Category Archives: Guatemala Outreach Trip 2014

Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies and Post-Guatemala

chocolate gingerbread cookies

I still haven’t blogged about the last couple of days in Guatemala, but since I already started posting recipes, it’s too choppy to go back and finish it off. So, I’ll end that journey off by sharing my thoughts and feelings post-Guatemala.

My first day back in Vancouver

Woke up in bed today with a sinking realization. It finally hit me that I’m not in Guatemala anymore. I’m back in Vancouver and surrounded by inches of snow. No more palm trees. No more rolling hills. No more rooster morning wake up calls. No more Sheily. And worst part of all: no more SOS peeps.

I’m a bit late to this awakening, since most people already cried and spiritually said their goodbyes on our last night in Guatemala City. 

The whole day, I felt like I was just a shell. Empty and hollow. The essence of me was left behind somewhere on the winding paths in Bueno Vista. 


1 week later

After coming home from Guatemala, my perspective on the world and how I want to live my life has changed. Though I was only there for a little more than a week, the people and culture of that country have left have a huge impact on me that I don’t think will ever fade. 

I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is having gratitude and carrying that with you through everyday life. 

A couple years ago, I started my happiness journey. What triggered it? A really unhappy year as a freshman in university. Before that, I never gave much thought to my own happiness. I think I just ran on automode all the time. My goal was to just study 24/7, get the grades, then get that dream job and start rolling in 6 figures. My definition of life and “happiness” was really narrow. Sure, I guess I could go through life living like that, but will I satisfied? Will I ever reach the self-actualization phase that Abraham Maslow was talking about?


When I embarked on my search,  I started a gratitude journal for me to write one liners and reminders about what I’m grateful for. 

“Today I’m grateful for… emotional learning experiences.”

“Today I’m grateful for… feeling needed and loved by my family.”

“Today I’m grateful for… the sis and bro”

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On shitty days, it’s really hard to find something good to write about. Since I’m a pessimist by nature, I have a tendency to revert to negativity, deconstructing myself in the most harmful way as I critique myself for pages and pages on end.

On good days though, I feel a lot more up lifted after I write. 

These observations tell me two things:

1. The gratitude journal is working.

2. I let external circumstances affect me too much. Bad days I’m sad, angry, regretful, and embarrassed. Good days, I’m motivated, inspired and energized.


This is where I feel kind of ashamed. One of the things that I noticed about Guatemalans is that they are much happier people than we are. They have less than what we would deem as “the bare essentials”, yet they are some of the most cheerful people I have ever met. Despite having so little, they were more than welcome to share and give, asking for nothing in return. Those three actions, according to writer Gretchen Rubin, cultivate happiness and contentment.

On our last day in Bueno Vista, we visited a small church that was located just uphill of the school we were volunteering at. The pastor said something so beautiful that my friend, Yuki, and I silently held each other as we cried. In his best English, the pastor said: 

Life is about spiritual living conditions, not physical living conditions.

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It’s been 4 years since I began my happiness journey and I felt deeply resonated with that quote. I sat there in the front pew, surrounded by a bunch of new friends who are really more like family at this point, and felt this serene energy grow from within me.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I shouldn’t only try to find happiness in one event per day. I should be happy with what I have and find the good in everyday life, not just when I feel like it or when circumstances make it easy for me to do so.

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Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnmon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I used ground nutmeg)
1 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa (any type will do here, it’s just a cookie!)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 tbsp freshly grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used Roger’s best brown)
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp boiling water
7 ounces semi sweet chocolate chunks (I used 8 ounces, just for good measure 😉 )
1/4 cup granulated sugar, for rolling

Sift flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves nutmeg and cocoa in a bowl. 

Beat butter and ginger on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add brown sugar, beat until combined. Add molasses, beat until combined.

Dissolve baking soda in hot water in a small bowl.

Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. 

Beat in all of the dissolved baking soda. Then add in the last half of the flour.

Gently fold chocolate into the dough.

Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. 

Remove dough from fridge and roll into balls and cover with granulated sugar.

Bake for 10-12 minutes and let it cool on the baking sheet before moving. 

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookies

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Day 5 – Construction


One of our many caretakers. This man and his family kindly let us stay at their home. Here he is HANDMAKING tools out of wood. Just goes to show resourceful and talented he is!

So I actually didn’t have time to write anything for this day in my journal! I think this speaks to how great of a day it was 🙂

We spent the day half working on the construction of a kitchen at the local elementary school in Bueno Vista and half teaching English lessons. Two things I learnt: 1) I’m no good at construction. and 2) an 11 person tickle fight is both hilariously funny and frightening at the same time. 

By the time we arrived back at the homestay for dinner, we were all famished! Those of us who had snacks, brought out our stored secret stashes to stave the hunger. But the mere sight of food brought out the savages in us. The next thing I knew, we were climbing over each other, jumping on each others’ backs, and reaching with arms and legs everywhere just to get food. The more agile ones of the group (I’m talking bout you Kyle!) were swiftly taking food out of others’ hands. No food was safe from any predator, which in this case were 13 starved university students! In the end we all got some good laughs at how crazy we were acting. I mentioned that it reminded me a lot of Lord of the Flies because our innate instincts to do whatever it takes to survive showed us a different (uglier) side of ourselves. Now, we fondly recall this moment as our “Lord of the Flies Moment”. 

At the end of the day after our dinner, someone  decided that it would be funny to assign animal characters to everyone in the group based on their personality. The hilarity of us trying to justify how a certain animal fits into someone’s character got me laughing until my (fl)abs ached! It was probably the first time I’ve ever been compared to a pufferfish… for reasons I have yet to understand. 

