November 5, 2014

guat's up | part eight

So it's back! So many of you have asked for another installment, and it's not because I'm not thinking about Guatemala that I haven't written one. In fact, just the opposite! I am so excited to say that I have the fantastic opportunity to go BACK in just a few weeks + photograph the wedding of one of my dear friends there. I'll also be spending time with the kids! My heart is so happy. I'm so grateful. Aaaand I figured it was time to pick this series back up. :) 

[to catch up]
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7


The days following our Antigua trip were filled with what had come before. Waking up, and then playing/watching/being with the cutest children in the world. Showering, eating, sleeping, working in the garden, taking long walks, I even managed to slip a few photoshoots in there! (You can see them here and here!) I didn’t get sick, and every day I praised Jesus for that.

For each summer team that comes to Casa Bernabe, because they are working every day, the orphanage likes to give them a three day “vacation” in Lake Atitlan. What is that you ask? Only the most beautiful lake in the WORLD. (If you want to argue that point with me, I’m down. I’ll beat you too. ;)) I hadn’t even seen pictures, so I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was there would be ziplining on a volcano, and lots and lots of water/relaxing. I also knew that being away from the kids would be extremely difficult, so I prayed for rest and rejuvenation of my spirit so that I could come back with a refreshed vision for the rest of the summer.

We had about a three hour drive to Lake Atitlan. I remember driving up the road, in our little bus, and the driver pulling over at a lookout point. He told us to go look at the view. Dang. It was unbelievably beautiful. I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves, because I don’t have any words. All of us didn’t speak for a good five minutes.

As we turned around the curves of the mountains, we saw the lake peek out every once in a while. Then someone said, “Wait. Is that the zipline?” We all huddled on the right side of the bus and looked up the mountain. There, connecting two peaks was a cord. And maybe, oh yes that is a person, that was the zipline we would be going on. Honestly? I was scared out of my freaking mind.

We pulled up the gravel driveway that led to the ziplining center and immediately the energy in the bus changed. Everyone began murmuring about how fun and exciting and adventurous this would be. I’m usually very excited about new adventures and ziplining in Guatemala, that’s DEFINITELY a once in a lifetime experience. But I was nervous. We were going to be high up off the ground, the only zipline I had ever done was at the local playground. But just like the volcano, I decided to suck it up and just GO for it. That’s what that summer was all about, going for adventures, taking that one step that would lead to ultimately a good thing.

We stood in line, paid for the ziplining, and then they presented us with a contract that we had to sign in case anything happened to us. It felt like we were signing our lives away. ;)

After getting geared up, and practicing how to stop ourselves on the zipline, we climbed up a path that would take us to the first ziplining point, stopping occasionally to rest + look around at the different landings. At one of the stops, we looked up into the trees to see monkeys jumping around. There was nothing in between us and them, which was so incredible. We crossed over skinny bridges, climbed up steep stairs, and with all of the gear that we had on, it was getting hot and tiring. This is when my stomach started to have butterflies, the ones that say, “This is exciting, but you have time to think about the extent of what you are doing! And it’s thrilling!”

I was among the first to get to the first checkpoint. We all reviewed how to stop with our hands, and what to do when we got to the other end of the rope. The first one of us went, zooming through the forest, screaming at the top of our lungs. Soon, it was my turn to go. I stepped up on the rock, got my gloves on, was hooked up to the rope, and then pushed off into the nothing.

I’ve never liked those rides where the bottom drops out and you’re left spinning, relying on the opinion of a board of people that agrees that the ride is indeed safe, and that you won’t drop into the whirring of gears and die. When I picked my legs up off the rock and was pushed out over the ledge, my heart skipped a beat. But then, oh then, with my hands by my side and the warm wind blowing against my face, I saw the beauty in it all. I can’t properly describe the feeling of soaring through the air, trees all around, the whirring of the harness against the rope, your heart pounding. I went into a trance for a little bit, the ride was only, maybe, 10 seconds long, and I quickly had to put my hands up to stop myself. A bit rocky, but we had nine more to go so I knew I would get the hang of it. After being unharnessed, I jumped off of the rock ledge and my whole body was shaking. Adrenaline had kicked in. All of us half ran, half walked to the next zipline.

