Category Archives: Guatemala & Cuba 2016

Free Travel in Guatemala and Belize


For free travel, the 7 of us, Sarah, Janae, Jess, Stephanie, Josh, Joel, and Josiah went to Monterrico, Guatemala. We took chicken busses, the metro, a lancha (a boat), and a van to get there. We stayed in a resort called Villa Los Cabos, 16652332809_345a0417ca_z a 20-minute drive from town. While we were there, our mode of transportation was 16 passenger vans that passed every 20 minutes and rarely had less than 25 people in them. Our days were filled with playing games, lounging by the pool, walking along the black sand beach, and taking trips into town.

One day we took a mangrove tour and learned about the protected mangroves and endangered species around Monterrico. More specifically, we learned about the turtle population problem and the efforts that Monterrico takes to protect the turtles. One of our favorite things was the small town feel. By the end of the week, people knew who we were, where we were staying, what we had done, and where we were going next. It sounds creepy, but it was cute. For our final day, the girls went to Antigua to explore the city and the guys went to Amatitlan and took a tour of the lake. Here’s some stats from our week:

# of games played 28

# of people fit into a 16 passenger van 40

# of people sunburned 7

# of jars of peanut butter eaten 7

# of people who wrote Kate’s name for fish bowl 4

# of times the 7 of us watched a movie on an Ipod 1

# of almost fatal blows to the head 3

# of people fit in a double bed 7

# of mopeds almost bought 1

# of eggs eaten 78

# of tiendas visited to get groceries 19

# of times the electricity went out while watching a horror movie 13

# of times Jess killed ants with various cleaning supplies

# of times we went stargazing 4

# of times Josiah scared us by sneezing – too many

# of mangroves climbed 1

# of people seen on average each day at our resort 2

-Sarah Rush


For our free travel week, we spent a week in two different parts of Belize. For the first 3 days we stayed in Punta Gorda with relatives. We got to experience the small town life, explore the

Placencia Village, Belize
Placencia Village, Belize

beautiful seaside town, and visit a local chocolate farm. We also spent some time learning how to make typical corn and flour tortillas with our lovely host mom and learn stick from our host brother.

On Monday we headed to Placencia, Belize. We spent 3 days there on the beach exploring the beautiful island. It was a very relaxing and refreshing break from classes and Guatemala City.

-Emily Augsburger, Liza Brenneman and Jen Kuhns

Hopkins, Belize

On Saturday, March 5, 2016 we woke up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a taxi to the bus station to start our journey to Hopkins, Belize. After 7 hours on the bus we arrived in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. We then took a water taxi across the Caribbean Sea in order to reach Punta Gorda, Belize. Upon arriving in Punta Gorda we were supposed to take another bus in order to reach Hopkins. However, we quickly realized that, despite what we were told, there were no more buses running that day. Therefore, we asked someone how else we could get to Hopkins. Our options included: staying in Punta Gorda for one night, hitch hiking, or paying a hefty price to take a taxi all the way to Hopkins. After little deliberation we decided to take the taxi and arrived at our hotel at about 5:30 in the evening.

IMG_5846We started our week with a boat tour and dinner that ended in a lagoon where we saw bioluminescent plankton. Kate and Sarah sat with their feet in the water while Alexa and Rachel jumped in.

The next night we went out to dinner at a local restaurant where there was also live Garifuna music. We learned more about the culture and style of drumming while at the restaurant. On the following day we continued to explore the town. Alexa volunteered at the local school, Kate and Sarah explored the local library, and Alexa and Rachel visited a river and a local chocolate factory. On our final day in Hopkins, Rachel and Kate went snorkeling in the second largest barrier reef in the world and Alexa and Sarah went to Mayflower Bocawina National Park to zip line for a total of 2 1/2 miles.

On Friday, March 11 we left at IMG_60816:30 a.m. to start traveling back to Guatemala City. We actually managed to catch a bus back to Punta Gorda where we ran into the other EMU group that also went to Belize. We then traveled together until we reached Guatemala City at 9:30 p.m. Our total travel time (to and from Belize) was around 25 hours! It was a great week for all of us that was filled with laughter, adventure, and relaxation.

