In the late summer of 2010, some church members and I went on a mission trip to San Lucas, Guatemala, for two weeks in mid-August. We stayed at “La Cascada de María” (Mary’s Waterfall, a hotel) overnight and worked throughout San Lucas during the day. The hotel manager, Maria, was very cordial and kept everything quite tidy during our stay. Our group volunteered to work several jobs: weeding gardens, moving rocks, dirt and cement to build a septic tank system with a well around its access opening, helping shape and sand wooden spoons to sell to raise money to support the reforestation program, and going around with trash bags picking up litter around town in our free time.
One of the struggles I faced during this trip was a heavy language barrier. The residents of San Lucas spoke very little English and translators were scarce among the missionary groups, so my church group (several church groups and a medical group were based at the San Lucas Toliman Mission, http://www.sanlucasmission.org) appointed myself as one of the unofficial translators. Knowing conversational Spanish from three years suddenly became very useful. I could not translate fast-paced or in-depth conversations, but I was able to help many basic conversations about daily life and interests carry on between both my American colleagues and my new Guatemalan acquaintances. Luckily I had an English-Spanish dictionary with me the majority of the time, which is a highly recommended luggage item for anyone interested in visiting San Lucas Guatemala.
The people of Guatemala were very friendly; the culture was just very different than the American way of life. Men and women dressed differently, much more conservatively, than Americans. Some of the people did wear T-shirts and shorts, mainly children, but the men always wore pants; shorts were inappropriate to them. Women are not to show their shoulders nor their legs; they usually wore longer-sleeved blouses with ankle-length skirts for the majority of women and sometimes knee-length skirts for the school girls. All of their clothes are extremely handsome though, to the point many of us Americans gave in and bought an outfit or two. I myself am the proud owner of a purple/pink Guatemalan skirt, which I purchased in one of the open air markets, and a white blouse with elbow-length sleeves and purple flowers embroidered around the neckline, which is also conservative, another fashion guideline of Guatemalan women.
Shopping in Guatemala has to be the most fun I’ve ever had shopping. It is custom to haggle prices. The vendors usually overprice items to get the most out of inexperienced tourists, but our group has some friends from over the years who will give us appropriate prices and tips about what items they don’t sell ought to cost. Recently, a skirt will go between 250 and 500 Quetzales (one US dollar is about eight Quetzales), and trinkets such as bracelets cost about 5-30 Quetzales, depending on the quality of course, to put a bit of perspective on things. Keep in mind that the items being sold are mostly, if not entirely, handmade, hence the sometimes lofty prices you wouldn’t expect in industrial America.
When you find yourself in San Lucas, Guatemala, I highly recommend stopping by Sarita’s, a chain of ice cream stores, and getting some coconut ice cream; it’s amazing. If I had the chance, I would do it all again. It was an amazing experience to be among the Guatemalans, helping them with hard work and developing friendships, instead of just giving them charity money. I truly wish everyone could experience as much as I did.
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