Guatemala, Day 8: Return home

The Posado Lazos Fuertes, where we were staying, is half a block from the Antigua bus station. But it really makes more sense to think of it as a port of call, which helps to rationalize the vast amount of noise that comes from it. At all hours, you hear horns, heavy engines, air brakes, and a constant cry of "Guate! Guate! Guate!"

However, this morning, something was up. Things were oddly quiet.

When I stepped out of the hotel, feeling much better after a long night's sleep, there were people setting up floats and organizing in marching groups. Ah yes, "La Fiesta del Diablo", the day of the Devil, when Guatemalans exise bad influences and spirits by setting fire to things. In the evening, they'd be burning a devil caricature in one of the squares (right between two gas stations, mind you). But for now, a parade that looked more akin to a Thanksgiving day parade.

They were still setting up, so I went over to the mercado to do some last minute shopping. It was still pretty early, so most of the shops were closed, and, with the holiday, I don't think many of them were going to open at all. But enough of them opened that I could get what I was after, so I walked around Antigua some more, taking advantage of the distraction to get some clear shots of the nicer churches and ruins.

By the time I got back to the hotel, the parade was in full swing, complete with a Santa Claus in the last float. We hoped the parade wasn't going to go on too long, since it was happening right in front of our hotel and we had to leave for the airport soon. Fortunately, things cleared up just in time, and we loaded into the van, with Lisa and another Camino Seguro person hitching a ride into Guatemala City with us.

Off at the airport, it was Mark, Jenn, Dan and myself, riding the same plane to Houston, where Dan would peel off to Denver and the rest of us would go back to Seattle. Getting on the plane was pretty uneventful; as usual I didn't get asked anything by security or exit customs. The plane ride to Houston was unremarkable, barring the awful BBQ chicken sandwhich that they tried to serve us.

Arriving at Houston, we went through immigration, and wandered over to our terminal. Dan followed us to our gate and hung out for a while until he had to go find his plane. Unfortunately, our plane was late, and Continental kept stringing us along until we finally took off, two hours late. After a long four hours and several failed attempts at sleeping, I stumbled off the plane and back into Seattle.

I picked up my checked bag, was greeted by Jiji and meee, and then said farewell to Mark and Jenn, officially marking an end to the trip.

I had a great time in Guatemala, and I think I'd like to go back some time in the near future. Everyone on the team is excited about doing this again, and we're all looking for other parts of the world we could go to; I think Haiti's on the top of Lara's list, which would be another interesting place to go...

Guatemala, Day 7: Recovering from day 6

The live dancers never showed up at the restaurant; apparently their bus got caught in traffic instead. We did a fine job of filling the restaurant with joviality, anyways. El Pelicano Dorado is run by some guys from Livingston, on the Carribean side of Guatemala, and has a Bob Marley/Carribean theme going on. The house drink is a liquor called "guifiiti", which is a rum base heavily herbed and spiced with regional roots and the like.

After a few rounds of guifiiti, an excellent poached whole fish, and a round of t-shirts from Amy, who had organized the festival, we left the restaurant and headed back to the hotel, picking up a 6-pack of beer at a convenience store on the way back. We sat up on the roof of the hotel, drank the beer, sang songs and decompressed from the trying week.

Soon the beer ran out, and we set out for further festivities. We arrived at the club part of town, a few blocks away, to discover that things were shutting down, even though it wasn't much past midnight. Someone handed us a flyer for an afterparty, so we decided to check it out, led along by a number of guys on street corners shouting "after party" along the way.

Past the bouncer at the plain front door we entered a small antechamber where, past another bouncer, we stepped out into an open courtyard amongst the ruins of an older building. There was a DJ playing reggaeton and tending bar, and an open fire in the center of the courtyard. We danced for a bit, had another drink or two, and then decided to call it a night, walking back to the hotel as a group.

At six in the morning I woke with a violent need to regurgitate. After several minutes of heaving, I crawled back into bed, and stayed there, barring a couple more trips to the bathroom, until 11 or so, when I forced myself to shower and face the world. I hoped the shower would see me better, as I had an appointment with a volcano at 2 in the afternoon.

Still feeling like animated crap, I went out to the market to get some shopping done. On this early Saturday morning, the market was hopping; packed with people and vendors, I was stepping around children and merchandise left and right. I bought a few t-shirts and some CDs of the local music, and then retreated back to the hotel.

It was one in the afternoon; in another hour I was supposed to head off to the volcano with Dan, but I was in bad shape and on the decline. I sucked it up and acknowledged that there was no lava in the works for me today. I broke the news to Dan, wished him off, and crawed into bed.

