After an hour drive in a bus, past lots of run down building interspersed delicately with numerous, McDonalds and Shell garages we arrived at our hotel in the town of Antigua.
It was a stunning hotel with court yards, fountains and rustic wooden carts spending their retirement as a home for bedding plants. On arrival we were greeted by Karen; one of the trips co-ordinators. She introduced herself but my ears were still all over the show from the flight and also the altitude of the town we were in, so I found it hard to hear her. Without realising what I was doing and still face to face with Karen, I pinched my nose blew out my cheeks and made my ears pop. I finished with an overly comfortable “ah that’s better” all this while still only a handshakes distance apart.
There is not much you can say to that and needless to say neither of us did. I just smiled nodded and walked off, in a kind of, accepting, I know I’ve just made a tit of myself , you know I’ve just made a tit of myself let’s never talk of this again, kind of walk off.
Now when I get nervous I tend to eat a lot, when I’ve not eaten anything but aeroplane food for 48 hours I tend to eat a lot and if I’m being totally honest, I just tend to eat a lot. So it was no surprise with these three food earners present I demolished a fair few sandwiches that were prepared as appetisers. But with our arrival being later than planned we went straight into dinner. So much for me losing weight while I was away, in fact if I kept this up, the amount of relief work I would do on the trip would be dwarfed by that of Greenpeace who would have to spend a considerable amount of time throwing buckets of water over me while trying to get me back out to sea.
After dinner we had a few more drinks then headed back to our rooms. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was sharing a room with a Japanese bloke who spoke very limited English, but from the communications we did have I found him to be a really cool guy, who was involved in anti bullying work back in Japan. I saw him as an inspiration because I thought it was very brave of him to comw so far on his own and not being able to speak a lot of English.
When he was awake he was an inspiration when he was asleep he was a fog horn. He snored like nothing I have ever heard before. There would be no ships crashing onto the rocks of Guatemala that night. Imagine sleeping in a room with someone who had swallowed a kazoo.
The beds on the other hand were unreal, they were so soft and snug with countless pillows and duvets, it was like curling up between a couple of rolls of fat on the Michelin Man's belly.
The next morning we went for breakfast, it was at this point I started noticing that Guatemala not only has its own currency, but its own time and like with Guatemala currency where you times by 8 you do exactly the same for time, 1 Guatemalan minute equals 8 normal minutes. If Mara (an ace girl I’ll introduce properly later) had have known this, I think she would have got to breakfast earlier than 6 o’clock in the morning so that she didn’t have to rush it down her neck when it finally arrived, so as not to miss the 7:45 bus.
The large group of us were split into three smaller groups and were sent to different sites. I was in team Agua, named after a nearby volcano. Our site was in Antigua and we were to continue with a build that was still in its infancy, a house for a husband and wife and their three daughters. When we arrived the husband and wife were on site and started our day of building off with a prayer.
It was of course in Spanish so I didn’t have a clue what they were on about, but Eric, a representative from Habitat for Humanity translated most of it, the line that will always stay with me was “even though it is raining it is a beautiful day because you are here” I nearly cried.
Soon though we were into the build, we had extra work to do because the mason’s assistant didn’t turn up. On each build there was a mason and his assistant who would help with all the complicated, professional work that needed doing. Unfortunately the mason’s assistant didn’t share the same sentiments as were conveyed in the prayer and thought by no means was this a beautiful day in the slightest and decided to stay at home.
We broke down into small groups and set about shovelling huge mounds of soil out of the rooms where the first layers of foundations had been laid. We shovelled and shovelled and shovelled some more. We stopped for some lunch, under a tarpaulin to keep us dry. I decided that a great place to sit would be an ant hill and spent most of the time slapping my legs trying to get rid of the ants. I looked like I was doing a German drinking dance.
Afternoon came and with it came more shovelling. We were getting a decent system going, I would shovel into the wheelbarrow and Mara would wheel it away, empty it and bring it back for me to start again. By the end of the day, I had acquired the nickname Flash McShovell and Mara became Mara McBarrow, (McShovell & McBarrow available for all children’s parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs!)
The end of the build for day one came very quickly mainly because I was really enjoying myself, shovelling away while enlightening my American chums on all I knew about the royal family.
We packed up and headed back to the Hotel in time for a shower and tea. Tea was going to be particularly interesting as everyone had to introduce someone else they had met that day, this isn’t my cup of tea and I was really nervous about what to say...
Coming soon Flash goes to Guatemala Part 4 – New friends like bookends