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Chicken bus

Life changing Guatemala.

[A five minute read]

I’m not sure words can articulate my trip to Guatemala for Impact Marathon.

A rollercoaster of a week where I ticked off several bucket list goals, persevered through the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever undertaken, connected and contributed, and experienced the several of the most incredibly joyful moments of my life to date.

It’s taken me six months to find the words to write this and I’m still not sure I’ve done this trip justice, but this is a story I really want to share, so I’ve finally pressed PUBLISH…

IMPACT IN GUATEMALA.

Volcanos

Actual views from Earth Lodge

After a weekend in Miami celebrating my birthday, my friend Alex and I jetted into Guatemala for Impact Marathon week. Until recently, Guatemala was a country I struggled to place on a map. And now we were here to learn, contribute, reflect… and run.

We arrived at Earth Lodge in the mountains above Antigua and I checked into the most spectacular treehouse which I would share with my Canadian friend Joe [the inspiration and orchestrator of this trip].

Treehouse

The loft of our treehouse.

 

After we checked in, Alex and I sat in hammocks on the sunny lawns of the lodge, eating guacamole made from avocados on the property, contemplating this foreign and comforting place. The views of nearby volcanoes were spectacular and also daunting: in six days we would run up one of them.

Slowly other runners started to stream in. Firstly Northern Irishman Aiden, then eventually Joe and Team Canada. Incredible to finally spend time with these people after months of sharing posts in our Facebook group.

Team Canada

Me, Alex [far right], Joe [front and centre] and TEAM CANADA!!!

Joe and I properly toured the eco-glam treehouse. 2 storeys of paradise: each with a double bed, an actual tree trunk through the middle and views of the valley. The adjacent ensuite had just a shower curtain as an external wall. We showered with a backdrop of banana palms and volcanos. Oh and we even had a little outdoor bar.

Shower

Who needs walls when you have banana palms to look at?

Over the next few days, we had so many conversations with the other 40 global travellers. We all bonded over a common love of running, active lifestyles, free spirits and a desire to create a better world.

I’ve never felt so strongly that I had absolutely everything I could want, and was exactly where I was meant to be.

DAY ONE. FAMILY LIFE.

Locals

Farm life in Guatemala.

We started the day with a short training run that would have been easy back home, but the altitude left us puffing like lifetime smokers. Trying to not think about how I will run a marathon in a few days.

Mid morning, we split into two groups and set off for our community work. This Impact Marathon supported two UN Global Goals: reduced inequality and quality education.

My group ventured onto local farms to learn about farm life and raising families in Guatemala.

50% of the children in Guatemala are malnourished, in some areas 90%. 75% of the population lives below the poverty line. [Learn more here]

We learnt of the challenges for rural Guatemalans and how our Ademi is helping to build stronger, happier and healthier communities with their nutrition and sustainable farming programs.

It was a huge perspective shift to suddenly find ourselves amongst a community whose lives were so drastically different from ours.

DAY TWO. COMMUNITY AND CONTRAST.

Fields of Guatemala

Walking into the unknown: a day in the fields with SERES.

We boarded a chicken bus then rode in the back of a ute into the wilderness. Seres had spent months planning for our arrival, and together we turned the first soil on what would be their large community centre, farm and education campus.

I loved everything Seres enabled: education, leadership and sustainability.

Lead by an Aussie, Carina, and a Guatemalan, they teach youth leadership skills to drive positive change and create self-reliance within communities.

Some graduates are now mayors and UN speakers. We spent the day planting anti-erosion plants and bamboo to be eventually used to build the campus.

Machete

Pretending to be in my comfort zone.

Using a machete to split the plants was hot, hard work. Pure manual labour, foreign to my usual world of spreadsheets.

It was so real and thrilling to be in this parallel universe, getting back to nature, unitasking and doing work with such a strong purpose.

After we boarded the bus home, we received news the locals were attacked by a group wielding machetes. Thankfully no-one was seriously hurt though they took farm equipment and an engagement ring. We were all shocked, saddened and scared when we found out.

We had spent the day having fun in the fields, in the worlds fourth most violent country, not realising we were being watched by people who couldn’t wait three years for this wonderful campus to be built – taking that farm equipment would help them survive now.

It highlighted the poverty and hardship of life over here, a stark contrast to my privileged world back home.

Team Canada

A fulfilling days work.

After a tiring and emotional day, we processed the news in our own way over the afternoon, then converged on the main lodge for a debrief and a few drinks.

Early evening, someone killed the lights and out came a cake with a room full of people singing happy birthday to me. It was such a sweet, thoughtful gesture. It occurred to me that I didn’t need to make a birthday wish as everything I wanted was right there. I was with soul friends, in an exotic country, in an eco-lodge overlooking volcanos, drinking delicious cocktails and spending a week of simplicity, joy, lessons, perspective and impact.

The night escalated from there with our little treehouse becoming a nightclub complete with strobe light [head torch], drinks, music and dancing. Until it was bought to our attention the treehouse was not soundproof and everyone else was trying to sleep.

DAY THREE. EDUCATION.

School

Alex goes back to school.

With part II of our Seres work cancelled, we visited a local school to learn about Guatemalan education and play with the kids. Many do not complete primary school as their families need them to work on the farms as soon as they are old enough. Many girls drop out when they start menstruating as they don’t have access to sanitary products.

80% do not complete high school; 40% of indigenous adults can’t read or write.

DAY FOUR. CONTEMPLATION.

A pre-race day to rest our muscles and mentally prepare for the marathon. It’s an insurmountable challenge for me after years battling health issues and chronic fatigue. Yet after a few days learning about Guatemalan life, the majority of my thoughts are occupied with far greater global challenges. Nothing beats a bit of perspective. We are all buzzing with nervous excitement, yet also a sense of stillness as we all process our experiences in our own way.

Our minds are spinning, so we head into Antigua to pick up some ridiculous race day sunnies then lay by the pool drinking… soda water.

A little unnerving to be lounging poolside, looking at the volcano you’re about to tackle.

Cue nervous laughs.

DAY FIVE. RACE DAY!

Joe and I woke at 4am absolutely pumped. We shared an early morning breakfast of porridge, coffee and nervous energy before driving 90 mins to Pacaya National Park to arrive before sunrise.

READ ON for my journey running a volcano marathon.

 

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