-Alexa, Kate, Rachel, and Sarah

The Peanut Butter Travels

We came to Guatemala to adventure into the unknown and to travel and stray from the beaten path. What we found this past week was what we were looking for, and so much more. We wanted to see as many parts of Guatemala’s vast diversity as possible: mountains, jungles, rivers, and beach. We were ready for whatever the journey entailed. After researching the Cahabón river area- potential sites to see and hostels along the way, we packed our giant tub of peanut butter and bread (that became almost immediately squished) and set out for just that.

Anna.Janet.Liana free travelWe soon realized upon our exit from Coban that we were saying goodbye to our initial travel privileges of paved roads. From this point on we traveled by shuttle, pick-up, tuk tuk, lancha (ferry), kayak, and taxi. We went spelunking, swam in the crystal turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, jumped off of things that we probably shouldn’t have, hiked through Mayan Q’eqchi’ jungles, explored caves by candle light, kayaked the Río Dulce, learned about jungle herbs and medicinal plants,IMG_3935 observed the chocolate process from seedling to bar, and explored other hidden gems of the jungles. We met amazing travelers along the way who narrated their own stories of travel and learnings. Inspired by them, we adventured away from the safer typical tourist path and found our own way.

Guatemala became our classroom as we learned from the incredible spectrum of people and cultures along our path. We saw where cultures are mixed and where they are separated, all part of the complexly flavored stew that is Guatemala. IMG_3934We learned that who you travel with makes all the difference as we supported, guided, and relied on one another. Throughout our journey we got a small but impactful taste of what it is like to make travel plans a reality. Overall this experience has empowered each of us to travel more, fearlessly embracing the unknown path. But don’t forget the peanut butter.

-Janet, Liana and Anna



Guatemala & Cuba 2016

Study Break: Tikal

29 February 2016

Thursday night we all stayed at CASAS because we were to leave early Friday morning at 4:45 a.m. for our 6:30 flight to Petén. Half of the group played the card game “Scum” in the airport. It was a lot of commotion at that hour, in such a small airport, but was tons of fun. The flight was about an hour long and we were all excited to receive Pringles and Chikys (chocolate cookies) on the plane. We arrived at out hotel “Gringo Perdido” (meaning “Lost Foreigner”). Although the day was slightly overcast, many didn’t think twice about putting on their bathing suits and spending the rest of the day in the lake paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, and boating. The only obligation we had that day was dinner at 7:00, which consisted of amazing tomato soup, marinated chicken, rice and cooked carrots, with chocolate cake for dessert. While we were waiting for dinner, everyone split into three groups to play card games: “BS”, “Scum”, and “Resistance”. It is fair to say that the games got loud and rowdy. At night, it was a new experience for most of us to sleep under mosquito nets in a little cabin without any windows, only curtains.

Saturday, we headed to the Mayan Ruins in Tikal which was about an hour away from our hotel. We spent the next 4 or so hours exploring beautiful, ancient temples. We were able to climb up many of the ruins. One of the ruins only took 204 steps to get to the top…only ha ha. For some, fears of heights were faced and conquered. Not that we are competing with the hacky sacking competence of the Middle East CC group or anything, but we played some hacky sack on top of some pretty big temples. You know, no big deal. Throughout the tour of Tikal National Park, we saw beautiful toucans and monkeys! After the trip, we got an amazing lunch at a local restaurant. Back at Gringo Perdido, many got back in the water. Some went in early and relaxed in the hammocks for a few hours until dinner.

Sunday we packed up and headed to the town and island of Flores to meet EMU grad Jeanette Nisley and her family at their restaurant, where they made us some amazing food. Lunch consisted of mashed potatoes, pork, broccoli, bread and JAM! It was a nice taste of home. While we were there, she told us the story of how she moved to Guatemala after a cross-cultural experience and began working with the healthcare system. Their hospitality was amazing! After lunch, some of us went on a boat ride tour of the lake and the little town, while a few stayed back and explored the city by foot.

It is safe to say that this weekend was nice and relaxing for us, and we all wanted to stay there for a few more weeks. This is a weekend that we will never forget!

