Over the past weeks, we have been working together to craft a course itinerary that is dynamic, immersive, and inspiring. As you will soon learn, travel in Guatemala and Mexico is not an exact science and we’ll all soon become Latin American “travel yogis”, able to bend, stretch, and breathe into the unexpected events that can be opportunities for patience and magic on the road.
At Dragons, we intentionally keep our itineraries flexible so that we can take advantage of the unexpected opportunities on the ground and adaptively craft the trip to match the interests of our group. This is especially important on a course as long as ours. We’ll speak more to the logic underlying our itinerary design once we’re together in Guatemala, but for now, please know that we’ve intentionally chosen places and activities to provide a progression of opportunities and challenges throughout the semester.
Our excitement has been growing as we’ve delved into planning details, and we can’t wait to share these wonderful places with each of you! So with great anticipation, we present you our tentative itinerary:
Orientation (week 1): Upon your arrival in Guatemala City and after going through immigration and customs, you will meet your instructors Este, Itzá, and Jochen at the arrival area in the airport. From there, we’ll take a shuttle to Antigua, where we’ll spend our first night together. The next morning, we’ll continue to Cerro de Oro, a small community on the shores of beautiful lake Atitlán. Here, we’ll begin our orientation. Orientation is a time to prepare for our three months of travel in Guatemala by getting to know each other, establishing our group culture, setting expectations and goals, beginning our study of Spanish, and getting out into the local area to explore Guatemala for the first time.
Trek around the volcanoes Atitlán, Tolimán, and Paquisis (week 1 – 2): For three days and nights, we will hike through pristine forests in different climate zones and enjoy incredible views of the Guatemalan Highlands as well as of the coastal lowlands.
San Lucas Tolimán/IMAP (week 2): Do you know what permaculture is? Well, at IMAP (Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura), in San Lucas Tolimán, on the banks of Lake Atitlán, we will learn all about that philosophy and practice. At IMAP, there is a seed saving operation, fish farming, and a connectedness with local culture and context. Hopefully we will take some learning away when we leave and apply it during our time in San Juan La Laguna and to the rest of our lives.
San Juan La Laguna (week 3 -5): Next, we will transfer to San Juan La Laguna for our main, long homestay. Dragons has been based in this community for a couple of years and there are deep resources for Spanish classes, ISPs (independent study projects), and guest speakers. San Juan is a beautiful, tranquil community on the shores of Lake Atitlán and is a base of Tz’utujil Mayan culture and language.
Rabinal and trek to Rio Negro (week 6): After our long homestays, we’ll hit the road again and make our way to Rabinal in the central state of Baja Verapaz. Here, we’ll get to know the community, which was heavily affected by Guatemala’s long civil war. Rabinal will also be the starting point of our second trek, which will lead us through beautiful valleys and across stunning passes to the town of Rio Negro.
Cooperativa Nuevo Horizonte (week 7): After a month and a half in the highlands, we will get to know a very different facet of Guatemala: the hot lowlands of the northern state of El Petén. In the community of Nuevo Horizonte (New Horizon), founded by former guerillas, we’ll have our second homestay, take Spanish lessons, and learn more about Guatemala’s past and the resilience of local people in facing this colored history.
Petén (week 8): From cave systems to extensive river networks, lakes and jungle, Peten comprises one third of Guatemala’s territory and is one of the most biodiverse parts the world. These lowlands were also the cradle of some of the most potent Mayan cities and deep in the jungles are hidden many of its ruins. We will take this time to explore some of the wonders of this area and the creatures it contains.
Chiapas, Mexico (week 9 – 10): Finally, we take the step across the border and into Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas! Chiapas, as most of Guatemala, has a long Mayan history. In recent decades, many communities fought against oppression by the Mexican state and achieved autonomy. We will visit some of these communities to further our understanding of resistance in the 21st century. We will also go to San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas and one of the oldest colonial cities on the American mainland.
San Juan Cotzal (week 10 – 11): Back in Guatemala in the Ixil Triangle, in San Juan Cotzal, we will interact with a community of brave and creative Ixil women, who formed a weaving cooperative in order to recover from the effects of the Guatemalan Civil War in the 1980s. The Ixil women will receive us in their homes for our final homestays and we’ll spend a couple days working alongside them to learn how to cook typical Guatemalan food, do agricultural and farming work, and learn about their history, language, and culture.
Expedition Phase (week 11): This is it! This is your time to take the lead and show everything that you’ve learned in our course! We will give you this time to work together to create an itinerary of travel, adventure, and learning that is meaningful for the group. As instructors, we will step back into a support and safety role and guide you through the planning process giving your the tools to be able to organize your Expedition. You might design a trek, a home stay in a remote area, or take us to Xela, Guatemala’s second largest city, it’s all up to you!
Transference and Course End (week 12): Sadly, we are almost at the end of our course. Student expedition will end in a location of the instructors’ choosing in order to facilitate a period of reflection, processing, and celebrating of all that we have accomplished. We will look forward to our next steps in life. What will it be like returning to an environment that is familiar after everything that we have learned and experienced?