Interview about our life as American ex-pats living on Lake Atitlan Guatemala. The interview includes information about our work, our lifestyle, and our social development work with Amigos de Santa Cruz.
I am including additional information not included in the interview.
Answers to the top 10 questions about how we ended up here, why we are living here, and what we do with our time.
Lee is originally from Texas, but lived around the world over the years. His travel lust started with military tours in Europe, living in Italy and Germany, and visiting many other countries. Elaine is originally from the Denver/Boulder, Colorado area. We met in 1988, and started traveling together almost immediately. We love traveling south of the border, and have also traveled extensively in Europe (before it got expensive).
We decided in 2003 to make a big change in our lifestyle. We wanted to be less consumer driven, make a smaller footprint on the planet, and to give back to the planet. Instead of giving to charitable causes by writing a check, we wanted to be working in the field offering our time and talents to those who were less fortunate. During this process, we sold our home and business and most of our “possessions”. As we let go of “things” that seemed important to us, we felt more and more free and unburdened. We came to Guatemala looking for a simpler and more fulfilling life, and found it here on Lake Atitlan. We have been full time residents of Santa Cruz la Laguna on Lake Atitlan since 2006.
We originally started working with a local non-profit www.amigodesantacruz.org. Now I am a director of this foundation and enjoy working with this organization. Amigos de Santa Cruz assists with education and nutritional needs of the local population. As we learned more about the people of Santa Cruz, and what their needs are; we realized there was a need for jobs creation. A part of this is now being fulfilled through the CECAP vocational training center run by Amigos de Santa Cruz.
My background as an entrepreneur in the horticultural field gave me the experience and basis to introduce a new cash crop to the area. I have developed a Vetiver Grass program, which will be a good fit with the agricultural culture of the local people. You can research the many uses and benefits of Vetiver Grass, but in short it can be used for handicrafts, essential oils ($400 per gallon), and prevent soil erosion and as an integrated pest management tool (reduces the need for pesticides, in layman’s terms). This is a multi-year program that will not yield profits for 3-5 years, but will make an impact in the long term.
We are also support and promote Atitlan Organics, who have built an organic farm using permaculture practices. The farm is already producing many products and is building a “brand” of organic produce, milk, cheese, yogurt, and more. We have created a gardening space at each of our 4 woman’s nutrition centers to help the centers produce their own food sources. This also teaches the women and their families the benefits of having a home garden.
I wanted to expand on the idea of creating new jobs, and from this idea grew Los Elementos Day Spa and Los Elementos Adventure Center. My wife has a long career in the spa industry, and realized that she could train the locals to offer manicure and pedicure services, facials, and massage. She has trained over a dozen local women do manicures and pedicures, and has trained 3 women as massage therapist. The massage therapy program is much longer in duration. Each of these training programs offers the women employment opportunities that would not have been available to them otherwise.
I have developed a series of tours, hikes, kayak excursions, rock climbing, and cultural sharing opportunities through Los Elementos Adventure Center. I have been employing local guides, and have been training our local youth to develop the skill sets needed to be a guide. My goal is to create well paying jobs that fit with the Mayan culture, and will help to keep it alive. Our goal in both of these ventures is to provide immediate and long-term employment opportunities for the local population.
Together with our local workers, we have built almost everything on this property from the ground up. We hope that you will come visit us and enjoy sharing our property.