The back of the pickup truck ute was filled to capacity. The load was being tossed from side to side with each twist and turn of the mountain road. What was different about this load though was it was standing room only full of people. I had managed to get one of the remaining spots. On the outside rear bumper. It was hang on or fall off.
These open air pickup “taxis” are an everyday form of transport. Back home we’d be locked up for having just one person in the back. But here it’s the norm. Not just one person, but so many crammed in the rear of the vehicle it bottoms out over every hump. But oblivious to it all, or the simple wooden plank for those who can sit, people are smiling and casually chatting. Mum’s with babies, kids and even the likes of this young guy in a black suit and vest on his way home from his bank job!
Today I was with this great bunch of young people. Beneficiaries of the Forma Foundation. An organisation that funds high school education for a group of motivated young teenagers from poor backgrounds. The foundation also funds some of these students to the USA for intensive English training as well as supporting students to gain university scholarships in the USA. In return they help educate younger children in their community. With the prevalence of junk food, the foundation also provides hundreds of daily nutritional snacks to several schools. The success of this foundation is very much the result of the passion of it’s founders, Candelaria and Gregorio. Both from poor backgrounds themselves, from selling pencils on the street and vegetables in the market from as young as 5 years old.
The kids I met are a delight. You can marvel at the volcanoes, tour the beautiful lake or enjoy the buzz of the markets, but spending some time helping these kids in just a small way with their English, is if not more of a highlight. (By the way they were in awe of a couple kangaroos having a biff up on YouTube.)
But it’s hard to imagine that just over twenty years ago this country’s army, it’s government and the wealthy elite were at war against its own people. Huge parts of the population were razed, they were massacred, their lands destroyed, crops, belongings, houses, clothes. Up to 45,000 civilians “disappeared” during the 36-year conflict. An estimated 200,000 were killed.
I was advised that Guatemala, as with its immediate neighbouring central American countries, were too dangerous. It was suggested to keep away. But venture in and the closer you get, in reality reveals a number of well worn tourists trails that take you from one amazing experience to another. And with the most organised and modern network of buses that criss cross the country and between countries.
To not venture in would be to miss so many memorable highlights. The inspiring people you meet, living amongst a community where women and men wear their traditional intricately hand woven clothes. Where each town around the lake, the women dress in a colour unique for their town. Some blue. Others red. The buzz of riding on the back of a ute taxi alongside the smiling and friendly people from this Mayan community that dates back thousands of years. To see the ruins of this ancient indigenous Mayan civilization that spread from the now Honduras, across to Tiki (Flores) in Guatemala to Mexico.
Witnessing girls as young as maybe seven carrying buckets of sand on their heads. Their slightly older brothers hunched over hauling bags of sand on their backs and strapped around their head, carting their loads up steep steps. As these Mayan people have done for thousands of years.
To be inspired by one of the young teenagers from such a background, who in my little English tuition session, said with confidence before we left, he wants to work in robotics. I have no doubt he will.
It may be a road less traveled, but its a road rich in beauty, experience and human inspiration.
LIVE VIDEO CHATS
Along the journey I’ve had the opportunity to meet some very inspiring people. To share their story with you real time, we’ve been chatting using a live video broadcast on the facebook.com/myseniorgapyear page. If you missed them, there’s a recording on this Facebook page. I’ve also included a link below for recent ones. Thank you to these people. I really appreciate you sharing your story….
Meet the founders of the Forma Foundation and find out how this husband and wife team are changing lives.
Are you trying to convince yourself you are too old to travel. Hear what 83 year old “Young Jon” has to say about that…!
And to finish on something a little lighter, see why waiting at traffic lights could be entertaining…
Check out the facebook.com/myseniorgapyear page. This page offers My Senior Gap Year updates as they happen. Plus any live broadcasts that may be of interest to you.
This is a public page so you don’t have to be logged into facebook to view the content (though they encourage you of course). If you are logged in, please click and follow this facebook page. Also please like and share any of the content to share with your friends.