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      July 03, 2024

      Inspired by Guatemalan Strength

      “A pesar de nuestra destruición y nuestros harapos, hemos aprendido a soñar (…) eso es bastante” (‘Despite our destruction and our rags, we have learned to dream (...) that is enough’), is an extract from a poem by Luis de Lión, painted in a residential neighborhood of Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala with 500 years of history, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This colonial city is surrounded by four volcanoes, Pacaya being one of them. Antigua was destroyed at least once by another of the surrounding volcanoes (the Water Volcano), causing the third move of the country's capital to the current Guatemala City.

      Guatemala has the world’s most active lava-dome complex, according to National Geographic, which has devastated the Guatemalans several times. This country also had to overcome a civil war that lasted 36 years. I met a member of the Maya Ixil community who hid in the forest with his family during the war for eight years and had three children there. His village was completely devastated by the Guatemalan Armed Forces. On the other side were the Communist Revolutionaries (URNG), who also threatened to kill anyone who didn't join them. He only returned when helicopters flew over the area saying that the civil war was over, although he didn't know if he and his family would be killed when they left the forest.

      Even the author of the poem quoted above was kidnapped by the Guatemalan Armed Forces and never heard from again until his name was listed in a military diary among those executed during the civil war. A Guatemalan court decided that the massacre of the Maya Ixil community constituted genocide and that the atrocities to which this community was subjected are crimes against humanity, a conclusion supported by the United Nations. Despite all the adversities, the Guatemalans are perhaps the kindest and most collaborative people I have ever found!

      I had lunch at the home of a family who prepared the meal with only what they collect from the land (we don’t need to go to the market, they said). I tasted a peanut paste capable of conquering any American, made only with the strength of the arms of an extraordinary woman who appeared to be 1.20m tall. In a nearby village, I distributed toys to children who, still educated by their parents under the fear of the return of a civil war, waited for the toy to be placed on the ground to go grab it later. Inspired by Guatemalan strength and endurance, I climbed the Pacaya Volcano.

      Climbing the Pacaya Volcano

      The Pacaya Volcano is one of the three most active volcanoes in Guatemala. With a height of 2,552m, you don't want to get close to the very top because it's so hot (and the last eruption was in March 2021). Dressed to the nines in my Continental jacket, I started the ascent! But I didn't go up alone; I went with a group of friends and there was constant mutual help.

      As you climb, the vegetation starts to fall behind, being replaced by dried lava and dust. Still, up there, there were some plants, proving that, even in adversity, life can be reborn! I passed by dogs, horses (used by those who can't climb), and even an improvised restaurant that cooks pizzas with the heat of the place. Finally, I reached the top (as far as it is possible to climb, for safety reasons) and there was the Guatemalan flag! Imposing and free, almost touching the clouds (and the dreams of Guatemalans).

      Experiences and Values That Stick to the Skin

      In such a beautiful and, at the same time, frightening landscape, like the one you find at the top of the Pacaya Volcano, you gain perspective and are reminded to focus on the essential. Continental is synonymous with diversity, strength, and fellowship. This journey deep into Guatemala couldn't inspire one better to pursue our values.

      Sílvia Bessa Venda

      Antitrust Compliance Specialist