Guatemala Photo Blog

Our first full day in Antigua, this is our favorite fountain in Central Park.

Our first full day in Antigua, this is our favorite fountain in Central Park.

This cathedral was destroyed by many many earthquakes. Ironically, the next morning we experienced an earthquake of our own.

This cathedral was destroyed by many many earthquakes. Ironically, the next morning we experienced an earthquake of our own.

On our third day in Antigua, we took a short hike up to a great vantage point in which we were able to spend some time reflecting on our experience here so far.

On our third day in Antigua, we took a short hike up to a great vantage point in which we were able to spend some time reflecting on our experience here so far.

To satisfy our craving for artisanal Guatemalan sweets, we went to the chocolate museum in Antigua where we learned to make our chocolate in  traditional Mayan ways. ¡Qué Rico!

To satisfy our craving for artisanal Guatemalan sweets, we went to the chocolate museum in Antigua where we learned to make our chocolate in traditional Mayan ways. ¡Qué Rico!

Posted in 2014 Guatemala 21 Day Session 1 | Leave a comment

Coming to a Close

Blood, Sweat, and Cement

46.2 cubic feet of rock, 3.3 cubic feet of fine sand, 40 bags of cement, and 40 hours of sweat, strength, and stamina went into our service project! The end product? The San Salvador community center is closer to completion with 371.25 square feet of cement flooring now present. With the help of our foreman, Alonzo, and handful of tico helpers, we finished our project ahead of schedule. Although the work was often grueling, we are proud of what we have accomplished in this tight-knit community.

Many students mentioned that they felt stronger after only a few days of shoveling, wheelbarrow carting, shoveling, and mixing cement. Sprits were high as we gradually filled the floor with concrete, sang along to ever-present background music, and switched off doing various jobs. To treat ourselves, we hiked up to Casa de Piedra, a beautiful waterfall. The walk took a total of 6 and a half hours, but the views were well worth it!


Many of our days at the service project started with us sharing our highs and lows of our experience in Costa Rica thus far. Many participants shared highs about bonding with their families and the community, practicing the language, trying new (and sometimes strange) dishes, and feeling a sense of accomplishment from the work we did. As for the lows, many mentioned the bugs, language barriers or communication barriers. However, it became common for participants to have no lows to mention, and thus we coined the term #NoLow or ‘hashtag no low.’

Fiesta de Despedida

The end of our stay in San Salvador culminated with many things to celebrate including the completion of our service project and our own Independence Day, not to mention Adam’s approaching birthday. Of course we also wanted to give thanks and say our goodbyes to the community, so we gathered for a large fiesta de despedida at the very place we had just wrapped up our service project: the central plaza / football field / community center. All of the host families and friends of the community joined in the celebration, which included delicious homemade food, an enormous cake, piñata, music, and of course futbol under the lights.

One of the prominent members of the community, Heriberto, addressed the 100 or more attendees and thanked us not only for our hard work, but for the way we’ve each shared a part of ourselves and our culture with their families. He also highlighted the way we’ve bonded with the many children in the community, many of whom look up to our participants with loving eyes as if they were older siblings. We too shared our words of thanks for taking us in with such unwavering hospitality and a tenderness that is truly something to be admired. Although our time in San Salvador was short, the experience we had here is something that each and every one of us will take home and cherish for many years to come.

Posted in 2014 Costa Rica 15 Day Session 1 | Leave a comment

Fun in La Fortuna

Hello friends and family!

Greetings from rainy La Fortuna, Costa Rica. We’re currently taking a break from our service projects to soak in some hot springs, take in some volcano views, and catch up on internet access and souvenir shopping!

The first week in the host village was a huge success. We are currently working on expanding the clinic in Buena Vista to include a bathroom accessible for people with disabilities. The students have all been hard at work pushing wheelbarrows, moving cinderblocks, and shoveling the afternoon away. The students have been taking turns as daily leaders, including on the Fourth of July when participant Taylor was “La Presidenta,” lead us in the pledge of allegiance with flags I brought with me from the States. We celebrated America’s birthday with a delicious chocolate cake after we were done working. Most days after work is done at 4, they’ve been taking time to hang out, buy ice cream at the local store, and play soccer with the local kids.