Around 7 or so the group got back from Pachaya, a nearby lake with gorgeous scenery and plenty of shopping; everyone was laden with goods and gifts. I was feeling a little better, so I got up out of bed and talked with Mark about his experience in Chiquimula, the town he stayed in while he welded the rig. Shortly before 9 we got tired of waiting for Dan to get back, and headed out to dinner, leaving the team cell phone so he could call us and find out where we were.

Our usual comida tipico was closed, so we went across the street to a place simply titled "Weiners", which modelled itself as German style food. Schnizel certainly wasn't in the works for me; I just got a banana liquado (smoothie) and some rice porridge. Still feeling ill, I called it a night and packed it in, wishing Lara a safe travel for her 5:30am departure the next morning.

Guatemala, Day 6: Wrapping up with a final day of madness

I woke to discover the bug that had been going around the team finally got to me, with a sore throat that felt like sandpaper. Done with the lessons, we were set to go to their end of the year fair, where we'd have the full contingent of 500 kids and their families, for 4 hours of riotous festivities.

Lunch was to be hot dogs, so before we loaded into the van we made a journey to the Bodera (supermarket) to get some additional rations. I got some dried fruit and nuts, which would work well to tide me through the day.

After getting stuck in some traffic heading into Guatemala City, we arrived at the Camino Seguro project building, where the street was clotted with kids. The plan was for the kids to start at the project building, and parade the mile or so to the guarderia (day care center) where the festivities would be held. Half of us got out to join the kids on their march, while myself and the remaining team members went ahead in the van to get things set up.

As soon as the van door opened to let the marchers out, the kids mobbed us, surging into the van. We successfully repelled the invaders, only to encounter similar difficulties when we opened the back door to get some instruments out. We distracted some of them by handing out the sandpaper we had used in percussion, and giving a choice few kids a cow bell and a horn.

Arriving at the guarderia, we unpacked the essentials, and emptied our pockets, stowing the valuables in the van. I tossed a line over the rig, and Lara climbed up to rig the equipment: a rope, the trapeze, and Kerri's tissu. Lara and I then worked for a couple minutes to formulate a quick doubles rope routine for the show later on in the day.

Soon enough, the shouts of "the children are coming!" echoed out in the courtyard. The field was quickly filled with kids, parents and teachers. Rejoined with the rest of the team, we were regaled with stories of awesomeness on the march. But there wasn't much time to relax, and the kids started coming up to the tent. I recognized many of the kids from the previous days' lessons, both the troublemakers and the quick learners.

For the aerial station, we had the trapeze down, and ran the kids through a quick progression: hang from your knees, sit up, stand, arabesque, come down. Some of the kids who had done well previously got to show off their tricks, and we gave them a couple of extra tricks to try out.

We didn't really have a set plan for what would go on inside the tent, aside from a table for face painting. Surprisingly, the kids (mostly the older ones) were really into just stretching. So Jim, Kerri, Noel and Jenn spent pretty much the whole time doing partner stretching with kid after kid.

Dan walked out amongst the crowd, distributing the last of the juggling balls and poi, giving demonstrations and sharing moves with the interested people.

For the first half, I mostly just walked around taking pictures, and helping the other folks out when they got into a bind. Around noon I got tired of taking pictures, so I tracked down Jorge to let me stow my camera in the van, scarfed down a hot dog, and took over for Noel on the aerial rig, with Brooks, one of the Camino Seguro volunteer, helping me out. Kid after kid came up, did their trick, and either immediately got back in line, or ran off to some other attraction.

The hardest part wasn't spotting the kids as they did their tricks, though. The real challenge was keeping the other kids in order; they'd crowd around us, shoving each other and sometimes the kid that was up in the air. Many times a random kid came out of nowhere and jumped on the equipment, whether or not someone was on it already.

Throughout the day, there were various activities happening on stage, from your typical pro-environmental skits (although in these cases, the kids were talking about things which have a direct impact on them), to singing and hip hop dancing. As 1:30pm finally rolled around, it was our turn to perform and close out the event.

Jim and Kerri started off with their "Dead or Alive" skit, with Jenn narrating and Matt and Sari providing the beats. Dan juggled and paddle balled, pulling "senorita" Mark out of the audience as a "volunteer" for another funny skit. After moving everyone over to watch the aerial rig (and the subsequent shoeing of kids to preserve the space we needed to perform) Lara and I finished off the show with a quick doubles rope act.

And with that, our work with Camino Seguro came to an end. We took some group pictures, broke down the equipment and stacked it neatly, and then piled back in the van to go back to Antigua.

