Thanks for tuning in for tonight’s episode of The Guatemala Chronicles. I think I’ll keep this to three parts, today being about the experiences at the work site during the first few days and the next segment being about our “off” day in Antigua, Guatemala and our journey home. Without further ado…
Part Two: Chicken Buses and Life Lessons
Once we finally got on a plane and up in the air, it was a few hours of flying over the Gulf of Mexico until we landed in Central America. Once we got to baggage claim the hits kept coming, as one of the members of our team had had his bag left in Houston by United. They assured him they’d get him his bag either that day or the next. He never saw his bag again. Another point for United Airlines.
Once we got that all sorted out, we walk through the main doors of the airport, where about a hundred Guatemalans are waiting for their loved ones behind barriers. It’s a chaotic scene to us, but it’s a pretty average day in Guatemala. After wading through the crowds, we get on some pretty dope passenger vans and set out on the three-hour drive to our village where we’ll be working for the week. The video below gives a pretty good idea of the experience.
After arriving at our hostel where we’d be staying for the trip, we all crashed hard. Breakfast was at 7am every day, and then it was onto the chicken bus for the ten-minute drive to the work site. What’s a chicken bus? I’m glad you asked.
Chicken buses are the main mode of public transportation in Latin America. They’re garishly colored re-purposed school buses, just like the one that picks the kids up for school every morning here in the states. Except these are painted in wild streaks of red and green with names like Esmerelda or Primarosa, blaring Spanish pop and have people jumping on and off at full speed. They’re chaotic and wonderful.
Once we got to the work site, it was time to get after it. We arrived and the site was pretty fresh. The foundation line was about 90% dug, and by the time we left we managed to get just about the whole foundation poured and set. This involved using some pretty rudimentary construction techniques, including mixing concrete by hand and then pouring it over a line of boulders, constructed by pulling the rocks out of the foundation line and then forming the foundation with them. It’s a fascinating process, and we all had tremendous respect for the guys who do this every day so masterfully all while wearing flip flops. However, I’d love to go back someday with a concrete mixing truck and blow those guy’s minds.
The best of working at construction wasn’t the shoveling of dirt and moving boulders in the 90 degree heat, believe it or not. The children of the village are something else. These little 7 and 8 year old kids have taught me more about life in a total of two weeks then I could learn in a whole year anywhere else. Everything from being happy with life itself instead of stuff and things, to the importance of family and community, these kids run the gambit and cover it all. The most amazing part being that, at such a young age, it’s not as if they’re consciously trying to teach these things to the group of gringos from Maine. Their actions teach the lessons. Laughing and hooting and hollering at every point of the day, having constant jubilation be the norm, is altogether moving after coming from a country where I saw a fat 14 year old being pushed in a cart by his mom at Wal-Mart while he played on his iPad. The kids picking up the shovels while we rest and pushing the wheelbarrows around for us while we rest (because sometimes the Guatemalan heat beats you) is something I can’t imagine the majority of kids I know doing. Hell, it took my parents forever to even get me to mow the lawn for them. And I still don’t really do it as much as I should. Shout out to mom and dad.
It’s stunning and it makes you think. I’ve been kind of a minimalist for awhile. I don’t like a lot of things. I keep it simple. Over the last couple months before and after Guatemala I’ve taken it a little further, getting rid of TVs and video games and excess clothes and all that. Those things are chains to me, chains we put on ourselves. It’s hard to get up and go hiking when you have the option to sit in your underwear and watch a scabillion movies or browse the literally endless internet. The chains keep you in place. Cast off the chains and live a little bit. You’ll feel a lot more complete with a full life as opposed to a hallow one.
After a solid few days of work at the construction site, it was time to say good bye. It was tough, but probably a good thing, as many of my team members were succumbing to heat exhaustion and various other illnesses. It was a mess, so we did the worst possible thing we could on Sunday morning. We loaded up into our little red vans for a three hour drive to the tourist capital of Guatemala, the town of Antigua. Three hours, over rough roads, with little to no bathroom access. Montezuma got his revenge, that’s for sure.
During the drive to Antigua, I got a great opportunity to reflect a little bit on the last couple days. As I sat and mulled things over, with a volcanic mountain range stretching as far as the eye could see passing by the van windows, I knew that this specific moment would stick with me. It has, as I know that those moments are the ones I live for. Viewing a new horizon, with new experiences under my belt and on the way to yet another new experience. That’s what life is about to me. Then one of the volcanoes started to explode a little and I just shook my head and took a nap because that was just too damn overwhelming for me. Little did I know that would not be the last (or most exciting even) volcanic eruption I saw that day.
I think excerpt number two will end here. I’ll save our crazy off day in Antigua for tomorrow. You’ll have to come back if you want to hear about chicken beers and volcanoes and the fine art of bartering in Spanish. Thanks for tuning in, hope you guys are enjoying!