8:00 am – breakfast at our homestay 
8:30 am – arrive at Bueno Vista, first day of construction, plastering walls, mixing cementing, and painting   
1:30 pm – lunch 
2:30 pm – back to Bueno Vista to teach English via interactive games, got attacked by a lot (like a lot) of kids in a tickle fight. It was like me against 10. 
6:30 pm – dinner back at homestay
8:30 pm – shower relay race and deep talks into the middle of the night



it doesn’t look like much but I was actually quite high up and it scared the bajeezes outta me


outside of the kitchen. the school has decided to paint it red and white in honor of their Canadian volunteers 🙂


plastering is waaaay harder than it looks. arm workout of the YEAR


Play time! Meet Juan Jose and Juan Jose. Those two boys are some of the sweetest kids you’ll ever come across.


Ashley aka the Boss.   P.S: I need to work on my selfie skills


I was plastering away then Yedrin, this sweet little guy, grabbed me by the hand and took me away from all the cement to get my hair did!


That’s Yedrin right there on the right. Isn’t he a cutie? He had a massive crush on the girl with the blue headband *teehee*


I swear he had a great time taking pictures with me!

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Day 4 – Arrival in Sibilia




(more pics below)

7:30 am – breakfast at Casa de los Amigos
8:30 am – drive to Sibilia
11:30 am – stop at outdoor market
1:30 pm – arrive at Bueno Vista in Sibilia
2:00 pm – lunch in the school, presentations and speeches, English games, soccer game
6:00 pm – coffee with the mayor of Sibilia (Juan Francisco) and vice mayor
7:30 pm – night time pick up truck ride to our homestay. Sang into the dark night with Isabelle, Na, Steph, Derrick, Julie, Yuki
8:30 pm – dinner

After a couple days of relaxing and travelling for ourselves, we finally made our way to Sibilia.

The drive there was something special. The scenery was absolutely stunning. It was unlike anything that I’ve seen in Guatemala so far. According to Sheily, we were in the actual countryside. Totally explains why I love it so much right? The landscape and natural elements looked more similar to Vancouver. Instead of rolling green mountains like in Guatemala City/Rio Dulce, the mountains were much taller and more sharp. Layers and layers of evergreen-like trees and tall jagged mountains fell behind one another and extended into the the distance.

As we wound down one curvy road after another, I saw Guatemala’s country side in every angle possible. While everyone snoozed away, I stared in awe at what I couldn’t believe to be the most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen. I know I get lost easily in any landscape and all landscapes but this one was truly truly unique and it just took my breath away. 

The scenery only got better when we arrived in Sibilia and neared the community that we will be working in. The community is actually called “Bueno Vista” and it literally translates into “Beautiful view”. One look around and you’ll understand why. Hills upon hills layered each other as far as the eye can see. There was a medley of forest and small neighbourhoods. Clusters of vibrantly coloured houses studded the narrow dirt roads. Here and there amongst all the natural lushness, you could see faces of the hills evenly ploughed and tamed into nice straight lines. Horses, cows, chickens and goats roamed the place. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I coudn’t help but feel my heart yearning to stay here for more than just a week. 

When we go to the school in Bueno Vista, we were greeted with the warmest welcome. Traditional festive music was playing. Balloons of every colour were neatly hung in the order of ROYGBIV. The moment we got off the van, elders and other important people came to hug us and give us kisses our cheeks. Everyone was so amiable and greeted us like we were old friends whom they haven’t seen in a while. 

We had a fantastic lunch of rice, tamales and beef stew. Then we watched the ceremony that the teachers and kids planned for us. You could tell that the entire community put a lot of work into this. There was AV equipment, an adorable dance performance by the girls (Yessica, Jenifer, Stephanie and Julie) and boys (Calvin and others). Even the mayor (Juan Francisco), vice mayor (Aldof) and district mayor (Senor Daniel) made an appearance.  Of course, I had no idea what anyone was saying but I was so appreciative of everything that they have done for us. Everyone made us feel like a huge deal

After lunch, we played some games with the kids to teach them English. But honestly, I felt like it helped me more to learn Spanish (ha!). 

Later in the evening, we had coffee with the mayor and vice mayor of Sibilia. The mayor personally invited us himself!! I wish I knew more Spanish because he made a great effort to have a conversation with me but I just didn’t understand! He asked each of us for our names and what we were studying in school. Then… he recorded it all in his notebook! He is the sweetest person ever! 

The ride to our homestay will probably be one of my most unforgettable memories. I got to live my country dream of riding in the back of a red pick up truck and winding down old back roads underneath the stars. Let me tell you about the sky. It was gorgeous. The stars burned big and bright above the purple twilight and the silhouette of the mountains. I couldn’t have asked for a clearer night. If I could listen to one song during that ride it would’ve been “Golden” or “Tim McGraw”, but I didn’t bring any music playing devices with me.

What happened next was better than listening to music though. Me, Na, Steph, Isabelle, Yuki and Derrick were riding in the pick up together… and we spontaneously broke out into song. We sang “Part of Your World”, “Tale As Old As Time”, “I Want It That Way”, “The Jungle Book” and other songs into the night sky all ride long. So nice to be in a truck full of people who like to sing and have beautiful singing voices. 

I really really didn’t want that ride to end. It will probably be the highlight of my trip.

Now if only they liked to sing country and we got a banjo-guitar duo going… 😛

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