Back at the hotel, it was only half past three, so we all broke off and did our own things. I pulled the day's pictures off my camera, and then went out to walk around the city and take pictures. Antigua's a pretty nice town for photography: time was, it was the capitol of Guatemala, until it burned down and the capitol relocated. As a result, there are many historic ruins scattered throughout the town. Laid out on a grid, the town is easy to navigate, excepting the sidewalks, whose constant undulation make for a sure fall if you're not paying attention.

As the sun was setting, I arrived at the Parque Central, which was halfway strung with Christmas lights. It's unfortunate that the security situation in Antigua is so bad, otherwise I'd love to go around the city at night and take pictures. But, with my giant camera I make an obvious target, and the threat of robbery (or worse) causes the city to shut down fairly early.

Ah well. At least I managed to find some postcards.

Shortly, we're headed off to dinner, at some restaurant which features live dancing. This should be a pretty fun night, as several people take off tomorrow, making this our last collective hurrah.

Tomorrow, it sounds like those of us not leaving are going to go hike up the volcano. A first for me, I'm really looking forward to it.

Guatemala, Day 5: The final day of lessons

For the first time this trip, I slept until the alarm clock went off. After the usual shower, shave and breakfast, we loaded up in the van for the last day of lessons with the kids.

Our plan was roughly the same as yesterday: A short demonstration of circus talents, some music exercises, and then divide the kids up into groups to rotate them through activities. For the demonstration, Jim and Kerri whipped up a "Dead or Alive" comedy sketch which the kids really enjoyed. Dan did a funny juggling bit, and Lara did a short rope piece.

For the music, Matt and Sari worked on percussion to accompany the song we had been teaching them. It took a little while to get the kids on the same page with the percussion, but eventually they had a good groove going. As Sari was putting her guitar down, the kids asked to sing the words to the song again, which was cool since we didn't know for sure if they were into it or not. So we brought out the word cards and ran them through the song a few times.

Dividing the kids up and working them through the activity stations was the same chaos as yesterday. Jim and I worked the acrobatics station, and it went pretty well barring a few bad apples. After several rotations, the teachers said time was up, and the kids packed off in the buses. As they departed, we gave each kid a special present: three juggling balls of their own to keep and play with. (Getting those 400 balls was no small feat, and involved buying out several vendors in the marcada near the hotel...)

We secured the gear, and headed off for lunch, going back to the comedore next to the Camino Seguro project. In spite of the appearances, the food that came out of those kitchens was top notch, and today I got a beef chow mein with salad and horchata, for under 20 quetzales.

After lunch we went into the Camino Seguro project building. Lisa was going to show us the movie "Recycled Life", a documentary they produced a few years ago about the people who work in the dump. It took a little longer than expected for Lisa to show up, so we went on a little tour of the facility, checking out the library and the kitchen. Watching the movie was very moving, as it showed many aspects of these people's lives that would be impossible or unsafe for us to experience first hand.

We left the project a little sobered, and headed back to the Democracia, where we juggled, practiced skits, and ate candy while we waited for the kids to show up. The kids were going to be late, we learned, because they were going to the cemetary to offer respect for a young girl who had died Tuesday in a freak lolipop asphyxiation.

Eventually they arrived, the little shrieking balls of terror. We ran through the demo again, with Mark substituting for Jim in the hilarious "Dead or Alive" skit with Kerri, as Jim was off changing his flight to stay a day longer. As the kids had come in and sat down, they were singing the cute Tongan song that Sari had done each day before, so the music lesson was mostly focused on that.

With the late start, we only had about an hour to work with the kids, so we split them up quickly and tried to go through as many rotations as we could. For the most part, the kids behaved, but some of the kids were really atrocious, including a girl who made a rude gesture to me after I told her to get down off a tree and come join the group. The time passed pretty quick, and eventually the kids left, with juggling balls in hand.

Done with lessons at the Democracia, we dismantled the rig, which went surprisingly easy, and loaded all our gear into the van. Roberto, the manager of the Democracia, had been a thorn in our side the entire time, so we decided to kill him with kindness and thank him as a group before we left. It may have worked, as he asked us to come back next year and work with more of the kids...

Tomorrow there is going to be a big fair-type end of year celebration at the Guarderia (day care center), so we went over to setup the aerial rig for demonstrations throughout the day. As we arrived, we encountered several of the kids we had worked with earlier that day, walking along the street and playing with their new juggling balls. Seeing those same kids in their home environment, a slum filled with squatters and drug addicts, as opposed to the clean environs of the Democracia, really hammered home the reality of their situation.

We unloaded the rig and got it set up when Amy, the volunteer running the event, showed up and demanded that it be moved. After some harrowing discussions, in which Amy couldn't really form an opinion on where it _should_ go, we got it situated and staked down to everyone's sastisfaction.

