Saturday, July 25, 2015

2015 Guatemala: building a new community

Waking up in the morning in Lanquin revealed an amazing valley. because our group is so large, they put some of us in the overflow housing which was a 5 minute ride up the hill.  it looked like what would be the retirement house on the hill for whoever owns the little hotel place we're staying at.  Right on top of the hill overlooking fruit tree orchards and the entire valley.  270 degree views of lush green hills, accented by darker pockets of rainforest.

After taking time over the last few days to acclimate to the Guatemalan culture and get to know the team a little,  this was to be a time for us to crack the ice and play together but first - breakfast.  we walked down the dirt road a kilometer or so to the main hotel area then down to the community area on the river.  The morning light revealed that the river was wide and flowing with a power that we just don't see out on the south west coast of the US.  So much water, moving in a living, churning mass with a tiny waterfall trickling down on the opposite bank.

As the team trickled down to the breakfast area, the buzz about the day began to circulate.  This was to be a day of play with the team with the first item on the agenda being a float session down the river in inner tubes. In my head, I began to question the water quality of said river but quickly learned that this river came straight out of the earth - literally.  The river swelled up from an underground cave which we would be exploring later in the day.

I rushed to finish my breakfast and eagerly boarded the truck that would take us up to the start of the river and our tubing adventure.  After getting used to the area a bit, jumping into the chilly river washed any hesitations about the trip away.  Emotions ebbing and flowing between being on vacation and a nervous anticipation of the work to come moving through me as we began to drift down the river in tubes.  Laughter and levity...taking in the beauty and splendor of God's creation...being God's children filled with Joy, ready.

In the moment, I loved it but thinking about it after reaching the shore, these moments of pure joy weighed heavy on me.  "did we come here for a vacation? this is too much fun...when are we going to do some real work? This is not what I signed up for!" but looking back at the end of the trip, I realized that these first days were crucial to first helping us unwind from our lives back in the states, to connect with our new team and fall in love with the country of Guatemala.  These days helped us to live, talk, speak, breathe, eat in the NOW.  to BE on the remember that we are God's creation, living for Him...but that those moments are held in tension with being God's child.  to experience the people, places and things that He built for us and revel in them.  to be joyful, happy, to love, to emote... and yeah, the journey we travelled individually and as our new team was crazy! 10 hours in a bus or SUV with no cellphones, laptops or bubble zap games to distract made for some great talking time...great time to dig into what each of us is remember that we are all down here for a reason and to share our passions.  why are you here?  why am I here?  what has God done in my life / what is God doing in my life / what do we hope God is doing in us down here?  we collectively travelled not just the windy, dusty, bumpy rainforest roads but also the windy, scary, fun, hidden paths in eachothers lives. we shared and listened...dreamed and bubbled over...laughed and cried a bit together.

The river really was great.  I couldnt get enough of it...even after getting off the tubes for the next group to run down the river I spent the downtime running up the river then floating down...swimming across exploring, jumping, splashing...oh the joy!  it was as if I were a boy again just taking it in.

When everyone had made it down the river, we jumped in the cars and headed off for part two of our adventure for the day - Semuc Champey.  I didnt really understand what this place was having unintentionally left my itinerary in my hotel room in Antigua...I embraced the not-knowing and just rolled with it...and this place blew my socks off!  ok, I wasnt wearing socks but I really did enjoy this place.  We started with a 1km hike to the base of some beautiful falls along a raging river...

then split off for the overlook.  Basically climbing up the side of the valley, we quickly gained elevation until finally emerging at a beautiful overlook with the pools of Semuc Champey glistening below.

Semuc is a unique place in the river where the raging mass of the river actually goes underground (a FREAKY sight!!)

The pools that Semuc is known for are actually above this section...where yet more water streams down from the valley and forests above into natural limestone pools with a very mellow flow of water and gentle falls.  Pictures just don't do it justice but here are a few of mine and stock online pics to share some of the beauty:

 We enjoyed lunch at Semuc and had time for an awesome baptism of a few team members - Ariana and Paul.  It was a beautiful afternoon in a heavenly setting.  As the afternoon began winding down, we started our hike back to the vehicles.

Semuc is a local gem and as such, has it's share of tourism though the remote locale helps keep this number down.  Because there is a lot of cacao grown in the area, local kids can be seen selling pucks of chocolate - fresh roasted and ground up with sugar and flavors. I bought way too many of these and ended up eating a similarly indulgent number but it was just too good.  We hopped back on the SUVs with a few on the roof for good measure and headed back to Lanquin.

The final adventure for the evening was exploring the aforementioned "start of the river".  In reality, this was a few things...the cave where the river comes blasting out of the earth, an underground grotto with fast flowing water (ie, dangerous/don't get pulled under or you die/freezing straight-from-the-earth water) and oh yeah, home to 23 million (plus or minus a few thousand) fruit bats and they were just waking up.  We hike up into the cave along a well defined path (assuming you had a headlamp and we did) about a kilometer before stopping and turning out the lights. Our pal Hugo explained that the Mayans believed this was a holy place where they could pray to the spirits of the underworld. It was essentially an altar and one that was still in use as evidenced by the plethora of candles and soot that lined the walls and ceiling.  It was intense and after some history, we turned out all the lights and sung a few worship songs.  It was an intense pitch that we almost never see.  No stars, no lights, nothing...just black.  our song echoed through the caverns, augmented by the flight of the waking bats.  They fluttered about as we let everything go...nerves on edge by the history of this place...the intense dark...the days events preceding this...and the anticipation of what was to come...and just belted out a few worship songs.  Intense...check out the pic:

Just kidding...but was can't-see-the-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark. After some soothing silence, we hiked back down and split off on an offshoot climbing down a guano covered offshoot down to the grotto.  It was neat seeing the water flowing out of one wall then under a ledge on the other side of the small chamber but I had no desire to get in the water.  A few of the team did and spread lit candles around the chamber.

After the intensity of the grotto and the caverns, I was excited to be near the exit of the caverns again. As dusk turned into night, we sat at the exit of the caverns as the bats rushed out to feed on whatever fruit they could find.  I was blown away by the sheer volume of animals leaving and exhausted from a packed full day of adventure.

The next morning, we packed up and headed out to what would be the majority of the trip, work and emotion in Machaquila...

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