-Jennifer Kuhns & Liza Brenneman


Guatemala & Cuba 2016


1 February 2016

This past weekend, we headed to Chichicastenango. Chichi is much smaller than Guatemala City, and I think we all really appreciated getting out of the city. On our way to Chichi, we stopped at Iximche which is one of the Mayan ruin sites in Guatemala. We had a tour of the 5 Plazas and learned some interesting facts about the Mayans. We learned that they never walked straight up stairs, but went sideways so that they never turned their back to the sun or the moon as a sign of their respect and thankfulness.

Group at Iximche
Group at Iximche

After this we continued on to Chichi. The geography of Guatemala is crazy because towns are built on top of mountains and to get from one to another you must go directly down the mountain and straight up the other. On our school bus, this was quite the adventure, but we luckily survived and may have even enjoyed the adrenaline rush a little. We arrived in Chichicastenango and Hotel Giron, and then set out to explore the beautiful town. The streets were filled with color and life, but they were nothing compared to the beauty of the people. Chichicastenango is a town filled with many Mayans who dress in beautiful clothes with amazing colors. We had the evening free after dinner and people used it to explore more of the town and shop.

On Saturday morning we traveled out to a small, small community to hear from a widow and survivor of La Violencia. [This is how Guatemalans often refer to the Guatemalan civil war years from 1960 -96.] She had us into her home and shared about the murder of her husband and how she was forced to leave her town and flee with her two children to Guatemala City. We had previously read about testimonies like this, but there was something about hearing it directly from the source that just displayed so beautifully the strength and resilience of these widows. One section of her testimony that really stuck out was how after she returned to her town, the men who had killed her husband were still around. She would often see them walking around the community. She said the hate and anger made her physically sick and she asked God to take that from her so that she could live. Wow! This was incredibly impactful to hear. The widows made us lunch and we had the opportunity to purchase some of their handmade clothes, blankets, headbands and more.

After our time with the widows, we returned to Chichicastenango and hiked up a mountain where some traditional Mayan worship/ceremonies were held. It was a beautiful view and cool to see one of these types of worship displayed. We had another free afternoon and evening where we did dinner on our own. We didn’t venture too far, and all showed up at the same steak house in three different groups. Majority of us got cheeseburgers and French fries; how North American of us!

We attended a small portion of mass on Sunday morning before venturing around the streets that had turned into a huge market. We spent some more time shopping before heading back to Guatemala City.

Overall, it was a really great weekend. Very refreshing to get out of the city for a little and speak some English! We are back in the city now, having daily Spanish classes and afternoons full of learning more about the history and culture, and relaxing.

Thanks for reading and for your continued thoughts and prayers!

-Emily Augsburger


Guatemala & Cuba 2016

Guatemala City

26 January 2016

Greetings from Guatemala!

We are finally here! We landed safely in Guatemala at about 3:00 in the afternoon on Thursday the 14th. Both flights went well and we have all been enjoying our first few days in Guatemala City. We spent the first two nights at the CASAS-Semilla guesthouse, where we participated in activities that taught us more about the culture we had just arrived in. For example, on Saturday morning we went to the downtown of Guatemala City, where the central palace is, as well as the central plaza and a Catholic Church. From the plaza, we split up into groups to complete a scavenger hunt of the downtown area. The different groups explored all of the downtown area, from the Central Market, the post office, the movie theater, to the Catholic Church.

After seeing downtown, our group readied ourselves to meet our host families that same evening. We have all been with our individual host families since Saturday night, and we are enjoying getting to know them and seeing more of Guatemalan life through their eyes. We are grateful to all of the families for opening up their homes to us.

rooftop view from CASASOur group has also been enjoying our Spanish studies. Every morning at CASAS (Central America Study and Service), the school, we study Spanish from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Then, in the afternoon we participate in an activity to learn more about Guatemala and its culture. For example, on Tuesday we went to the Guatemalan National Cemetery. The cemetery was huge and it showed all of the different groups of people that have been a part of Guatemala’s history. It was definitely a sight to see!

Overall, our group has been having a great first week in Guatemala City and we are looking forward to many more weeks of new and exciting adventures!


The Guatemala/Cuba Cross-Cultural Group