By the time we got things sorted at the Guarderia, it was pretty late, so we had our first ride back to Antigua in the dark. We got back to the hotel at about a quarter to 7, so we had just enough time to drop our bags, change clothes and check email before heading over to the restaurant, La Pena, which was our favorite so far.

La Pena has live music starting at 7:30 each night, but we wanted to talk to eachother, so we moved back into one of the rooms of the restaurant, where the music was still plenty loud. The food was good, and we had a couple rounds of shots to celebrate being done with the lessons and to toast how much Jenn saved our butts. After the food was done, Jim gave us a very animated demonstration of playing spoons, and we hung out for a little while until they brought us a big bowl of chicken soup to take back to Kerri, who had succumbed to Matt's flu.

We walked the soup back to the hotel, did a quick lice check, and went off to bed.

While we may be done with lessons, we're not completely off the hook: tomorrow's fair is going to be four hours of non-stop action, with 500 kids running around from point to point. Thankfully, we're not the only attraction, and there'll be a couple of bouncy castles, a trampoline, balloon modellers, and more, to keep the kids occupied.

I have to say, spending time hanging out with circus folk is fantastic, and the fact that we're all working together on such a great project makes it even better. These people are awesome, every one of them, and my life is certainly richer for the experience.

Guatemala, Day 4: Things start gelling

At breakfast, we all learned the new plan for handling twice as many kids for twice the time. We'd split the whole group into two, with half going outside to work through the four station rotation, and the other half staying inside to play games and do more music. With half the kids outside, we'd have a much easier time managing them and getting them to pay attention, but it meant that there would have to be people inside the whole time working with a large group.

Jenn agreed to stay inside, since she is the most fluent with Spanish, with Matt and Sari to help her. The rest of us would work outside with the other half of the kids, except for Mark, who would document the goings on with photographs and video.

We headed off to the Democracia, with Lisa replaced by Brooks, a tall young man who also agreed to play "jailer" for the truly unruly individuals. We were wary from the events of yesterday, but optimistic that we could work with our new plan.

The morning group got off to a slow start; I was still finishing up the rigging as the kids arrived. We started with another demonstration, varying things and doing some tumbling, more acro, a hilarious paddle-ball performance by Dan, with Mark as a "volunteer" from the audience, and different aerial: me on the rope and Kerri and Noel doing doubles on a knot in the tissu. Due to some issue with the busses, only the younger group of kids showed up for the demonstration, which is unfortunate because we primarily wanted to do the demonstration for the older group that had missed out yesterday.

We moved inside for the music portion, which was only slightly interrupted when the group of other kids finally showed up. The little kids really enjoyed the music exercises, but it wasn't such a hit with the older ones, especially the boys, who were determined to maintain machismo.

After the music, we got up and formed the kids into a big circle. Jim led a large group warmup, with some fun exercises and body movements that the kids all enjoyed. To track the kids as they worked through the various activities, we assigned them all numbers and wrote them on their hands, and then split the groups up, with the older kids going outside as one group, and the younger kids divided into four groups.

We ran outside and started our stations. Jim and I had two stations for acro, which we ran separately for a short while until we realized that it worked better to combine our two groups and teach them together. With the two ages we had in the morning, 8-11 and 12-15, things went pretty well. The kids were willing to do things, and had the ability to focus on what we were telling them. The hour or so went by pretty quick and soon enough the kids filed out and we were left standing in the empty grass.

We circled up and, comparing notes, agreed that today was a vast improvement over yesterday. We kept the kids under control while maintaining our sanity, and they still had a good time.

We stowed the gear and headed off to lunch, again at the comidera next to the project. The food was tasty and cheap; I got chile rellenos with rice, salsa, guacamole, salad and a horchata for only 23 quetzales (~$3).

With food safely tucked away, we went into main Camino Seguro project building. We were there to meet with Ed, the volunteer director, but were a little early. While we waited, we watched some of the kids who were playing jump rope in the courtyard; we had these kids in the circus camp, so they already knew us and invited us to come play with them.

After some vigorous rounds of jump rope, we headed up to meet Ed. He talked about some of the early history of Camino Seguro, and how the building we were in got funded and built. He told us about the things Camino Seguro does to help the children and their families, and described the sort of ecosystem of aide organizations that work together in Guatemala.

We need a rest before the next group of kids showed up, so we headed back to the Democracia for an afternoon siesta. We weren't quite as beat as yesterday, so only a couple of us napped while the rest of us juggled or hacky-sacked.

Soon enough, the kids arrived, in a screaming running mass. With some effort, we got them settled and seated inside. Due to more bus issues, we'd only have 90 minutes with this group, and since all of them had already had a demonstration the day before, we decided to do just a short demonstration, with Dan and Mark reprising the paddle ball skit. From there it was straight into the music, and then circling up for a group warm up.

