Category Archives: South America

13-year-old Chloe Bohannon Travels to Guatemala

Bohannon family with their Guatemalan family

Last November, 13-year-old Chloe Bohannon of Tiburon and her family traveled to Guatemala for a life-changing experience. Working with From Houses to Homes, a Guatemala- based non-profit, the Bohannon family built a solid home for a family in the town of Antigua. “On my last day building the house in November, I asked the 12 year old boy, Luis, what was the best part about his new home. He responded “ To know people think and care about us,” Chloe said. Although she is back at home and in her regular school routine, Chloe still thinks about what she calls her  “special Guatemalan family.”  She explains, “sleeping in their new home, they have the security of a locking door, the safety of a solid roof over the heads, and the assurance that there are four Americans in San Francisco that will always be their friends.”

Destination:

We were headed to Antigua, a beautiful colonial town nestled in a valley 45 minutes outside of Guatemala City, in the colorful country of Guatemala. The cobble-stoned town has wonderful architecture, artwork made by local craftsmen, fun restaurants, and lovely hotels with garden courtyards. This town offers many opportunities for travelers including volunteering in schools, taking language classes, or even building homes.

Cause:

When I first went to Guatemala with my mother I was twelve years old. Although I had been to a third world country before I was still nervous about what our adventure had in store. We were taking a two week language immersion course which included living with a local host family and taking one-on-one Spanish lessons. Through the talk of other travelers we learned about an inspiring non-profit called From Houses to Homes (FHTH). FHTH is an organization that builds homes for the poorest families in Guatemala. There are over a million corn stock homes in Guatemala, and FHTH is making an effort to change these numbers. So, the following Thanksgiving, I returned to Antigua with my mother, father, and brother to build a home. Over the course of five days, we built a house from start to finish. Working seven hours a day, we constructed a 13’x19’ cinderblock home with a locking door, cement floor and window. Alongside the receiving family, our team of seven volunteers lifted brick by brick until we painted the last stroke of paint. It was hard work, but, as FHTH says, “it is the hardest work you will love.”  At the end of the week we completed the 381st home built by the organization.

Highlights:

One of the highlights of my trip to Guatemala was building the house with the receiving family. Over time, we created such a bond.  Luis, the father of the family, was quite shy, but Else, the mother, smiled as we built her home.  She showed me how to weave with her loom and I also watched her do her chores such as washing laundry by hand and preparing meals over a tiny fire.  The couple’s three sons- Luis, 12, Yonny, 10 and Ezrus, 2- were constant entertainment. Even for my brother and father (who don’t speak much Spanish) it was great.  Whether we were playing soccer or just chatting, there was never a dull moment.

Another highlight was the Key Ceremony. At the end of the five days, when the house was finished, the volunteers passed over the keys to the receiving family. It was such an emotional moment. The receiving family was crying, the volunteers were crying – all tears of gratitude. The ceremony was a the perfect way to close an amazing week of volunteer work.

Challenges:

Traveling to Guatemala involves basic challenges similar to any third world country.  Before we left the States, my parents read up on travel safety in Guatemala on the US Department of Security website. As expected, we had to be careful around food and water (FHTH provided plenty of bottled water) and  when we were walking in Antigua we had to be careful with our bags. Also, it is generally recommended not to walk around late at night, so we were very cautious.

Getting there:

The flight to Guatemala from San Francisco was easy.  We flew to Los Angeles and took a six hour all-nighter on Delta, departing  at 10:45 pm and landing in Guatemala City at 5:30 am.  After clearing customs, FHTH greeted us to take us to Antigua. By 9am we were having a beautiful breakfast at Cafe Condessa in the town center of Antigua!  It was incredible that a relatively short plane ride could take us to such a foreign land!

Who would you recommend this experience to?

I would recommend this adventure to families in the Bay Area who are interested in traveling to a third world country in a meaningful way.  Anyone can stay in a hotel, walk the streets and buy the local crafts, but taking a trip that makes a difference to other people is a very special experience.  This was also a memorable bonding time with my family.  We were all working together in a way that is different than how we usually spend time together at home.

* Now, Chloe is focusing her efforts towards raising money to build homes in Guatemala. Check out her website, guatemalanexpressions.com, to view her incredible photography and see how you can help.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua 2009 319The Schumacher Family – Peter, Liz and kids traveled to Nicaragua this summer along with the Tan-Alpers – Jonnie, Liz, kids and extended family to explore a new country and bring soccer ball and school supplies to children in the area, via the Jean Brugger Foundation. Here’s their story.

