Antigua -- gringo tourists everywhere (myself included of course), markets with really inexpensive handmade goods, bars, restaurants, hostels and hotels. Apparently there's Guatemala's first and only winery as well.
We checked into the unbelievably gorgeous Villas Colonial and had a little evening get together and delicious dinner that followed. The next morning was a walking tour of Antigua and some shopping, with each group of three or four assigned both a male and female scholarship student to take us around and help us haggle with the market vendors. This was part of their community service and our students were really friendly and seemed to enjoy themselves. I told the little boy that I'd buy him anything he wanted to pick out and he chose a shiny black crucifix necklace over a nice selection of toys. After the kids had to get back, we had some free time, so Josh, Jeri and myself kicked around the town a little more and did some more shopping. I got Emilie a couple of cool purse/satchel things and some cool Guatemalan folk art and hand-carved wooden candle holders. Color me a tourist -- I'm a sucker for a great exchange rate and handmade goods. I should also mention that the walking tour in the morning was something else. Antigua is BEAUTIFUL, the second capitol city of Guatemala before the switch to Guatemala City in 1776. This gave it a preserved-in-time effect as what would have been a big city in the 1700s. Lavish churches, ruins, cobblestone streets, fountains, huge, thick wooden doors with iron pulls. I expected Zorro to jump down from one of the terracotta rooftops and carve a Z in something.
That night was the final reception and dinner, which was really terrific. There was a slide show and folks had the chance to speak about their week. I took the opportunity to do so for team SYSK and I hope I was able to express the gratitude we felt to be their guests. The CoEd staff, donors and other tour participants are doing some great things. Each one of them, if not already a donor, were interested enough to travel to a distant country to take part in an adventure that included the need for us to have armed guards with us wherever we went (overkill, but the CoEd covers all its bases). If you're picturing 20 something backpacker, Peace Corps types, guess again. Many of the tour participants were retired school teachers. They really showed a lot of moxie and spunk, and were a ton of fun to be around. The CoEd staff themselves were some of the coolest and nicest folks I've had the pleasure to hang out with.
This week was something else. To live the privileged life of a middle-class American is more apparent than ever before. Being an introspective kind of lunk, I couldn't help but consider my own life and what I'm putting out there into the cosmos. Being a mouthpiece feels somewhat unfulfilling when you look at the work that the CoEd Staff is doing and the dedication of the principal at the last school. I've had to get right with that and realize that not everyone is in a position to start a non-profit or try to save the children of Guatemala firsthand. But you can help support them, even if only to learn more about what's going on around the world and helping to spread the word.
This tour that we went on is open to anyone who is interested. They do trips in February and July, and for not too much money you can get an experience you'll never forget and see things that no tourist has the privilege of seeing. I've enjoyed using this show as a platform to highlight people like this, and I hope I can do so again in the future. There are thousands of groups like CoEd doing amazing work so I can only encourage folks to take a look around and see if anything interests them. As far as the mouthpiece thing, I can at least talk about organizations like this and I hope I've shed some light on a group I couldn't recommend any more highly to get involved with. I for one know that this is just the beginning of my association with them. So that's that, SYSK Army - back safe and sound here in Atlanta, enlightened and feeling fortunate. Look for two really awesome podcasts in about a month for the real deal. Mucho, mucho gusto Guatemala.