Jim was outside guarding the equipment, so Jenn ran through the warmup, with some help on ideas from the rest of us. At one point we ran out of ideas, so Jenn pointed at Dan and said "go get him!". Hilarity ensued and a screeching mass of little kids chased him all around the building. Eventually Dan jumped into a big red can that was lying around, and then proceeded to be piled on by child after child. Spontaneously, one of the children picked a new target, pointing at Jenn and shouting, with the other kids following her. This proceeded for a short while longer, until we quieted things down enough to split the kids up into groups.

Back outside, Jim and I manned the acro station. Again the older kids were engaged, did good work, and enjoyed themselves. For the younger kids, we decided that the best approach would be to turn it into structured play, so we did things like having the kids make tunnels with their bodies and crawl through them, spinning them around, and some basic tumbling. It definitely wasn't as bad as yesterday, but it was still quite a bit of work keeping them engaged.

We quickly broke camp and packed up into the van. On the way back, Brooks congratulated us on keeping our composure in the face of such adversity, saying that he'd seen other volunteer groups crumble under much less stress. We were feeling pretty good about the day, telling bad jokes and singing dirty songs on the way back to Antigua.

Back at the hotel, there was about an hour and a half until dinner, so I uploaded some pictures to Flickr over the hotel's slow connection, and then Dan and I headed out to do some shopping. Dan wanted a bag to carry the juggling balls in, and I wanted to get some postcards and scope out what would be good souvenirs.

We went over to the mercado, a sprawling complex of vendor stalls selling everything from shoes to tools to raw meat. Dan found a sack in short order, and I helped him talk the price down from 75 quetzales to 55 quetzales (about 8 dollars). However, I had no luck finding postcards. You'd think that in one of the most tourist oriented cities in Antigua, there'd be postcards everywhere, but no, not even in the proper stores and markets. When we got back to the hotel, Lara suggested that I try the other side of town, which is more touristy. Another day, perhaps.

Dinner tonight was at a nicer restaurant, with Lisa joining us, as well as Barbara, the director of Camino Seguro. When we arrived, Lisa had set the table with little pouches, which we discovered contained gold pendants in the shape of the Camino Seguro logo, which she had gotten for us all after seeing how well we handled things yesterday.

Today was Kerri's birthday, so we surprised her with a cake, although we had to stop her from going to the bathroom just before they walked it in. Trick candles in quantities of 5 or less are great, but 34 of them become quite a handful; after Kerri took several attempts at blowing them out, I started pulling them out, still burning, and piled them on a plate where they turned into quite the conflagration.

With a tasty meal, some drinks and a slice of cake in our bellies, we wandered back to the hotel. Dan had a bottle of wine, so we went up to the rooftop to help him take care of that problem. We sat and took in the cool night air of a city that gets quiet after dark. In amongst the talk of scatalogical pets and strange Internet animations, we all agreed that without Jenn and her fluent spanish abilities, our trip would have been a complete failure. I have to say that, even above her spanish, her bright cheery expressiveness helped out to no end; any other person speaking fluent spanish would not have met the same success without being able to establish that energetic connection with the kids.

Tomorrow's the last day of the camp and, if trends continue, should improve more on the success of today. Passing the half way point, it's awe inspiring to think about how far we've come and what we've done...

Guatemala, Day 3: The first lessons

The noise of the city woke me up before the alarm again, so I got up, showered and got breakfast. I ate my toast and cereal out in back, watching some of the other folks finish up their morning exercises.

Lisa showed up, and we piled into the van, loading it up with our gear and instruments. On the ride into Guatemala City we finalized our plans for the activities, and then drilled ourselves on Spanish vocabulary. The drive was pretty quick, and we got to the Democracia with almost an hour to setup and run things through.

We rigged the aerial equipment, staged the other props and apparatus, and then worked through our set of demonstration performances. Jenn, who speaks fluent Spanish, would be MC, talking to the kids about the activities and introducing us as we performed a short demo of our abilities. Jim and Jenn start with a couple of two person acro moves, followed by Noel, Kerri and I doing "the dragon", a highly entertaining three person acro move. Next, Mark would show off one of his shadow puppets, Dan would do some juggling, and then attention turned to the aerial rig as Lara did a quick trapeze piece and Kerri did some tricks on the tissue. Matt and Sari, who would play on the drums the whole time, would then be introduced and lead the whole group indoors to do a few music exercises. After the music, we planned to divide the kids up into the four groups, and break off to do some simple aerobic/acrobatic stuff to fill out the hour.

