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Saturday, May 21, 2016: Every end is a beginning

Today was another day of waking up at the crack of dawn, yet unlike the past week, we did not have to go to the clinic. The past week we had gotten used to bolting out of the house in the morning and getting ready to work. Meanwhile, today, leaving the house was bittersweet. We had accumulated so many memories, skills, and experiences in this week that we were reluctant to leave them behind. Our leader since day 1, Samantha, was not going to be with us anymore. David, the Director of Humanity First Guatemala, who treated us as his own children, was not going to be with us today. Calle del Agua 77, the house we lived in the whole time, became a paradise we were leaving.

The morning was the roughest time for all of us to say goodbye to the people and places of Antigua, but every end is a beginning. The next destination in our trip was Lake Atitlán, one of the most scenic places in all of Guatemala, and it definitely lived up to its reputation.

After a nearly three hour car ride, most of which was consumed by sleeping, we finally reached the picturesque location we had been waiting for all week. We started with a brief check in and drop off at the hotel, during which we played around in the hotel garden and almost immediately left for the ferry. The ferry was inarguably the best part of the day. All the best pictures of the week were taken today on this ferry. Despite being sunny, the breeze was perfect and the scenery from the ferry was even better. The pictures I post on this blog can only capture a fraction of the beauty of landscape.

After an hour and a half of picture taking and admiring the views, we landed on the first island of San Juan ready to start touring. We went to the coffee plantations and saw the process of creating the infamous Guatemalan Coffee Grounds. Of course, the process will never be complete without a tasting of the coffee, which we proceeded to do next. Obviously, it was delicious. We went to the textile artisan area next, where we were given a demonstration of how to weave and dye cotton. At the adjacent textile shop, we helped the artisan families make their living by buying up at least half their stock.

A group of 20 kids is definitely overwhelming for any market area, but we managed to give them good business. The last stop on this island was a garden of traditional medicine, where we bought all the organic teas and beauty products that we could want. Despite the negative stigma around artisan businesses, that they are "tourist traps," the prices seemed relatively reasonable and the products were of good quality. San Juan, also known as Artisan Island, was a great addition to our journey to delve deeper into the culture of Guatemala.

Once again, we boarded the ferry to head to our next stop, lunch and then the markets. Lunch was at a renowned fish restaurant called El Pescador (The Fisherman) where we met for the the last time our mentors from the clinic, Dr.Rana and his father. After all their teaching and advice, having to leave them was hard on all of us. However, this is hopefully not our last meeting as we all hope to visit and see the doctors in the future.

The markets consumed the rest of our day as we strived to get the last few souvenirs for our friends and family. We have become much better at bargaining, which is definitely an improvement from the first day. After all the purchases late into the night, we boarded the ferry back to the hotel, only to go to a few more markets for one last time.

Ultimately, the markets, the scenery, the tours and other attractions were a great way to end our journey in Guatemala. As excited as we are to return back to Houston tomorrow, we will definitely miss what we had in Guatemala. Hasta luego, Guatemala!

- Divya Chilukuri, Humanity First student volunteer

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