It was bone-chilling cold in Quetzaltenango (Xela) this week, so on Friday afternoon we headed to the Fuentes Georginas, a natural hot spring high in the mountains. A bumpy ride on a retired American school bus took us through the outskirts of Xela and into the surrounding farms and countryside. We passed small produce markets of brilliant fruits and vegetables, women in brightly colored dresses tending the fields, and people carrying unbelievably heavy loads of wood on their backs. The road narrowed to one lane as we climbed higher into the mountains, and when we smelled sulfur we knew we were close. The hot springs are nestled in a narrow green valley shrouded in fog. The hot water, naturally heated by the surrounding volcanic activity, pours out of cracks in the rocks into three pools of varying temperature. The hottest pool became unbearable after about 10 minutes of soaking, so we retreated downstream to a pool that soaked away the cold that had permeated our bones from our unheated bedroom and icebox classes (see video of our trip and the hot springs here). In addition to relaxing in the hot springs with our friends Tom and Kelsy (joydrive.ca), we also brought our friend Ron Botran. Chris picked him up at the local liquor store during our morning break from classes.
Saturday morning we woke up early to join a volunteer project hosted by ICA, our language school. For the last 15 years, the school has sponsored a reforestation effort in the surrounding mountains. This project’s mission is to raise a hundred thousand trees of local species such as alder, cypress, pine, and eucalyptus every year. Deforestation in Guatemala is a problem as 60% of Guatemalans still use wood for heating and cooking. We walked about 2 miles to a nursery on the outskirts of Xela with great views of the erupting volcano. It felt strange to walk in a city past internet cafes and clothing stores, while goats are herded down the street. On the tree farm working with friendly Laura, her son Julio, and another farmer named Carlos, we hoed, weeded, and raked until our hands blistered and our backs ached. Chris was especially brave and helped me pick the transparent finger-sized worms out of the freshly turned dirt. We felt totally beat after only working 4 hours, but we were quickly reminded of how lucky we are when we passed city block sized gravel pits where all work was done by hand with wheelbarrows and shovels. I think another trip to the Fuentes Georginas with Ron may be in our near future.