A few minutes after 9:30, the first group of kids arrived, a couple dozen 8-11 year old kids, with teacher and volunteer aides. They were pretty excited and sat down on the grass in eager rows. The demonstration went well, with only a couple of minor hitches (the wind made tricks on the tissue a bit difficult for Kerri), and the kids seemed to really enjoy watching us do our stuff.

When it came time to actually get up and do things, things got a little mixed. Some of the kids were really into the music and the acrobatics, and others looked like they were just there for the ride. All in all, it went pretty well and I think the kids had a good time.

The first group of kids left, and we waited for the next group, while talking about various points that we should change to improve the flow. Unfortunately, the next group of kids never came; there was only one bus to move kids around, and it was also being used for other purposes, so the kids couldn't get from school in time. The only way to make it work would be to have both classes present for each two hour stretch. Twice the kids for twice the time would put quite a wrench in our well crafted plans.

We secured the equipment and went off to lunch, to discuss options and changes we could make. At the comidor next to the Camino Seguro project, we got some delicious, inexpensive food, and tried to sort out a workable plan for the afternoon, where we'd have a couple dozen 12-15 year old kids mixed with thirty-odd 5-7 year olds, for a full two hour stretch. We decided to keep the age groups separate, still divide into four groups, and set up stations that the groups could rotate between. Jenn would join Kerri on the aerial rig, because clear communication would be vital there, while Noel would join me doing acrobatics.

With a plan settled and the food consumed, we hit the road, heading to the day care center that Camino Seguro operates. Providing services for kids 6 and under, the day care center allows the moms to drop their kids off somewhere safe while they go work in the dumps. A tranquil island surrounded by the slums of zone 3, the Day Care center's grounds were designed and built by University of Washington landscape architecture students.

In the back of the building is a fantastic wooden play structure, which was festooned with a dozen or so three year old kids. We hung out and played with the kids for a little while, swinging them around, playing games, and recovering stolen sunglasses, and then rode back to the Democracie, where we promptly took a nap on the grass.

Following our impromptu siesta, we reset the equipment and waited for the kids, who were only a few minutes late. First came the young ones, 30 or so very excited 5-7 year olds, and then the dozen 12-15 year old 6th graders, who were more laid back, but still pretty animated.

We ran the demonstration again, with me on the rope instead of Kerri on the tissue, since the rope is much less affected by the wind. The kids were way into it this time; I saw many a dropped jaw while Lara was up on the trapeze. With a bit more care this time, the procession into the building was much smoother. The music exercise was fun, changed up a little for the younger audience, although the kids kept rushing the equipment and had to be constantly told to move back.

We split up the kids again, keeping the older kids as one group since there were only 13 of them, and Noel and I took our kids outside for acrobalancing. We had the group of older kids first, and they were very cool; they were excited to be doing the tricks, and really got into it.

The next two groups, of the younger kids, were really tough to work with. They were super excited, totally outnumbered us and, with the language barrier added in, completely unmanageable. For each group we started off with some aerobic exercise to get them warmed up: running, rolls and the like. After that we did the basic balance trust exercises, facing each other and side by side. Then came table-tops, stacking kids in hands-and-knees positions, and then superman (front plank). If we had time, we would finish with thigh stands.

The young kids couldn't stay focused, and were running everywhere. Further, any time I got close to the ground, they'd immediately mob me; several times I had 5 kids piled on me, especially demonstrating the table-tops. On the plus side, pretty much every kid did all of the exercises, and they had fun doing it. But the 15 minutes seemed to drag on forever. I hugged Matt when he told me that the last group of kids would only have 10 minutes.

In fact, they had to go before we could really get started, so we had a reprive. After the kids left, we all stood there for a moment, completely shell shocked. Noel and I were glad to know that we weren't the only ones who were overwhelmed, although it sounds like we had it the worst, since the other groups had some kind of object to draw the kids' focus.

We quickly broke camp and headed back to Antigua, talking about what we could do to make the long sessions and large numbers of kids work for us. We had a lot of different ideas, but nothing really concrete. Arriving back at the hotel, we cleaned up and headed off to dinner, going back to the Peruvian place we went on Sunday.  The food was just as tasty tonight as it was then, and this place is definitely a winner in our book.

We stopped at the grocery store to get some more snacks for tomorrow, and then returned to the hotel. No big group meeting tonight, a couple of people are sick with a cold of some kind, and others just need rest after the hectic day today. Lara and a few others sat down to work out a plan for tomorrow, which we'll find out about in the morning.

I'm glad that the kids are having a good time, but we all want to figure out a way to do that which isn't so strenuous for us. At the least, we've got two days to try.

