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Where they went: Guatemala

WHO: Michael, 44, and Sondra Bloch, 43, and their children, Jared, 14; Max, 11; and Zachary, 7, of Westborough.

WHERE: Guatemala

WHEN: One week in December

WHY: Nine families in New England who are members of the Young Presidents' Organization, an executive peer network, set up an informal cultural exchange visit with Guatemalan members.

FAMILY FUN: ''One of most amazing things was having our kids travel and have them see kids from another culture," Michael Bloch said. ''The international language of Nintendo came through. Each New England family stayed with one Guatemalan family the first night, then they took turns as sort of tour leaders as we traveled around."

A REAL HOWL: At Tikal National Park, they encountered howling monkeys. ''They sound like when you stepped on your dog's tail," Michael said. The children were most impressed with a zip-line ride through the tree canopies. ''Each one was maybe 100 yards long," Sondra said. ''The first landing was a big tree-house kind of thing. At each subsequent tree, the platform gets smaller and more rickety."

ABOVE THE WATER: ''We went to Lake Atitlan by helicopter. It was really beautiful, going through valleys and over volcanoes," Michael said. ''The lake is surrounded by volcanoes and is about 5,000 feet above sea level. There are 12 little villages surrounding the lake, each named for one of the Apostles."

TO MARKET: ''A couple hours from the lake is Chichi, which has an incredible market," Michael said. ''You swear you're going vertical in this bus. On any day except Thursday and Sunday, it's a sleepy little village, but on those days, it just explodes into this marketplace. You see everything from watching ladies chop heads off chickens to looking at homemade clothing, blankets, and tablecloths." Added Sondra, ''Jared is a drummer and bought five or six different drums. It was such a perfect connection for him."

COLONIAL CITY: ''We did a walking tour in Antigua, a beautiful Spanish colonial city," Michael said. ''It was the capital until it was devastated by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. You see these incredible cathedrals that are just ruins. It's more of a second-home location now. We went to a family's house there so the kids could play together. We had more kids than adults, about 22, from 3 to 18 years old, but mostly adolescents. Antigua is definitely the shopping place. That's where the women let loose."

AN EVE TO REMEMBER: ''On Dec. 31, the host families took over one of the historic churches for the night, part of it in ruins. There were maybe 70 or 80 of us," Michael said. ''Unbeknownst to us, in Chichi they'd made some major acquisitions of fireworks. This is when all rules of parenthood go out the window. All over the city, you could see fireworks going off." Added Sondra, ''We thought it was loud and beautiful at 9 p.m. but at 12, you just couldn't believe your eyes. It was absolutely magnificent. They . . . have this thing where they have fireworks in hot air balloons."

THE DAY AFTER: ''We went to climb Pacaya Volcano, one of the three active ones remaining," Michael said. ''It wasn't too hard the first hour, but then it became nothing but black volcanic ash, and the last hour or so was like climbing the world's largest sand dune. We were dying. Once you get to the top, it's usually very steamy, but lo and behold we get up there and it's a perfectly clear day and we could look right into the summit of the volcano, with hot lava shooting straight up into the air."

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