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Independent Study Project

Guatemala con Dragones

Guatemala is a land of stories, a land of the people. Guatemala is a land of nature, of volcanos, and of beauty and serenity. Guatemala could be looked at as a land of problems, but when examined closely is a land of bountiful solutions. The people of Guatemala are strong and will never stop fighting for their culture and way of life. Immersion in this country’s culture can offer countless benefits and can teach you many life lessons that I and many more view as priceless. Where There Be Dragons offers you a chance to experience this immersion and live to experience these life lessons with hopes you will implement what you learned back home, where ever that may be. Throughout this collection of lessons within stories, I will share with you the strong people of Guatemala in multiple amazing towns and cities throughout Guatemala.

The vibrant place of San Lucas Toliman is a small, culturally diverse town around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. When traveling in Guatemala, I have grown accustomed to adjusting to Guatemalan life in this beautiful little town. The rich souls of the people and hard work displayed throughout the town is inspiring. When in San Lucas, Dragons base their operations in a quaint hostel called Posada Los Volcanes. They are very supportive of Reforestation throughout Guatemala and interests of the Dragonitos who venture through their town. When in San Lucas Toliman, the students are taught about the problems they will face in Guatemala, but also how to face them and help in every way they can.

La Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura is a place of action in San Lucas Toliman, a place one would dream of. Through Dragons, I and thousands of others have been exposed to the hard work and determination of the people at IMAP. Rony Lec is one of the co founders of IMAP and has inspired countless Dragonitos including myself. Receiving talks from Rony is an experience in itself. Talking through Mayan Cosmovision and everyone’s deep connection to nature is as eye opening as it is interesting. We are taught what it means to use permaculture to create a sustainable ecosystem and cycle. When at IMAP we are taught lessons on the corruption within the industries of seeds and how many companies are trying to gain a monopoly on the industry. We are taught of many problems but we are exposed to means of created solutions at IMAP. Christian Chacon is another inspirational figure at IMAP. When talking to Christian, I learned about things from Permaculture to human nature. Christian described Guatemala as an “eternal spring” and when people visit Guatemala they are exposed to truth that Guatemala is the most sustainable country in the world. During conversations with Christian there is no moment when you aren’t interested and locked into what he is saying. “In a world that is characterized by being unfair, permaculture is trying to create a fair lifestyle.” This quote can be viewed in a million different ways. The fact that the world is constantly unfair to many, and permaculture is the opening for those with less to match those with more. IMAP is a place of inspiration and those who are exposed to its riches, with Dragons, or alone, are blessed.

When on a journey in Guatemala with Dragons, the rural town of Pachaj is where a life changing homestay will take place. There are many families in Pachaj who constantly welcome complete strangers into their homes with open arms and open hearts. Many who don’t live with open minds, would visit Pachaj and would view the small town as poor, but to those who are exposed to the families and hard working population know that although the town may not have endless money, but they do have endless riches within their hearts and throughout their stories they have to tell. In Pachaj, there any many who are acting as the solution. Armando Lopez inspires many to help him in his cause to end the problem of reforestation in Pachaj. Even with hardships of life attacking him from all sides, he still fights for the cause that he and many of the in the community of Pachaj believe in. Through one day of work with Armando, inspired hearts can plant 300 trees with ease. The idea of 300 trees seems to be a lot, but in the eyes of Armando and his family, it is just a start to the solution. I’d like to share a story which Armando has shared with many. Unfortunately it will be in my words but that will have to suffice. Think of a Avocado. An avocado provides you with life, and an opportunity to prolong and restart life. When an Avocado tree is planted, it takes much more than a lifetime to grow its fruit. So why plant it if you won’t live to see its life. He says that you plant it for your children, and for your children’s children. And that the avocados that he eats daily, have been given to him by his ancestors. He then takes the same approach to his work with deforestation. Inspiration comes easy to Armando. Pachaj has touched the hearts of many, including myself, and I will take with me the lessons of perseverance and hard work throughout my life.

San Juan Cotzal is an extremely rural town cerca San Lucas by about 6 hours on a bus. Cotzal is a town of stories. Stories of death, and hardship, as well as stories of love, and perseverance. San Juan Cotzal was heavily effected by the armed conflict in Guatemala. Many men were killed by the Guatemalan army during the war. Through listening to stories of mothers who lost their husbands, brothers, and sons, you can here the strength within the Guatemalan people. The town was destroyed during the time of war but the Maya Culture within Cotzal is still standing strong and I don’t believe that will change. The families that are left in Cotzal, despite the hard living conditions, welcome many chicos into their homes to live their lives along side them. Dragons pushes us to experience the lifestyles of all Guatemalans in order to gain the full perspective and develop our mindset. In order to give as much as we could at the time, we worked in the fields with the wonderful families clearing land to, in turn, plant beans for their food supply. From Cotzal, we have learned many lessons determination, of strength, and of love.

San Juan La Laguna is where the base of operations for Dragons is located. It could not be placed in a more perfect place. San Juan is one of the most influential and amazing places for many who visit Guatemala. San Juan La Laguna is a small town cerca Lake Atitlan and is known for the kindness in the hearts of the people there. My experiences in San Juan and with the people have never been less than satisfactory. The families in which we stay never stop showing us kindness and a yearning to help us in any way they can. I, along side many, believe that there is no place like San Juan and the welcoming vibe and warm feeling to it. Dragons coordinator, Rosa, has hosted me for both stays and has shown nothing but gratitude and love with the fact that I have returned to her family. I was welcomed back into her family as if I was a son coming home from the service and I believe that represents the hearts of the people in Guatemala. The Maya culture is very apparent here. This is represented through textiles, traje tipico, and many other forms of Maya Culture. San Juan is a place of desire to many who travel in Guatemala.

To finish on a more personal note, both of my experiences in Guatemala have been extraordinary. I have fallen in love with every part of this country and the people within it. Both groups in which I have traveled with, have enhanced each experience in different ways. Each group opened my eyes in different ways to certain aspects of Guatemala from the importance of nature, to the impact a culture can have on a person. Where There Be Dragons has given me an opportunity to find what makes me happy, and where I can find that type of happiness. I’d like to leave you with this; inside the room of knowledge, there is a wall. A wall that was made for students to leave their mark. To write a message. To be remembered. Over time, the wall has absorbed many messages, including mine. When your message is gone, that does not mean you have been forgotten. For your message is within. Within the wall, and within your heart.