A couple highlights of this week have been taking a half-day on Saturday to watch the Costa Rica-Netherlands World Cup match and attending a quinceañera (similar to a sweet sixteen birthday party, but for someone turning fifteen). Although Costa Rica tragically lost in sudden death penalty kicks, the community had a great time at the birthday party that night. The students were able to swap their work clothes for dress clothes and had a great time dancing and hanging out with local students their age.

We have one more work week left after our brief visit to La Fortuna before moving on to Monteverde and white water rafting! Due to the tragic demise of our computer, you can expect a quick update or two next week – since writing a full blog entry on the screen of my iPhone would be impossible – with a longer entry once we find an internet café in Monteverde.


Lizzie y Las Tortugas

Posted in 2014 Costa Rica 30 Day Session 1 | Leave a comment

Bellarmine Bonds with IPO and makes the most of Oaxaca

(posting a quick update after a short chat with the group leaders yesterday)

Hello All-

Our goodbye to IPODERAC two days ago was bittersweet, with many students expressing they will miss the chavos while also excited for the next phase of our journey. On the road between Puebla and Oaxaca, we ended up coming to an abrupt stop when part of the gear box from our bus dropped to the road! Luckily, this happened in a photogenic farmland with rolling hills, a canyon and a stream. Unluckily, this happened in an area with no cell service. We gave everyone free time while we figured out our options for transport, with Tyler hitching a ride to the closest land line about 10 minutes away. Once he returned, we decided to forgo waiting for the bus company to send a replacement (which would have tripled our wait time) and instead rented two combis (vans) to take us the remaining 1.5 hours to our destination. Everyone was in good spirits and really took advantage of the time to explore a region normally passed by at 60km an hour, with many students commenting on the surprising beauty of their surroundings. Although we arrived in Oaxaca a few hours later than expected, the students learned a valuable lesson: when traveling, having a positive mindset can transform a schedule-shattering delay into an unexpected adventure.

The rest of our time in Oaxaca was spent exploring this colonial gem and highlighted by a photographic scavenger hunt.

Yesterday, we began our three day hike between the pueblos above Oaxaca. The area is beautiful boasting indigenous cultures, languages and traditions. Yesterday, we even got to walk across a magical suspension bridge and zipline over an alpine valley. We will post again as connectivity allows and hope everyone back home is well!

Paul, Tyler

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Posted in 2014 Bellarmine Mexico 3 | Leave a comment

2014 Ensworth China: Our Final Days

After leaving Zhengzhou, we traveled to Kaifeng, Luoyang, and Dengfeng where we visited the Shaolin Temple, Longmen Grottoes, and White Horse Temple. The Shaolin Temple was definitely a highlight of the trip, where we watched an awesome performance of kungfu. After a few days of traveling in those cities, we took a train back to Beijing and visited another temple before hiking the Great Wall today. The hike was insane! We started off in this remote village and hiked up a bunch of the wall’s ruins, before finally reaching a restored part of the wall where the hike became remarkably easier. To get back down, we each took a toboggan cart down the mountain. We had our final dinner tonight and it was so fun, especially since we had a little taste of the south when we had crayfish. Even though the trip was so awesome, I can’t wait to be back in Nashville, and hopefully can come back and visit China again soon.

Posted in 2014, 2014 Ensworth China | Leave a comment

Hola desde Ollantaytambo!

We arrived in the village of Ollantaytambo on Thursday afternoon, just in time to celebrate July 4th! We met with Alejandra, the country director for Peru, and she introduced us to our homestay families. We will be here for the next two and half weeks with a few local excursions in between.

Ollantay as the local community calls it is stunning. Located up in the mountains of Cusco region at 9100 feet above sea level the air is fresh and the views are spectacular. We can see Mt. Veronica from the center of town, one of the five mountains in the Sacred Valley mountain range, and it towers at almost 18,000 feet. We see her and the whole valley from our work sight every day.

