Tag Archives: outreach trip

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 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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Day 2 – Flores and Rio Dulce





For our rest days, we decided to visit the Tikal!!! Since it’s 8 hours away from Guatemala City (where we stayed at our hostel), we had to drive out to a city that’s closer to the Tikal to stay for one night. The city we stayed at is called Flores, which is the capital of Petén (a department of Guatemala) and it is located about 1.5 hours away from the Tikal. So we drove, for 8 butt-numbing hours, from the south-centerish region to northern Guatemala. 


From my journal:

6:45 am: Breakfast
7:30 am: Left Guatemala City for Flores
11:00 am: Traffic jam/block because apparently there was a protest. Some of us got out of the car, walked past the block to a bridge that overlooked the Rio Dulce
1:00 pm – lunch at Jocelyn Restaurant, boat ride along Rio Dulce
3:00 pm – on the road again, butt-numbing 8 hour ride continues
7:00 pm – arrive at Saint Helena (?) for dinner at a mall complex
9:30 pm – arrive at Jaguar Inn


Finally, this country-girl-at-heart gets to experience the real country side. Even though I’m tired, I want to keep my eyes open for as much of this road trip as possible. There is so much to see (and smell, ahah). I just know I’ll miss this place when I get back to Vancouver.

The rolling green hills seem to never end. Studded with old barns, it adds that rustic touch that I love so much about the country side. All along the road, there are clusters of tall and towering palm trees that can put LA’s palm trees to shame. At first, I thought that they were papaya trees since the coconuts had an orange skin, but that’s the unripe stage of a coconut!

This 5 hour road trip (so far) is actually making me feel so nostalgic. Guatemala smells just like China. It’s crazy how after 12 years, the thing I remember most about China is the smell.

***Couple hours later***



We stopped for lunch at a restaurant along Rio Dulce. After that long car ride I was starved! It wouldn’t have taken so long if there wasn’t a protest happening at the other side of the bridge (This is a small detail that I will leave out when I tell les parents, they’ll freeeeak out). It was well worth the wait though because the restaurant and the view of the river was absolutely gorgeous! The restaurant was small and cozy with its straw roof and rustic wooden furniture. There is nothing like this in Vancouver, which is a city made of glass, polished mahogany and chrome metallics. 



Lunch was going to take awhile to cook, so we took a boat ride to pass time. I love love love rivers/lakes/any water body. I like the way they make me feel. I love seeing ripples rise up in peaks then soften out again with every wave. I love feeling the breeze that blows off of the tide. There was so much activity on this river. Along the banks, women were washing their laundry on the rocks. Oh and we passed a bunch of cute homes which have me convinced to move here for retirement.





Best part: Castillo de San Felipe. It was a little piece of history that stood unwavering over decades of  change. That’s why I find historical structures so fascinating, it provides a glimpse into the past. You can deduce how people used to live and how things were back then. (Danggit, should’ve been a history or anthropology major.)




To have had this experience in an entirely different country with a bunch good spirited people was such a privilege. Two days ago, these people were just strangers, but now they’re more like family 🙂 I don’t think I’ll ever get over how lucky I am to have met them.


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