Guatemala, Day 2: Setup and project tour

The noise of the buses and traffic on the busy street below woke me well before the alarm clock. A very sad JonM was nearly had, until the shower decided at the last moment to switch from ice cold water to scalding hot water. After a quick continental breakfast, we loaded up into a van and headed out to Guatemala City, to setup the aerial rig and get a tour of the Camino Seguro project.

Back down the winding road into the city, with a bright yellow aerial rig tied to the roof and spirits generally high. We stopped at the Camino Seguro project to pick up the coordinator, breaking out of the van after the wait proved longer than we could endure. Amy finally showed up, and we went over to the complex where we would be teaching.

Zona 7, where the city dump is and the Camino Seguro project operates, is highly impoverished and crime-ridden. Homes which do not have electrified razor wire have broken glass topping their walls. Armed guards are everywhere, and the sports complex was no exception. After a short wait, Professoro Roberto, one of the managers of the complex, came out to show us where we would be and what would be possible for us.

There was a large covered building, with a smaller grassy area to the side. Mark designed the aerial rig to stake down into grass, so we decided to setup there. The rig came together and went up quickly, and with a few minor adjustments was staked down and secure. We climbed up and rigged a sling on it to test it out and see how it fared to our adult sized antics.

After a little fun, we took down the equipment, leaving the rig standing tall, and loaded back into the van. Lisa took us over to a bluff overlooking the dump, so we could see the reality of these people's lives first hand.

The Guatemala City dump fills in a large gorge, roughly 600 football fields long and several hundred feet deep. The air above the dump is thick with vultures, circling overhead and flocking in spots along the bluffs and in the trash. Hundreds of trucks operate throughout the city, delivering many loads of garbage throughout the day. Meeting these trucks are over a thousand people who pick through the garbage, pulling out recyclables to sell for money.

As the trucks pull up, dozens of people come forward, setting a hand on the truck to claim a portion of the goods. The truck backs up and dumps its load, which is instantly picked through for valuables. The people load up sacks the size of loveseats, for which they'll get 5 or 10 quetzals (about a dollar) from the recycling middleman. The dollar a day feeds a whole family, often including 8 or 10 children.

There are no environmental regulations in Guatemala, and there's no control applied to what is put in the dump. Oil, medical waste, electronics, and anything else undesired, are thrown in the dump. By far the most atrocious "waste" comes from the cemetery, which abuts the dump. If the families of the deceased don't pay the yearly rent on the crypt (150 quetzals, or about $20), the crypt is chiseled open and the coffin is thrown into the dump, body and all.

We stood on the bluff, looking down on the scene below, while Lisa talked about their conditions, and how Camino Seguro has made progress in their 8 years of work. Things really are improving: last year all of the children met the standards for ideal weight and height for the first time, they had their first high school graduates, and several women have graduated and gotten scholarships to nursing school.

We walked back to the van rather sobered by the scene.

Back at the van, we made the decision to head back to Antigua, get a snack to tide us to dinner, and do any last minute preparation before the first lessons tomorrow. We stopped at the Guatemalan equivalent of a Wal Mart to get some more supplies, and then hit the road, running into some heavy traffic getting out of town.

Back in Antigua, we stopped at the Camino Seguro, met some more of the staff and got a couple of shirts we could wear through the week. We returned to the hotel, and split up; some of us wanted to get some food, others had more supplies they needed.

I went off with Matt, Lara and Jim to get some food. We headed off into the marketplace, a large conglomeration of stalls, selling foods, wares and sundries.  Lara bought a variety of odd fruits to snack on, but Matt and I were looking for something a bit hearty, but quick, not really finding anything. Eventually we emerged from the market, and headed down the street, winding up at a smaller cafe.

We ordered "tostada con carne", thinking it would be like small tacos or something. After a nice wait in a quiet courtyard, we got our food and went back to the hotel, to discover that we basically got hamburger patties on rice, with some tortillas on the side. It was pretty tasty, but more filling than we wanted since dinner was only a couple hours away.

Out on the grass behind the hotel, we got together and worked out some acrobalance moves we could do for our introduction pieces, practicing several times until it looked pretty smooth. Then we gathered up and headed off to dinner, which was all the way across town, seven blocks away. Antigua's a pretty small city.

When we got there, there was a little confusion about the food. We were geared up to be upset when the guy told us that our two options were burritos with chicken, or with vegetables, and that they just had chicken, no rice, beans, or cheese. An English guy leaned over from the bar and told us that they were good plates of food, so we relaxed a bit. What came out was closer to enchiladas, really: the chicken was cooked with onions and bell peppers, wrapped in a flour tortilla, and then topped with red sauce and cheese. It was quite tasty, and the dessert portions were huge, too.

