Go with Gus Tours is run by a local resident and humanitarian who offers various tours. He has a booth inside the port shopping area, but his tours can also be booked in advanced online. Nancy had contacted Gus prior to our cruise so that we could make arrangements to visit some schools in the area and bring supplies. The morning we landed in port, the customs officials demanded to see Nancy and me, along with what we would be bringing ashore. I was a little nervous and felt like I had been called to the principal’s office. We weren’t bringing food, or even clothing. We just wanted to bring pencils, crayons, and notebooks. We entered the boardroom to be met by eight customs officers who asked for our passports and bags. This would’ve been a moment where speaking the language would’ve come in handy. Me, being the bigmouth that I am, asked the officers “How are y’all doing today?” which was met with a few raised eyebrows. I guess I wasn’t supposed to speak to them. Fortunately, we passed their inspection and my passport was stamped with permission to do good things in Guatemala.
When Nancy and I arrived at the tour desk to meet Gus and his wife, we also met up with many passengers who had attended our Day at Sea Activity. Many people didn’t know that they could bring things to the kids, but Nancy and I had plenty to share with everyone. We were boarded a small boat and our Guatemala Adventure began.
We took a 20 minute boat ride to Livingston where we were greeted by school children singing songs, ringing bells left as a previous donation. Afterwards, many of my tour companions began to hand out some of the school supplies, bringing forth a few toothless grins from some of the younger students. After this brief visit, we hopped into the boats again to take a journey up the river to some of the poorer communities of the area and to get a glimpse of the simple life of those living in the rainforest area.
We passed small homes and people canoeing up the river. A few fishermen showed us their catch of the day and mothers washing clothes along the riverbank would look up and wave as we passed. Our boat passed by hundreds of lily pads and we were even followed by a flock of pelicans. We finally cruised up to a muddy hill where a few children were standing in wait. Along the bank in the woods, I could see mothers carrying their infants and holding the hands of smaller children as they made the journey to school because they heard we were coming with supplies. When we docked, the waiting children ran off to await us in their school.
The passengers got out of the boat and we unloaded the bags inside of the school, spreading the supplies on a table. The children of all ages were seated in their one room school, waiting for their presents of crayons and pencils. The mothers of these children stood outside, stretching on tiptoes peering through the cracks in the wall hoping to see the expression on their child’s face.
I stepped outside of the school and began to interact with the mothers, many who stood there in their simple skirts, some with newborns, nursing as we looked each other over. I felt as if I should’ve brought something for the mothers, and then I remembered a box of combs in my backpack. I opened the box and offered them to the mothers. They looked a bit confused, so I motioned as if I were combing my hair, and then they all grinned as I handed one to each of them. One mother hid hers, as if she were ashamed to be taking anything, but another mother was glad to have two of them, placing one in her hair for decoration. There were plenty of combs to go around, so I handed the excess to an elder of the women, whom I was sure would make sure the rest would get to the other women of their community. I guess this is an example of how we always try to provide for the children, but many times the mothers are forgotten.
The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting other children and even some hot springs set just at the riverbank where there is also a small cave boasting an archeological find. For $2, one can rent a flashlight and get a guided tour of the cave. I found that the hot springs provided a wonderful moment for reflection of the day’s interaction with a people that seem to have so much less than me, but seemed so happy with such little material things.
One image that is etched in my memory is that of a little boy standing at the bank of the river as we pulled away. He stood holding a coloring book and three crayons in his hand. I couldn’t help think that his education will stop when he reaches the sixth grade unless his family can come up with the $125 to send him away to school. It makes me think of my daughter who is that age and I can’t even imagine having to make a decision of this magnitude. Fortunately, Gus provides scholarships to these students through donations made to his company.
I hope to get another chance to visit this small community and share this experience with my children and bring things that I know the mothers will enjoy also. I’m thankful to Gus who provides these tours which help provide an education for the children of his area, which in turn betters Guatemala for future generations.