2017 International Expedition Blog

1-11-2017

January 24, 2017: A Reflection on San Cristobal by Evan Van Metre – (View the full photo gallery here) My time in San Cristobal has been significantly impactful on a cultural level.  It was a wonderful experience from the very first day.  The route to San Cristobal was interesting.  It consisted of bumpy back roads, gas station children salesmen the most diverse and extensive music playlist that I’ve ever heard (it was over eight hours long).  We arrived fairly late at night.  After a quick tour of the house and explanation of the hot water situation, our heads hit the pillows.

The next morning we got up at a reasonable time and started our trek to the school.  Our time here was spent volunteering at a local elementary school with an international community service organization called Voluntario Internacional Voluntad en Acción (VIVA).  On our way, we hit up a cafe for breakfast, that for me, consisted of yogurt, granola, fruit, coffee, and baked goodies.

After our morning fill, we made our way down the cobbled streets to the school.  We were shown around the campus and were greeted by hundreds of smiling student faces as we walked past the classrooms.  We were then asked if we wanted to spend time in the classrooms with the kids. I was the first to volunteer.  This level of motivation and academic curiosity for school activities is not normal for me.  The teacher had me sit at the front of the class facing the fist-grade students. The were very curious about me.  For the most part I observed the class silently, but whenever they were allowed to stand, I was bombarded with “¿Como se dice en inglés?” (How do say in English?) questions.  At the end of class I was invited by the students to join them at soccer.  It was very fun.

After lunch I was led back to class by my new friends.  They told me that the candy they had generously given me during lunch would not be allowed in the classroom. The kids often times offered us sweet candies. At the end of class, the students gave the teachers and me kisses on the cheek as a farewell. It was very sweet. After school, we made our way to the “Zocalo” (Mexican word meaning town center.) Along the way we passed  colorful buildings, artisanal shops, and our favorite thing ever “the mango man.” The mangoes in Mexico this time of year really are something special. For 25 pesos, or a little over 1USD, you can get two large diced mangoes in a cup. Man, I love the prices here.
We relaxed at the hostel until we went in search for dinner. We found a local taco shop less than a block away. You’ve never had tacos this good! We got to try various common meats such as chicken, beef, and pork. We also tried pig brain which is very new to us. We went to bed that night with happy tummies.
The next day we continued our task at the school of repainting the exterior walls. I got bored quickly and opted to join the PE class. We played games like tag and soccer. At lunch I hung out with a group of different kids. Again, we had a great time while other children watched enthusiastically. After school we ate empanadas, visited the mango man and napped at the hostel. We enjoyed local tacos again for dinner. Man are those good!
The next day we skipped breakfast except for some mangoes and papaya. At school, the teachers brought copious amounts of homade tamales and served them as an early lunch. The tamales we made with beans, chicken, and spices with a unique green herb. We spent the rest of the day painting, playing with the kids and teaching. Tara and I volunteered to teach an English class. We started off by introducing ourselves and testing their knowledge of numbers. They nailed the first 25, so I jumped to 47… Boom! 98? Amazing. 123? Perfect. After our instruction, the kids had the numbers down. Tara proceed to draw animals. These kids were smart, naming every one of them without help. Then the teacher had us translate sentences from Spanish to English and asked the kids to repeat them. It was a very cool experience.
At the end of the day, a school assembly was held for us. A class of second graders sang to us. All of the students thanked us for our time at the school. The kids were very sweet.
That evening we changed things up a bit for dinner by attending a new place. Several of us ordered the mega burrito! It was a rolled crunchy tortilla filled with yummy goodness. We ended the night with a class discussion at the hostel and we off to bed. My time spent here trying new things and spending time with kids has been amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed everything that San Cristobal had to offer. I can’t wait to see what the next leg of our journey has in store. This is Evan, signing off.

January 24, 2017: Crossing into Mexico and visiting Palenque – (View the full photo gallery here) Yesterday we said goodbye to Guatemala and began our two-week visit to Mexico.  The border crossing was smoothly carried out at a

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1-24-2017 Crossing into Mexico and visiting Palenque

low-key, rural border crossing station (other than instructor having to convince the authorities that he had not been in the country for the last nine years).  The rest of the day was spent driving through the Mexican state of Chiapas and establishing ourselves in a hostel next to Palenque National Park.  This morning we explored Palenque.  This beautifully decorated city was home to the famous Maya King Pakal.  While the buildings are not spectacular in height they are magnificently decorated with bas-relief stucco images of kings and gods.  It is also the densest of Mayan cities, with one temple practically flowing into the next. In addition, there are walls that retain some of the original painted murals.  We are now on our way to San Cristobal de las Casas for several days of community service volunteer work at a local elementary school.

 

 

January 24, 2017: Vignette from Ally – (View the full photo gallery here) The last few days we have resided in Flores, Guatemala. Flores is a beautiful island, in the middle of lake Peten Itza. The best part of the island is the food. Every night we go to the street market set up on the waterfront for authentic street food.  The whole scene is amazing, with crowds gathering to order from stall to stall, all while the sun sets over the water.

Vignette from Ally
Vignette from Ally

We each get 20 quetzales (a little less than $3) to order our meals. Each night I have ordered a different entree, juice, and dessert, and each item has been a new vocabulary word. It was very exciting to try mysterious foods that we had never seen before. Nearly all these experiments were successful…

 

Of course, the juices here are amazing, as all the fruit is fresh, and the heat makes anything cold extra delicious. On the whole, life is simply wonderful here, and we appreciate everything even more after the arduous Mirador trek. Tomorrow, we depart for Mexico. We have had an incredible time in Guatemala, and I cannot wait for the second half of our adventure.