Speaking of, our service project has begun! We are supporting a small local school by helping build a second classroom. The schoolhouse is locate on a farm on the outskirts of town reachable by walking a mile down on an ancient Incan path. The land is considered a historical site, therefore permanent buildings cannot be built. This means the second classroom space must be made of wood. And thus we began our work week by moving almost 70 eucalyptus tree trunks across the farm onto the future classroom grounds. Trees sure are heavy! Together we managed to move them all in a single day, quite a feat for only 5 students! Then came the bark stripping, a simple but laborious task. We all slept well after the first days on the job. Building a wooden structure from the ground up is a learning process, and we are looking forward to our return to work next week.

Meanwhile, Sundays are rest days, and the group decided to go hiking to the ruins above the city. We climbed up to the old agricultural storage structures and outpost/ lookout. From there one can see the entire town, up into the neighboring village, and the ruins across the valley. It’s not a bad place to spend a few weeks.

Tomorrow we are headed back to Cusco with Chino, our lead guide, for two days to visit the historical and cultural sites of the city. Next weekend we will be mountain biking and watching the finals of La Copa Mundial!

Hasta entonces/ Until then,
Noemí y Jonathan

Posted in 2014 Peru 30 Day Session 1 | Leave a comment

Visit to People’s Park

Today we all went to People’s Park to run around and ride smaller versions of amusement park rides. The park is very colorful & friendly with people of all ages dancing, working, riding rides, or just walking around! Check out our photos below.

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2014 Bellarmine Mexico 3: Bonding at IPODERAC

Hello Friends and Family,

As our time at IPODERAC comes to an end, we wanted to send along a quote from each participant about their experience over the past few days. It has been a fast, but meaningful, time with the Chavos!

We will be waking up early tomorrow to catch a bus to Oaxaca, where we will have a day to reflect on our time at IPODERAC, eat some delicious food, do an afternoon scavenger hunt, and put our spanish skills to use while bargaining for souvenirs in local markets.


Paul and Tyler

Group after hiking to the top of the hill overlooking Atlixco

Participant Quotes
“Coming into IPODERAC, I was worried that I would not be able to communicate with the children. With the words I learned and the soccer defense I had, I was able to bond with the kids despite mostly not speaking the same language.”
-Will Yergin

“I came into Ipoderac not knowing what to expect. What I found was a group of kids with the tightest bonds I have ever seen, and who loved soccer more than anyone I ever met.”
-David Taylor

“A lot of cool kids, soccer, and the inability to go to the bathroom basically sums it up. But for reals, I would love to come back and do it all again.”
-Nolan Thomas

“Although the main experience at Ipoderac was supposed to be with the kids, I felt accomplished building them a road.”
-Gabriel Penunuri

“My time at IPODERAC was filled with fun, laughter, and a lot of work. I will never forget the bonds and friendships I’ve made with the kids.”
-John Helmers

One of the hundreds of churches in the surrounding area of Atlixco, outside of Puebla.

“Although we only spent a short amount of time at IPODERAC, playing soccer with the kids really proved my ability as the BEST goalie in the world. I really look forward to possibly returning next year.”
-The Real Deal Oneal

“I really enjoyed my time at IPODERAC and I probably got ten times better at soccer. I definitely look forward to coming back here in the future.”
-Kevin Tucker

“As we drove in on the bus, the thought of sharing a house with 19 of my fellow bells, and communicating in a language I can barely speak, I was of course worried. But as we worked together to paint houses, rebuild roads, and empty the trash cans filled with toilet paper, we as a group bonded more than I would have ever expected. When we were playing soccer with the kids, and one of us missed a shot or screwed up a pass, the kids would not hold back in telling us how we sucked. Even though I was pretty bad, I still managed to bond with a few kids we played with like Renae and Richie. I didn’t realize how much we impacted the kids lives until the last night when we had to say our goodbyes, and some of the kids that I had played soccer with began to cry. Seeing that made me truly understand why we were here and how much they looked up to us. I look forward to being able to come back again next summer hopefully as a leader so I can bond with more of the kids”
-Nick Mercadante

“When we first met the kids at IPODERAC I was worries about not being able to communicate with them but then I saw that it was not as hard as I thought it would be. when we were playing soccer with them I saw that they had a very colorful vocabulary and were not afraid to criticize everything we do. When we were saying bye to the kids and taking #selfies I could already tell that they would miss us and we would miss them.
-Ben Bakeis

