Niagara Gazette

Communities

August 6, 2013

A Guatemalan adventure for those who want to go 'off the grid'

Niagara Gazette — The only thing that Joe Little can promise is a life-changing adventure.

For the past two years he's taken groups of students to Guatemala and knows it has led them to an expanded world view. Now, he's looking for 10 adults who want to challenge themselves and expand their vision, as well.

This January, Little, an associate professor of English at Niagara University, will be leading what he's dubbed "The Great Guatemalan Challenge," for adults who want to join him.

The back-packing trip will immerse the travelers into the lives of the Guatemalan people, with visits to small Spanish and Mayan villages, schools, marketplaces and farms.

Though the trip provides a physical challenge, such as hiking up volcanos and mountainous terrain, there will also be some comforts. Included will be communal dinners when the group lodges in the home of a retired United Nations officer, who helped implement the peace accord after the country's civil war. The war ended in 1996 with more than 200,000 people dead, but the war crimes trial of its dictator, General Efraín Ríos Montt, continue to make global headlines due to a recently overturned conviction.

And while some may worry about traveling to a third world country that is still recovering from civil war, Little says the tour is as safe as most major American cities.

"There is some level of danger, but for me, that is part of the point," Little said. "I'm interested in helping people to learn how to travel, and to learn how to be in the world."

Those who have made the journey the past two years were able to meet with soldiers and civilians who lived through the experience, Little noted.

The civil war began in the 1960s with a grass roots uprising of Guatemalans who felt cheated out of their land and power by the government. Little said his students learned of the horrific quandary faced by villagers ordered to provide assistance to fighters then punished or killed by soldiers on the other side for assisting the enemy. But learning more about the history and current events of the country isn't all the travelers gain from Guatemala, a Third World country noted for its long chain of volcanos and what Little calls "one of the most beautiful lakes in the world."

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