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En Familia: Getting to know each other

Hola dear families and friends! We are glad to share with you this Yak. We are at our Orientation site in the beautiful land of Tecpán, Guatemala, surrounded by tall green trees and beautiful flowers.  Our Orientation has been very inspiring because we have an amazing group of students who are now enjoying the sounds and smells of Guatemala.

We have been working on getting back on track with our itinerary and every single one of us has expressed gratitude for finally being together on our journey. It is important to mention that even though everyone arrived to Guatemala a couple days late, we were able to keep our Itinerary almost untouched. We did accelerate orientation a bit but the rest was left as it was designed in the first place, so students wont miss anything on their experience.

This last few days have given students time to get to know each other really well and we are very glad to share with all of you that the moments lived at the airport in Miami have brought very interesting questions and perspectives to our group discussions; students have expressed that this was a great time for group bonding and embracing ambiguity and uncertainty.

As we start talking about opening our minds and hearts to our surroundings and experiences, we can already see that curiosity is a great quality that this wonderful group of eleven young minds are starting to share.  We have had enough time to work on our group dynamics, play games and group bonding activities.  There is a great vibe and energy surrounding us, and we have been able to move forward quite easily.

Now for a little background on the place we are in at the moment:

We are on a farm in the middle of Guatemala on the western Mayan Highlands. Finca Chichavac its surrounded by Pinabete trees (Abies Guatemalensis) which is an endemic species of the Conifer family. This fir tree is now endangered. At one point in time there were 250 thousand hectares of this Guatemalan fir and now there are only 25 thousand hectares of mixed tree fir forests.  Since the pinabete is endemic to this region, some people around the country have organized themselves and committed to rescuing and protecting it.  Finca Chichavac is one such project; their mission is to preserve the species from the black markets and people that cut them illegally and also grow them in nurseries and re-plant them in the forests of the highlands, mainly in protected reserves. The tree is Guatemala’s Christmas tree, it has a beautiful shape and sure smells like Christmas.

Our host, Don Salvador, has taken some time to tell us his story with the farm and also show us around. In 1886 his grandfather came from Sweden. He came to work with some Germans that had started a saw mill. He was also pursuing a project with a flour mill. When he arrived he fell in love with Guatemala and the highlands because they reminded him of the cool weather at home, although not as drastic. He started acquiring lands and even found a limestone quarry where he started mining the stone and brought over the first industrial oven to Guatemala that helped to produce the stone to sell. During the nearly four decades of armed conflict in the country these projects had to be shut down and when the war was over many workers had fled, immigrated, or had been killed. Now Chichavac which means swampy (chavac) place (chi) as it was once a swampy land, is now home to 12 full-time employees or colonos and their families, as well as Don Salvador and his family. The main house now serves as a hotel where the 14 of us have been enjoying a comfortable stay.

Our group has been officially introduced to Guatemalan tortillas and frijoles, we are having all our meals at the farm and they have been delicious. Our first dish was Pepian, a traditional local recipe with sesame and pumpkin seeds prepared by Modesta and Evelyn in the kitchen of this wooden farm house from the early 1900’s.  Soon we will continue to our next location at Lake Atitlan, but before we do that we will make sure that we prepare our group for the next steps, providing everyone with the proper tools, safety talks and inspiration exploration. Everybody is now well rested, fed and batteries are fully charged.  The showers are hot and revitalizing, and our Introduction to Guatemala has been packed with smiles, songs, stories, art and plenty of jokes. We feel ready to move on to our next location and Introduction to Permaculture and sustainable agriculture.

Stay tuned for more Yaks in the near future, as we get settled in our next location and students have more time to share their thoughts and experiences with all of you on the Yak board.

Hasta pronto!

Raquel, Este y Juancho