Hiking to Help
Jill Rennicke, Alumni Coordinator

Faced with a need to rejuvenate herself and to help others, Sienna Devoe-Talluto bought a one-way ticket and discovered both the trail to self-discovery and a way to give back in the mountains of Guatemala. Here is her story in her own words:

"Conserve School was a period of growth for me as I stepped into who I wanted to be in the world. As a member of CS13, I learned what it meant to be part of a community filled with vitality and developed deep friendships. I also learned how important nature and education are in combination. I graduated high school the same year I went to Conserve School and then took a gap year. Now I am a student at the University of Vermont, and as outdoor focused as the school is, I had a challenging time adjusting to the classroom again. Sophomore year also came with personal struggles, and I decided to take this spring semester off to rejuvenate. 

I packed a 65-liter backpack and bought a one-way plane ticket to Guatemala to lead backpacking trips with Quetzal Trekkers. All the guides were volunteers who donated at least three months of their time to lead trips for clients who were mostly from Europe and the U.S. We partnered with local guides and service providers as well as educated the clients about local history. As an Anthropology and Latin American Studies double major, I really enjoyed having conversations with both clients and people in Xela (the city where I was living) about the role that the U.S. has had in Guatemalan history and continues to have today. Beyond those challenging and thought-provoking discussions, I hiked 40-60 miles a week and led people to the top of the highest volcano in Central America regularly! 

Guiding was one of the best experiences of my life and also one of the hardest things I've done physically. In the first two weeks, I learned all the routes - starting as the back guide and telling people their bodies were stronger than they knew as I was trying to convince myself the same thing. By the end of my time there, I was a lead guide teaching newcomers the trails as I deepened my relationship with the land I walked on so often. Guiding was so much more than knowing the route, it was showing up for clients who were pushing themselves beyond their comfort, and it was holding space for their growth. 

A bit about why Quetzal Trekkers started: Quetzal Trekkers was founded as a way to fund Escuela de la Calle (School of the Street), which started after the Armed Conflict (the civil war) in Guatemala. Thousands of children were left homeless on the streets, and so two Guatemalan men started teaching them literally on the streets. In the past 25 years, the school has grown, and all the money that clients pay to go on hikes goes directly to fund Escuela de la Calle as well as a home for children whose home lives are not safe or who live too far away from school. Please feel free to learn more here: https://www.quetzaltrekkers.com/xela/."