For lots of fun and photos click here 

Destination

 The beautiful coastal town of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It’s a small, beach town located on the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua, just above Costa Rica. Our friend Dhruv Gulati is developing some property there and gave us the name of the hotel, Piedras y Olas which translates to “Rocks and Waves”.  As we were considering whether to go, we found articles in Travel & Leisure and GQ about the “hidden gem” of San Juan del Sur and traveling in Nicaragua which won us over, so we immediately booked our summer trip. piedrasyolas.com // elencantodelsur.com/

 Cause 

 The hotel Piedras y Olas supports a non-profit organization called the Jean Brugger Foundation. The nonprofit foundation is devoted to assisting Nicaragua through education and development of one of the country’s most valuable and treasured resources: its young people. Their mission is to provide critical educational opportunities and vocational training for the residents of San Juan del Sur and surrounding communities.

The people who run the foundation can provide a list of school and sports supplies, local needs and even animal care donations.  The hotel also runs a veterinary clinic that provides a safe-haven for local wildlife and domestic animals.

Through the hotel staff or website, the people who run the foundation can provide a list of school and sports supplies, local needs and even animal care donations.  We packed extra suitcases or bags filled with donation items and handed them over at the front desk.  The Foundation followed up with a thank you note to us.

Highlights

Piedras y Olas is an amazing hotel with large, clean, air-conditioned casitas that can easily house a family of 4-6 people. San Juan del Sur is a special place right now with very few American “tourist” families, mostly surfers and young men and women traveling across Central America. The variety of restaurants and food from around the world surprised us.  There is everything from American and Mediterranean to Chinese, Italian or nuevo-Californian cuisine, and of course the local Nica fare which often consists of fresh fish with gallo pinto (rice and beans). All the restaurants we went to were clean and the water and ice were safe for travelers, and once we got over the apprehension we were able to relax and enjoy the local flavors.

 The Pacific coast of Nicaragua is peppered with beaches and each one is a little different, ranging from the big-wave surfer beach of Madras, to the “family” beach called Coco.  Getting to the beaches can be like Disney’s jungle safari ride if you take the open-air “zebra” bus from the local hostel, Casa Oro.  The beaches were beautiful, and best of all, empty! The water was warm, the waves surprisingly gentle and everyone surfed, or took at least took some lessons

 Sailing trips and zip-lining are also fun ways to pass the time, take a look at our pictures! The zip-line in San Juan del Sur has 17 “jumps” or zips and a couple of them are over 400 feet long! Even the youngest can go attached to one of the guides. The Piedras y Olas hotel has its own large sail boat and crew who whisk you away to remote, deserted beaches!  Whether you’re flying through the jungle canopy or bounding along on the waves, we found the Nicaraguan people to be warm and friendly, always helpful and very proud of their country.

Challenges

Safety-wise we were fine, we had read glowing travel reports, and trusted our friend who was developing the property, but the revolution and Sandinista troubles of the 70s lingered in our minds prior to booking the trip.

 Otherwise, the ‘challenges’ were minor such as, the multiple flights of stairs at the hotel, which kept us in shape but were a bit rough after a full dinner of wine and wonderful food! And deciding between pancakes, eggs Benedict or any of the other full-service breakfast offerings.

 Getting There?

 It was surprisingly easy to get to San Juan del Sur. Each of our families took a different route from SFO to Managua on American Airlines through Miami or on Continental through Houston to Miami, the flying time was about the same either way; two legs of about three hours each. The hotel has a shuttle that will pick up at the Managua airport and take you to San Juan del Sur.  It takes about two hours one way and costs around $100-200 for the van depending on the number of passengers.

 Who would you recommend this experience to?

 This is a trip for families or adults who like a bit of adventure.  The country is poor, there is very little electricity or water amenities outside the city. The people are proud, live very simply and work hard to care for their families. We wanted our kids to see another side of life that they are not often exposed to.

 This is also a trip for young adults as there seems to be plenty of hostel-hoppers. Instead of Europe, they are in Central America. While we may have lived on $400 a day, many of the kids we talked with were living pretty well on less than $40 a day.