We were sad to leave Caye Caulker but it was time to move on. Because of the cost of a lot of the tourist activities in Belize, the island was our only stop here. Sailing back to Belize City, we thought we were going to miss the bus, as we had to stop to help another boat which had got itself stranded on the rocks, right next to the sign which says that it’s shallow and not to sail there. Good one guys!

We had thought, based on the picture above the ticket booth, that we had booked a ‘bus’ to Santa Elena in Guatemala, where we had organised to volunteer for a couple of weeks, but when we arrived we found that we were in fact on a ‘shuttle’. Ah well. No wifi for blogging but hopefully it will get us there faster. We had a fun bunch of people in our shuttle, including a Guatemalan lady called Rebecca who now lives in LA, and who was celebrating her 65th birthday. She was definitely in the festive spirit, enjoying a beer (or seven) on our journey, and giving us lots of information about Guatemala, things to see and do etc. Arriving in Santa Elena Rebecca kindly offered for her friends/family to drop us off at the volunteer place. All piling in Guatemalan style, 7 of us and a birthday cake, they attempted to follow the directions to our location. Maximum 9 minutes drive. About 20 minutes later we finally managed to find it but despite the inconvenience for them Rebecca wouldn’t leave until she ensured we were safely inside at the right place. A proper travel angel :)

Using the Workaway website that we used around Europe, we found a volunteer place called Buenas Cosas (Good Things) in a town called Barrio Bellos Horizontes. The organisation started 18 months ago, and has a very impressive website detailing projects that are occurring across different partner communities in the Peten district. Despite filling in their registration form, making the required donation and having email contact with them the week before, they lady who greeted us didn’t seem to know who we were and we had to fill out the forms again. We sat around in the garden for a couple of hours kind of twiddling our thumbs until another Gringo (Memo) arrived. We (incorrectly) assumed that he was another volunteer and he made us feel rather awkward when he informed us he was in fact the husband of the director of the programme (Angelica), who was the lady we had been talking to apparently.
After reading through some guidelines/rules for our stay and checking into our rustic accommodations, Memo took us for a walk around the Barrio. This gave us a chance to check it out and orient ourselves, and learn where the only shop was that sold icecream (very important information as it was 42 degrees on our first day!). The barrio is a lower socio economic part of Santa Elena and is home to 300 families, most of whom live with their extended families – often 10 people to a house. The majority of the housing in the Barrio is made up of simple wooden or concrete structures with dirt floors and corrugated iron roofing. Mains water is supplied for most houses but grey water systems are still being installed and as such most greywater is washed into the drains on the side of the dirt roads.

We spent the two weeks in the Barrio teaching english and building a fruit and vegetable garden at a local school. Being in the Peten District also gave us the chance to visit some local caves and the ancient Mayan site of Tikal. The work at the school was extremely rewarding however we found the organisation rather frustrating. With our university backgrounds in Human Geography we were really interested in what was happening, how things had been going, lessons learnt, most rewarding achievements etc but we were made to feel very awkward and out of place for asking questions which I believe were genuinely interested and legitimate questions.

For a number of reasons, including political and financial, many of the projects listed on their website are more in the development, rather than implementation, stage. Some other volunteers were disappointed that they were unable to work on their chosen programmes (as workawayers we were put where-ever they deemed we were needed, but paying volunteers supposedly get to choose) and when they questioned things the responses they got were very blunt and accusatory. I believe that what the organisation is trying to achieve is excellent, but their current way of operating could do with a few adjustments. Despite trying to keep things neutral and positive the following discussions led to our final few days at the casa being rather awkward and we were sad to leave with a bit of a bitter taste in our mouths. 

Next stop: Our time at the school
Wandering around the Barrio
Heading into the local caves
Teaching the kids to play knucklebones

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