Central America, Guatemala

An interview with Bryan from Quetzaltrekkers

August 17, 2011

At the end of a three day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan, fearless leader Bryan (blue t-shirt) awaits a well-deserved lunch in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala

So by now you will have read about my three day trek with Quetzaltrekkers in Guatemala.

After the hike, I caught up with Bryan, one of two awesome volunteers who led the trip, to ask him more about the great work the organisation is doing in the community in Guatemala, and how you can help.

Thanks again for a great trip, Bryan, and for agreeing to answer some questions! First up – Quetzaltrekkers is completely run by volunteers, and you’ve been working with them for the better part of a year now – how did you get involved? How many volunteers do you have working with you at any one time?

Well I was working at a law firm and just wasn’t happy with the direction I was going, when a friend who previously volunteered told me all about it.

I loved what I heard, and booked a ticket two weeks later.

As for volunteers, the number really fluctuates. In the summer we have as many as 12, and in the low season (Sept – Dec) we can have as low as five. Although right now we have an awesome team that just help set yet another record month for the organization!

You lead treks every week and some of them are quite challenging! Which trek is your favourite, and why? 

When we’re going out every week, a guide may have a trek that he or she favours, although alternation is key. I loved the Lago trek for a long time but after so many times in a row it will drive you crazy!

For me, each one has it’s little pro’s and con’s, but I’ve recently developed a loved for the Lago Atitlan trek as a marathon one day trek. It’s intense, but a rewarding experience.

One of my favourite parts of the Xela to Lake Atitlan trek was getting to interact with locals from the villages along the trail, who always seemed happy to see us. Do you think that the treks have a positive impact on the local communities?  

We have had quite a bit of discussion about this subject in the organization, especially lately.

We really strive to create great relationships within the communities we operate, and try to make sure the money we do spend is going to the communites as a whole, rather than just individuals.

That being said, we find this a very challenging subject, especially over the long term. One of the successes we’ve had concerning how we impact communities has been in Santa Catarina, where we stay on the first night of the trek.

It is a community which has been devastated by several natural disasters over the last twenty five years, and has been really struggling since a large earth quake in 1998.

The village is very rural, reasonably hard to access, and thus they don’t have many resources beyond the little money we pay to use the municipal building. We talk to Don Sebastian, the mayor, every week and it has been fascinating watching the development projects he’s been undertaking lately. He does quite a lot with what little he has, and it’s been awesome for the organization to help out in any way we can.

Quetzaltrekkers has been around for about fifteen years now – can you tell us a bit about how it started? Have the treks changed much over the years? 

Quetzaltrekkers was started in 1995 by a group of Guatemalan and foreign social workers to be the fund raising arm for the Asociasion Escuela de la Calle (EDELAC) The main aim of the organization, just now as it was then, is to combat the unfortunate situation of children living and working on the streets of Quetzaltenango.

My job, as well as the other volunteers, is to see that tourist dollars go to benefiting those kids that need it the most.

Quetzaltrekkers supports street children in Xela by providing funding for the organisation Asociación Escuela de la Calle and all profits from the treks go towards EDELAC’s projects. Can you tell me a bit more about the school and the dormitory? 

Hogar Abierto (the dormitory) currently houses 14 kids, which come from varried backgrounds.

Some lost parents in the civil war, some were abandoned, and others we still don’t know where they came from.

Most go to Escuela de la Calle, although some of the older kids have started at other schools around Xela. As for the school, Escuela de la Calle has around 200 kids currently enrolled, and is located just outside of Xela in a little town called Las Rosas.

Even though I’m out there every week, it would be hard for me to tell you about many of the kids beyond the 20 or so that I’ve gotten to know. Although, it’s a much different situation with the ninos in Hogar Abierto. We probably see all of the hogar kids three times a week for meals or football, and you get to know them all on a personal level. It’s a very cool dynamic that we really try to maintain by constantly being involved with the hogar.

What are the next steps for Quetzaltrekkers and EDELAC? How can travellers and readers of OnMyWayRTW.com help? 

One of our big current projects is the new hogar. We’re trying to raise the funds to start housing around 80 kids, in addition to the 15 we do now. I’m currently working with other organizations, as well as seeking independant projects, which will help QT increase revenue to expedite the project. Larisa, one of our volunteers, just recently started a small partnership, which is still in the works, with the Bike House in Xela. I’m actually really excited to see where it goes and what it may turn into in the future.

Our organization is always looking for help, and people can do that in small and big ways. We’re working on trying to take donations through our website, although one of our big projects right now is recruitment of new volunteer guides. If any of your readers has any sort of interest in volunteering with the organization, we would be delighted to hear from them! 

Sounds like a pretty amazing organisation right? To get in touch with Bryan and Quetzaltrekkers, visit Quetzaltrekkers.com for more information.


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