we’ll be home tomorrow night. 

Day 7 – Departure

Up early again, to catch our 7:45am flight from Flores to Guatemala City.  The sun was just coming up over the lake as we left, it was beautiful. One last stop to pet Lola at the reception desk one last time. Then the 45 minute drive, we arrived at the airport at 6:30am and took off on time. 

It’s just 35 minutes by air to Guatemala City. But, it’s a 10 hour drive given the roads and infrastructure. So this is better than driving.

We land in Guatemala City at about 8:15am, and they direct us through “immigration” (again, why would we do that if we are only coming from an internal flight?). They ask us for immigration forms and I looked puzzled and say “de Flores?”. This is apparently the magic word, and they direct me to bypass immigration and passport control. But only if you say the magic word. It’s a fairly lax process here. 

We find our bags, and leave the airport, climb some stairs, and enter the airport again. We have a 5 hour layover, so we go to check our bags but United is not open yet. We sit there for about 90 minutes.

About halfway through this time, Rollie leans over to me and gives me a random big hug. He says “This was a good trip.” I hide my tears.

United opens, I’m first in the premier line (the economy line is already jammed). We learn that United has upgraded both of us to business on our return flights! But their printers are broken so about 30 minutes goes by while they try to check us and our bags in. Eventually they fix the printers, and 40 copies of our boarding passes come out. The long line of people is relieved.

We go through security, then passport control. We find a smoothie (Rollie’s normal breakfast go-to). He loves it!  We find a place to wait for our flight to Houston. He’s excited to have a day of iPad time and starting to reconnect with his normal day to day life, foods he is used to, and other conveniences that we take for granted.

And, he wants to see his dog and his mama. We are going home.

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