Our group spent the last week trekking through and exploring the scenic Cuchumatanes mountain range. We experienced the breathtaking nature of the highlands, learned about Guatemalan emigration, and came a lot closer together as a group.
We started our journey through the mountains in the cold, quiet, town of Todos Santos. It´s one of the only places left where the men proudly wear their traditional outfit of red striped pants and white shirts. We spent one chilly night exploring the town and buying food, and the next day we hiked to the highest non-volcanic point in Central America. As we twisted through a windy landscape of warped trees and mossy rocks, we were prompted to discuss among ourselves where our own families had emigrated from, historically. At the top, we enjoyed a spectacular view and ate a lunch of cucumber and cheese sandwiches.
The next day, we packed up all our belongings, and set off along the range for the hostel Siete Pinos. The weather was perfectly sunny as we trekked along the slope of a grassy valley. When we reached the next small town in the mountain range, we stopped for lunch at a bustling local restaurant that specialized in lamb. Afterwards, we passed through vast fields of grass and crops. During a rest, Erick told us some statistics about migration within Guatemala. From there, we saw many sheep and got to observe some rural homes until we arrived at our hostel.
Our last trekking day was our most intense. As we marched the final 15 kilometers of our trek, the roads grew steeper and the cold grew fiercer. Everyone was chilled by the wind and aching from the exertion. We paused under a huge mossy cliff face to eat lunch, and packed up just in time to escape an incoming hailstorm. Eventually, the harsh mountain landscape melted into a picturesque countryside of lush hills, dirt paths, and sparkling streams. We had arrived at the beautiful Laguna Magdelena. It was here where, after a simulation and discussion about emigration from Guatemala, our trek concluded.
The trek was physically and emotionally challenging, especially for our group members who were battling illnesses or injuries. But it also brought our group together. When we were put in uncomfortable situations, we were forced to collectively find creative ways to enjoy ourselves.
Like in Todos Santos, when we couldn´t find shelled peanuts, we spent one night shelling whole peanuts together in the hostel dining room. We started conversations about each other that lasted long after the I-team was asleep and all of the nuts were shelled.
Or, when we were confronted with eight hours a day of standing in a pack, our group started to pass the time in creative ways. Students would take turns in clusters teaching others about subjects they knew lots about. I learned about light waves from Luke, U.S. history from Natalie, mythology from Courtney, and Kurt Vonnegut from Charlotte. What initially seemed like a potentially boring prospect turned out to be a really interesting and inspiring time.
Also, in Siete Pinos – the freezing sunset inspired us to build a campfire, which we spent the beginning of the night around. All huddled together, different people traded off singing and playing the guitar. The unforgiving cold ended up leading to an unforgettable night outdoors in the Cuchumatanes.
The point is, if we had had pre-shelled peanuts, cell phones to pass the time, or warm nights and comfortable beds, our group wouldn’t have come together to the extent it did. The trek was personally very impactful, because it pushed all of our limits and deepened our sense of family.