January 24, 2017: Thoughts from Hannah Weinrich– (View the full photo gallery here) The first thing I noticed upon entering the lab of Richard Hansen were the Idaho Potatoes boxes.  There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of them stacked from floor to ceiling. Each one was labeled and filled with countless Mayan artifacts.  The lab was in an unremarkable residential stucco house in a gated community on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

Thoughts from Hannah
Thoughts from Hannah
What the neighbors don’t know is that inside is a team of archaeologists lead by Richard Hansen, the foremost expert on Pre-Classic Mayan Archeology.  We also met Ronald Bishop, the Curator of Mexican & Central American Archeology at the Smithsonian Institution.  In addition, there were a number of other experts analyzing and restoring pottery, figurines, and masks.

Artifacts are collected from various Pre-Classic Mayan sites such as Nakbe and El Mirador and brought back to the lab for study.  First, they are cleaned, sorted and labeled.  Next, a small sample of the ceramic material is drilled out of the artifact and pulverized into a fine powder.

Thoughts from Hannah
Thoughts from Hannah

This ceramic sample is then taken to a federal lab in the US where it is subjected to isotope analysis.  This allows the scientists to know the composition of trace metals in the sample and therefore where the raw materials used to make the artifact originated.  This allows the archeologists to determine the various trade routes that may have existed between the different Mayan city-states.  The more aesthetic and artistically significant pieces are restored and sent to museums.  Being able to view this process in all of its stages and speak with the scientists carrying out the work was both humbling and inspiring.

January 24, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here) We have emerged from the jungle, covered in bug bites, sweat, and the funk of the jungle. We have seen monkeys, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, coatis, agoutis, and signs of even larger creatures, like jaguars and tapirs. Our feet are blistered, but the size of the blisters cannot compete with size of our smiles knowing that we have hiked over fifty miles, slogging through the woods each day to arrive at another ancient city, where we climb a pyramid, watch the sunset over an endless sea of trees, and contemplate the distance to the next hill on the horizon that we know is actually another unexcavated pyramid. We are still processing the full magnitude of what we have accomplished, but for now showers and clean beds are calling our names.

1-24-2017 Mirador Recap
1-24-2017 Mirador Recap
1-24-2017 Mirador Recap
1-24-2017 Mirador Recap

 

January 16, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here) He we are at 5 AM departing for El Mirador. We will be in the jungle for image000000the next 6 days. Last night we saw a parade through Flores celebrating the festival of the Black Christ.  Floats, marching band,  firecrackers, massive fireworks display and street food. Now at 5AM we can hear fireworks still going off. These Latin American fiestas last for days, non-stop.  This is the last of 9 days for this particular party. Today we will help Archeologist Richard Hansen build a new rainy season trail for improved access to El Mirador.  We will camp at La Florida. Tomorrow, we go deeper into the jungle into the roadless portion of the Department of the Peten.

January 15, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here) We spent last night in a bus from Guatemala City and woke up near Tikal.  The day was filled with pyramid climbing and ruin exploring.

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1-15-2017

 

1-15-2017
1-15-2017

 

January 12, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here)

Hannah helps to prepare the traditional Guatemalan Pepian, the dish served at our fundraising dinner.

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1-12-2017 Hannah helps to prepare the traditional Guatemalan Pepian.

We were invited to the house of the caretaker of Earth Lodge to participate in the making of this nationally celebrated meal of carefully roasted peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, squash seeds, cinnamon and other spices.  The process starts in the morning, several hours before the meal is to be served.  We all crowded into Catalina’s small kitchen equipped with an open fire stove top and clay roasting skillet.  As a group, we took in the aromas and flavors of her intimate and smoky kitchen. Students took turns cutting the peppers, roasting the tomatoes and garlic, browning the flour and roasting the peppers.  The final product is about to be served!

 

January 11, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here)

Today was our first day in town. We began our journey by chicken bus, rolling down cobbled stone streets, listening to Latin pop blaring from the speakers. By the time we arrived outside the market, we were all ready to explore.

Our first stop was the cemetery. Students wandered through the freshly painted tombs and mausoleums and compared them to the more modest burials of the poor. After an hour amidst the dead, students were beginning to get hungry, so we returned to the market. We learned the names of fruit that we had never seen before and practiced our haggling. After assembling copious quantities of fruit, we headed to central park to put together burritos made from freshly cooked tortillas, avocados ripened to perfection, and little bags of piping hot beans. That was then topped off with plenty of tropical fruit until everyone’s face was covered with mango, papaya, and an assortment of other fruit.

After lunch, and an unsuccessful attempt to find the fabled chocobanano, we turned our focus toward the religious. We visited two old churches destroyed by the frequent earthquakes that rock this region.

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Students climbed amidst the ruins and learned about the local saints. After bussing back up the hill, we were rewarded by our first view of lava blowing out of the volcano, providing a study glow on the top of the aptly named Fuego. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a cooking class with Catalina, preparing pepian, the dish loved by everyone at our fundraising dinner. We can’t wait.

Bacchus Taylor, Faculty Leader

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January 9, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here)

IMG_20170109_103300The students are now huddled around a fire, playing cards, laughing, and celebrating the fact that we are in such a beautiful place. We all watched the sunset from hammocks with the volcano Fuego erupting at least once an hour in the background. The smells of a wonderful dinner are wafting through the building, and we’re hoping for some lava sightings now that it is dark.IMG_20170109_112548 Tomorrow we head into Antigua, for a full day of exploring the city with former EA student Ian Carroll, who is proving the ideal contact: full of local knowledge, well-versed in Explorations tradition and culture, and able to articulate how his education led him to where he is today. Life is good. – Bacchus Taylor, Faculty Leader

(View the full photo gallery here)