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AALP Class 13 International Study Tour to Guatemala and Belize – February 20 & 21, 2011

As AALP Class 13 gathered for departure from Pearson Airport early on the morning of Sunday February 20, the group soon realized that flights were running late and that American Airlines would be redirecting the flight. John Borland and Bonnie den Haan were first in the check in line and were sent to Dallas while all of the others were sent to Miami on a later flight. Bonnie and John arrived safely in Guatemala City on Sunday evening, while the remainder of the class overnighted in Florida and will arrive Monday evening. This posting provides highlights from John and Bonnie.

We were met at the Guatemala City airport by Valerie and Alfredo who transported us to our hotel in the town square of Antigua, a city that was the original capital of Guatemala. Dinner was enjoyed at a pizzeria in the square, which was an open air courtyard. The cobble stone streets and 1700's architecture were amazing even when viewed after dark. On Monday morning we met in the courtyard of the hotel for a breakfast of fresh local fruit, papaya juice and the best coffee we have ever tasted.

Our tour guide, Vinnie, met us at 8:30 a.m. with the tour bus - lots of room for just the two of us! We traveled to the town of Ciuded Vieja which was about a ten minute drive past coffee groves and more old architecture. Our first stop was at the Chicken bus refurbishing factory. Chicken buses are the main form of public transportation, much like the GO buses in Ontario. Except in Guatemala they are actually refurbished Bluebird buses from the USA. It is cheaper to totally rebuild a used bus than to buy a new bus – and they totally rebuild these buses to look a little like peacocks with their feathers up. They use a lot of stainless steel and bright colours, put big bull horns on them along with luggage racks, and ladders. The people working there were very happy to show us around.

Our next stop was at a coffin factory. Here the family, three generations working together, starts with raw pine boards and makes beautiful coffins lined with satin. A coffin costs $1500 to $3000 Canadian. In Guatemala they celebrate All Saints Day on November 1 with picnics and kite flying in the cemetery, as it is believed the dead come back to earth to see their family. Once we tried out the coffins we went for a walk through the slums and up into the fields on the side of the volcano outside the city. Corn fields are being prepared for planting by hand, the soil is tilled and the old corn stalks are laid into furrows and burned. They cannot afford fertilizer or pesticides and use seed from their previous crop. Sweet potatoes get two crops per year and carrots three crops, while corn only one. Many people grow coffee on their small piece of land in order to sell it as it is income, rather than a crop they need for food. The guide said no one goes hungry in Guatemala, but their diet may not be very interesting.

After a nice hike up and down the side of the volcano we visited the Ninos de Guatemala Project, a school built in the slums to allow the children there an education. They started to build in 2006 and opened the school in 2009. This year there are 132 students in Kindergarten, Grades 1, 2 and 3. They hope to be self sufficient by 2014. They have received grants from Rotary Clubs. It was a real treat to see so many children, so eager to learn. One of the mothers made us a wonderful lunch of potato pancakes, cooked lettuce, cucumber rice and tortillas. It was delicious!

After our wonderful lunch we met with James Schintz, the director of micro credit for Namaste in Guatemala. James shared with us the concept of microcredit. It is just for women as he says they are more responsible with money and put their family and business first. His organization currently has $40,000 Can dollars lent out on micro credit mostly to sewing and weaving projects but also for chickens and pigs. He also discussed how fair trade products are not working well in Guatemala as the registration requirements can not be met by the self employed farmers - only larger companies can get registered.

The afternoon was spend on a walking tour around the city of Antigua with our tour guide Vinnie. It was a real education on networking as well as sight seeing as he was well connected and was very good at bartering. The markets are huge and laid out like mazes and bright colours and foreign smells filled the air.

We found an internet cafe on the way back to the hotel to send this blog. The rest of the group will arrive at the hotel by 9:30 tonight and we will be meeting for dinner at a restaurant with local music at that time. We are really looking forward to being with the group.

After the last two days, John and Bonnie’s advice would be, "Never, never attempt to rent a car and drive in Guatemala!"

John Borland, Bonnie den Haan – AALP Class 13


...meanwhile the rest of AALP Class 13 was experiencing Miami......here is their version of the day's events:

Bonnie...John? Where are you? Well here we are in Miami! Yes, Miami!!  Our flight to Guatemala was changed when we got to the airport and we are stuck in Miami until 6:30 pm on Monday evening. We will then be on our way to meet Bonnie and John who were actually fortunate to get on the planned flight and head off to Guatemala completely unaware that they were the only ones from our group on that flight. Bonnie will be most likely be blogging from Guatemala to tell us about their adventures.  Meanwhile, some of us will be making the best of a day in Miami by going on an air boat tour of the Everglades while some of the others will spend the day at the beach. 


Carol Maki, Tim Williams - AALP Class 13

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Comment by Laura Langford on February 22, 2011 at 5:06am
wow! glad you made it safely John and Bonnie! Sounds like a great first day!

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