After a few wild rides through the forest, we were told that the next zipline lasted 40 seconds, significantly longer than the previous ones. I pushed off, like the few before, and soared through the air, taking in the view. To my left was the lake with a backdrop of volcanos. I had one of those moments where my mouth dropped open on its own. I spread my hands out so I could feel like I was flying. I closed my eyes for a second and that was all I needed. The thrill, the rush, the intensity of emotions I was feeling. I’ve never felt that way before. The rest of the excursion was just icing on the cake. I will never forget that experience as long as I live.

When we got to the shoreline, we all held our breath. I have such a hard time describing what it looks like because pictures don’t do it justice. Think dark blue, BLUE, water surrounded by lush green volcanos. The sky above is a mix between robin’s egg blue and aqua, dotted with clouds, and the waves lap up against the shore creating a calming soundtrack to the whole experience.

We decided to grab some lunch before the last leg of our journey. In Guatemala, they bond over food (SUCH a fan of that) and so it took about an hour for us to even get our food, and then another hour before they would come and get our plates. It was a fun cultural experience.

The boat ride to the hotel we would be staying at was exciting to say the least. We had 20 people + all of our baggage on a small boat… in choppy water… for about 20 minutes… it was sanctifying. :)

We pulled up to the bottom of the cliff, grateful that the boat ride was over. I grabbed my bags and glanced around for the stairs. I only saw one staircase, and it was a long one. My eyes fell on a sign that said, “Lomas de Tzununa 350 steps.” My jaw dropped. The hotel was at the top of this staircase, at the top of these 350 STEPS. But in the typical style of my team, we decided to race up them. With my heart pounding and my lungs gasping for air, I ran up those steps, thanking God for my cross country days. We finally made it to the top, after much huffing and puffing, and began to catch our breath. But in the midst of heavy breathing, we saw the view and it was indeed beautiful. Lush green volcanos were to the left and right with teal blue water surrounding them. A panorama that rivaled the Grand Canyon.

The trip was refreshing and much needed. The first day was all about settling in, eating good food + resting. I don’t think we realized how mentally and physically exhausted we were. Rest is just as important as work and so we took it. Our second day on the mountain was July 4th. In Guatemala, using fireworks is NOT considered a recreational activity (there’s a dark spiritual side to them) so we were bummed out that we couldn’t do sparklers or anything to feel connected to home. As we were sitting on the deck that night, having just finished dinner, we looked out over the lake and saw something very strange on the horizon. There was a concentrated area that was filled with light. It would flash, like lightning, but there was a haze of orange all around the area as well. We soon found out that a volcano was erupting, and there it was: God’s firework show for us. It was a cool moment, we all watched the volcano in the distance for hours, marveling at the beauty of it.

The final day of our excursion was spent exploring the surrounding villages. I rode on a tuk-tuk (a rickshaw type of vehicle) for the first time. Over the bumpy back roads of the Guatemalan mountains, some other girls + I  traveled to a nearby village to explore. We tasted the best sweet bread I have ever had (I still dream about it), looked through many markets, and did a liiiiittle bit of adventuring. This is still funny to me. We decided that we wanted to get to a certain place by the lake, but it wasn’t necessarily accessible by the road. So we climbed over rocks and under tree branches, over trash and through small puddles of water until we finally got to the spot. When we were done looking, we had to go through a “personal corn field” (as I like to call it.. basically a few rows of corn by someone’s house, resourceful use of space!) and through a hole in the fence to finally be back on the road. I laugh to think of four American girls emerging through a wire fence. Yes, there’s a story behind it.

The trip overall was a beautiful experience. I think God taught us each something specific, something that only time away and rest could supply. We were all eager to get back to the kids, but the fact that we only had three weeks left sobered us right up… 


Unknown said...

FINALLY! I enjoy these so much. So excited you're going back! I want to do this exact thing someday.

Also, these photos are glorious, and you are one super cool person, that is all.

xo, rn

Jessica Rackley said...

I've been looking forward to more! These are so fantastic to read, Ellie. And I love all your photos.