We trundled back to the hotel in the dark, and set to work finishing the plans for tomorrow. After introductions and a group music piece, we'd be splitting up into four groups and doing some circus-y aerobic activity to fill out the hour, so we needed to decide what we'd be doing with the groups. With that sorted, we went outside to run through the whole lesson plan and practice the music.

Ten PM came too quick, but we had to stop making loud noises then, so we did some more quiet singing and then retired inside to make up signs for the four groups. We decided to give them circus animal names: los tigres (tigers), los bonobos (monkeys), los elefantes (elephants) and los osos (bears).

If the fun we had practicing and getting things together is any indication, tomorrow should be a blast. It's been great collaborating with these people on such a great project, and I'm excited to see how it will turn out.

Guatemala, Day 1: Getting our plan together

My room at the Hotel Uxlahal was apparently right next door to the kitchen, and I was awoken fairly early by the sounds of pots banging on the other side of the wall. I tried to sleep a little longer, but sleep was only fitful until the alarm went off. After a quick, cold, shower, I headed out into the courtyard to see who was around.

Lara was talking with Jim, one of the San Francisco folks, and Jenn, from Seattle. I grabbed some breakfast, fresh papaya and pineapple, huevos, black beans and taquitos, and sat down with them. Everyone else filtered in as I was eating, with Kerri and Noel coming back from their morning jog, and Dan recovering from a night of indigestion.

Eventually Lisa, our handler from Camino Seguro, arrived, and we set down to get logistics sorted, talking about the class composition, appropriate activities and whatnot. Lisa also talked about the organization and their work, and the kind of environment the kids are coming from. The conditions the kids are living in sound deplorable, and apparently we'll be seeing some of it first-hand tomorrow. Apparently the kids have been getting pretty amped up about our arrival, so we may have a tough time keeping them controlled in the coming week.

We packed our bags onto the truck of Mark's friends, who had helped him build an aerial rig for us over the week, and moved over to the Posado Lazos Fuertes, our home for the next week. Owned by Camino Seguro, it's primarily used for groups visiting the kids, and is a nice safe hotel.

After unloading the truck, we sat down and hashed out a class plan. We would have four groups of kids, with only one hour per group each of the three days we'd be teaching. This isn't much time to do any kind of actual training, so we pared back our plans to what would be easy, time efficient, and still rewarding.

With the lesson plan sorted, we went off in search of supplies. One group went off in search of over three hundred juggling balls, while the other group, including myself, went off in search of supplies for Mark's shadow puppet crafting. We wandered down one of the main streets, dropping in and out of buildings, stopping to get cell phones sorted and withdraw cash from ATMs.

Eventually, we found ourselves in a decent sized market talking to two women, one older and one younger. We worked through the language barrier, turning down some thin craft paper in favor of a pile of used cardboard boxes, figuring out how to ask for bamboo skewers, and getting several pair of scissors. We left the store with our bounty, only needing brass brads and a sheet to finish things off.

After dropping the supplies back at the hotel, we were a little hungry, so we went out to a nearby restaurant to get a snack before our dinner, dragging the just arrived Matt and Sari along with us. I got a really good chile relleno, some of the other guys got a good looking soup.

Post snack we kind of parted ways; Noel and Kerri wanted to go back to the hotel to stretch some, Matt and Sari went off to wander around, and I split off in a different direction, wanting to take some pictures.

I headed in the general direction of the hotel, which was only a few blocks away. Lured in by a man in a Hershey's bar suit, I wandered into a market which meandered along the length of the block. At the far side of the market was a libero, where I managed to find some brads after drawing a picture of what I wanted. I took my prize and made my way back, stopping to take some pictures of a ruined building on the way.

Arriving at the hotel, I found Kerri, Lara and Noel on the grass in the back, stretching and doing forearm stands. I set my gear down and joined them, and we were soon joined by the rest of the crew, where we initiated Noel and Mark on some basic acrobalance moves, and goofed around with some fun acro transfers.

Dinner time arrived, so we headed off to the restaurant. The food was pretty good, I got a groper fillet served with a whole pile of potatoes and veggies, topped with some nicely spiced macadamia nuts. We all had a couple of drinks, stayed to hear a Peruvian band play a couple songs, and then filed out of the restaurant.

Matt and Sari needed bottles for their music project, so we stopped back at the supermarket for some beer, and then headed back to the hotel to learn the song that we would be teaching the kids at the start of the lessons. With only a little practice, we had a good jam going, with several different instruments going.

After the music wound down, we stayed up a little longer, and talked with some of the high school kids who had just finished up their week with Camino Seguro, and got some of the inside scoop on what to expect. They were all pretty enthusiastic about their experiences and the kids, so it's pretty heartening.

Tomorrow we'll go back to Guatemala City, setup the aerial equipment, and tour the project.