“As I was deciding to sign up for this immersion trip, I didn’t have a clue how life changing it could be. Deciding and successfully going on this trip turned my perspective on appreciation, bonds, and love to a whole new level. Specifically, traveling to IPODERAC was the peak of this experience so far. Throughout the 3 days I stayed here, I created a special connection with Rana and Helrido. Today, the last day, leaving the chavos was a heart wrenching experience. All the memories created will not be forgotten. I can truly say that the chavos are an addition to my second family. Leaving here will be like leaving a “fam” member. I will never forget this experience and hopefully i can return to my “family” once again”.
Christopher (Swagchef) Tran

“I had no expectations coming into iPoderac. These kids, although not a biological family, act as though they are. They are the closest group of friends I have ever seen, and while I could not communicate with them, I was able to interact with them through the few swear words I knew. It’s been an amazing experience overall, despite the ED (ask me later what this means!).”
-Michael Fontaine

“Despite being sick for one of my three days in IPODERAC, I had an awesome time bonding with the kids and improving my soccer skills. The bond I was able to make with the Chavos in such a short time was unbelievable, and their ability to remember me was also very heartwarming. To them I am “Superman,” “Super Gringo,” and “Jack Black,” and that is something I will always remember.
-Jack “PERMISO” Duffy

“Before coming to IPODERAC I was a little nervous about the language gap between the kids and I. I would soon find out that I didn’t need to worry about how good my spanish is because even when I would mess up they would always correct me and help improve my spanish. Saying bye to these kids was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because I feel like I’ve had a really strong bond with everyone here and I won’t forget my experience.”
-Scott Pedley

“I had a conversation with a chavo, paraphrased here:

Me, ‘Donde estas tu casa?’
(I was referring to his biological family’s house, perhaps in a nearby town.)
Adayir, ‘Vivo en San Pablo (one of the various housing units at IPODERAC.)’

To leave IPODERAC is to leave a family behind.”
Michael Haynes

Street of flowers, Atlixco, Mexico

“I’ve played more soccer in my time here than in the last year, and I’m more sore than I’ve been in at least two years because of that, but it’s definitely worth it. I overcame the language barrier and bonded with the kids through the game.”
- Will Hackett

“At first, I was a little nervous coming to IPODERAC, not knowing if I could communicate with the kids. For the first day, talking to the kids was hard, constantly making hand motions to try and get our point across. But as we kept spending time with them, our spanish improved and we picked up on their slang. By the end of my time at IPODERAC, I felt I had bonded with the kids and was sad to go, but excited for the rest of the trip.”
-Jake Rogers

“IPODERAC was not the part of the trip that I was looking forward to the most, but has ended up being super fun. I played more soccer than I think I ever have before and had a great time learning from the kids.”
-Will Fraisl

“Sleeping Sounds.”
Dom went to sleep before we could contribute a quote, so we will get one from him in the next few days.

“IPODERAC was definitely the best part of the trip for me. I really bonded with the Chavos here, especially playing soccer. I leave here sore from soccer and with my hands calloused from building a new section of road. I also leave with a new perspective on life and with more positive attitude then when I arrived.
-Brandon Rocha

“I come from a country, an environment, a lifestyle where normal behaviors such as putting shorts on each day have never been questioned or a surprise. Yet, coming to IPODERAC los chavos have definitely put me in check. I suddenly became the focus of attention, not only in IPODERAC, but in the streets as well. The chavos came up with every question possible, such as why do you put on shorts? Why are you the only guy that wears gel and not the others? Do you pay attention in class? these questions are only a minute fraction of what I had to explain in great detail. I then realized the beauty of an ignorant mind, and the beauty of the kids of IPODERAC. My responses did not affect them in any way, they only knew a little more about me the more I responded. My responses helped me more than it helped them, they sometimes threw me in vulnerable positions, yet while in these positions and in my responses I was able to truly confront myself and realize why I did some of the things I did. The greatest epiphany that I had made me realize that I did not have a fulfilled life, like the chavos had and I keep wondering things I have to do to achieve what they already have established.”
-Salvador Gutierrez

The street fixing project halfway to completion

Participants working on the new road to help prevent flooding in the rainy season


Posted in 2014, 2014 Bellarmine Mexico 3 | Leave a comment

¡Viva Los Ticos!

Written by Serena Barbosa:

After three days of shoveling, mixing, sawing and ant-squishing, we were done with our service project! We finished a day early so that we could watch Costa Rica play against Greece in the World Cup game on Sunday and go on an intense hike to a beautiful waterfall with a cave behind it on Monday (we were all soaked in sweat by the time we got there but it was totally worth it!)

On Sunday, we met up with another Walking Tree group and watched the game with them and some Costa Rican soccer fans at a restaurant/bar in San Salvador, a neighboring village. The place was full of energy and it got very loud very fast. As the game went on, there was so much cheering that I couldn’t hear myself think. Costa Rica scored first and the ticos went crazy. The students in our group took turns walking down to the pulpería (local store) during the game to buy snacks and drinks, while some of us just ordered french fries at the bar. After a trip into overtime and an intense shootout between the teams, Costa Rica finally won! It was an amazing experience to watch the game while we were actually here in Costa Rica!

At night, everyone’s familias got together for a fiesta de despedida (a farewell party), complete with food, dancing and lots of pictures. It was sad to say goodbye to our host families because we had connected with them so deeply. I don’t think any of us will ever forget this experience. Even though it was hard to say goodbye to our host village of Las Tumbas, we had surfing, relaxing on the beach and exploring the national park to look forward to.

Surfing Lessons!

Cave behind the waterfall

Diamante Verde Waterfall

Posted in 2014 Costa Rica 10 Day Session 1 | Leave a comment

Surfing, Sloths, and Sunshine

Written by Brynna Bostic:

Last night was our first night spent away from our host families. It was rather bittersweet. Although we missed our families dearly, we couldn’t be more excited about the big beds and hot showers that awaited us at The Hotel California in Manuel Antonio.

This morning, we woke up around 6:30 and headed down to the hotel café for a delicious breakfast of omelets, muffins, “gallo pinto” (rice and beans), and fresh fruit. We ate quickly, packed our bags, and headed off to the beach. Because our surfing lessons had to be canceled yesterday due to the slightly dangerous state of the waves, we got to spend the first few hours of the day learning to surf with Dante’s Water Sports. I must say, for a group of people that had little to no experience surfing, we rocked it!

After several hours of surfing, beach time, and shopping, we hopped on our bus and drove five minutes down the beach to the National Park. One of my main goals for the trip was to see a sloth and we not only saw one but two! Along with the sloths, we saw a variety of other animals and creatures such as Spider Monkeys, iguanas, crabs, tree frogs, and even some “pizotes” (raccoon like animals). We walked throughout the park for 30 minutes before arriving at “La playa espadilla norte,” a breathtaking and fairly popular beach within the park.

We spent the next few hours at the beach and most of us acquired pretty good sunburns. We then walked back through the park and to our bus where we loaded it up and began the drive back to Alajuela, a suburb right outside San Jose. Along the way, we stopped above a bridge to gaze at some crocodiles bathing in the sun. Many of us had never seen anything like that and it was remarkable experience to say the least.

We arrived at the Hotel Pacande in Alajuela at 7 o’clock. We had an hour to rinse off and get settled in before heading to “Jalapeños Central” for some of the best tex-mex in San Jose.

Back at our hotel, we had one last final reflection and received certificates commemorating our hard work and service to the community. In addition, we had the opportunity to write letters to our future selves that Walking Tree will send out in a couple years. We all tried to write letters reminding ourselves of our experience in Costa Rica and all we had learned about ourselves, our passions, and the “Tico” culture.

We are heading out to the airport at 4 A.M. so we are calling it an early night tonight. I miss my family and friends at home and am excited to return to the states, however, my heart is already aching for my new Costa Rican friends and family. My hope is to one day return to visit, but until then, Pura Vida!!

Posted in 2014 Costa Rica 10 Day Session 1 | Leave a comment